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So proud that Francine Godfrey won 2013 AJAS Humanitarian Award!

Posted: March 5, 2013

This weekend, our director of fitness and wellness, Francine Godfrey, was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award from AJAS at their national conference in Los Angeles. Here are the remarks I made while introducing Francine at the conference during the awards presentation.

There is simply no way to convey, in 1-2 minutes, the impact Francine Godfrey has had on the entire population of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and by inference the hopes of all the lost Jewish communities of the FSU.  At one time, Dnep was home to the 3rd largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe.  It was virtually wiped out physically during WWII and the Soviet aftermath—but not spiritually.  Boston was paired with Dnep in 1992 and since then we have witnessed the complete rebirth and revitalization of the Jewish community there.  And Francine has been integral to every part of that.

The pairing meant that 7 Jewish agencies pooled resources and expertise.  Can you imagine any 7 Jewish individuals agreeing on anything, much less 7 agencies filled with Jewish people?  Well, they do—they all agree that Francine is the rock star of the Dnep rebirth and continued vibrancy.

Francine began her involvement by playing a pivotal role in the development of Beit Baruch, the first Jewish assisted living facility in Ukraine.  Francine has become the coach, trusted advisor and dear friend to the entire staff—they look to her not only for the fitness program she created and continues to oversee, but for every aspect of running the facility.

Just a minute, though, about the fitness and wellness program.  Before Francine, the residents had never participated in a structured exercise and wellness program.  On her first trip, she brought her passion and her expertise AND a suitcase filled with low-tech fitness equipment.  In a nutshell, she has brought participation up from 0% to 100%!  Yes, I did mean 100%!

In case you ask, so what?  Here’s just one story: a 73-year-old bed bound man came to Beit Baruch—deemed unlikely to ever walk again.  Francine devised an exercise program and guided the fitness instructor through daily visits.  Over time, he transferred to a wheelchair.  Over more time, a walker.  Then a cane.  Today, he walks without any mobility devices and his depression has lifted—enough for him to ask Francine to find him a new bride!

For Francine, her 10 trips and regular phone calls to Dnep is a labor of love and comes from a humanitarian  place deep in her soul.  For JCHE, Francine’s involvement does something beyond bring us nachas and make us look especially good to our fellow agencies (although that’s significant).  In one of many long meetings of Jewish agencies execs, I was asked “why is it worth it for JCHE to invest so much in Dnep?”  It took me less than a millisecond to answer honestly: “If we got nothing else from this partnership, it would be totally worth it simply to keep Francine happy—she’s just that good, that productive and that valuable to our organization.”  I think this award is giving her an extra boost, and for that, the 1500 residents of JCHE and I thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

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