S.F. volunteer couple: Its like the Clintons when you have the one, you have the two

Evelyn Adler’s father feared retirement: There would be hour upon empty hour to fill — hours that once overflowed with work.

“[My father] didn’t retire until the age of 79 because he didn’t know what to do with himself,” said Evelyn, now retired herself and a longtime volunteer for Jewish Family and Children’s Services in San Francisco, where she lives.

Years ago she vowed that she and her husband, Barry, would not follow her father’s footsteps.

Instead, after she retired from her job as a social worker and he as a chemist/salesman, they happily kept busy.

“We fill our lives with things that make us happy, and it seems that volunteering does that,” she said.

Recently, JFCS honored Evelyn for 20 years of volunteer services with senior clients in the Case Aide program, for which Barry also volunteers. The program matches volunteers with clients, to take care of tasks that social workers are not able to do. These jobs span from shopping for new clothes and cars to archiving valuable records and collections to downsizing an entire life’s accumulation to only a few boxes.

Initially, Evelyn chose to volunteer for a Jewish organization because it felt comfortable.

“There is a cultural affinity that makes it much easier,” she said. “In order to do my job, I have to very quickly make a connection. That connection is easier when you share cultural experiences and ethnic experience.”

Debbi Goodman, volunteer coordinator for JFCS’ Seniors at Home program, said one of Evelyn’s best qualities is that she can jump right in with clients and create a bond.

“It’s an incredible quality to [form a relationship] fast and to help them at the same time. If part of the job is to meet with the senior, she makes a wonderful connection” with that person.

Before a client allows her to go through his or her belongings and downsize, Evelyn said she must first establish trust.

In several cases, she has taken a client’s valuable and cherished objects and arranged to sell them in order to free up extra income. In other cases she combs through everything in the closets and drawers, working with the client to help decide whether or not to keep a particular possession; often this must be done before the client can move on to the next step in life.

Barry said going through a client’s belongings is often the most difficult task for a case aide, although often the most interesting. He and Evelyn once found, hidden away in a drawer, an old slave-bracelet worn to identify Jews during the Holocaust. This kind of valuable historical object easily could have been thrown away if the responsibility had been left in the hands of an ordinary disposal service, Barry said.

He came on board at JFCS after Evelyn realized she could not meet certain demands. While Evelyn concentrates on being a self-proclaimed “super shopper,” Barry tends to the “heavy-lifting” jobs.

“Barry got involved because there were things that I couldn’t do: I couldn’t lift a television set, I couldn’t fix a table …” Evelyn began.

“Or build a shelf,” Barry continued, finishing her sentence. The Adlers are “two halves of a whole,” he said. They can just as effortlessly finish each other’s sentences as proudly recite the other’s accomplishments.

One time, Barry stepped in when an Orthodox client refused to allow Evelyn to help him because she was a woman. Barry ended up creating two life albums for the man, who happened to be prominent in the music world.

Barry’s aid proved instrumental in archiving many important early-1900s musical recordings, as well as familial archives and documents.

Evelyn said she could not work without her longtime partner, husband, fellow parent and grandparent in doing what she considers an important, consuming job.

Working together is “a necessary experience,” she said. “I’m here to support him, he’s here to support me . … It’s like the Clintons: When you have the one, you have the two.”

The Adlers hope to encourage others to give their time and volunteer.

“There’s a satisfaction that you get from volunteering, a satisfaction that you get from nowhere else,” Evelyn said. “Volunteering is a part of my sense of value — to me and to the community. The necessity to pay back and to make the world better. Tikkun, isn’t that what they call it?”

Barry agrees. “It’s a personal tzedakah, it’s a giving of oneself and it’s easy to give when it’s within a tribal atmosphere.”

“There is a connection to be made when you help and work with the Jewish community,” Evelyn said, completing her husband’s thought.

Information on the S.F.-based JFCS senior companion program: www.jfcs.org/Volunteer. In San Francisco, call Debbi Goodman (415) 449-3832; [email protected]. In Marin, call Lorraine Harris (415) 419-3635; e-mail LorraineH@jfcs. On the Peninsula, call Elaine Gradman, (650) 688-3090; ElaineG@jfcs. In Sonoma, call Jeri Phillips, (707) 571-8131; [email protected]. To volunteer with JFCS of the East Bay: www.jfcs-eastbay.org or [email protected]. In Berkeley, call (510) 704-7475. In Oakland, call (510) 434-7585. In Walnut Creek, call (925) 927-2000. Jewish Family Service of Silicon Valley, [email protected], can be reached at (408) 556-0600.