Two women with a long history of volunteering have put those skills to good use through the Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County.
Leona Solomon and Barbara Polifka of Monroe — who for 19 years have raised funds, served on committees, and chaired events — were honored for their “outstanding dedication and achievement” at JFVS’s annual meeting, held June 18 at Congregation Beit Shalom in Monroe.
“When I came to Middlesex in 2003, Leona and Barbara were already very involved,” said executive director Sara Levine. “Sometimes they work independently and sometimes together. But they both have taken on so many leadership roles to benefit the agency and community it’s hard to really separate them.”
JFVS president emeritus Vickie Solomon — no relation to Leona — described the pair as “caring, honest, funny, loyal, loving, and very special people.”
Both have served on the Laurie Advisory Council, which works with the JFVS board to identify needs in the Monroe community.
“When Barbara joined the council she didn’t know that sitting next to Leona would mean becoming co-chairperson for many of our recent events,” said Vickie Solomon, including its summer Chai Tea fund-raiser, this year to be held on Wednesday, Aug. 13.
Leona Solomon cited her own family’s long history of volunteerism “going way back to my grandmother.”
It was only logical for her to gravitate to JFVS when she and her husband, Sidney, moved 19 years ago from Wantagh, Long Island, to the Concordia adult community.
“Whatever I’ve been involved in, I’ve gotten tremendous satisfaction from doing,” said Solomon, the mother of two and grandmother of five. “It’s my way of doing tzedaka for people in need. We really have a wonderful group on the council.”
Solomon has a music degree from Hunter College in Manhattan and taught piano for many years. She was a volunteer coordinator for the former Industrial Home for the Blind on Long Island. While there, she helped create a preschool vision screening program.
“By the time I left that position, we had screened 25,000 preschoolers in Nassau and Suffolk counties,” said Solomon.
But she said “the most fun I ever had” was running the dating program at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview, NY, which she and her husband were instrumental in helping to build.
Polifka got involved with JFVS after moving to the Ponds — also 19 years ago and also from Plainview on Long Island. After being asked to host a meeting for JFVS, she became an active volunteer and joined the advisory council, where she just ended a four-year stint as liaison between the council and JFVS board.
“I’m a volunteer kind of person,” she said. “It makes me feel good to volunteer.”
On Long Island, Polifka said, she was “PTA everything,” including president, holding offices in every school district in her area.
For 25 years, she was active in the former Association for the Help of Retarded Children (now the AHRC). She was instrumental in arranging a meeting with then New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, which resulted in his signing a law requiring school districts to care for special-needs children.
Ironically, Polifka’s late husband, Mitchell Laub — then president of the local board of education — worked closely with Solomon’s husband, a lawyer, in arranging for the sale of a closed school building that became the Plainview Y JCC.
When she heard Solomon was in Monroe, Polifka said, “I introduced myself, and we’ve worked together ever since.”
“I’ve worked all my life doing all kinds of things to try to make the world better for people who need it.”
Polifka has five children and her second husband, George, has three; between them, they have 30 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.