Back in the early 1970s, before the Greenwood House for the Jewish aged had moved from its original building on Greenwood Avenue in Trenton to its current location on Walter Street in Ewing, Renee Denmark Punia worked at the senior center as a candy-striper.
Her mother lived in Brooklyn “and it wasn’t always possible for Renee to visit her as often as she would have liked,” said Leonard Punia about his late wife, who died in August 2009 following a lengthy battle with cancer. “That’s when she started working at Greenwood House. In a way, it was almost as if the time she spent there was a substitute for not being able to see her mother whenever she wanted. It became a special place for us.”
Today, nearly four decades later, the Punia family’s ties to Greenwood House remain stronger than ever. They’ve been fortified by Leonard Punia — a Princeton resident with extensive real estate holdings in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania who maintains a wide array of communal affiliations — who most recently made a contribution used to install stained-glass windows in memory of his grandmother; his son Joseph, who was involved in the construction of an addition to the current facility; and Joseph’s wife, Sheryl, who serves as Greenwood House president.
Thus, it seemed appropriate that Leonard Punia has been a major force behind the launching of the Greenwood House Growing for Tomorrow campaign. In recognition of his $500,000 gift, the Greenwood House hospice program has been renamed the Renee Denmark Punia Community Hospice of Greenwood House.
“The Greenwood House community is very grateful to Len Punia for his leadership gift in honor of his late wife and our dear friend, Renee,” said Marissa Treu, cochair of the Growing for Tomorrow campaign along with fellow Princeton resident Jeff Perlman. “Over her lifetime, Renee was such a tremendous personality and force for good at Greenwood House that it is a well-deserved honor to have the hospice program named for her.”
Added Sheryl Punia, also of Princeton: “My father-in-law wants to support this campaign in hopes that the next generation will contribute and appreciate the importance of Greenwood House to the community.”
Greenwood House has provided long-term care, assisted living, meals-on-wheels, and hospice and homecare services to community members for more than 70 years. The heart of Greenwood House, the Robert and Natalie Marcus Home for the Jewish Aged, one of the last sectarian Jewish homes in the country, is home to 137 residents ages 63 to 100-plus. The Growing for Tomorrow campaign has set a $6 million fund-raising goal, for purchase of land for a new site and immediate renovations. More than $1.5 million has already been raised; the public phase of the campaign has just begun.
According to Sheryl, a new location will be necessary at some point in the next decade.
“We realize that the land purchase and any future building plans will take many years to come to fruition,” Treu said. “In the meantime, the present home badly needs to be updated and refurbished for the well-being, comfort, and dignity” of the residents of the facility, which was last renovated in 1996.
Furthermore, Sheryl noted, “when we eventually do sell the building, it will need to be in proper condition in order for it to be purchased.”
Resident rooms are the primary focus of the refurbishment, with new flooring, wall treatments, lighting, and draperies and streamlined furniture, including flat-screen televisions, in all resident rooms. Lounge areas, including the library and family meeting rooms, will receive new flooring, wall treatments, and furnishings. Rehabilitation and personal spaces such as bathing rooms will be enhanced to provide a calm and inviting environment.
“We’ll be adding partial privacy walls and updated decorations,” Sheryl Punia said. “More storage area will be available. We want to make the environment as home-like as we can.”
Soon a model resident room, sponsored by Borden Perlman, will be open to give staff and residents an opportunity to live and work in the remodeled surroundings. “If the residents, their families, and the staff are happy with the refurbished room, we’ll proceed,” she said.
Construction will take place in phases. Residents will temporarily move into a new room while their own living quarters are being refurbished, giving them an opportunity to become familiar with the new layout.
When Leonard Punia was asked to help Greenwood House transition into the future, he was quick to respond. His hope is that others will follow his example.
“When my wife was very sick, they sent people to our house to care for her,” he said. “They did a marvelous job. After she passed away, they were telling me about their plans, and I wanted to give a gift as a token of my appreciation. They did a great job for my family, and they’ve done a great job for so many others. In my time of need, it gave me peace of mind to have them on board.
“When I say how wonderful they are, I speak from personal experience.”