Love was in the air as approximately 100 staff members of Jewish Community Services and community leaders gathered April 9 at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center to honor Janet B. Kurland.
Kurland — who last November retired from her position as JCS senior care specialist after 42 years with the agency – was there to receive the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award, presented by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Named after the late governor and mayor of Baltimore, the award was established by Franchot in 2012 to recognize Maryland residents and organizations “best exemplifying William Donald Schaefer’s lifelong commitment to helping people.” Flanked by Franchot and her daughter, Julie K. Simhi, the 88-year-old Kurland entered the JCC auditorium and was greeted with a standing ovation.
“I’ve given this award all across the state, and on very rare occasions, someone gets a standing ovation after I present the award,” said Franchot. “But never before have I seen anyone receive a standing ovation before I present the award!”
JCS Executive Director Joan Grayson Cohen praised Kurland for being a “trailblazer” in advocating for the needs of senior citizens in the Jewish community.
“She has helped countless seniors age in place with dignity,” Cohen said. “Janet, you yourself exemplify how to age in place with dignity and grace. You leave a tremendous legacy for JCS and the Jewish community.”
Before presenting the award, Franchot thanked Kurland for “the abilities she has displayed for so long for a group who were long neglected. Janet exemplifies the values of William Donald Schaefer. … Her admirable commitment cannot help but have a positive impact on all of us.”
Kurland, a Pikesville resident, thanked the comptroller and her former colleagues for the honor.
“First of all, thank you for having an award named after William Donald Schaefer. I love that guy,” said Kurland, recalling how Schaefer helped her to secure funding to rent a Northwest Baltimore meeting place for seniors in the 1970s.
“That’s how the [Edward A.] Myerberg Center began,” said Kurland, who served as the center’s first director.
In addition to her work as a social worker and supervisor at JCS, Kurland taught at the Odyssey Certificate Aging Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Education for 20 years.
She was also a professor at Towson University and taught graduate students at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
In 2001, Kurland was the first recipient of the Daniel Thurz Distinguished Service Award from the Kehilla: Jewish Communal Professional Association of Greater Baltimore. She is also president emeritus of the Maryland Gerontological Association.
“I feel blessed,” Kurland said. “But you cannot do it alone. Every person in this room does exactly what I do. It takes a village. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. To those who celebrate Easter, have a great holiday. To those who celebrate Pesach, have great seders. L’hitraot, until we meet again.”
Following Kurland’s remarks, Cohen invited attendees to visit the lobby of the JCS building adjacent to the JCC for the unveiling of an artwork commemorating Kurland’s legacy. A framed papercut now hangs outside of Kurland’s former office, depicting the Tree of Life.
“How fitting that this [papercut] is here in the place where you have helped so many,” Cohen said. “All you have taught us by watching you, by telling us, by teaching us will continue on and on. We wish you the best for many, many years to come.”
Simhi, who is also a social worker, admitted that her mother is “a hard act to follow. I’ve always been very proud of her. She’s always been a leader and a go-getter. She did everything on her own terms. She worked until she didn’t want to work anymore. Before she left, she wanted to be sure everyone was trained and everything was in place.”
Kurland described herself as “breathless” after seeing the papercut. “I loved what I did and I did the best I could,” she said. “All of this, I thoroughly, thoroughly appreciate it.”