The Power of Music Strikes a Chord at the Selfhelp Home

The first strains of a melody or the opening lyrics of a song can transport us back in time, evoking memories and improving psychological well-being. Whether an instrumental piece of music or a favorite song, music can transport us to a peaceful place.

At the Selfhelp Home, an active and engaging not-for-profit senior living community on Chicago’s North Side, music has long been part of the community’s cultural legacy.

At the core of the community are residents originally from Europe who have a strong musical and cultural appreciation, especially for opera and classical music. Frequent concerts are designed to appeal to them, as well as to other residents with a range of musical tastes.

The Selfhelp Home hosts 80 to 100 live concerts each year, says program director Fern Shaffer, making Selfhelp a venue for some of the most renowned local musicians. Top-notch talent performs at the weekly Sunday afternoon music series, including performers from the Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.

In addition to the Sunday music series, additional concerts are tied to holidays and other events. Fourth of July concerts showcase patriotic music; Jewish holidays feature liturgical music; and New Year’s Eve might feature playful Broadway showtunes.

Mid-week concerts often include performances by up-and-coming young students. In addition to the classical concerts, programming includes some popular music and jazz to attract different audiences.

Music stirs the soul, providing an emotional and cultural connection. “When some people hear the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, it reminds them of what they grew up with. So it’s an emotional release,” Shaffer says.

“Our audiences are in their late 80s and 90s to 100s, so a lot of activities are not going to be participatory. Music is a way of reaching people and engaging them,” Shaffer says. “Music is lively. They’re tapping their feet and dancing in their seats.”

The concerts give residents a chance to enjoy high-quality performances, all within a convenient setting.

“It’s a crown jewel of the Selfhelp Home as far as I’m concerned,” says resident Donald Davidson, 81. “The Sunday concert series is something special. By and large, it’s hard to beat the talent we get.”

“Many of us were regular concertgoers,” says Davidson, who was formerly associated with the Old Town School of Folk Music and was an amateur folk dancer. “To have the same talent come here, how could you not appreciate it?”

The benefits of music are far-reaching, Shaffer says. And at the Selfhelp Home, the robust musical programming definitely strikes the right note.

Music and Memory

4 WAYS that Music Improves The Quality of Life.

Research has looked at the interaction of music, memories and emotions and has shown that music can improve quality of life.

  1. Music has a strong emotional tie. A 2013 brain imaging study in the journal NeuroImage found that music activated the auditory, motor and limbic (emotional) regions. Music with lyrics (the study used The Beatles’ Abbey Road) showed a stronger emotional correlation than music without lyrics, though both had a strong association.
  2. Music can decrease anxiety, anger, stress and frustration. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with changes in pulse and respiration rates as well as blood pressure levels.
  3. Melody helps embed memories. Learning information, such as the ABC song or Fifty Nifty United States, is made easier when there’s a tune attached to it.
  4. Music can activate the salience network of the brain, which is relatively spared as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Because of this, individuals with Alzheimer’s may remain very responsive to music from their past, say researchers at the University of Utah Health.



A Standing Ovation to Donna Mayer Volunteer Extraordinaire

On August 30th we honored Donna Mayer- the face of The Selfhelp Home Gift Shop, a role she enjoyed for the last seven years.  An Avid traveler and “networker”, Donna finds treasures wherever she goes and loves fining things that people are happy to buy. “I love the people here, Donna Mayer says, and I respect what many residents have gone through in their lives.” When Donna is around, a crowd gathers, chatting, laughing, trying on scarves and trinkets, exchanging the news of the day. Donna’s dedication to the Selfhelp community is worthy of a Standing Ovation.

View the Gallery of Photos from the Event

Remarks from Austin Hirsch, Board President at the event on August 17.

Donna has created and made our Gift Shop a social opportunity for our Residents and their families to engage.  Beth and I have had the pleasure of purchasing special little gifts and having Donna makes these positive experiences.  On a personal note, my Father of blessed memory, owned a retail store and, the many lessons that he taught me about customer service is exactly the way Donna relates to those Residents and Family Members browsing or purchasing at the Gift Shop.

