“I can feel the power of community in this place.”
That was Maria Vertkin, founder and executive director of the Found in Translation organization, addressing the crowd of 650 at Cipriani 42nd Street Thursday, during the Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards luncheon honoring “everyday heroes.”
Found in Translation, which provides a free medical interpreter training program, job placement and career advancement services to low-income bilingual women including immigrants, received a $25,000 grant and the Roslyn Jaffe Award. Roslyn Jaffe and her husband Elliot in 1962 cofounded Dressbarn, which is owned by Ascena Retail Group.
“Immigrant doctors, lawyers and scientists become cleaning ladies. Immigration shrinks us,” said Vertkin. “When you are not able to contribute to society, it affects who you are. Patients need medical interpreters.” With Found in Translation’s employment help, women, on average, earning less than $15 an hour within a few months earn $25 an hour on their new jobs and within six months earn $10,000 more per year, Vertkin said.
The grand-prize winner, receiving a $100,000 grant and the Roslyn Jaffe Award, was Appetite for Change, an organization in north Minneapolis that grows healthy food and promotes healthy diets in an urban area overrun with fast-food establishments.
“We really believe the work of E.J. and Mrs. Jaffe is the root of our existence and the embodiment and fabric to a safe community,” said Princess Titus, director of education and training of Appetite for Change, and cofounder of the organization along with Michelle Horovitz and Latasha Powell. “We will never forget how food has proven to shape communities. My healing happened in the garden, as the mother of a child lost to gun violence.”
Home Works, an organization in St. Louis that trains and helps pay teachers and other school personnel visit their students’ homes so families can get engaged, received a $25,000 grant.
“Two-thirds of the children in America read below grade level. Two-thirds are below grade level in math. Without the involvement of parents, kids, most of them, can’t make it,” said Karen Kalish, founder and chief executive officer of Home Works. “We have to get parents and teachers together and have more parents know the teachers.…I’m proud to call myself an everyday hero.”
“This luncheon gets bigger and bigger every year,” said David Jaffe, Ascena’s ceo and the son of Roslyn and Elliot Jaffe. “We receive over 2,000 applications” for the grants.
“It’s one thing to give a starving man a fish. It’s much more important to teach him to fish,” said Elliot Jaffe. “This luncheon symbolizes the importance of education. Teaching people how to fish is what it’s all about.”
An obviously moved Roslyn Jaffe maintained a beaming smile through the ceremony. “I don’t cry. My nose runs,” she joked to the crowd. The Jaffe award winners are “optimists, trailblazers. They don’t see problems. They find opportunities.” She reiterated her encouraging turn of phase: “When life brings you lemons, make lemonade.”