If ever there was an archetype for the model citizen, Drs. Roslyn and Jerome Meyer both undoubtedly fit the bill. Since making New Haven their home over thirty years ago, the Meyers have done more to give back to the community than most people even think of doing in a lifetime.
“We love New Haven and find it an extraordinary place to work and raise a family,” Jerry said. “It has all the problems and all the potential solutions.”
The Meyers discovered their shared optimism when they met in Cross Campus Library in 1971. Jerry was a medical student and Roslyn was just beginning her Ph.D. in psychology, and together they possessed an ardent sense of idealism.
“I was somewhat of a radical,” Jerry said.
Jerry began his activism as an undergraduate at Brown, where he ran Brown Youth Guidance, the largest volunteer organization on campus.
Also a large voice in the antiwar movement, Jerry remembers being pelted with tear gas by police during a march in Washington, D.C. Though she was “less out there politically,” Roslyn says she was “always very passionate about treating people well and speaking out on the things that matter.” She spent much of her time in graduate school tutoring and mentoring children, as well as volunteering as a therapist with various groups. After marrying in 1972, the two settled down in New Haven, became practicing psychiatrists, and set out to make a difference.
Though the Meyers devoted much of their time to raising their three sons — Roslyn closed her practice in 1984 to stay at home with the children — it was the Leadership, Education and Athletic Partnership (L.E.A.P.), their “fourth child,” which signaled the beginning of their heavy involvement with the community. In late 1991, Roslyn overheard Anne Calabrezi discussing her vision of a program to benefit underprivileged youth. Calabrezi and the Meyers soon teamed up, and L.E.A.P. was conceived.
“We wanted to get more involved, not just donate money,” Jerry said.
“We were looking for a way to get more active in supporting the community,” Roslyn added.
The program paired college and high school counselors with groups of inner city children year-round, running full time during the summer and after school during the school year. The idea was “to put role models in the children’s lives with whom they could identify.” Jerry said the program was meant to provide a positive influence in the lives of both the counselors and the campers.
“All the counselors who were high school students ended up graduating, and most went on to college,” Jerry said. “It made a huge difference to so many lives.”
Beginning with 28 counselors and a few hundred campers, the program quickly grew to encompass five cities in Connecticut and to affect thousands of young people. In the late 1990s, Roslyn said, the program was receiving around 4.5 million dollars of annual funding, including federal funding as part of Americorps. But to the outrage and frustration of the Meyers and many young L.E.A.P. members, federal funding was recently cut altogether, and state funding has fallen to one fourth of what it was a few years ago.
“It’s horrible,” said Jerry. “It’s absolutely the worst thing. We had managed to really get some of the local leaders to buy in. To not have the resources to support the program is horrible. The need has increased with all the cuts in funding.”
Though today all the branches of the program have been shut down except the one in New Haven, Roslyn and Jerry said they look forward to developing the scaled-back program in ways they would not have been able to at its previous size.
In addition to L.E.A.P., the Meyers have been heavily involved with bringing the arts to New Haven. Roslyn is one of three founding members of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, a yearly two-week celebration of the arts that brings a wide variety of creative expression to New Haven every June. Aside from appreciating art for its own sake, Roslyn said she sees it as a “universal medium” with the ability to bring people together.
“The festival is a way to try to develop social cohesion between races and classes in New Haven through the arts,” Roslyn said.
Underlying all of her work with the city of New Haven, be it with L.E.A.P. or the festival, is a desire to create a “community where everyone can be comfortable and safe and have opportunities to become productive citizens.”
Indeed, this creative approach to solving social problems is not lost on Jerry either. An artist himself, he closed his psychiatric practice six years ago to focus on his painting and sculpture, as well as on his duties with the Elm Shakespeare Theater Company and the Open End Theater, both of which expose public school children to drama. Currently Jerry’s chief responsibility lies with the Long Wharf Theater, of which he is Chairman of the Board. This “premiere theater,” which has been a New Haven landmark for 39 years and has featured some of the world’s top dramatic talent, is currently “falling apart,” according to Jerry.
“Hopefully we will build a new Long Wharf Theater where the Coliseum currently is,” he said.
In 2001, the United Way of Greater New Haven presented the Meyers with the Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award in recognition of their spirit of giving and volunteerism. But with so much still to be done for New Haven, there is no end in sight to the Meyers’ involvement. Roslyn said the two will “never move to Florida.”
“Unfortunately, Jerry likes warm weather,” she said.
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