Elaine Parker and Lisa and Mike Shmerling are the recipients of Jewish Family Service’s 2017 Chesed Award and will be honored at JFS’s annual fundraiser dinner on Thursday, April 27.
Chesed is Hebrew for “loving kindness,” and the Chesed Award is given each year to acknowledge the contributions the recipients have made to the Jewish and broader Nashville community and beyond.
“Boy do Elaine, Lisa and Mike personify the essence of Chesed!” said JFS Executive Director Pam Kelner. “One of the aspects I love most about the Chesed Award is the opportunity to share with the entire community what our amazing honorees have done to impact the quality of life for so many in our community. We can all be inspired by their accomplishments.”
The Shmerlings’ impact on Nashville’s non-profit landscape is felt far and wide. An abbreviated list of agencies benefitting from their leadership includes: The Temple, Renewal House, Grace Eaton Day Care Center, the Gordon Jewish Community Center, The Jewish Federation & Foundation, Fisk University, University School of Nashville and Abes Garden.
Lisa has served on the JFS Board over the past 5 years and has volunteered her time and talents as a co-chair of the Chesed Dinner. She was a special education teacher with Metro Public Schools, and one area of JFS programming that resonates with her is Family Life Education programming, where Lisa is one of the agency’s volunteers. Mike has been an active participant in the Jewish Job Network, which matches job-seekers with prospective employers, since the program’s inception in 2010.
The Shmerlings believe deeply in the mission of JFS, and have strived to instill that passion and commitment in their children. Their daughter, Katie Wayne, graduated as a member of the Young Leader Council (YLC), a nonprofit Nashville leadership training program. When it came time to choose an internship, she picked JFS, becoming the first participant in YLC’s 30-year history to intern with a Jewish agency. Katie now serves as a JFS board member.
As the first woman to receive her master’s in education from Harvard, Elaine Parker was handed her diploma by Helen Keller, who told her, “Don’t let this education go to waste.” Elaine took those words to heart and has made her entire life about giving of one’s self and improving the lives of others, said Kelner.
Elaine says one of her earliest memories is of volunteering with her Hungarian grandmother in cooking for and writing to servicemen through the Red Cross. She later volunteered with Boston Veterans Hospital and the New York Lighthouse for the Blind – all experiences that contributed to her interest in working with people with vision problems.
As the State Director for the Blind of Tennessee, Elaine opened programs and changed outdated standards for persons with disabilities. Her passion for working with people with visual, hearing, or mobility challenges led to her writing a book on special needs weddings. Elaine continues her work today by equipping senior adults with vision issues with low vision aids from the JFS Low Vision Closet for Jewish Seniors Program, a partnership between JFS and B’nai B’rith Chapter 46.
She also worked at Nashville Tech in Commercial Food Service and Culinary Arts Training which paved the way for a catering career.
Elaine’s long history of involvement with JFS goes back to the 1980s when she started classes for Jewish Russian families who immigrated to Nashville. She taught individuals how to interview, write resumes, and apply for jobs in addition to accompanying them to supermarkets to learn the foods and read instructions. All of these valuable skills enabled them to gain confidence in navigating a new place and reinforced their independence.
The Chesed Dinner will begin with a reception at 6:15 p.m. at the Gordon Jewish Community Center with dinner following at 7 p.m. Tickets are $150 per person. For more information or to make reservations, contact Janet Parr at (615) 356-4234.
The Chesed Dinner is the primary fundraiser for JFS, one of Nashville’s oldest social service agencies. Last year JFS served more than 1,800 individuals through its 18 services and programs in the areas of adoption, counseling, psychotherapy, financial assistance, senior services, information and referral, and family life and community enrichment.
For more information about JFS, contact Kelner at (615) 354-1644 or visit the JFS Website at www.jfsnashville.org. •