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Home-grown heroes

Jewish Home honors its own

Jewish Home nurses Geraldine Catibog and Richelle Barcenilla are among the heroes who will be honored at this year’s gala. (Jewish Home Family)
Jewish Home nurses Geraldine Catibog and Richelle Barcenilla are among the heroes who will be honored at this year’s gala. (Jewish Home Family)

Every year, the Jewish Home Family chooses as its gala honoree a person who has been particularly helpful to the organization itself or to the area of eldercare. This year, the honorees excelled in both areas — and more.

“It was a pretty obvious choice this year,” Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of the Jewish Home Family said. Then she announced that the organization’s own staff will receive this year’s coveted honor. “This team worked extremely hard during the worst days of the pandemic and made us all proud,” she said. “This was the year to honor folks who gave 1000 percent of themselves and continue to do so. It’s been an extraordinary year and they continue to perform in extraordinary ways. It seemed the right thing to do.”

“For over 100 years, we’ve had a community gala,” the Jewish Home Foundation’s executive director, Melanie Cohen, said. The gala traditionally has been black tie, “with fabulous attendance, a very social event.” What’s more, “The Jewish Home has always been extremely particular about our honoree. It’s always been one of our own, someone who has served on the board or supported eldercare in a special way.”

But this year, “We saw the handwriting on the wall in late spring.” 

Knowing that under pandemic guidelines, “we would not be able to gather at an event, we took a close look at who we were going to honor,” Ms. Cohen said. “If we chose someone from the community, they wouldn’t get their due; we wouldn’t be able to gather in person. The more we thought about it, a light went off. We’d have to something different — not only in the type of event, but in the people we honor.”

This year’s event will be held online on Sunday, October 18, at 6 p.m., and it is expected to take about 45 minutes. Both the journal and a 10-minute documentary film will offer attendees an inside look at life in a nursing home during March and April of 2020.

The journal will be presented as a flipbook as people are waiting for the program to begin. According to Ms. Silver Elliott, the book, which will be mailed out after the event, has raised a good deal of money, interest, and participation. “It’s very robust,” she said. “It’s quite amazing. It’s the story of heroes, with pages of tributes.”

 “There are some wonderful stories and profiles, and touching messages from members of the community,” Ms. Cohen said. “It will appear in its entirety on the website of the gala.”

Carol Silver Elliott, left, and Melanie Cohen

The film, “Smiling Behind Our Mask,” is produced by New York City filmmaker Jennie Schweitzer Bell. It shows a number of staff members talking about their experience. “There’s not a more special and deserving group to honor than Jewish Home Family staff,” Ms. Silver Elliott said.

“It’s a very emotional and moving video,” Ms. Cohen added, noting that the filmmaker had worked previously with the Jewish Home. “We told her we wanted an honest representation of what had transpired here from March to now. She was up to the challenge in a major way. It’s touching and emotional, sad at the beginning but uplifting at the end.”

Ms. Cohen noted that some of the footage had been taken by the staff between March and June, “and was skillfully edited into it. I was there every day. When I watched the film, I thought it was very accurate, a remarkable depiction of what transpired here, how we helped people.” Ms. Silver Elliott said that the internal footage – taken by staff and including both video and still shots – show, among other scenes, people “graduating out of isolation.”

The program will begin with welcome messages from Carol Silberstein, the chair of the Jewish Home Family, and Ms. Silver Elliott, who described it as “a conversation with the community about what has transpired in the past eight months and how we have successfully come out on the other side.”

What transpired, it would appear, was quite dramatic. “At the beginning, we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Ms. Silver Elliott said. “All the sources we usually rely on had nothing. And of course, because of where we are geographically, we were hit early and hard.” Speaking with a colleague at a local hospital –“telling us how bad things were before we even got our first case” – she was advised not to send people there because they were so overwhelmed. In other words, “our people wouldn’t be at the top of their list.”

As a result, “We turned ourselves into a mini-hospital,” she said. “It was like being in an alternate reality. Everyone stepped up. We stole every idea we heard from a hospital. While we were not 100 percent successful, we saved more people than we lost.” So, she said, she would say the story ended successfully.

The October 18 program is free, and anyone can register. “Over the last number of months, there’s been a lot of negative press about nursing homes,” Ms. Cohen said. “We feel we have a very remarkable story to tell. We were extremely successful in what we did, and we want the community to see that.”

To register, go to gala2020.jewishhomefamily.org

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