Sam Lyss

  • Sam Lyss, age 26
  • Jewish community volunteer, computer whiz
  • Volunteers to thank the community for giving him support

“He’s a super volunteer”

When Sam Lyss finished high school and vocational training, his mother needed to find options for him. Jane Lyss says Sam, now 26 and challenged with autism, is very intelligent and needs to keep busy. So Jane decided to create what she calls “supported volunteer work” for him. The first place she called was the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library, asking whether they had any work Sam could do. Four years later, on Thursday, May 22, the Library celebrated the volunteer hours this incredible young man has donated with a reception. Sam is working on a project with Diane Everman, archivist of the St. Louis Jewish Community Archives at the Library, to create a database of obituaries from the St. Louis Jewish Light, and he will soon enter his 10,000th obituary into the database.

“He’s a super volunteer,” says Barbara Raznick, library director. “Sam is a gem,” agrees Everman. “If I need a database created or an inventory of something, then Sam is the person I use. He’s a whiz on the computer.” Sam has been working on the obituary project for about two years now. Before his work, the obituaries were not easily accessible, only through hard copies of the Light. “It’s been a great help to me when people call about their ancestors,” says Everman.

The library is not the only place Sam volunteers his time. He works at nine volunteer jobs every week—two hours at two jobs each weekday except Tuesdays, when he only works at one place because he meets friends to drink coffee, play Scrabble and create art at the Turner Center for the Arts in Maplewood, a non-profit organization that strives to foster the social, intellectual, emotional and personal growth of artists with disabilities through creative self-expression. Currently, he’s volunteering at the Harvey Korblum Jewish Food Pantry, the National Council of Jewish Women office, the Center of Clayton, St. Louis Music, the Maplewood Community Betterment Foundation and the Jewish Community Center. He’s worked at several other places in the past, says his mom, Jane, who likes to rotate his assignments.

“The reason he’s volunteering is that he’s needed a lot of support from the general community and the Jewish community—and he’s gotten it,” says Jane Lyss. “This is his chance to lead a productive life and give back.”

Sam, who communicates mostly through sign language and typing, is accompanied at his volunteer jobs by job coach Patricia Ferrell. He is also helped by life coaches. Due to health issues, he needs one-on-one supervision at all time.

Sam’s challenges don’t slow him down, however. In addition to his volunteering, he participates in many activities, including performing with the Jewish Community Center’s Theatre Unlimited, a barrier-free theater company for adults with disabilities.

In hopes of celebrating more stories like Sam’s, Jewish Federation of St. Louis launched the St. Louis Jewish Community Inclusion Initiative last year. The Initiative’s mission is to promote full participation in Jewish life for individuals with disabilities and their families by enhancing inclusion, providing resources and collaborating with existing services in the St. Louis community.