Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Meet the Jewish Pavilion honorees

 

Eve Homburger

"Valerie Chestnut and Eve Homburger are two extraordinary women who have devoted themselves to our senior community," said Nancy Ludin, executive director of the Jewish Pavilion. "We are thrilled to honor them at our gala on March 9 for giving back, both personally and professionally. Both honorees generously offer their time to the Jewish Pavilion, and share our mission of enhancing the lives of Orlando's Jewish seniors."

Dr. Eve Homburger is an active Pavilion volunteer, as well as a counseling psychologist. Homburger, along with son, Marc, make a difference in the lives of seniors through weekly visits to its elder facilities. Valerie Chestnut BA MS has a background in gerontology, and impacts the lives of Orlando's seniors both in and out of the workplace. She is a member of the Pavilion's executive board, as well as a corporate sponsor through Vitas Hospice.

Homburger was raised in a household where giving back to the community was second nature. "My parents, the late Lore and Fred Homburger of Lancaster, Pa., were Holocaust survivors from Germany. They went from having everything to having nothing. They taught me the importance of being part of and giving back to the community," she shared. Lore Homburger was a Lancaster community leader, heading up the sisterhood of Temple Shaarai Shomayim, the JCC, the Lancaster Blind Association, as well as the Lancaster County Public Library. 

Homburger grew up attending programs at the JCC and was confirmed at Temple Shaarai Shomayim. To this day, she recalls her father's speech at her confirmation, which has served as a guide throughout her life. "My father shared three important values to live by: The first was tolerance. He encouraged me to be open- minded and to accept people of all types. Next, he emphasized honesty, and wished me a life of honor and truthfulness. Last, my father wanted me to know the importance of a sense of humor, and how to make lemonade out of lemons," she noted. Homburger remarks that she and husband, Brad Jacobs, do their best to pass these values to Marc, a fourth-grade student at the Jewish Academy of Orlando.

Education was of great importance to the Homburger family. "My parents felt that one could always take an education with you. As survivors, they believed an education was portable, and could not be taken away," she said. Homburger lived by the family's creed, attending Ithaca and Rollins Colleges where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees, respectively. She received her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Central Florida in 1990. In addition, Homburger was an accomplished athlete, and was an all-around varsity gymnast at the collegiate level.

Homburger has been a resident of Central Florida since 1977. She was hired by Marvin Friedman as the director of physical education/youth/singles at the JCC as her first job out of school. "I was planning on staying in Florida for one year, and I'm still here," she said. "Dick and Dottie Appelbaum interviewed me for my position, and offered me a place to stay until I got settled. I moved into their house, and taught their three girls gymnastics. Now when I run into Dick, he jokes about how my one year in Orlando has turned into more than 30."

Homburger went on to work for the Osceola County school system for 10 years, where she headed up the guidance department, and received the Walt Disney Community Service Award for her accomplishments. In addition, she has taught at Stetson University as a visiting professor, and is now in private practice as a counseling psychologist in Maitland.

Like her mother, Homburger has been a life-long community volunteer. She is currently active in Orlando's Holocaust Center, the JCC, the Jewish Academy, the Central Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and Ithaca College. She became involved in the Jewish Pavilion four years ago, explaining, "Marc and I had been visiting seniors in their homes for years. We still visit Rabbi Adler (Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Ohev Shalom) in his home, where we chat and play cards. Marc is very musical, and he will sing and play the piano. We love visiting with seniors-they have so much to teach us. We get back more than we give."

She and Marc now visit seniors at Savannah Court in Maitland on Mondays, where they sing, share snacks and conversation. "We love being involved in our vibrant community and Brad and I hope Marc will grow up following in our parents and our footsteps, continuing their legacy of giving back."

Elder care, geriatrics, and nursing homes are terms that make many of us ill at ease in our youth oriented culture, but not Philadelphia's' Valerie Chestnut, community liaison of Vitas Hospice of Orlando. Chestnut chose to get her graduate degrees in gerontology and business administration, making elder care her life's work.

Chestnut's first job out of college was as an assistant nursing home director, followed by the directorship. Initially, she looked at managing the elder facility from a business perspective, noting "then I sat in on a program run by the home's social workers, and I saw that the residents as real people, just in a later stage of life. My whole perspective on the elder community changed." She became a hands-on administrator, spending each afternoon visiting with patients.

Chestnut's children, Shaun and Camille who are now in their 30s, were often by her side during her elder visits. "My kids understood from an early age how to respect and listen to their elders. They became foster grandkids to dozens of seniors."

Chestnut maintains a close relationship with her adult children, who reside in Philadelphia as next door neighbors. The "three peas in a pod" get together every Sunday and Monday night during football season via Skype to cheer on their beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Valerie and Camille will enjoy mother-daughter time this spring when they tour Paris and the French countryside. In addition, frequent visits between Orlando and Philadelphia (and vice versa) help the close-knit family stay connected. 

Chestnut began working with Vitas Hospice in Orlando in 2010, after working for the Duke End of Life Institute. Chestnut explained that their grant program came to an end, and Vitas had been one of their program's funders. "Moving to Vitas allowed me to continue to my work with end of life care as a community liaison."

Chestnut has been involved with the Jewish Pavilion for the last four years, after meeting Nancy Ludin at a women's networking event. "The message of the Jewish Pavilion just clicked with me. Our daily business is all about seniors in long-term care. We are both here to let seniors know they are not alone."

Vitas became a corporate sponsor of the Pavilion, and Chestnut took classes at the National Institute of Jewish Hospice, allowing Vitas to remain the only Jewish certified hospice in Central Florida. In addition, Chestnut now serves as secretary on the Pavilion's executive board.

"Valerie has felt like family ever since she walked through our doors. Valerie sits on many of our committees, and she makes things happen. Her can-do spirit and problem solving abilities have helped the Pavilion year after year," Nancy Ludin shared.

Chestnut's positivity is reinforced each morning when she begins each day with a "gratitude meditation."

"I clear my head, and focus on my breathing for at least 20 minutes. When I get to the office, I think about what may be the blessing for that day," she shared.

Valerie Chestnut

"A typical blessing is when I connect with someone, and my message can improve their day or change their outlook. I often speak to retirement groups between the ages of 60 and 80 about planning for the end stages of life. Last week I received a call from a caregiver of an elderly parent who took my card two years ago. The woman on the phone re-introduced herself to me, and said, 'It's time (to discuss end of life care).' People often hold onto my card, and reach out when they need it most."

Valerie shares that her work with hospice is not sad. She adds, "Of course, there are some situations that make me feel sad, but my work is so rewarding that mostly I feel blessed to be in someone's life. I am helping people ease their pain at the most intimate time. Helping others is what my message is all about."

 

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