‘Professional’ volunteer gives to all ages

Above, Jerri Livingston (right) works with a participant of Covenant Place’s knitting group. Livingston also leads Shabbat services at Covenant and at the Brentmoor. Photo: Kristi Foster

BY DAVID BAUGHER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Jerri Livingston likes to joke about how much time she gives to others.

“I frequently kid that with all the volunteer work that I do, they couldn’t pay me enough,” she said with a laugh.

Fortunately, they don’t have to. Livingston has served on a wide array of committees at Congregation Shaare Emeth, including its board of directors. She also served as president of the congregation’s women’s group and Women of Reform Judaism District #20, as well as sitting on WRJ’s national board. She has co-chaired several committees of the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, and is involved with Nishmah and Hadassah, the latter of which honored her with its national leadership award in 2011.

But her most consistent involvement has been with children. Livingston, a graduate of the Florence Melton Mini School, taught religious school at her temple for nearly 25 years and still teaches Hebrew school.

“I love kids,” said Livingston, 65. “When I was teaching second grade, I enjoyed watching them get excited about their Judaism,  and I felt like I was doing my part to continue l’dor’v’dor (from generation to generation).”

However, as much as she likes working with youngsters, she also finds pleasure connecting with seniors. She teaches knitting classes at Covenant Place and sometimes leads services there.

“I really enjoy interacting with them,” Livingston said. “I feel like they have a lot to share. They can teach me as much as I can teach them.”

Livingston, a native St. Louisan, is active in the general community as well. As a 16-year survivor of breast cancer, the Chesterfield resident works with Susan G. Komen and its Race for the Cure. She has previously been named the organization’s volunteer of the year, and she takes great pride in her own battle against the disease and in assisting other women.

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“Anything you are going to throw at me, I’m going to conquer,” she said. “It may slow me down, but it won’t knock me down.”

She said she feels lucky to be able to help those who face challenges.

“I feel very fortunate that I’ve had a wonderful life,” Livingston  said. “I’ve never really wanted for anything, and I feel like I have a responsibility to give back because I am so fortunate, because I am so blessed.”

Helen Chesnut, executive director of Susan G. Komen Missouri, feels just as fortunate to have Livingston, who helps coordinate with race teams for the organization’s big event.

“Jerri is really an inspiration to me on both a personal and a professional level,” Chesnut said. “She has such compassion and cares so much for others. So many of the things she does, she does them not thinking about herself. She is just always thinking of others.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was one of the first people who really made me look and say, ‘OK, if Jerri can do it, I can.’ ” 

Chesnut said Livingston may not fully understand just how valuable her example is.

“Truly, she is an inspiration to many, and I don’t think she realizes that,” she said.

Others certainly do.

“Jerri brings her heart and her soul, her passion and her whole being to everything that she does,” said Debbie Bram, director of Jewish life and learning at Shaare Emeth. “Jerri is one of the friendliest and most outgoing women that I’ve met. 

“She reaches out to people,” said Bram, who recalled how welcoming Livingston was when Bram first arrived in St. Louis. “She helps them feel at home and feel they are a part of this community.”

That’s a quality that also comes in handy in Livingston’s other role as the Jewish chair of the St. Louis Women’s Interfaith Conference, something she’s done for more than two decades. She has chaired the Interfaith Partnership Dinner and been active with various activities during the Jewish-Muslim Day of Service, which is fast becoming a Christmas tradition in the area for many non-Christians.

“I’ve become really close friends with a lot of the women on the committee,” Livingston said. “In fact, I became an adult bat mitzvah in 2003, and several of the women came to my ceremony. The more I work with the interfaith community, the more I realize we really are more similar than different.”

But for Livingston, her work with others of any age or background always has a common theme. She is giving of her time and of herself.

“My husband, Bill, likes to introduce me as his favorite professional volunteer,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that I have the time to volunteer in the Jewish community, and I really enjoy it.”


JERRI LIVINGSTON

Age: 65

Family: Livingston and her husband, Bill, have two children

Occupation: Medical computer programmer, teacher and homemaker

Home: Chesterfield

Fun Fact: Livingston says the biggest “bucket list” item that she hasn’t accomplished is a trip to Australia.


 

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