Meet six of the 2016 Unsung Heroes

Clockwise from top left: Harvey Ferdman, Ann Frank, Elad Gross, Bonnie Solomon, Joy Millner, and Carl Sherman. 

We can’t fix what we don’t know. That’s why Harvey Ferdman sees it as his job to inform the public about the troubling issue of what to do about the Bridgeton and West Lake landfill, where a massive underground, smoldering fire has been creeping closer and closer to a radioactive waste site. For the past 3½ years, Ferdman, 63, has devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to publicizing the health threats buried in the ground in our community and push for remediation. Ferdman has pored over thousand of documents, contacted dozens of local, state and federal officials as well as appearing before neighborhood groups, media programs and before political bodies.  

Next time you stay in a hotel room that offers little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer, bring them home to Ann Frank. She collects them for Project Backpack, which aims to help children who are victims of domestic violence. Frank does not advertise her volunteer service. In fact, leaders of the various organizations where she volunteers — Project Backpack, Kol Rinah and Jewish day schools, among others — only inadvertently found out about her other contributions. The 82-year-old is quiet about her efforts and explains she does what she does because she likes people and wants to help. 

Elad Gross, 28, works as an assistant attorney general for Missouri and is also president and CEO of Education Exchange Corps, a non-profit he founded in 2008 to help at-risk children by providing them with better educational opportunities. When the Ferguson-Florissant School District delayed the start of the academic year following Michael Brown shooting in August 2014, Gross and other volunteers helped turn the local library into a school. He also recruited volunteers to help teach and run the school. As both a government official and leader of a nonprofit, Gross is committed to helping people who come from low-income backgrounds. 

For the past three years, Carl Sherman has volunteered for the Missouri Veterans History Project, helping to record oral histories from veterans. Copies of the videotaped interviews are given not just to the veteran but also to the Library of Congress and the State Historical Society of Missouri. As a volunteer working with the vets, Sherman, 71, interviews those who were involved in combat and those who were not. He speaks at American Legion and VFW halls, as well as synagogues and retirement homes, to try and get more people to share their stories. The organization has collected more than 1,100 histories. 

Joy Millner, 54 has dedicated herself to changing lives through physical fitness and nutrition. For four years, she has voluntarily led a free, weekly group exercise class in north St. Louis County, which combines fitness, nutritional coaching, health information and inspirational messages to a diverse group of 40 to 45 students. She and a business partner started The Fit and Food Connection two years ago to empower people in need to get healthy through fitness and nutrition opportunities. The organization offers food provision, fitness classes, lifestyle programming, coaching and education as a comprehensive way to help families in need, and is completely free of charge.

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For the better part of 40 years, Bonnie Solomon, 73, has been an advocate for quality senior housing, both as a professional and as a volunteer. After serving as executive director of Covenant House (now Covenant Place) for 6½ years, Solomon worked with Delmar Gardens for more than 30 years in various capacities, including as director of Garden Villas Retirement Community. Since her retirement in 2008, she has continued to stay busy, serving as vice president of leadership for National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section. She also volunteers with numerous other Jewish organizations as well as with her synagogue, Congregation Shaare Emeth.

Read the Heroes’ full stories in our May Oy! Magazine and join the Light in saluting the 2016 Unsung Heroes during a special event at 7 p.m. Monday, May 23 at the Jewish Community Center Arts & Education Building in Creve Coeur. The cost is $18 and includes a kosher dessert and coffee reception. Space is limited, so call 314-743-3660 to see if seating remains.