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).


by Selfhelp Resident, Les Mitnick

We change as our priorities and needs change. Speaking only for myself, I can emphatically state that in my twenties, thirties, and forties (and even my fifties!), I never gave much thought to what my needs would be in my seventies. However, I’ve always been a “planner”, and I was taught relatively early in life to make decisive decisions.

My decision to make my home here at Selfhelp was based on my personal “time clock”. I pondered the future while still living in the present. I had the good fortune of being able to give bi-monthly musical programs at Self Help since 2010 (while I was in my middle sixties) and was gratified by the enthusiasm of the residents. Moreover, I found the atmosphere here at Selfhelp to be extremely warm, cordial, and wonderfully evergreen and friendly. I found myself establishing a beautiful rapport with many of the residents, all of whom embraced me with enthusiasm.

As the years passed, I began to think of Selfhelp as a home for me when I felt the time would come. I had the opportunity to see a variety of apartments at Selfhelp, and soon realized that any number of them would suit my needs perfectly — and so I began to work towards the fruition of my plan to make my “big move” and to become a permanent resident here at Selfhelp.

Now that my moving experience is behind me, I am thrilled to say that I feel settled, secure, and strangely enough, I’ve not looked back. I enjoy the feeling of community here as well as the sense of “family”. I cherish the associations and friendships I’ve made here and I feel exhilarated by the “extras” offered as well — the theatrical films, the frequent live concerts and recitals, the lectures, etc. I’ve found that dining at a table with cordial people adds a most important component of life that few should live without: the act of socialization.

And so I’ve begun another journey in this odyssey which we can call life. I’ve always said that virtually everyone has sufficient life resources to write their autobiography. Plainly, residing here at the Selfhelp Home can augment that autobiography.

The Benefits of Choosing a CCRC Retirement Community

Everyone ages a bit differently.  We all have unique needs, personalities, interests and preferences.

As time goes on, people require varying levels of assistance in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and engage in activities they enjoy as part of their everyday lives. Sometimes, it is the children, relatives or friends that begin to notice it is getting more difficult for a loved one to do the things they once did, or that their health is beginning to decline.  Regardless of where the nudge comes from, the time may come to consider moving into a community that offers independent retirement apartments, assisted living, rehabilitation and/or skilled nursing care.  For many people, the decision to find a community that offers all of these services is often the best choice.

There are many considerations to take into account in finding the right community.  For instance, couples often have different needs.  One spouse may be younger than the other or in better health and may not require much, if any, assistance.  However, his or her spouse might require some help every day and as the spouse ages and his or her disease or condition progresses, might require more assistance as time goes on.  In other instances, people want to remain active and engaged, but living at home alone is isolating and they begin to feel disconnected from the world. Having people to socialize with, engaging activities such as cultural entertainment, movie nights, exercise classes, book clubs, and homemade kosher meals can make all the difference in the world.

What is a CCRC?

Moving into a vibrant community, where the person can move in and live independently and have services added as they need them, makes for a smoother transition for most people.  This is the lifestyle offered by a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Finding the right CCRC means that instead of making a series of decisions and moving to a different location when needs change, the person can stay within the same community to get the help they need to be as independent as possible.

Some CCRC’s also have comprehensive rehabilitation services, so if surgery is needed at some point and the person requires rehabilitation afterward, they can recover in the rehabilitation center onsite and then return to their apartment after rehabilitation is complete.  The same is true for skilled nursing services and often memory care or hospice services as well. Receiving care from people you know in an environment that is familiar and comfortable reduces the stress that can come with increasing health needs.  Most people will tell you they want to remain at home as long as possible.  When “home” has all the services you might need for the future, a huge burden is removed, health care decisions become easier and you can live life to the fullest.

Where you live influences how well you live.  So, choose wisely, ask questions and take the time to think about what will make you happiest in the long term. For more information about senior living talk to a retirement counselor at info@selfhelphome.org or call us and ask for Laura Zellhofer, 773-271-0300.

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.

Succeeding At Being A Long Distance Caregiver

Whether you live just one hour away or across the country, when an elderly or ill loved one needs assistance, the role of caregiver takes on new meaning and there may be challenges to overcome.

