When Suzanne Fuchs first arrived at Shirley Kaiser’s doorstep about two years ago, she was pleasantly surprised to see a mezuzah affixed to the doorpost.
“I’m a kosher caterer and brought Shirley some bread pudding on our first meeting,” Fuchs said. “I saw the mezuzah on the door and it all clicked — she must be Jewish, too! I’m from England and her dad is from England, and the similarities just continued from there.”
Fuchs met Kaiser through her volunteer work with Duet: Partners In Health & Aging, a local interfaith nonprofit that helps older adults and their families cope with the challenges related to aging. She had been matched with Kaiser, who is homebound, to help her with transportation to the grocery store.
Kaiser is Fuchs’ first match with Duet “and my best match,” Fuchs joked.
“Now, when we see each other, there’s no set schedule,” Fuchs said. “I’m not just a volunteer with Duet anymore, we’re true neighbors and friends.”
The pair see each other on average about once a week and do everything from grocery shopping to running errands and going to lunch.
“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Kaiser said. “Connecting with Duet and Suzanne saved my life.”
Beyond their shared faith, Fuchs and Kaiser have gone from a match between a volunteer and “neighbor” — Duet’s word for homebound adults who receive their services — to best friends. They’ve met each other’s families and have spent time together at local attractions such as the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Chinese Cultural Center. They’ve even gone to a local English tea room and taken photos with a life-sized replica of Queen Elizabeth II.
“Once we clicked as friends — by now as practically sisters — we dropped any pretense of a set schedule to our
meet-ups,” Fuchs said.
Originally from Chicago, Kaiser was a stay-at-home mom and later in life worked in schools. She has been in Arizona for more than 30 years. Kaiser’s husband passed away in 2010. She said her three children lead busy careers and lives and may not always have the time to take her grocery shopping or to run errands. Kaiser attends a local synagogue when she can and also participated in faith-based activities locally that are specifically for senior citizens.
Fuchs, who has two grown children and is a grandmother, is a member of the Beth El Congregation and learned about Duet through Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky, who serves on the board for the nonprofit.
For Fuchs, volunteering to work with the elderly in her local community was all about giving back.
“Volunteering and meeting Shirley was the best thing I could have ever done,” she said. “I wanted to do something more; it felt like something was missing. Helping Shirley not only feels like finding a new friend, but also gives me a sense of accomplishment. We shop together, have lunch together and it means so much to the both of us.”
To learn more about Duet and its volunteer services, visit duetaz.org. JN