For almost 25 years, New Rochelle was the home of Young Israel of New Rochelle members Haina Just-Michael and Bernard Michael and their three daughters. The family moved to New York City last year but Haina returned on Thursday, April 4, to receive the Distinguished Citizenship Award from the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence (NRFEE) at its 21st Anniversary Foundation Awards Gala.
As Haina has often said, “We moved to Manhattan, but my heart remains in New Rochelle.” Haina is the president of the Just Media Group, Inc., a media company she founded in 1990. Haina and her family all proudly consider themselves part of the fabric of New Rochelle. They have all volunteered for many causes in New Rochelle, including Meals on Wheels, Hope Community Kitchen, New Rochelle Boys and Girls Clubs, Westchester Day School, VolunteerNY, New Rochelle Parks and Recreation, New Rochelle Jewish Coalition, the New Rochelle Interreligious Council, NRFuture, the League of Women Voters (for whom Haina hosted a cable TV show for many years) and New Rochelle’s 325th anniversary celebration. Haina’s husband, Bernard, served as chairman of the New Rochelle Industrial Development Authority.
Haina’s passion has always been the New Rochelle Public Library. The library was one of her first stops as a new resident in 1992, and it turned Haina into a strong advocate and leader for the library. She served on the library board of trustees, including as board president. She currently serves on the New Rochelle Library Foundation board. For many years Haina has been the host of “New Rochelle Public Library on the Air” at WVOX Radio.
Jonathan Stark is co-chair of the NRFEE, together with Matt Costa. Stark said, “When Haina’s name was mentioned as a possible candidate (for her award), the board’s decision was unanimous. Many of us on the board have known Haina for many years, and in a variety of settings. You would be hard pressed to find many people that are not aware of her tireless efforts to support our community in many different ways. Even though she recently relocated to New York City, her love for the New Rochelle community continues by way of her work with the New Rochelle Library Foundation board… The public schools and the libraries are so intricately intertwined; efforts to benefit either have lasting impressions on the support of our community in many ways.”
Just-Michael has always believed in the power of education. She explained, “The NRFEE and its mission blends my belief in the importance of first-rate public education and my passion for ensuring that New Rochelle continues to provide the best education for future generations.” She feels privileged to have worked with many students over the years through her association with NRFEE and is proud of the enhancement offered to New Rochelle students by utilizing so many community resources. Just-Michel noted, “The Fund is truly helping to guide a better future for all.”
The NRFEE was established in 1998 with the mission to raise private dollars to support and enhance public education in New Rochelle by providing funds for items not normally covered in a school budget. Some of the Fund’s programs include the Civics Week Symposium at NRHS, the Fall Library Festival at NRHS, Poetry Out Loud, Arts Out Loud, Chess in Our Schools, the Pancake Breakfast preceding the NR Thanksgiving Day Parade and support for concerts at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center by NRHS band, chorus and orchestra members. The NRFEE also created the Museum of Arts and Culture, consisting of two designated galleries in the new wing of NRHS, the only New York State chartered museum in a New York school.
To commemorate its 20th anniversary, the NRFEE began offering grants to district public schools to pilot new programs and explore new directions in educational enrichment, such as yoga in the classroom, special reading projects, gardening at schools, tactile hallways, bringing theater productions to schools, robotics at NRHS, science research at NRHS, special education enhancement and other projects. Several programs include community organization partnerships.
By Yvette Finkelstein