Sherri & David Romanoff
The following was written by Collat Jewish Family Services Development and Outreach Director Elaine Witt. It originally appeared in Village Living. Collat Jewish Family Services is a recipient of funds from the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign.
By Elaine Witt
Since it was launched in 2010, the annual “Hands Up Together” event has become a much-anticipated evening for supporters of Collat Jewish Family Services.
This year, the event — which typically features Broadway-based entertainers — is “going local.”
The Hot Tamales, featuring Mountain Brook resident Kristi Tingle Higginbotham and her song and dance partner Jan Hunter will perform at the May 16 event at Alabama School of Fine Arts.
“So many great things are happening locally, and we wanted to salute that,” said CJFS Executive Director Lauren Schwartz. “Our event is a little different: It doesn’t include an auction or any other on-site fundraising, just great entertainment and a dessert reception. There’s been a lot of excitement that we’re featuring Birmingham talent this year, especially local favorites like Jan and Kristi.”
Honorees for this year’s event are Sherri and David Romanoff, who have served CJFS as leaders, donors and volunteers.
“We’ve both been clients of the agency, so we know that the professionalism and compassion of its staff are great assets for the community,” Sherri Romanoff said. “We respect it, we volunteer for it and we want to be involved in it. It’s the agency of heart for both of us.”
CJFS is a United Way partner agency that provides counseling for all ages and supports older adults and their families as they navigate the journey of aging, regardless of faith or financial ability. But in the late 1980s, when Sherri Romanoff first started volunteering for Jewish Family Services, it wasn’t an agency at all, just a committee of the Birmingham Jewish Federation.
As CJFS became an independent agency and began to grow, Sherri’s life was changing too. When she went through a divorce and was facing the challenges of single parenthood, Sherri turned to CJFS for counseling. Similarly, when David’s first marriage ended, he also faced the challenges of single parenthood, and he too found guidance and support at CJFS.
“At one time, there was a stigma, that CJFS was only for people who couldn’t afford to go somewhere else for counseling, transportation and help caring for older adults,” David Romanoff said. “We’ve always been big believers; because we did use it, and we’ve wanted to make people aware that it’s for everybody and offers the highest quality services in town.”
Along the way, there were always opportunities to give back. One of the most memorable times was when Sherri Romanoff’s entire Corenblum family was paired with a Jewish family that CJFS was resettling in Birmingham from the former Soviet Union.
“My father (the late Max Corenblum) had come here from Russia when he was 5 years old, after his parents were killed in the pogroms,” she said. “When we were with our ‘friendship family,’ my father would speak Yiddish with them and take them groceries and fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market. It was wonderful for us to see Daddy have a positive connection to his roots. We were all very involved, and it was a gift to us to help our friendship family transition to life in Birmingham.”
Over the years, both David and Sherri served as CSFS Board President, and David currently is the board’s Vice President for Fund Development. They’ve seen the agency’s older adult services grow to include case management, caregiver support, escorted medical transportation and much more. When they need help, Sherri and David still turn to CJFS.
The agency was there when David needed guidance in caring for his aging mother in another state. “Then, when I was re-diagnosed with cancer, I called the agency and asked if they could start a support group for women cancer survivors,” Sherri said. “They did, and that group meant a lot to me and the other participants.”
Today, the primary focus of CJFS is helping older adults live independently with an enriched quality of life. But the agency still provides professional counseling for all ages, and it still serves people of diverse races, religions and income levels. “Just to see how it has evolved and continues to evolve has been an inspiration,” Sherri said, noting how the 2-year-old CARES respite program has raised the agency’s profile.
Hands Up Together is May 16 at 7 pm at the Alabama School of Fine Arts Day Theater.