Aside from providing hands on care, there are other aspects of caregiving that are equally as important and ways you can contribute even though you are far away:

  • Provide help with finances, money management, or bill paying
  • Assess the home for safety concerns such as throw rugs that can be a fall hazard or dim lighting
  • Coordinate transportation to doctor’s visits, hair appointments and other regular outings
  • Correspond regularly with the person needing care through phone calls, texts and/or emails to stay connected and to let them know you are there to listen
  • Arrange for in-home care—hire professional caregivers or home health or nursing aides and help obtain adaptive medical equipment such as a walker, shower chair, commode, etc.
  • Research assisted living centers, skilled nursing homes or communities where all levels of care are provided as an alternative to home care or if health care needs change.
  • Provide emotional support or occasional respite care for the primary caregiver who has taken on most of the everyday caregiving responsibilities
  • Serve as an information coordinator—research health problems, medications, and clarify insurance benefits and claims
  • Keep family and friends updated and informed about the person’s condition
  • Consider using technology to communicate and see monitor what is happening at the person’s home. There are caregiving apps available that allow long-distance caregivers and their sick loved ones to keep track of appointments and medications with pre-set reminders or alarms. Cameras can allow long-distance caregivers to see a loved one from his or her phone and monitor activities or status from far away. Medical on-call systems, some offered through local hospitals, can assist if something happens and the caregiver is not on site.
  • Create an emergency plan and gather necessary paperwork in one place in case the individual’s condition changes quickly or unexpectedly. Gather documents into a folder including advance directives, healthcare power of attorney, health insurance cards/policy, birth certificate, Social Security card, the person’s will and a list of his/her medications.
  • Keep a separate folder with paid medical bills in case there is a question or mistake in billing. You will need the account number and other information on the bill and these documents will be necessary at the end of the year for tax purposes.

Visit as often as you can; not only might you notice something that needs to be done and can be taken care of from a distance, but you can also relieve the primary caregiver for a short time.  Learn what you can about the person’s illness so you can better understand the course of the illness, prevent crises and assist with healthcare management.

You might consider hiring a geriatric case manager to assist, especially if there are no close family members or friends to provide daily assistance.   The case manager can provide updates, help guide decision-making around healthcare needs, schedule conference calls with doctors, the healthcare team and keep everyone up-to-date about the person’s health and progress. An independent advocate can help to oversee care and there are several resources, many of them free, offered through the Illinois Department on Aging.

Most importantly, while distance may separate you from your loved one, you can close the gap by communicating frequently and finding different ways to provide assistance and support.



Screenings of REFUGE Shown Around the World

REFUGE: Stories of the Selfhelp Home, Premieres in Poland and Returns to Germany for Eleven Screenings

Ethan Bensinger, a Selfhelp Board member, and Director of the documentary REFUGE: Stories of the Selfhelp Home, returned to Europe this fall to screen his film. This was the 4th consecutive year that Bensinger has reached out to audiences in Germany, but this year he added Poland to his twenty-five day European tour.

“We were thrilled to have received an invitation from the JCC in Krakow to screen REFUGE,” said Bensinger. “The organizers of the program well understood that the  eyewitness testimony related by the residents of the Selfhelp Home would provide a unique educational opportunity to the Polish community. The suffering of the Polish Jews was different; they didn’t have the opportunity to escape Central Europe on the Kindertransport or to seek refuge in Shanghai or in the United States. And, of course Kristallnacht was unique to the German and Austrian pre-war Jewish experience. To many of the audience members, these stories were new.”

His next stop was the Medienzentrum (media center) in Frankfurt, where Bensinger used the film and its accompanying study guide to facilitate a Holocaust training seminar for German high school teachers. Bensinger stated “The teachers found the study guide especially useful because it provides additional contextual resources and also directly links classroom study exercises, such as acting out roles, to the testimony provided in the film.”

While in Frankfurt, Bensinger also had the opportunity to screen REFUGE at the school that his father Ernst had attended prior to the war. “Screening and speaking at the Wöhlerschule was an extremely emotional event for me, somewhat of a closing of the circle. For most of the students this was the first time that they had the opportunity to meet a child of a former student who was forced during the Nazi period to flee Germany.”

Europa-University in Flensburg, a city in Northern Germany near the Danish border, was Bensinger’s next destination. There, at the invitation of Professor Birgit Dawes, Bensinger screened his documentary to students from Germany and several Scandinavian countries. In commenting on the film, Professor Dawes said:

Especially in a time when there is growing anti-Semitism in Germany, it is crucial that we-as German citizens and educators-remind ourselves and our students of the importance of remembering the Holocaust. As Germans, we have a particular national responsibility to hold up that memory, and educate our students accordingly. REFUGE is a crucial and most valuable contribution to that memory.

After several appearances at schools in the Hamburg area, Bensinger travelled to Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. There, utilizing his film and his own family’s experiences during the war, Bensinger spoke on the topic of the “Transmission of Transgenerational Holocaust Memory.”* “ This was my 3rd visit to Lüneburg, a town with a very dark past”, said Bensinger. “It is here that the Nazis “euthanized” hundreds of children during the war. And, in previous years I screened REFUGE in a classroom building that was built by the Germans as an army barracks. Today Lüneburg is trying to come to grips with its past. Standing tall among those former Nazi barracks is a Daniel Liebeskind designed classroom building whose architectural details evoke the images of the Holocaust.”

