Irving Feldman grew up in Bathurst Manor where he remembers Rabbi Joseph Kelmanz”tl visiting his parents’ home on one of his usual after shul walks and talking about developmentally disabled Jewish people that were warehoused and siloed and how that was not good for anybody. “It stuck in my brain as a young boy,” says Feldman, “I never knew anyone with developmental disabilities. Never saw them. But it resonated in my mind. As time went by, I kept an eye on Reena and was introduced to the board.” Becoming more and more involved, Feldman sat on the Reena Foundation board for years, eventually becoming Board Chair.
One of his most memorable experiences was co-chairing the introduction and development of the Reena Community Residence (RCR) on the Lebovic Campus. “The concept was remarkable. Up until then we had Reena homes around the city here and there and everywhere, the concept was …. donated land, need more beds, let’s build an apartment building.” The idea of integration with the community on a campus where all kinds of cultural events take place was a major goal of the project. “I am a believer that it was in their best interest to be integrated into the community and it was also in the best interest of the community.”
As part of the committee formulated to find fundraising opportunities, Feldman also helped secure a $1,000,000 donation for the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the RCR. “One of Hitlers first targets in the early years were the developmentally disabled. Some 250,000 developmentally disabled were the first group to be exterminated. I’m very proud that we thought about that,” says Feldman. The gift was, at the time, the largest gift ever received at once by Reena.
Another accomplishment Irving Feldman is proud of is how he was able to connect his golf club, Maple Downs to Reena. A club board member, Feldman says he suggested they raise money for Reena in an effort to revive their flailing pro/am tournament. After taking people from Maple Downs on a tour of the Reena Community Residence, the board “was blown away” and agreed. With a worthy charity…for a few years, the tournament was revived, and Reena became a part of the tournament. It was a win/win situation and began an annual event that sold-out every year and raised funds for a number of projects at the RCR including a van to transport individuals and a pergola that shades the residents in the summer.
Around the same time, Feldman says he was pushing for individuals to be employed. “The Maple Downs groundskeeper asked, ‘Why can’t we have a program where Reena sends some Reena supported individuals to help keep the grounds?’ And that program kicked in. It was a real pleasure as I would be teeing off on one of the holes and I would have to wait a second because the Reena supported individuals would be preparing the tee box. We had a team working at Maple downs. It was remarkable, the club loved it.”
While no longer involved in the day-to-day of Reena, Irving Feldman says, “Reena is still very much a part of my mind.” His hopes? That Reena continues to focus on integrative programs, inclusion, and more volunteer participation.