Leona Coren Kornfeld, 90, social worker

Leona Coren E. Kornfeld
Leona Coren E. Kornfeld
Posted: April 09, 2013

Leona Coren Ellick Kornfeld, 90, a Philadelphia social worker and advocate for those with AIDS and mental-health needs, died Saturday, March 23, of dementia and advanced age at Chandler Hall, a nursing home in Newtown, Bucks County.

Before it was common, Mrs. Kornfeld made it her business to go into the community and look for those in need of help from society. She met with clients, figured out what services they were entitled to, and guided them through the application process.

Clients included widows, elderly shut-ins, and those suffering from AIDS and mental illnesses, said her daughter, Carol Coren. Many clients didn't even know they could get Social Security; when the payments came, their lives improved.

"She did it with an inordinate amount of skill," her daughter said.

Mrs. Kornfeld, daughter of Charles and Frances Steyer, knew what it was, Coren said, to come up through "the school of hard knocks"; her mother suffered a breakdown, and at 18, Mrs. Kornfeld, a graduate of South Philadelphia High School, took a job doing clerical work for the U.S. Immigration Service.

"By 18, she had enormous responsibility taking care of a family of four children," her daughter said. "She really understood the dilemmas of her clients."

Growing up in South Philadelphia, Mrs. Kornfeld formed a Pesach Club to provide Passover food baskets for the needy. The baskets contained the special makings of a seder meal, her daughter said.

As a teenager in the late 1930s, she led the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania level Chapters of B'nai B'rith Girls.

"It was one of the best times in her life," her daughter said. "She developed leadership skills and met people from other areas of the country."

Mrs. Kornfeld married South Philadelphia businessman Daniel Coren and raised two children in Philadelphia's Oxford Circle before going to work again.

She was a family counselor for College Bound Inc., a Philadelphia nonprofit that helped steer high school students toward college or technical training.

"At the time, there were no career counselors in the schools," her daughter said. "In a lot of blue-collar homes, college was not part of the way people thought."

She would sit down with the family and figure out what could be done to launch a child's college career.

Daniel Coren died in 1968 of a pulmonary embolism. Putting her skills to work, Mrs. Kornfeld convinced the Veterans Administration that his death was war-related, and she used the benefit money for her son's education.

Mrs. Kornfeld married Philadelphia Police Capt. Jerome Ellick and took a job as a community outreach worker for the Northeast Community Mental Health Center in Northeast Philadelphia.

Her experience with clients and the informal help she gave neighbors and friends convinced Mrs. Kornfeld that city dwellers had limited access to mental-health services.

She helped create the Impact Community Mental Health Center in Philadelphia's Roxborough section, where she lived in the 1970s. The group specialized in behavioral health.

In 1973, her second husband died. In 1976, she married Martin Kornfeld, a businessman from Overbrook Park.

"A lot of stuff that would have put other people under, she took what happened to her and made it a lesson to serve her and other people," her daughter said.

The Kornfelds moved back to Northeast Philadelphia. She was asked to join the staff of Episcopal Community Services, a nonprofit social-service agency.

Her family said Mrs. Kornfeld spent her final decade of work in the late 1980s providing support and hospice care to seniors and AIDS patients. One project was organizing church members who crocheted afghans for AIDS patients being taken in chilly vans to the hospital.

Mrs. Kornfeld loved dogs and dancing. Her last dance was the Mummer's strut, done with a walker at Chandler Hall to a live string band, her daughter said. The occasion was her 90th birthday.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Kornfeld is survived by a son, Michael Coren; stepchildren Joan Parkin, Martin Ellick, Richard Kornfeld, and Susan Brodsky; 16 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and a sister. A brother and sister died earlier.

Services are past. Contributions may be made to Leona's Funtime Fund at Chandler Hall Health Services, 99 Barclay St., Newtown, Pa. 18940.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 215-854-2611 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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