Earlier this month, the Women’s Fund of the Community presented Groton resident Heidi Goldstein with the 2019 Laura Holmberg Award at the Women’s Fund Celebration at Ithaca College.
The award, which was established by Holmberg’s daughter Anna back in 2006, honors “unsung heroes in the community who have made an impact through volunteer work,” according to a press release.
Goldstein was one of six people nominated for the award this year. Goldstein said she was stunned after finding out that she had won the award.
“‘How?’ That was my reaction,” Goldstein said. “I was dumbfounded, because I don’t look for awards.”
“[Heidi’s nomination] stood out because she has done a lot of great things in the community in a way that has sort of quiet and maybe not recognized as much,” Stacey Murphy, Chairperson of the Women’s Fund Advisory Committee, said. “There are a lot of people in our community that are like that, really. I think the long-term volunteer work that she has done, and … being familiar with the things that she has done in the community and the unsung nature of it, is what made her stand out.”
Goldstein is best known in the community for her work with the Ithaca Rotary Club, where she served as the club’s president from 2006 to 2007. In 2007, she founded the Ithaca Rotary Harvest, which is a program that, with the help of a $1,000 annual donation from the club and contributions from vendors at the Ithaca Farmers Market and the Ithaca City School District, provides food, recipes, nutritional advice, among other nutrition-based things to multiple families in the school district’s pre-kindergarten program.
“It originally was to identify several families, who are a part of the program, who during the summer would normally be getting food, but there are three weeks towards the end where they do not get [food], so the program does not work,” Goldstein said. “So for those three weeks, we’re going to fill in the blanks.”
Since its inception, the harvest has delivered food to 84 families and 297 children with the school district’s pre-kindergarten program where federally subsidized free meals are not available.
A native of New Jersey, Goldstein first began volunteering back in 1985 when she joined a puppetry program for disability learners.
“It was disability awareness issues,” she said. “This was before we had ADA. I was in a lot of communities or programs that advocated for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. … The puppet programs were mainly for elementary school students, to introduce them to children with disabilities.”
“So it’s three-foot tall hand-rod puppets, and one has a disability – an obvious disability [or] maybe not – and the other one has other issues, like my parents are getting divorced, but you don’t know that. Every character has a role, and it shows inclusion; it shows getting together, that kids a different, but it doesn’t matter.”
Simultaneously, she volunteered to advocate for the inclusion of disabled individuals in the workplace.
“I did adult programs for corporations, because we were starting to have more inclusion in the corporations,” she said. “Before they were hiring people with either developmental disabilities or with other disabilities, before ADA, it was advocating for inclusion in a space … and it was just as easy as ‘why not?’ But you have to bring it to people to make them think.”
In 1992, Goldstein and her husband moved to from New Jersey to Freetown, NY, just outside of Marathon. During that time, Goldstein worked as a contract trainer, teaching corporations about topics like preventing sexual harassment, advanced reading skills, stress management and diversity. It was during one of her trainings when a client asked if she would be interested in getting involved in a local rotary club. The following year she joined the Ithaca Rotary Club, where she would go on to organize initiatives such as the Ithaca Rotary Harvest as well as programs for children such as how to properly wash one’s hands in school and at the library.
In 2015, Goldstein created two characters, both clowns, called “Anna Banana” and “Grannie Annie.” With both characters, she would dress up in a clown costume and perform at certain events around the community. As “Anna Banana,” she would attend the annual walkathon at the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. As “Grannie Annie,” she would read stories to children at Groton Head Start. Goldstein said both characters were named in honor of her mother Anne, who always encouraged Goldstein to pursue volunteer work.
Whether it involves children or adults, food, puppetry or one of her clown characters, Goldstein is always pleased to assist her community in any fashion.
“Every project that I’ve ever done, most of it has been extra rotary, has been the most fulfilling thing in the world,” she said.