Donna’s devotion to The Selfhelp Home is a thing of beauty. Many years ago, before she ran the gift shop, she would run errands for the residents, running back and forth to get them the things they needed. She got to know to know a lot of people that way and she was very interested in the stories of the residents. About seven or eight years ago, Donna started running the gift shop. Items came from around the world—Donna would pick them up in her travels with Selfhelp residents and families in mind, and bring them back to Chicago to sell at Selfhelp— lovely things at good prices! Donna also has a wide network of friends and acquaintances in the fashion business who are all too happy to donate some really great items that make our gift shop unique. And, of course, there are the personal family ties, family members who have lived here, including Donna’s husband’s sister, Marion.      

Watching Donna interact with residents reveals just how special she is to them and they to her. Our community gravitates to Donna and when she is present, the Gift Shop is the hub of activity.  

We at Selfhelp know that Donna is very special, and many people came here tonight to celebrate Donna. Thank you all for the donations you have made in her honor. Thank you for your phone calls and emails telling us how deserving Donna is of this recognition. Donna has many very good friends.

In addition to being a savvy shopper, Donna is a master baker. She is devoted to her husband Larry, with whom she shares a love of life and travel. Indeed, Larry is a fortunate person.  Also, Donna’s humanitarian spirit reveals itself in her work with low-income girls can go to their proms in style.  

Thank you, Donna, for all you do to make our home special and to make our Selfhelp Home special and to make the world a better place. You are a friend and part of the fabric of Selfhelp.  If you and Larry could please come up; we have a gift of appreciation.    

Meet the new intern Ella Neumann!

Have you met Ella? She is our new German Intern who just arrived at the end of September. Ella is 18 and is from Nurtingen, Germany, near Stuttgart. She likes to play the saxophone, and enjoys bike riding. She also enjoys singing and has already joined a local choir. In the few weeks that she has been here, she already feels very welcome. She loves the programs is impressed by the political discussions (she didn’t expect that) and is enjoying teaching morning exercise. Ella is especially happy to follow and attend the Jewish traditions at Selfhelp, “I have only learned about them in school,” she expressed , “it’s so different when you see it in real life,” said Ella. We look forward to getting to know her. Ella will be with us until next August, be sure to welcome her as you see her around the house!

For the past 20 years, The Selfhelp Home is a host to a student intern from Germany, a program with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP).

Honoring Leni Weil with The Lifetime Achievement Award

Leni Weil has been a force of nature at The Selfhelp Home for more than 60 years, first as a volunteer teaching English to other refugees like herself, and later as a member of the Board of Trustees and its treasurer.

Fleeing Hitler’s Germany Leni landed in Chicago in 1939, working her way up from babysitting to singlehandedly running an office. As luck would have it, she reconnected here with an old friend from Stuttgart, the late Dr. Rolf Weil, her husband of 72 years.

The two were fiercely determined and equal partners; Rolf rising to the presidency of both Roosevelt University and The Selfhelp Home and Leni, the gracious and exceedingly smart “first lady,” whose support made it all possible.

Leni’s warm and generous nature has won her a bevy of admirers, foremost her adoring children and grandchildren. We at Selfhelp are proud to be central in her circle. It is a privilege to honor Leni with our Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Selfhelp Home Awarded Joint Commission Nursing Care Center Accreditation and Post-Acute Care Certification

Today, The Selfhelp Home announced it has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Nursing Care Center Accreditation  and Post-Acute Care Certification by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal of Approval® is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective patient and resident care. The Selfhelp Home underwent a rigorous on-site survey in early 2018 to meet the criteria and achieve this honor.

During the review, Joint Commission expert surveyors evaluated compliance with nursing care center standards related to several areas, including assistance with activities of daily living, coordination of care, and staff education and training. Surveyors also conducted on-site observations and interviews with leaders and staff of the organization.

“Joint Commission accreditation and certification provides nursing homes with a framework for the processes needed to improve the care patients and residents receive,” said Gina Zimmermann, MS, executive director, Nursing Care Center Accreditation Program, The Joint Commission. “We commend The Selfhelp Home for its efforts to become a quality improvement organization.”

“The Selfhelp Home is pleased to receive accreditation and certification from The Joint Commission, the premier health care quality improvement and accrediting body in the nation,” added Sheila Bogen, Executive Director of The Selfhelp Home. “Staff from across the organization continue to work together to develop and implement approaches and strategies that are geared for providing the highest quality and best possible care for our patients and residents.”

