Jim Schwartz has dedicated his life to helping others.
The former math teacher and C-Mart manager, 74, frequently volunteers with the Macks Center for Jewish Connections and previously served on the Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Mitzvah Day committee. While he is now retired, he regularly participates in community service.
“I don’t knit, sew or draw, but I can try to help move a bag, drive a car and help organize the construction and delivery of Mitzvah Day packages to shelters and day centers for those in need,” he said.
Schwartz belongs to Beth Am Synagogue and Beth Tfiloh Congregation and lives in Baltimore, where he grew up. He lost his father at a young age, a loss that would characterize his later philanthropic work and decision to become a teacher. He noted that he did not grow up with a complete family and that he strongly sympathizes with people in need with similar familial problems.
Having to hold multiple jobs to support his family gave him a unique perspective on charitable work. Schwartz has had a variety of occupations in his life and said he has done “just about everything.”
“I always wanted to make things easier for the people around me,” Schwartz recalled. “Some people don’t like to ask for help but would still appreciate someone noticing that they are struggling. A mitzvah is given without the expectation that someone will ask for it.”
Schwartz has taught at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, Northern High School and Baltimore Lab School, the latter of which is a nonpublic school for students with learning disabilities. He noted that many of his students had ADHD or dyslexia or were on the autism spectrum. Accounting for their specific needs and providing extra help was an important responsibility. His goal as a teacher was to ensure his students felt confident and prepared for the road ahead.
He first got involved with volunteering for JVC when his daughter suggested it to him over 10 years ago, before the organization was incorporated into the Macks Center.
Since then, he has participated in cemetery and park cleanups, delivered bagged lunches for its Bunches of Lunches program and created special Mitzvah Day packages to be delivered to local shelters. Outside of the Macks Center, he donates blood and has volunteered with neighborhood organizations like Friends of Druid Hill Park and the Reservoir Hill Association to clean up natural green spaces.
Schwartz said he most enjoys doing cemetery cleanups — disposing of trash, getting rid of invasive wildlife and righting neglected headstones.
“There are people there who no longer have any family to remember them,” he explained. “Acknowledging them and keeping their areas in order gives me a lot of solace.”
Now that he is retired, Schwartz has been taking courses at local schools so he can stay sharp. He enjoys maintaining his yard, as it gives him a similar satisfaction to cleaning up public spaces. And he devotes a lot of his time to his grandchildren and family.
“I feel that I’m in transition to figure out what I’m going to do now as a priority,” he said.
Schwartz added that he has put a lot of thought into the volunteer work he does and its relation to how he wants to be remembered. He wants to encourage others to help out people in need without expecting anything in return, but to still take care of themselves.
“Always have your hand up, and always be helpful,” Schwartz said. “Don’t give more than you can afford, because if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of other people. Everyone should be caring about their neighbors.”
But he also views himself as a small part in the larger machine of the Macks Center, with everyone working together to help out.
“I want to be a part of that group,” he noted. “I would like to treat other people who help their community with the same respect as I would want to be treated with.”