Jill Sharfstein: Fashioning Smiles One Story at a Time

 

Jill Sharfstein, a dedicated volunteer at Ronald McDonald House New York, has spent the past six years bringing smiles to the faces of children during challenging times. With a rich background as a nursery schoolteacher for 40 years, Jill's journey into volunteering at the House reflects her passion for working with children and families and her dedication to children’s education and her community.

Recently, Jill shared her inspiring story and shed light on the important initiatives she spearheads at Ronald McDonald House New York, including the creation of the Giving Library in the 2nd floor dining room that has become a source of comfort and learning for all young residents at Ronald McDonald House New York.

 

A Lifetime of Teaching Paves the Way to Volunteering

Jill reading to a small girl and her mother at RMH-NY

"Absolutely. I love working with children and families, and Ronald McDonald House (New York) is one of the crown jewels of New York. It's a home away from home for children and families in tremendous need, a time with great stress. And I wanted to come here and see if I could help in any way bring a smile to the face of a child who's going through a great deal."

                                                          --Jill on volunteering at the House

Jill's career as a nursery schoolteacher served as the perfect foundation for her volunteer work at Ronald McDonald House New York. After four decades of shaping young minds, she sought a new way to make a positive impact in her retirement. Drawn to the mission of Ronald McDonald House New York, Jill embarked on her volunteer journey with the House.

Her teaching background uniquely positioned Jill to understand the stress and challenges families face when dealing with childhood illnesses.

"Touching a child's life? Bringing a smile to a child's face or to a parent's face? Young, brave families facing an unthinkable challenge. And here, thank God they're at the house, they're at the best hospitals in the city, but it's still a huge challenge."

---Jill on RMH-NY

From Greeter to Library Creator: Jill's Impact Unfolds

Jill with hospitality cart from RMH-NY at partnering hospital

Jill and her mobile Giving Library

Jill's initial role as a greeter allowed her to extend a warm welcome to families entering the House. However, she noticed an opportunity to further engage with the children waiting in the lobby for transportation to the hospital. This observation led to the birth of her reading initiative.

Choosing carefully curated books with messages of strength, diversity, love, and peace, Jill started reading to the children, creating a positive and uplifting atmosphere at a pivotal moment where anxiety could run high. Soon, the reading initiative expanded into the creation of a library—a giving library where children and families could take books with them to keep. The response was overwhelming, with books disappearing as families embraced the initiative. The giving library and reading areas now live in the 2nd floor dining room and are generally swarmed with kids hungry for a new book to read.''

The Giving Library at RMH-NY

The Giving Library at RMH-NY allows kids and families the ability to take home any book that they want if they want it. Volunteers like Jill just keep filling it with more donated books.

Reflecting on the journey from greeter to library creator, Jill highlighted the natural connection between children and books, describing them as soothing, relaxing, and essential for teaching about the world and emotions.

Navigating Challenges and Innovating During COVID-19

"During COVID, they have pivoted in an amazing way and created many online programs... Zoom became our best friend, and we read stories."

                               ---Jill, on House initiatives during the pandemic

Jill's commitment to making a difference didn't waiver, even in the face of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Embracing digital platforms, RMH-NY pivoted to online programs using Zoom, turning unthinkable challenges into unending opportunities.

The House organized online activities, including story-time sessions featuring authors and illustrators. Jill mentioned the heartwarming experience of having Todd Parr, a renowned author and illustrator, read to the children virtually. The impact was profound, with each child receiving a copy of the book, fostering a sense of connection for each child to the story’s author and its central message.

 

Beyond Books: Jill's Multifaceted Volunteer Roles

Jill's involvement reaches far beyond reading programs. During the pandemic, she engaged in diverse activities, including fundraisers, cooking sessions, bedtime yoga, and even tutoring a young man living in the House at the time. Jill highlighted the importance of providing stability and support to children facing the double challenge of critical illness and disruption to their education.

Her dedication to directly working with children and families remained a cornerstone of her volunteer experience. Whether through in-person activities or virtual sessions, Jill emphasized the resilience and adaptability of the children, whose willingness to connect with volunteers on a screen brought joy to both them and their parents.

Jill reading to a kid at RMH-NY

Jill with a young houseguest of RMH-NY reading a story in the lobby.

 

Balancing Volunteerism with Life: A Source of Enrichment

Jill's volunteerism goes beyond Ronald McDonald House New York, including her involvement with the Hospital for Special Surgery. She spends three hours a week at the hospital with the RMH-NY hospitality cart, offering healthy snacks, drinks, and art projects to families of children currently admitted and undergoing treatment in the hospital. Her approach involves creating a positive environment and providing a respite for those dealing with the challenges of extended hospital stays.

Balancing volunteer work with personal life, Jill views her involvement as highly enriching. She emphasized that volunteering offers a unique perspective and a sense of dedication, ultimately enriching one's life. Despite the busyness of life, Jill sees volunteering as a significant plus, a meaningful endeavor that contributes good things to the world.

 

Jill's Diversified Volunteering Plate

Jill's dedication to making a difference extends to other organizations, including the High School of Art and Design, where she assists high school students with their college applications. Additionally, she conducts interviews for the USC Shoah Foundation, preserving the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

Her diverse volunteer experiences showcase a deep commitment to various causes, emphasizing the importance of contributing to the community in multiple ways.

 

The Heartwarming Impact of Storytime: Connecting with Authors

Jill and author Todd Parr at Ronald Mcdonald House New York

Jill with author Todd Parr

        "I chose very specific books. They were like an icebreaker, colorful, with wonderful pictures and important messages about strength, diversity, love, peace, doing good in the world. And the children love them, and families do too."         