Established in 1966, The Joint Commission’s Nursing Care Center Accreditation Program accredits more than 1,000 organizations that offer nursing home and other long term care services. The Post-Acute Care Certification award was launched in 2013 by The Joint Commission to recognize nursing homes that demonstrate advanced competencies in the provision of post-acute care to patients and residents recently hospitalized.The accreditation and certification programs are awarded for a three-year period.

Selfhelp Celebrates 5 Consecutive Years as A U.S. News & World Report “Best Nursing Home” -Selfhelp Ranks Among the Top 15% in the Nation 

Every year, U.S. News & World Report evaluates more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country. The Selfhelp Home is one of the elite winners, ranking in the top 15 percent of all nursing facilities in the nation. 2017 marks the 5th consecutive year that The Selfhelp Home has received this distinct designation.

“Our team is dedicated to continuously learning and training staff and achieving the highest quality of care for our residents and short-term patients,” said Nerma Lamier, Director of Nursing at The Selfhelp Home.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, (CMS) US Department of Health and Human Services, ranks The Selfhelp Home 5 out of 5 stars. The CMS Five-Star Quality Rating System was designed to help consumers, their families, and caregivers compare nursing homes more easily. The Selfhelp Home is rated  far above average  based on health inspections, nursing home staffing and quality measures.

Selfhelp Board President Austin Hirsch said, “I commend all the staff for their ongoing dedication to our residents and families and maintaining the highest quality of care.  More importantly, the tender loving care given by our staff is immeasurable and goes beyond any government rating.”




Two Organizations Seeing Eye to Eye on a Mission to Help Refugees  

Contributed by Beth Gomberg-Hirsch

The mission of The Selfhelp Home dates back to the 1930’s where a community within a community helped those fleeing Nazi Germany find a safe place to live and flourish in a new country, with a new language, supported by people who understood their past. As refugees, they established the Selfhelp Home to provide care and compassion for their fellow Holocaust survivors. While that original population is now dwindling, the core commitment to helping the stranger continues. Through the guidance and mentoring of Sophie Metovic, the dietary manager, the Selfhelp Home has partnered with RefugeeOne, an independent non-for-profit organization founded in 1982 that provides assistance to refugees resettled in the Chicago area. In needing to become an independent, self-supporting member of a new community as quickly as possible, employment is key, so in July 2016, the partnership between the Selfhelp Home and RefugeeOne began.

Ms. Metovic currently employs four people referenced to her from RefugeeOne. These individuals are so grateful for employment, that they see the dignity in jobs that others might not, and are hard workers trying to do their best, even with severe language barriers. Ms. Metovic tries to match their skills with the tasks she has available ranging from dishwashing, waiting on tables, baking and other miscellaneous jobs. Language is a continual challenge, but non-verbal body language speaks volumes. Some of the languages spoken are French, Portuguese, Swahili, Kinyindu, Kituba, Kikongo, Lingala and Tigrjnya.

Here are some of the brief biographies of the people: 

Adim Tekia, from Eritrea and Ethiopia, has a husband in Israel who is an engineer. She has a ten-year-old son who comes to the Selfhelp Home everyday after school and quietly sits in a corner and does his homework while his mother works. She helps in the kitchen and wants to get her paperwork in order so that someday she can be reunited with her husband. She is working to pay her rent and feels lucky to have a job where she can begin to learn English and feel supported and safe. She has been here for 10 months.

Tishibola Kalala is here from the Congo with her husband and two children. She is now pregnant with her third child and works as a waitress in the dining room. This is her first job, and in her limited English, with a big smile, she says, “everyone here is very nice.” She has been in Chicago for seven months.

Wakilongo Kahugusi from the Congo was a nurse in his country, and would someday like to be licensed here as he learns more English. He has three children- a daughter who is 14, and two sons, 13 and five. Wakilongo has been here six months and takes his job very seriously. He dresses very professionally, and is very hard working, always trying to please. He serves coffee to residents and does dishwashing.

