BEYOND THE VILLAGE WITH TOM & ELIZABETH POLENZANIBy Blog Master
BEYOND THE VILLAGE
Elizabeth and Tom Polenzani moved to Pasadena with their two young children in 1973. Having worked in the insurance industry in Chicago, upon relocating it was a natural to continue this business in the Pasadena area. Tom specialized in helping small businesses establish employee group insurance and retirement policies for their companies.
As their family grew to four children, Elizabeth worked as a substitute teacher while also being active in PTA, Little League, and Girl Scouts. As the children became older, Elizabeth went back to school at Cal Poly Pomona where she earned her MBA. Eventually she became a math professor in the Business Division at PCC where she worked for 25 years.
Both Tom and Elizabeth were active volunteers in community organizations during their careers. In addition to the typical child centered volunteer activities, they joined community organizations that provided support and to those who were struggling in their lives.
Tom became very involved in Union Station. He was on the search committee that hired long-time Executive Director Marv Gross and was on the Board while Union Station was expanding its services to meet the needs of growing numbers of homeless families. For many years Tom helped their church prepare and serve Sunday dinner at Union Station, and assist at the local bad weather shelter.
The nonprofit organization St. Vincent de Paul, which also works to help those who are unhoused find stable housing has also benefitted from Tom’s volunteer efforts. For 35 years he has been an active member through St. Elizabeth’s and Assumption Church.
An important experience for Tom is supporting Ability First and prior to a merger, Foothill Vocational Opportunities. Both nonprofits serve adults with special needs. In addition to these nonprofit organizations, Tom has been a long-time member of one of Pasadena’s Rotary Clubs – known as the After Hours Rotary, which recently merged with Altadena Rotary.
When Tom retired, he turned his attention to babies. “I wanted to be a cuddler, someone who holds a child while they are being treated in the hospital.” And so, one day a week you can find Tom at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, cuddling babies and going from room to room giving books to hospitalized children.
Since 1997, Elizabeth has been involved with the Assistance League of Pasadena (ALP), serving in many positions including President. Assistance League Pasadena, founded in 1941, generates revenue from their thrift shop in East Pasadena. Elizabeth enjoys weekly volunteering there as the money raised goes toward ALP’s programs and its collaborative arrangements with a number of agencies that benefit the people of our community. Operation School Bell provides clothing, shoes, backpacks, and supplies for school age children. Bear Hugs supplies teddy bears to local organizations to distribute to traumatized children. And the Assault Survivors program provides clothing and personal care items to victims of abuse, neglect and sexual assault. Supporting Seniors is Craft Fair, a consignment gift shop near California Blvd. and Lake, that sells items crafted by senior artisans, allowing them a creative outlet and a bit of income.
Today, in addition to her Assistance League commitment, Elizabeth is active in the Altadena Guild of Huntington Hospital which, this past year, raised over $100,000 for the hospital and the Huntington Medical Research Institutes. She is also maintaining her connections with PCC by serving on the Board of the PCC Pasadena Retirees Association.
When asked why they have such a long history of volunteerism, Tom only shrugs and says, “We like to do our part.” Elizabeth confesses that “we don’t idle well.” Clearly this is a couple who understands and embraces the idea of community. And that means doing their part – with those less fortunate, with those who are ill, with those who have suffered hard knocks.
Why did the Polenzanis join the Village? It certainly doesn’t seem like they “need” the Village – with four children and nine grandchildren living in the area, plus a circle of life-long friends. Elizabeth offers one explanation – “Every 5 or 6 years I like to join something new and get involved with new people. It always enriches my life.”
Tom and Elizabeth have jumped into Village life with typical enthusiasm. Tom plays ping pong and gives rides to members. Elizabeth has joined the Book Club. They both participate in the weekly urban walks and have joined up with the monthly Cultural Exploration Group, started by Toni Johnson and new member Prakash Shrivastava. And Tom still cuddles those babies and Elizabeth still recruits members to the Assistance League – examples of Village members who make a difference Beyond the Village.