They were two Leonards. Boyhood friends back in the 60s, Leonard Malach and Leonard Slipson lived across the street from one another on a quiet block of Stansbury in the 8 Mile and Schaeffer area of Detroit.
Leonard Malach is a retired painting contractor now working as a job coach for JVS in Southfield. He remembers the street like it was yesterday. “There are a lot of fond memories of that neighborhood,” he recalls. “It was a time when parents didn’t think twice about kids playing ball in the street, a time when neighbors were close.”
Leonard Slipson is a spry 72-year-old with a cognitive impairment that has not diminished his youthful strength and vigor, nor appreciably held him back from hard work, a happy relationship, a full life, inspiring others. As a client of JVS, he is part of the agency’s Supported Employment Program for those with disabilities. In recognition of his outstanding work history and the positive attitude that he brings to his job at St. Anne’s Mead home for seniors, he has been selected to receive the 2015 JVS Inspiration Award.
As long-lost friends tend to do, the two Leonards fall into an easy patter whenever they come together to describe their unexpected reunion after a hiatus of nearly 50 years:
Leonard S: We lost contact . . .
Leonard M: When we moved out of the neighborhood, I must have been 12, maybe 13 years old.
Leonard S: And I was in my early 20’s.
Leonard M: We had no idea how we were still connected until we met three years ago at a party hosted for JVS clients and job coaches. I notice this guy as he walks in. Reminds me of Leonard. But I think, “Naw, Can’t be!”
Leonard S: But it was! I recognized (the other) Leonard right away.
Leonard M: Then Leonard’s life partner comes up to my table, asks if my name is Leonard and if I knew that guy sitting across the room. And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so!’ Looking back, Leonard hadn’t changed a bit!
Leonard S: “We’re still the same old Leonards.”
Leonard M: Except your hair was black back then.
A special connection
In conversation with Leonard M, it becomes clear how well suited he is to his role at JVS. He is described by JVS staff as one “with a kind heart and mind for helping those with special needs.”
It’s easy to imagine how Leonard Malach’s friendship and genuine affection for Leonard Slipson might have influenced the two of them, coming of age on Stansbury Street. “I don’t know how the connection started,” Lenonard M says, “but the kids in the neighborhood included Leonard in everything. All the sports! We had a football game going in the street, Leonard was there. We played baseball, rode our bikes around the neighborhood – Leonard was right there with us. Like all of us, he loved being outdoors. And we welcomed him in whatever we were doing – summer rec activities at the school, movies at the drive-in – we never ever said no to Leonard. We didn’t care how skilled he was or what he did . . . he always was a part of the group and enjoyed playing with us.”
Beyond their boyhood memories, the “Leonards” also have in common their passion for baseball. Leonard was – and still is – a huge Tigers fan. According to Leonard M, during baseball season, Leonard S rarely appeared without his signature sunglasses, baseball cap and a transistor radio held right up to his ear, listening to the game. And whenever the Tigers won a game, the whole neighborhood would know, because Leonard would run out of his yard yelling, “The Tigers won! The Tigers won!”
To this day, at the age of 61, Leonard M still plays serious baseball in the MSBL – Men’s Senior Baseball League. In fact, he is on a traveling team, heading to Arizona for a tournament in October.
As for Leonard S., he is a “big walker.” Always has been. As Leonard M affirms, “He could walk for miles and not get tired. I don’t know where he gets his energy, but it’s amazing to me that he’s still like the 21-year-old kid I once knew. He’s special to me. I am very happy to be in contact with him again.”
About JVS’s Supported Employment services
As one of its principle goals in Jewish Detroit, JVS works to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Through JVS’s Supported Employment services, individuals with disabilities can find productive ways to live the lives of their choosing and participate in their community through their work. Clients receive job search assistance, on-the-job training and the ongoing support services of a job coach.
Leonard Slipson has been a part of the JVS family for many years. With assistance from JVS’s Supported Employment services, he lives in Southfield and maintains a semi-independent lifestyle. Starting in the late 1980s, Leonard was one of the first participants of JVS’s Supported Employment Program in Southfield, working as a dining room attendant at a local restaurant. With his strong work ethic, outgoing manner, and long record of independent employment for several businesses in the community, Leonard recently has been promoted to the dining room service staff at St. Anne’s Mead (a senior care community in Southfield) where he works evenings, Monday through Friday.
Sharon Raab, Leonard’s case coordinator at JVS, says: Leonard interacts with the seniors at St. Anne’s Mead very well, often making them laugh and talking with them about current events. The seniors notice when he is absent, and they ask the job coach if everything is okay. At 72, he is incredibly motivated to work. He is energetic, reliable and a great asset to the two-person crew at St. Anne’s Mead.
As a job coach for JVS, Leonard Malach has worked with more than 200 clients since starting with the agency in 2012. Currently he supervises janitorial and maintenance crews working at the Oak Park Apartments and Chateau Riviera in Oak Park.
For more information on JVS and the Supported Employment Program, please visit JVS online.