Growing up, Joe Lukasik’s grandparents and great-grandmother lived with his family, and he loved nothing more than when his great uncle joined the family around the table, and they all shared stories. “There was a hole when a family member passed,” said Joe.
In 2010, Joe’s friend Patrice Spitz, a rabbinic pastor, invited him to join her as a volunteer Shabbat service leader at a local senior living community for Boulder Jewish Family Service. At the time, Joe had no way of knowing how that encounter would lead to the void being filled within his being.
Joe began volunteering for JFS as part of our Friendly Visitor program, which matches volunteers and isolated older adults with shared interests and values to spend time together and enjoy activities. Then, Joe completed our para-chaplain training to provide emotional support to those in need.
From his initial commitment as a Shabbat service leader, Joe’s volunteer involvement grew to include leading monthly Shabbat services at Balfour Senior Living and facilitating the Passover, Hanukkah, and High Holidays celebrations. In addition, Joe provides comfort and spiritual guidance to ill residents at Balfour.
As with so many organizations and facilities, the COVID-19 pandemic caused challenges in daily life, and the older adult population was especially susceptible to the virus. Life as staff and residents knew it at Balfour shifted, and in-person visits and services stopped immediately. “We weren’t prepared to go online right away,” said Joe, “and there were some technology struggles. At first, we just used the phone.”
With patience and time, technology caught up, and virtual services became the norm, and Joe and the residents adapted to a new way of worshipping. Today, however, Balfour is opening up, and in-person services are back, which, according to Joe, makes a world of difference. “People are hungry for contact, and you can hear how much lighter their voices are now.”
Interestingly, Joe shared that he’s working on a hybrid approach to services, which he would have never thought about before COVID. “We can reach people, like those in memory care units or satellite facilities, and broadcast services to stay connected however works best for them.”
Being a JFS para-chaplain lets Joe use his skills and dreams to connect with people he always found interesting. “Every experience leads to surprising encounters and opportunities—like volunteering to drive a woman to a vaccination clinic and learning her grandparents sheltered Jews during the war,” said Joe. “The work fulfills me in a way that’s a calling. Being a para-chaplain, I built a mini-congregation, and I look forward to preparing sermons and seeing everyone. It’s a mix between family and community.”
When asked what it’s like to be a JFS para-chaplain volunteer, Joe shared, “JFS gave me what I needed regarding training, and they still do—from Rabbi Rick providing materials to being supported in every way. Volunteers take what they need to succeed, and it’s an opportunity to grow. JFS lets me balance volunteering along with my professional and family lives. Plus, they’re the real deal. The organization offers help directly to those who need it, or they have resources to meet a need.”
To learn more about the JFS para-chaplain program or other ways to volunteer in Boulder, please visit