County honors five area senior citizens with Legends Awards

Photo Courtesy of Glen Frieson
At the Essex County Older Americans Heritage Month Celebration on May 7 are county officials and employees with senior citizen honorees.

CEDAR GROVE, NJ — The Essex County Division of Senior Services hosted the annual Essex County Older Americans Heritage Month Celebration on Tuesday, May 7, in Cedar Grove, as May is recognized as National Older Americans Month. During the ceremony, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. presented Essex County Legends Awards to Stephanie Gerstein from West Orange, Bessie Johnson from Newark, Claire Seidner Scholz from Livingston, Yusuf Statum from Newark and Catherine F. Willis from East Orange.

“Older Americans Month is an opportunity for us to recognize the tremendous contributions our senior citizens have made to shape and mold today’s community and bring attention to the contributions they continue to make on a daily basis to improve our quality of life. Active in all aspects of life, our senior population is proving that you don’t slow down after you reach a certain age,” DiVincenzo said. “Our honorees have exhibited a tremendous amount of responsibility by advocating for and providing assistance that is helping their fellow seniors to remain active and continue living in our community.”

“Our Legends Award recipients demonstrate that you can still contribute and make a difference in your community no matter what your age. All of our seniors are role models for the contributions they have made and continue to make, inspiring our younger generation to get involved and for the assistance they have provided to their fellow seniors,” Essex County Division of Senior Services Director Jaklyn DeVore said.

The award winners were nominated by social service agencies and community organizations that work closely with the Essex Division of Senior Services and were chosen because they are positive role models for the younger generation, have worked tirelessly to assist fellow seniors and have made tremendous contributions to improve the quality of life.

Stephanie Gerstein, of West Orange, is a volunteer with Listen to Children, the Friend Advocate Program, Reading Buddies, Interfaith Hospitality Network and Succeed2gether.

“I am totally humbled at receiving this recognition. I get so much more personally than what I give,” Gerstein said.

Bessie Johnson, of Newark, is a retired food service worker with Newark Public Schools, volunteers at the Essex County Weequahic Park Cafe in the Park program and knits lap blankets for seniors in nursing facilities.

“Thank you for thinking this much of me. I have always enjoyed working with children and seniors,” Johnson said.

Claire Seidner Scholz, of Livingston, is a retired school psychologist and supervisor with the Irvington Public School District who operates the Kosher Nutrition Lunch Program at the JCC in West Orange and is a member of the Livingston Senior Advisory Committee and AARP Chapter in Livingston.

“I worked in Irvington for 28 years and enjoyed every day and I continue to work because I enjoy what I’m doing. This is a tremendous honor and I appreciate it,” Scholz said.

Yusuf Statum, of Newark, worked for 24 years at UMDNJ, helped found and organize the annual Scudder Homes Reunion, and was a founding member and president of the Central Ward Community Group.

“My reward of helping others is to see the smiles on their faces. I appreciate this award greatly, but I would continue to do what I’ve been doing even if I wasn’t being recognized,” Statum said.

Catherine F. Willis, of East Orange, served as the director of planning and economic development for East Orange, president of the Essex County Board of Taxation, director of the Essex County Division of Community Action, and held a leadership role with the Girl Scout Council of Greater Essex and Hudson Counties.

“I’m retired, but I don’t know I’m retired because I’m still so active. I’ve always lived my life being ready to help another person,” Willis said.