Local | Senior Lifestyle

Former volunteer brings warm heart, extra spark to Handmaker residents

Nanci Levy and Handmaker residents braid challah. Seated, L-R: Peggy Simon, Betty Light and Anna Rogovin (Courtesy Handmaker)

Recently hired as community outreach coordinator at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging, Nanci Levy says 20 years of volunteer work in the Tucson Jewish community was great preparation for her new role — along with a background in advertising, public relations, event planning and fund development.

“Over the years I have had the opportunity to participate in a great number of Jewish programs and events, as a volunteer, board member and as an attendee,” which allowed her to get to know many other people who are also involved in the community, says Levy.

“My husband, Doug, was on the board of Handmaker for seven years, and we have enjoyed attending Saturday morning services at Handmaker with our two daughters, and spending time with the residents there,” she adds. “I have developed a strong affection for Handmaker.”

One of the first programs she’s implemented is a rabbi lecture series, which kicked off Nov. 18 with Rabbi Samuel Cohon’s talk on “The Jewish Origins of Thanksgiving.” Handmaker resident Les Waldman commented, “I really enjoyed this lecture. Rabbi Cohon was right on with everything he said, he could back it up with the booklet that he brought. He’s a historian and I used to be one too.” The second talk in the series, on Dec. 14, featured Rabbi Sandy Seltzer on “When Jews were Greeks and Greeks were Jews: Some unfamiliar details about Hanukkah that may surprise you.” Coming up is a three-rabbi panel scheduled for Sunday, April 10 at 3:30 p.m. in Handmaker’s Great Room. Rabbis Joseph Shemtov, Robert Eisen and Thomas Louchheim will discuss, “What I Believe.” The lectures, she notes, are free and open to anyone who wants to attend.

Along with the new Hebrew High “Tracing Roots and Planting Trees” program highlighted in the Dec. 4 issue of the AJP, which brings together teenage students and Handmaker residents, Levy is working with Jewish youth group leaders, religious school directors, the Tucson Jewish Community Center early childhood education program and Tucson Hebrew Academy to plan more inter-generational programming, some centered around the celebration of Jewish holidays. Several groups visited Handmaker during Chanukah to light candles, say blessings, sing songs and play dreidel.

Along with bringing community members into Handmaker, Levy hopes to reinforce the feeling of Handmaker as a haimish place, a warm and welcoming Jewish home, and naturally, food plays a role in this endeavor. She’s already braided challah twice with the residents, “which was a big hit,” she says, inspiring her to plan on making Hamantashen for Purim, “and a few more treats along the way.”

“With so much going on around town Jewishly, I am hoping to take interested residents on Jewish field trips once a month,” she says. “Last month I brought four residents to Jewish Family & Children’s Services’ ‘Mel Sherman Lecture Series’ on aging at the J, which they really appreciated.” This month’s trip was to THA for a preview of the school’s Chanukah show, and in January the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival beckons.

Handmaker holds Shabbat services every Friday night and Saturday morning, and Levy has been inviting families and groups to participate in the service at 4:30 p.m. on the last Friday night of the month, “then stay for a beautiful Shabbat dinner with the residents. The residents are thrilled to have these new faces at their Shabbat table, and the visitors seem to like it too. One recent young attendee told me, ‘I was a little nervous at first to come to Handmaker, I am not really used to old people. But they were all really nice and interesting, and made me feel comfortable. I will definitely come back.’”

Levy also helps coordinate Saturday mornings when the THA eighth-grade class assists Mel Cohen and Dan Asia in leading Shabbat services. “Anyone in the community is always welcome to join and help the residents to turn pages and lend their voices to the service on Saturday mornings,” she says.

She is also happy to assist upcoming B’nai Mitzvah students who are looking for a mitzvah project. “There are plenty of opportunities for them to fulfill their mitzvah with Handmaker residents,” she says.

As Handmaker’s community outreach coordinator, says Levy, “I am looking forward to seeing what kind of difference I can make for all involved. I am grateful to the Jewish Community Foundation, who helped fund this position and program, and to Art Martin, our CEO, for giving me this opportunity.”

For those seeking additional ways to help Handmaker residents, Levy points out that “anyone who pays income tax in the State of Arizona can make a working poor tax credit contribution to Handmaker. This is a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. They are basically just redirecting $200 for single filers and $400 for couples filing jointly to Handmaker.” Contributions can be made at handmakerfoundation.org.

Among Tucson’s Jewish agencies, JFCS also qualifies for the working poor tax credit.

For more information on Handmaker’s community outreach programs, contact Levy at nlevy@handmaker.org.