BOSTON – For Peabody native Deanna Wolk, her reason to support Hebrew SeniorLife’s Center for Memory Health came by way of volunteering to play mah-jongg with seniors at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale.
For Dorchester-native and businessman Sidney Wolk, his reason was the family tzedakah or charity box growing up, where they put their spare change, no matter how tough times got.
Recently, the nonprofit Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, announced the Boston couple had donated $5 million to support both patients and caregivers dealing with Alzheimer’s, dementias and other memory care issues.
For their generous donation, Hebrew SeniorLife has named its Center for Memory Health in honor of Deanna and Sidney Wolk, the chairman and CEO of the Medford-based The Cross Country Group.
The Center for Memory Health was launched in 2019 at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale. The center provides Harvard Medical School-affiliated outpatient memory care services, both in person and virtually, for those dealing with cognitive challenges such as Alzheimer’s, memory loss and dementia. The gift will help expand these services to patients and caregivers.
The donation comes at a time when 5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s, according to Hebrew SeniorLife. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the needs of these patients and others with memory care issues have only increased, with Hebrew SeniorLife reporting more demand for additional support.
“They have stepped up in a time like no other in an area, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, that is expected to triple in size in the coming years,” said Lou Woolf, president and CEO of Hebrew SeniorLife, in a statement.
Deanna Wolk said during an interview on Zoom she became involved with Hebrew SeniorLife as a volunteer, playing mah-jongg or working in the gift shop, something she has been doing for years, though the COVID crisis has curtailed her ability to volunteer in person and be with the people she knows.
From her volunteer work, she saw the great care residents were getting from staff and Hebrew SeniorLife. They have contributed in the past to the founding of a hospice and other programs.
“Having seen and given to other programs before, we saw … all the good work they do for so many different people,” Sidney Wolk said.
Growing up in Dorchester, Sidney Wolk said he learned the meaning of tzedakah living in a Dorchester household where his father worked as a plumber.
“When the union had work, there was a week’s pay,” Sidney Wolk said, “and when there wasn’t, times were very, very tough. But, always they had that little box, no matter how little we had, it was instilled upon us by my parents and my mother, ‘Put all your spare coins in that Jewish National [Fund] box and give to charity. You have to help people less fortunate than you.’”
“And that of course permeated my whole existence, to be honest with you,” Sidney Wolk added. “We’ve been very lucky. Giving back is very, very important, and we try to do the best we can for so many people.”
Wolk went to Boston Latin where he is still active and serves as a trustee. After, he attended Boston University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and went on to become a successful entrepreneur. Wolk still has the fire in his belly to give back.
“It’s very, very important to help others that aren’t as fortunate or as lucky as I have been. And I’d rather be lucky than smart, and I’m very, very lucky,” said Sidney Wolk, who said his family is a Conservative Jewish one. They keep a kosher home, and still attend Temple Emunah in Lexington, where they lived for 30 years before moving to Boston. “We still enjoy a Jewish life,” Sidney Wolk said. The couple have three children and eight grandchildren. Their daughter, Robin Wolk, serves as president of Congregation Or Atid in Wayland.
Growing up in Peabody, Deanne Wolk said her family belonged to a small Orthodox synagogue on Littles Lane downtown where her father was vice president.
The Wolks are dedicated to support the Center for Memory Health because so many people they know have been affected by Alzheimer’s and other memory care issues.
“We have relatives, friends, etc., that are afflicted with this terrible disease and their families really don’t know how to handle it, what to do and what have you,” Sidney Wolk said. “So, this program, we are very, very excited about because we think it can help so many families in their journey to help the people they love live a better life for as long as they can, and most importantly, for their own well-being as well.”
Sidney Wolk said he has been impressed by the staff of the Wolk Center. Since making the donation, Deanna Wolk said they have received calls from people thanking them, including those who are taking advantage of the center’s services.
The Wolks praised the work of the center’s Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, the neurologist who is the medical director of the Wolk Center for Memory Health.
“He’s just terrific, he’s a very impressive fellow with great credentials and a great heart, and he really cares about the patients that he’s serving, so it’s just a good combination,” Deanna Wolk said.