This weekend, Francine Godfrey, Director of Fitness and Wellness at JCHE, was awarded AJAS 2013 Humanitarian Award. Here are her remarks upon receiving this prestigious award.

This is not only an honor for me, I feel very proud that it honors the Dnepropetrovsk Kehilla Project (DKP) – which for me is a very personal and organic part of my professional and personal development. Many of you know of the national effort beginning in 1992 to link American Jewish communities with Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union.  At that time, Boston became the sister city to Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. 

Eleven years ago, I saw a few slides brought by leaders of the Jewish Community of Dnepr showing an extremely “compromised” Jewish population – very poor, very frail, living in dire conditions, but also having plans to build a home for their Jewish elders

I absolutely knew that this was my calling, this was the work I was meant to do. We often do not hear that “small voice” or listen to it. That day I did, and can only explain it by the use of the Hebrew word in the Bible “Hineni”, which means: “I am here with all of my being, physically and spiritually, ready to do what I need to do, and fully present in the moment.”   Since then, I have been to Dnepr 10 glorious times.

The connection between Boston and the community in Dnepr is palpable and provides a special chance for all the Jewish agencies in Boston to work collectively towards a common end. Together, we have been part of the rebirth of a vibrant Jewish community in Dnepr- with an active synagogue, an assisted living community, a medical center, a school for special needs children, a day school and a clinic- all sponsored by the Boston Jewish community.  It is inspiring to know that we are part of a larger effort to rebuild communities in many parts of the FSU.

As a result we have Beit Baruch – a unique, beautiful combined assisted living and nursing home residence.  Home to 60 older adults, most of who were living in isolated, substandard housing.  Mirroring our fitness and wellness programs at JCHE, we have exercise programs, gyms; fall prevention initiatives; interactive music and movement exercise class for those with cognitive disabilities and many more, all designed to meet the needs of every level of ability. We are most proud that we have 100% participation from our Dnepr residents.   Regular visits and video conferencing have encouraged a model of care that integrates physical, mental, and social aspects of the residents’ lives. 

I feel privileged and blessed to be part of this rebirth.

In conclusion, I am deeply humbled and grateful to you for this award and to JCHE for all their support of my work both in Boston and in the Ukraine.

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