We Remember

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Alla Denisenko

Educator, Teen Outreach Worker
1952 – 2008
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Alla Denisenko.
Photo: Ena Feinberg.
by Ena Feinberg, Director, New American Services, Jewish Family and Children's Service, Boston, and friends

Alla Denisenko was born on January 28, 1952, in Omsk, a Siberian town in the Soviet Union. When she was eight years old, the family moved to Ryazan, Central Russia. In Ryazan, Alla went to school and met the love of her life, her future husband Sergey. After finishing high school, Alla entered Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, English Department and upon graduation started working as a teacher of English at a high school in Moscow. In 1974 Alla and Sergey got married. In 1992, the family left the Soviet Union and moved to Boston where Alla started teaching English as a second language to various immigrant groups.

Back in Moscow, Alla had been a teacher at a specialized school called the "School of Self-Determination." Her major talent was opening hearts. Her compassion, understanding and generosity made her the most popular person at school, a magnet for teenagers who called her their second mother and were ready to share things they would never have told their parents. No wonder that many of her former students remained in touch with her over the years, long after graduation, and even when Alla left for the United States.

Being a Jew from the Soviet Union, Alla made her choice in the United States – she came to work for a Jewish agency. In 1998, Alla joined Jewish Family and Children's Service New American department as a Russian Teen Outreach Coordinator. This was her formal job title. In real life, she was a blend of guidance counselor, social worker, educator, loving parent and mentor for Russian-speaking teens in Boston the same way she used to be back in Moscow. There were absolutely no age or position barriers between her and her students. They were all treated as personal friends, members of one big family.

Alla became an active promoter of Jewish education among the Russian-speaking teens trying to fill in the gaps formed back in the USSR. Workshops on Jewish values, traditions, customs; participation in community events associated with Jewish holidays; ties with Israel through Boston-Haifa Russian Connection Program – all these were priority items on her agenda.

Alla was a devoted daughter and a wonderful wife and mother. Her son's friends often sought her attention and company. In addition to her family, the circle of friends Alla created included adults, kids, teens, elderly people – age was not an obstacle to her warm embrace. Her family got used to a houseful of people as a normal part of their everyday life. Their home was always open for those who needed support, warmth, understanding or shelter.

Part of Alla's gift was that she was not a nine-to-five person. She was there 24/7 when people needed her. Nothing changed in the United States: a house full of people with their concerns, problems, troubles. Friends, friends of friends, newcomers, strangers seeking advice or help…

In everything Alla did, her devotion to all of her wards knew no bounds. She could not stand indifference towards other people's troubles or problems. She spared neither time nor effort when she heard cries for help. For many she was a wall that they could lean on, the shoulder to cry on… She possessed her own, unique warm and engaging style of relating to teens and peers. She owned a magic key that opened teenagers' hearts and souls. She was devastated on the very rare occasion that she failed to help or the results of her intervention were less effective than desired.

The ideal world for Alla was the world where kindness and compassion were valued and cherished; where people were treated with respect and equality. These were the moral values she tried to pass on to her students.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember - Alla Denisenko, 1952 - 2008." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/denisenko-alla>.