Stanley Chen, an immigrant from China, just wanted to do “some little thing” to show his appreciation for the Jewish people he has known since coming to America.
His “some little thing” is a $20,000 annual gift that will support the new Moldaw Residences Employee Education Scholarship Program. Chen, 94, and his wife, Josephine, 93, who have been living at the Palo Alto-based Jewish retirement community since 2016, began a similar initiative a decade ago while they lived in Boston — a scholarship program specifically for immigrants, refugees or their children at the University of Massachusetts.
But to understand the Chens’ philanthropy, one must understand their journey — their Jewish journey, that is.
It began in 1951 when Stanley, an engineer for Shell Oil Co. in the isolated jungles of Brunei in Southeast Asia, had had enough of the location and the political turmoil brewing there, so he immigrated to the United States. The “city kid” from Shanghai met Josephine, who hailed from Hong Kong, while they were both living in New York.
It was in the Big Apple that Stanley found work with two Jewish-owned construction companies, leading to a career that spanned 20 years. But more important than learning how to develop and build large-scale, residential high-rises in New Jersey and San Francisco, and more important than forming his own successful construction company in 1976, was learning from his Jewish role models how to be generous and to give back.
“I appreciate the Jewish community and I benefited from the Jewish community,” Chen told J. “The Jewish people are community-minded and also allow other people to benefit. They are very generous.”
When he retired, Chen packed up his affinity for the Jewish people and took it with him to Boston, where he and his wife settled into a Jewish senior center. Though they no longer live there, they continue their tzedakah that began in 2009 by contributing $75,000 each year to support scholarships at UMass. Seven recipients are currently pursuing their studies; 32 students have graduated, 31 of whom are the first in their families to attend college. One student went on to pursue a Ph.D. and three have earned master’s degrees.
The Jewish people are community-minded and also allow other people to benefit.
“Education is very important,” Chen said. “It is through education that you can get ahead. These students have worked hard all their life. Hard work is nothing to them when they have the opportunity. They just want a good job, to get married, to have kids, and to buy a house. We feel good about doing this.”
While other Moldaw residents have supported staff in various ways, executive director Alexander Ben-Israel says he is grateful to the Chens for endowing a formal scholarship program. “Our community strongly believes in the power of education and we encourage all team members to take advantage of incredible opportunities like this,” he affirmed in a press release. “We’re fortunate to have residents like the Chens who are committed to helping improve the lives of those around them.”
Stanley Chen said the UMass students he has supported have become like a second family to him and Josephine.
“We treat them like our kids,” Chen said with a laugh. “Three or four times a year, we would get together when we lived in Boston. They see me like a grandfather, as one of their family members.”
Chen said he considers himself very lucky and that as an immigrant, he understands the challenges many of his scholarship recipients face. He and Josephine want to give the Moldaw staff members they encounter every day more opportunities for professional growth, from higher education to professional licensing.
“We want to open it up for staff to support whatever they want to achieve,” Chen said.
The two inaugural recipients of the scholarship awards were announced at the end of November. Aaliyah Johnson, a staffer in the Moldaw concierge department, and Mabelle Pumaras, who works in the lifestyles department, will receive an undisclosed amount toward their educational goals. Johnson is pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Cal State Hayward and Pumaras is taking classes at Mission College to qualify for her master’s in business administration.
Early on in the application process, Chen told J. that he had a particularly good feeling about Johnson. “I can see from her application that she will succeed,” he said. “She did her research about the field and she will be a good fit.”
As the program evolves, the recipients will be required to perform 100 hours of community service, as they do in Boston.
“When they receive something,” Chen explains, “they should give something back.”
The engineer from China, it appears, has become a teacher of Jewish values in America.