Lalia Mweniake is here from Africa and lived in the Congo. She has worked at Selfhelp for 1 year. She has a husband that lives in the Congo and a 6 month old baby named Peter. Lalia lives with her sister Mapenzi, who also worked at the Selfhelp home and recently had a baby. The sisters give each other support. Lalia works in our Dietary department as a waitress in the dining room. In the Congo she studied Social Work and says the best part about her job is that she gets to help people and enjoys being a part of Selfhelp.

Ms. Metovic reports that as immigrants, like the people that inhabited the Selfhelp Home originally, there is gratefulness in being here, and a connection is made with the residents as if a special bond exists. There is a cultural connection of being the “other” and finding yourself in a secure space. Selfhelp has become a safe haven providing a mixture of love and caring while trying to teach the American way. Wakilongo described working in the kitchen to working in a hospital. , Ms. Metovic blanched, thinking he was referring to Selfhelp as being cold and institutional. “No, No, ” he said.” It is because it is so clean, and we have to wash our hands so many times in the kitchen.”

It is the goal of this partnership to help new refugees integrate into this country-to to become what they ultimately want to be. It is a challenge to recognize the dignity of all work as a step to citizenship. These four individuals realize they are lucky to have been given opportunity, and want to provide the residents of Selfhelp the care and assistance they deserve. It supports the initial mission of the Home to be able to go back to the Home’s roots, and support the stranger among us.

You can learn more about RefugeeOne and our partnership in the featured video.

The Big Hearts Behind the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation

Since 2007, The Selfhelp Home has been a recipient of a program funded by the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation. This program highlights the importance of giving while providing life changing access to a vibrant Jewish life for many Chicago Jewish residents.

Who Was Bernard Heerey?

Bernard Heerey (“Bud”) has been best described as a quite person, a good man and a great story teller. “Bud didn’t spend his money on travel, gambling or clothes. He gave his money to charities,” said Nathaniel Grey, his longtime lawyer and friend.

Bud was born and raised in Chicago. His parents emigrated from Ireland and raised Bud as a religious Catholic. Bud inherited the family business, fixing car radios and providing car batteries. The business was located on the part of Clark St., commonly known in the 1960’s as “Skid Row”, an impoverished area located south of North Ave. and north of the Chicago River. Bud understood the neighborhood.

In 1959 he met and enlisted the services of Nathaniel Grey, as a lawyer. Mr. Grey described Bud as a “Land Assembler.” He continued, “Bud was a risk taker: he would buy up small, contiguous parcels on Clark St—condemned buildings, small commercial buildings, old transient residential buildings—piece them together into a large, assembled holding, demolish the buildings, turn the vacant land into paved parking lots, and sell the assembled parcels to developers. He was essentially helping to clean up Skid Row.” He followed that pattern on other streets in Chicago.

Bud never married and had no children. He passed away at the age of 79. His thoughtful estate planning developed a substantial portion of his estate to charity. He left specific bequests to various Catholic institutions. He provided for a foundation that would give grants to Section 501-(C)(3) organizations irrespective of race, religion or creed, for the benefit of aged person and worthy students.

Mr. Grey was to oversee the estate and serve as the designated Trustee of the foundation. Officially organized in 2006 the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation now currently provides over $3 million annually in grant funds to section 501 (C)(3) institutions.

Scholarships and fellowships for worthy students attending Chicago based schools that currently fall within the foundation’s mission includes Solomon Schechter Day School, Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Chicago Jewish Day School, Garrett- Evangelical theological Seminary, Cristo Ray Jesuit High School, De La Salle Institute, and the University of Chicago.

Chicago based institutions that receive funding by the foundation to benefit aged persons include The Selfehlp Home. Selfehlp is proud to be one of the early recipients of grants from the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation. At the Selfhelp Home, the foundation’s grant subsidizes the rent for several residents who otherwise could not afford the cost of living in a retirement community.

Other senior facilities supported by the foundation include CJE Senior Life, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago.

The Selfhelp Home Board President, Austin Hirsch, expressed his sincere gratitude towards the generous grants received from the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation over the past nine years.
“Having this program each year helps us in supporting our mission and allows us to expand our reach into the community to provide the best quality of life for seniors in a culturally rich Jewish environment.” said, Hirsch.

“The Foundation is doing what Bud wanted, making an impact on the lives of others” said Mr. Grey.