Bensinger’s last stop on his journey was his mother’s hometown Fulda, where his screening coincided with the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht. “ I was especially moved by the fact that many of the students who had seen the film earlier in the day, took the time to attend the commemoration at the former synagogue that evening. Evidently, something had resonated with them,” said Bensinger.

Bensinger believes that in light of the recent immigration of almost one million refugees, Germany can learn from the origins of Selfhelp, and how a community came together to care for its own. This was reiterated by a student at Leuphana University who said:

It was impressive to see how the lives of the refugees continued upon arrival in the United States. In school we learned about the concentration camps and how the people had to suffer. But we never learned anything about the life of the Jews after they left Germany. 

Along with presenting his film in Europe, Bensinger is a second-generation speaker on behalf of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.



Our Greasy Little Secret! Chanukah Latkes Recipe from The Selfhelp Home

Our Greasy Little Secret! 

The first night of Chanukah is right around the corner and after close to 80 years, Selfhelp has fried up close to 100,000 latkes – now that’s a lot of potatoes!

So… we letting you in on our greasy secret that tastes OH SO GOOD.

We’ve reduced our recipe down from 40 cups of peeled and shredded potatoes -so that you can feed 10 hungry friends with delicious latkes.

Here is what you need to feed 10 hungry friends:

  • 4 cups of peeled & shredded potatoes
  • ½ cup of grated onions
  • 5 tablespoons of salt- more? You decide!
  • 5 eggs
  • ¼ cup of flour
  • Around 1 cup of vegetable oil for frying

(Grapeseed oil for faster and quicker browning)

Chanukah Happiness in 10 Easy Steps:

  1.  Peel and shred the potatoes, remove the liquid with a cheese cloth-or do it the old-fashioned way and squeeze by hand a little at a time.
  2. Shred the onions and mix them with the potatoes.
  3. In a large bowl, beat or whisk eggs with the salt.
  4. Mix the eggs and potatoes and onions together.
  5.  Add the flour a little at a time.
  6. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it’s hot.
  7. Place a scoop of the potatoes mixture in the hot oil.
  8. Press down on each scoop to form a ¼ inch or ½ inch patty.
  9. Brown on both sides, and let the oil drain on a paper towel.
  10. 1Serve hot with applesauce and sour cream on the side.

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.”




Meet Resident Donald Davidson

Contributed by Beverly Frank- bevfrank8801@gmail.com

Donald is 80 years young and embraces each day with contagious optimism and an unquenchable passion for life.  He grew up on Chicago’s south side (82nd and Luella Avenue), attended Horace Mann grammar school and graduated as South Shore High School’s esteemed Valedictorian.  He credits his Russian-born father (Minsk) for his uncanny sense of humor, love of the arts and positive attitude.  He graduated from the University of Michigan with a Masters in Chemical Engineering.  He was inspired by the challenging world of computers and became the Director of the Computer Technology Department at Universal Oil Products in Des Plaines, IL.  His successful 42- year career was rich with milestones and achievements.  Donald has enjoyed traveling the globe and maximized his free time to explore and develop his artistic talents.  He planned ahead and retired at the age of 65.

“Live for the moment and let the past go.”

Donald has a warm, extroverted personality and seeks the company of upbeat, bright, engaging and positive individuals.  He has developed many diverse interests and continues pursuing them with abandon.  His favorite hobbies are music, dancing and great books.  He discovered the world of folk dancing as a young man and became an active, involved participant.  After mastering the basics, he shared his skills and became a popular folk dancing instructor.  He’s particularly drawn to Eastern European music.  His CD collection is eclectic and showcases a variety of genres including Klezmer, Gypsy, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian, Jazz and more.  His social life has always been active and folk dancing became his favorite place for meeting and networking with fascinating people.  Reading a variety of great books has always been second nature to Donald.  He’s an avid reader and is in the process of compiling his updated book collection.  It includes a variety of rare collector’s items and numbers approximately 40,000 volumes.

Donald was introduced to the Selfhelp Home in 2012.  His beloved, late wife, Rita, was a patient in the rehabilitation program.  He was impressed with the unique history, compassionate staff and unsurpassed high quality standards.  When management inquired if he would consider moving into the Selfhelp Home, his immediate response was, “I simply wouldn’t consider living anyplace else!”

 Donald is an extremely positive, forward thinking individual.  He’s involved in various activities and is a loyal fan of the Sunday afternoon concerts and current event discussions.  He enjoys schmoozing and engaging in all kinds of conversations with his growing circle of friends.  Donald is close to his younger siblings and is very involved in the lives of his three children and grandchildren.  Donald strives to live each day with humor, joy and always sees the glass as more than half full. 

“Everything that has happened to me in my life has been a learning experience.”  Donald doesn’t dwell on past mistakes and concludes:  “I’ve lived a full life and have absolutely zero regrets.  I’m looking forward to each day of my new chapter.”