By Elizabeth Alterman
October 26, 2012
Nearly 500 women filled the ballroom of the Hilton Parsippany Tuesday evening to hear the inspirational words of Leigh Anne Tuohy, who was portrayed by Sandra Bullock in the Hollywood blockbuster The Blind Side.
Westfield resident and award-winning photographer Joanie Schwarz, who co-chaired the event sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, began her introduction of Tuohy by taking snapshots of crowd and noting that she saw incredible and generous women through her lens.
Funny, fast-talking and fiercely-committed to giving back, Tuohy took the stage and began describing how 11 years ago she and her husband, Sean, opened their Memphis home to a 6’6”, 350-pound African American young man, Michael Oher, who, without their support, might not be alive today.
After telling the crowd that she would be answering questions at the end of the program, she immediately had them laughing when she said, “I have met a lot of you tonight and you seem like you’re very interesting, educated, well-rounded women, don’t ask me stupid questions. Don’t ask me, ‘Has this movie changed your life?’ Yes! This movie has changed my life. If Sandra Bullock plays you in a movie and she wins an Oscar and she adopts an African American baby and her husband goes off the deep end, it changes your life.”
On a serious note, Tuohy said at the time her family met Oher, walking alone in the cold in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, society had deemed him “valueless.”
“So the take away or the rub tonight is this: all we did was offer that young man hope and love and opportunity and we changed his life,” she said.
Yet, she noted, Oher, who has served as an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens since 2009, had a much greater impact on their lives than they had on his.
In 2010, Tuohy and her husband released the New York Times best-seller In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving, which she said she hopes can serve as road map for others. The family has also established their charity, the Making It Happen Foundation, which promotes awareness, provides hope and improves standards of living for children fighting to survive in the invisible cracks in society.
Tuohy commended the women in the audience, who, through their philanthropic efforts, make a difference in their communities and beyond. Tuohy’s story of giving back and changing lives in the process was the perfect tie-in as the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ honored two of its own for their near-lifelong dedication to helping others in need.
Wendie Ploscowe of North Caldwell and Freida Posnock of Monroe Township were both recipients of the 2012 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award. Ploscowe spoke about her role as Federation’s general campaign chair, the second woman in MetroWest history to hold that position. Under Ploscowe’s leadership, funds were raised to build the MetroWest High School in Ra’anana, Israel and the Women’s Center in Cherkassy, Ukraine. Ploscowe said she was “honored and humbled” to receive the award. When speaking about her philanthropic work, Ploscowe said, “I have received more from this activity than I have given to it. I have met extraordinary women and formed priceless friendships.”
Accepting the award on behalf of Posnock, who served as congregation president at Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah in Clark, was her eloquent 16-year-old granddaughter, Talia Sion, who spoke with love and admiration for her grandmother, whom she referred to as “the most special person” she had ever met. Posnock was unable to attend, Sion explained, because she left for Israel on Monday to continue her mission work.
“I am in awe of her accomplishments,” said Sion.
Tuohy challenged attendees to continue their giving, stating that “there are people everywhere that are in need.”
In closing, the pint-size powerhouse paraphrased Winston Churchill and said, “Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t ever, ever, ever give up.”