 -  Jill on book choice

One heartwarming story Jill shared involves reaching out to author Todd Parr, whose books she often read to the children. Expressing the profound impact of his work, Jill emailed Todd, sharing her experiences at Ronald McDonald House New York and the positive influence of his books on the children. To her surprise, Todd responded and eventually visited the House, creating magical moments of reading, talking, and even a little dancing with the children in the lobby of the House.

Jill showcased some of Todd Parr's books, emphasizing their specific messages relevant to the challenges faced by the children and families at Ronald McDonald House New York. The books, donated by Todd, became a central part of the library, offering messages of inclusivity, empowerment, and love.

Jill reading a story to a kid in the lobby of the House.

 

Some of those titles include:
  • It’s Okay to Be Different
  • The Feelings Book
  • The Family Book
  • It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
  • The Thankful Book
  • The EARTH Book
  • The Peace Book
  • The I LOVE YOU Book
  • Be Who You Are
  • The Mommy Book
  • We Belong Together: A Book
  • The Goodbye Book
  • The Daddy Book
  • The Feel Good Book
  • Reading Makes You Feel Good
  • Love the World
  • The Joyful Book
  • The Kindness Book
  • Things that Make You Feel Good
  • The Cars and Trucks Book
  • This is My Hair
  • The School Book

 

Thanks to Jill’s thoughtful action in contacting Todd Parr, Ronald McDonald House New York can proudly be counted among his list of prestigious partnerships with corporations and organizations blazing trails and working to create a safer, kinder, healthier world for every child.  The House is certainly excited for the next time Todd can come back and drum up another dance party for all of our children.

Todd Parr's wall of partner logos with RMH-NY there in the middle

Partnerships Image provided by toddparr.com.;

Jill's Volunteering Advice: Dive In and Make a Difference

For those considering volunteering, Jill's advice is simple yet powerful:

 "Go for it. Be brave. Do it."

She encourages individuals to take the plunge into volunteering, assuring them that the rewards of helping others and gaining a broader perspective on life are immeasurable. Jill believes that volunteering is not only an act of kindness but a transformative experience that brings fulfillment and meaning.

NY1 New Yorker of the Week

After the opening of the Giving Library and Todd Parr’s visit, the House wanted to show thanks for all Jill had done for the kids and their families. RMH-NY decided to nominate Jill for the NY1 New Yorker of the Week Award and, of course, she was picked.

NY1 did an amazing story on Jill and her initiatives at the House, primarily focusing on her reading projects and highlighting the Giving Library Jill originally proposed and the volunteer team, with Dani Starfield at the helm, assisted in designing and building the book nook on the left side of the 2nd floor dining room.

The news story was a huge success. The Giving Library was a huge success. It was all a huge success dueto Jill’s ingenuity and vision.

Watch Jill on NY1 highlighted as New Yorker of the Week.

The 92nd St. Y Award: Recognizing Jill's Dedication to Jewish Values

Recently, Jill and her daughter, Jenny Sharfstein Kane, received the Jewish Values Award as a part of the Extraordinary Women Awards from the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of NYC. The awards were presented on Monday, November 13th, 2023 in The Kaufmann Concert Hall at The 92nd Street Y, New York. The evening was hosted by Juju Chang, currently the host of ABC's Nightline.  

This prestigious award honors individuals making a significant impact on early childhood and education.

Jenny, heading up post-high school education at Bloomberg Philanthropies, focuses on matching low-income, high-achieving students with virtual tutors, demonstrating a commitment to creating educational opportunities for underprivileged youth.

Jill expressed her gratitude for the unexpected honor, acknowledging that the roots of this recognition trace back to her volunteer work at Ronald McDonald House New York. The House, in turn, is so grateful to Jill for her contributions.Stage at 92nd Street Y for Jill's Award as an Extraordinary Woman

The Stage was set for the Extraordinary Women's Award at 92nd Street Y.

 

Jill Sharfstein's Mighty Impact

Jill at the Giving Library at RMh-NY

"Ronald McDonald House (New York) is one of the crown jewels of New York,"

                      --Jill emphasizing its role as a sanctuary for families in great need.

Jill Sharfstein's journey from a nursery schoolteacher to a dedicated volunteer at Ronald McDonald House New York and throughout NYC is guided by the transformative power of compassion and service. Her initiatives, including creating libraries, showcase a commitment to bringing joy and support to children and families facing adversity.

As Jill receives the Jewish Values Award from the 92nd Street Y, it serves as a recognition not only of her individual contributions but also of the ripple effect of kindness and dedication within the community. Jill's story is one of hope, resilience, and the profound impact that a single person's commitment to service can have on the lives of so many.

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From everyone at Ronald McDonald House New York, congratulations Jill. We love you and our children and families are so grateful for the time and energy to use every day to create more and more smiles. No one deserves this recognition more than you.

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Think "I can do what Jill does?" Click here and learn how you can become a part of an amazing group of volunteers at Ronald McDonald House New York today.

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About Todd Parr

Todd Parr is the author and illustrator of more than 60 books for children, including the New York Times bestselling The I Love You Book, The Earth Book, and The Thankful Book. He has inspired, empowered, and entertained millions of children around the world with his bold images, unique sense of humor, and inclusive storytelling. His books have received numerous awards and are available in 20 languages. He is the co-creator of the popular Daytime Emmy®-nominated animated TV series ToddWorld with Gerry Renert of SupperTime Entertainment, and several short films for Sesame Street have been based on Todd’s work. Todd has partnered with Target, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, Stouffer's, People magazine, and other companies and organizations to help people and animals, and to promote literacy. He lives in California with his adopted pit bulls.


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