Getting Addicted to Kindness

Allan and Joyce Camhi are being honored as volunteers of the year at the Aishel House Volunteer Brunch on Sunday, October 31st. But what led a young, newly married couple to get involved in this special program?

"I was born in Guatemala," relates Allan. "When I turned nineteen I had a plan to go to Israel for half a year. Three months before the trip my family got an early morning call. My older brother, who was studying in Mexico, had been in a car accident and was suspended between life and death."

"Our lives were turned upside down. I canceled my trip, and for the next five months my parents and I were with my brother, first in Monterey, Mexico, where he went through many difficult operations, and then in Houston, where he was transferred for rehabilitation."

Allan attended Louisiana State University in order to be near his brother. Because of the financial strain his parents were under, Allan had to work to pay his way through college. Nevertheless, he graduated in only three and a half years with a degree in business administration. Allan works for BMC software in Houston where he works in the Latin American sales department.

"I first met Rabbi Lazer Lazaroff (director of Aishel House) when he visited us at Methodist Hospital. Over time we grew close. I was all by myself here and we would spend many hours talking. My brother’s accident really had an impact on my life. I was looking for meaning and eventually we started learning together."

Allan got involved with the work Aishel House was doing. He would deliver meals to the hospitals and was of particular help with patients from Latin America who didn’t speak English; he would translate and help them acclimate.

Allan’s wife, and co-honoree, Joyce grew up in Colombia and Miami.

"When I got to know Allan, the volunteering work he did for Aishel House was a part of his life, so it was natural for me to get involved as well," says Joyce. "Once I moved here I told them that I was available whenever they needed help. They would call me to bring over dinners, or to take people to or from the Airport. I guess I learned this from my mom; her home always had an open door. Even though our apartment was small, we constantly had guests over for Shabbat and holidays; and in Colombia, whenever there was a wedding, everybody in the community would help out by cooking some of the food, since we didn’t have a kosher caterer."

It was shortly before their own wedding, when in an ironic twist of fate, Allan’s mother, Michelle was diagnosed with cancer.

"It was a nightmare, but we were thankful that we were there to help her," says Allan. "I am also very grateful for the help we got from Aishel House. They were always looking out for us, giving us meals. The day my mother was getting diagnosed she had to be in the hospital all day, and I was not able to be with her. Rochel (Lazaroff, Aishel House coordinator) went to the hospital and stayed all day with my mom."

Allan feels that his experience helping other patients helped prepare him for his mother’s illness. "Before I got involved I had never observed up close the effect of chemotherapy on a person. It helped prepare me for it."

You might expect differently from a newlywed, but Joyce doesn’t complain. "I know they are going through a very hard time, the least I can do is help them in any little way I can."

Allan says that as a volunteer, he sees his essential duty to "make things a little easier for people coming from the outside, they shouldn’t feel so lost. I know what it is to be alone, you can become dejected." But he says there is a benefit for himself as well, "It turning me into a better person. Seriously, I’m becoming addicted to helping people. There’s a true satisfaction you get when you help smooth the way for someone."

"It helps a lot knowing that people care about you," says his mom, Michelle. "Every phone call, every email, it strengthens the person to go through their difficult time."

The other honoree at the brunch is Dr. Jordan Gutterman. Dr. Gutterman is a Professor and Chief of Section of Cellular and Molecular Growth Regulation at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Dr. Gutterman will be presented with the ‘Rofeh Yedid’ award. ‘Rofeh Yedid’ literally means Doctor-Friend. "Dr. Gutterman is renowned in his field for his cutting edge cancer research and has been a true friend to Aishel House and to the many patients and their families who have come through its doors," says Rabbi Lazer Lazaroff. "Despite his heavy workload, he always makes himself available with suggestions, guidance and wise counsel."

"One of the problems in high powered medicine is the detachment from family; the uprooting to come to a city like Houston," explains Dr. Gutterman. "But for these people, not only do they have Aishel House in close proximity – right by the medical center, but they have these incredible human beings by their side, which I think is pretty unique. It must actually play a role in helping them heal. It has to," he concludes thoughtfully.

The entire community is invited to participate in the brunch. In addition to the main honorees, the brunch will also pay tribute to the many volunteers who have helped out at various times throughout the year. "It is through their work, every one pitching in a little, that Aishel House is able to make a difference for so many people," says Rochel. "The Brunch is also an opportunity for those who want to find out more about the work that Aishel House does to see how they too can be a part of it."

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The Aishel House brunch will be held on Sunday, October 31st, 10:30 AM, at Chabad at Texas Medical Center. To RSVP call 713-522-2004 or email brunch@aishelhouse.org , there is a $10 suggested donation.

Aishel House, a project of Chabad at Texas Medical Center, provides patients and their families at Texas Medical Center with a full range of support. From basic needs such as transportation and delicious home cooked kosher meals to comfortable accommodations, child care assistance and sensitive counseling, Aishel House reaches out and offers a supporting hand to all, to assist them in their fight and recovery from their difficult illness.

If you are interested in volunteering, or if you would like to help by sponsoring meals or apartments, please contact: Aishel House, c/o Chabad at Texas Medical Center, 1955 University Blvd, Houston, TX 77030. Phone: 713-522-2004 or email info@aishelhouse.org .