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Silver Linings: Phyllis Raphael

Posted January 10, 2022 in Articles


Mayfield Heights resident Phyllis Raphael was exposed to volunteering at a young age, seeing her parents’ passion for community.

But, it wasn’t until she was in her late 30s that she decided community work was something she wanted to do professionally. She was volunteering at Bellefaire JCB, and “liked doing it so much” that she went to college to study social work, Raphael said. At the time, she worked as a keypunch operator and enrolled in college when she was 42 – receiving a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work. From there, she worked in the senior community – planning trips for local aging adults.

Upon retirement, Raphael said she knew she had to continue volunteering.

“My father and mother were big volunteers, and that’s how I originally got started volunteering,” she said. “Part of it was that, but the other part of it was that I felt so good volunteering. Helping people brings meaning to my life.”

Now, she volunteers with the Community Partnership on Aging, and is a past co-chairman of the diversity committee. Making telephone calls every month to members, she also delivers newsletters throughout the community. Before the pandemic, she would visit hospice patients at Menorah Park in Beachwood. Instead, she now tends to the campus gift shop twice a week.

“Part of being a volunteer there, people come in and aren’t happy,” she said. “So, I wear a big “Smile” button on my shirt each shift. Every time someone walks by the gift shop, I say hello to them and make sure to tell them to have a good day.”

In the past, she was involved with the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland.

Silver Linings: Phyllis Raphael

About Phyllis

Age: 86

City: Mayfield Heights

Previous career: Social worker

Retirement year: 2014

CJN: What led you to these activities?

Raphael: I was involved in the senior community from the day I left college. When I was in college, I thought I would work with kids. But, it so happened that a friend of my aunt was a friend of the man who ran the state investigative board. She talked to him, and I got a job working for the state investigating nursing homes. I had a territory of Cleveland to Mansfield and Pennsylvania to Indiana. I was involved in the community from a young age through that job, and I liked what I was doing. That then evolved into my volunteer work as a senior myself.

CJN: Why have you volunteered for so long?

Raphael: I didn’t want to sit home. I wanted to keep helping people. When all I did professionally was helping people, it would’ve been hard to stop. During the beginning of the (COVID-19) pandemic when I couldn’t be at Menorah Park, it was horrible not to volunteer.

CJN: Why are volunteers, and the work they do, a central part of the community?

Raphael: I believe that if we didn’t have volunteers, we couldn’t get along as a people. We need all kinds of volunteers. I had volunteers coming to my house before the pandemic to help me because I’m 86, shoveling my walkways during the winters. So, volunteers are a critical need in the world. You can’t get along without them.

CJN: Do you have any advice for volunteers looking to start their volunteer journey?

Raphael: It’s key to take what drives and motivates you, and turn that into something you can do some good in. There are so many communities that need help, and just as many places and ways to get involved. For me, I always seem to go back to Bellefaire JCB. It helps so many more people now than it used to. It’s a good place to volunteer.

And when the pandemic subsides, which Raphael is hoping is soon, she wants to get out into the community more – especially back with hospice patients at Menorah Park.

“I felt really good about helping people in hospice,” she said. “I’ve missed it so much. I don’t like to sit at home and watch TV. That isn’t me. So, I can’t wait to be in the community in a more physical way. So many of my friends have died recently, and I feel like I have to help those left behind. I want to make a difference.”

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