How many celebrations with family and friends have you planned for and participated in over the last two months? How many full meals have you enjoyed in the company of many? How many nights have you laid down in your own bed at home, thankful for the abundance of blessings and rich traditions shared with loved ones?
While we have been celebrating in the comfort of home, guests at Transplant House of Cleveland in University Circle have been missing home very, very much. Here, the fifteen apartments that provide comfort and community to families and the patients who are awaiting or recovering from organ transplantation have been full through the holidays. The clock that marks the journey to renewed health hasn’t observed “holiday time.” But the heart of every patient knows- “I should be home, I should be observing my traditions.”
What a blessing that this longing for home has been answered in part by the other Transplant House guests. Families from around the world have been creating memorable moments here, in the midst of the need for life-saving care. And what a blessing that volunteers from the Cleveland community make sure that this home-away-from-home is as warm and welcoming as it can be.
Beachwood resident and B’nai Jeshurun Temple member, Judith Wolkoff, was the first person to make a regular commitment to helping with the operations of Transplant House on a volunteer basis. Her story includes the fact that the Wolkoff family has a history of pooling resources at holiday time to provide charitable support to a family or an organization. A year ago, after reading about Transplant House in the Plain Dealer, Judith and her family realized its mission touched their own lives, and together they chose to support it. “My father in law, Dr. Jerry S. Wolkoff was the kidney transplant surgeon who started the program at University Hospitals of Cleveland. He was also the person who fought for the right to have the organ donor program,” explains Judith. Dr. Wolkoff also ultimately became a kidney recipient himself- receiving an organ donated by one of his daughters.
Recently retired from her own career in anesthesiology at University Hospitals, Judith has chosen to make a weekly commitment to Transplant House. The fact that she has raised three sons and has run a household while working full time, shines through her actions- she arrives full of exuberance, optimism, ideas, willingness, and fresh-baked breakfast breads! After cheerful greetings, she asks “Who’s in the house?” and seeks to understand the particular needs of House guests. She takes families on errands as needed, and then addresses needs of the House, all aimed at making the space more welcoming, functional, and homey. “She is Transplant House’s Jewish mother, in the very best sense of that phrase and we absolutely could not have asked for a stronger individual to help us establish our volunteer program,” explains Elaine Turley, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Transplant House of Cleveland.
Judith’s conviction is inspiring- “My father-in-law saw the importance of this and now I do too. I want to give back and what better way than at this house,” shares Judith. “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it helps people in the home. Whether it is making beds, cleaning the rooms, baking goodies, bringing in dinners or organizing the kitchen. People come from all over the world under very serious circumstances and if only to bring a smile to their faces for something you do is the most gratifying feeling in the world. To listen and to help make this place feel like a home-away-from-home is the most satisfying feeling. I come home full of excitement after I work at this place.”