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From baking to drawing, many people have discovered long lost hobbies and talents over the past couple of months. Our resident Sheila Weiler is one of those people, unearthing a hidden talent for writing with some help from volunteer and long-time supporter Andrea Fishman-Pasternak.
Right before the pandemic hit, Andrea had begun a memoir writing workshop with some of our residents. Andrea, who has a PhD in writing from Pennsylvania University and has served as the Director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literacy Project, retired last year from teaching at West Chester University. “I wanted to volunteer in a way that used my writing skills, as writing is my greatest passion. I got the idea for a memoir writing project, and so I reached out to Abramson. I feel that everyone has stories to tell. Everyone has something to say. My role is to empower people to find their own voices,” she explains.
The workshop was able to meet a couple of times before having to postpone in-person meetings for the time being. Andrea was happy to continue to work with Sheila, who had ideas for three books, including one called “From Spruce Street to Strawberry Mansion: Growing up Jewish in Philadelphia.”
Raised in Philadelphia, Sheila moved to New Jersey when she got married and was an English teacher for over 25 years. After teaching, Sheila became an accomplished singer and performer, acting locally in musicals such as “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “South Pacific.” Writing is a new interest. “Previously, I did very little writing,” she says. “I did two short stories in 2005, but no other writing until now. I was encouraged by Andrea’s workshop.” Sheila cites the Bronte sisters and Shakespeare as inspirations, but says that “now every book that I sit down to write is my favorite.”
Working together has proved a great partnership for both Sheila and Andrea, who speak on the phone a couple of times a week. “I adore Sheila,” says Andrea. “She’s a great story teller and I work with her to develop the language to capture an audience.” Sheila’s feelings are mutual, “Andy has been very supportive of everything that I write. I love her.”
Andrea has found the whole volunteering experience to be fulfilling. “I get as much as I get give. I’m part of a wonderful organization that is trying to do good in a world where that seems rare.”