April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

To test the waters, I accepted a position as an extern in the professional department of the New Jersey attorney general’s office in Newark. Not only did the position not pay anything, but I had to pay for my own transportation, parking and meals. Also, walking the streets to the parking lot in the dark winter nights, in Newark, was not very appealing.

After one year of often sitting around for hours with nothing to do, interspersed with some quite interesting work, I decided that this was not something I wanted to pursue. I left in January 1993 over the protests of the assistant attorney general, who wanted me to stay there.

After giving the matter much thought, I decided that really what I wanted to do, after all these years of working for money, was to pay back some of what I felt my family owed to society. The United States had given me a new home and I had a wonderful and healthy growing family. More I did not need. It was payback time.

But if I worked for free, at least I should not have to incur significant transportation and food costs. I started looking around in my own neighborhood for another volunteer job.

Hospital Volunteer at HUMC

Esther’s husband, Harold, was the director of neonatology at Hackensack University Medical Center. He told me that one of the departments involved in research of the demographics of the patient population had a project to do for which they had no staff. As a volunteer I would be able to do the work for them.

I accepted the suggestion and registered at HUMC as a volunteer.

At the same time, in early 1993, I contacted the president of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center about the idea of working as a part time volunteer there as well, so that I could decide which I would prefered.

At HUMC, I was put to work in the department that Harold had mentioned to me. I worked on various miscellaneous projects while having the demographics project laid out for me. I was told that much of the information that I would need in order to establish the statistics was available in their own library and I would have to sit there and extract the facts and record them. My habit always was, and is, to get a job done as quickly and as efficiently as possible, meaning not necessarily doing it the way I had been told to do it.

Therefore, I started doing some research on the subject by telephone. I was just not looking forward to sitting in the library for months on end and was hoping that an easier way to accomplish the same goal could be found. It was no wonder that the department had not been able to find anyone to work on that project.

Indeed, my inquiries were fruitful and I found out that what I was to work on was not so unique, and, in fact, the statistics were already available on tape from a company whose business it was to collect these types of statistics and sell them to those interested. The only problem was that the tape had to be purchased, whereas I worked for free.

When I presented my supervisor with these facts, I thought that she would be overjoyed with my discovery, but the exact opposite was true. I was told in no uncertain terms to forget about it, since the cost of the tape was not in the budget.

Now I know that all hospitals operate on tight budgets and therefore the response was not surprising to me. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that if the hospital really would benefit from acquiring those statistics, a source of funding should be found.

My supervisor was not interested in discussing the matter any further. I thereupon offered to buy the tapes for the hospital, as a charitable donation. My supervisor brushed off my second suggestion with the statement that HUMC needed donations more urgently for the Children’s Cancer Center. To this day I have never been able to comprehend that logic.

I did not understand then, and I still do not understand now, how declining my donation would increase donations somewhere else. I tried to solicit an explanation, but it was not forthcoming. When I told her that I was not willing to sit in the library for months, when the information was already available elsewhere, she replied that she had no other work for me. That ended my work as a volunteer at HUMC.

Anyhow I had been thinking why should I travel to Hackensack for an unpleasant job, when there is a hospital right where I live—in Englewood?

(To be continued in three weeks. Next two weeks will feature “The Wimpel.”)

By Norbert Strauss

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