Local artist Paul Simon, a longtime volunteer for Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Delaware, has produced a compelling series of life-sized pastel portraits based on his experiences with elderly clients from the JFS Brandywine Village Network and individuals from JFS’ Refugee Integration Support Effort (RISE).
Starting Friday, Nov. 3, at 5 p.m., two exhibitions of “Let’s Face It: Portraits from Volunteering” will be on view in Wilmington, at Blue Streak Gallery and Congregation Beth Emeth. (Congregation Beth Emeth will display Simon’s exhibition in its gallery through Nov. 30; Blue Streak Gallery will feature it through Dec. 29.)
The JFS Brandywine Village Network provides services to older adults—such as helping with rides, household help and care management—so that they can remain independent in their own homes. Congregation Beth Emeth provides various forms of assistance to refugee families who have recently arrived in Delaware.
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Simon has strong personal ties to his work. He began volunteering with JFS during the 1990s, when there was an influx of Russian-Jewish refugees in the Wilmington area. He has helped refugees learn English, complete paperwork, and get to and from stores and appointments. In 2016, he retired and returned to JFS to volunteer for the JFS Brandywine Village Network. Working from snapshots, he created a series of large pastel portraits of JFS Village clients. “I wanted to highlight people who live isolated lives and draw attention to their needs and the positive impact of volunteering,” he says. “I also wanted to help JFS and the work they do with the elderly in Delaware.”
A former research biologist, Simon worked at DuPont and other biotech companies in the area. His experiences as an immigrant have given him sympathy and an affinity for refugee and immigrant families. Simon was born in Romania, then lived in Israel and Columbia before settling in the United States.