Born in Puerto Rico, artist, salsa dancer
Listen to Iris speak of her love of creating sculpture, watch her cradle an imaginary piece, running her hands over its invisible contours, and it is easy to grasp just how passionate she is about that art form. “You start with absolutely nothing,” she says, “and end up with something beautiful. How satisfying.”
A vibrant, talented artist, Iris’s work — sculpture and paintings — has been exhibited at libraries as well as at the annual art shows at Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx. She has even been featured in the Bronx Times newspaper.
Her creativity and love of the arts extends to making jewelry, customized birthday cards for family and friends, knitting and crocheting, and yes…Salsa dancing.
A resident of Parkchester, Iris retired a few years ago after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Thankfully, the disease is in remission and allows her to get on with her active life.
Several times each week, Iris participates in classes at Parkchester Enhancement Program (PEP) for Seniors. It was a flyer advertising art classes that originally brought her to PEP, but it was her fellow members and the director of the program that kept her actively involved.
There’s yoga, belly dancing, book club, memoir writing, healthy living classes and much more. And the people here are so caring and supportive, if someone misses a class or two, members will call to find out if they’re okay.Iris, Bronx
And, if a member is in need of help, PEP social workers can provide a variety of services. From obtaining heat for their apartments through subsidized governmental programs; financial planning; applying for food stamps or Medicaid; or filling out other potentially confusing forms, the PEP social workers stand ready to assist.
Iris is quick to point out that helping people is not limited to PEP social workers and staff. Following the devastation left by the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, PEP members went into immediate “action mode” by knitting and crocheting more than 50 blankets.
They arranged for Beth Abraham Health Services to add these to the other medical, clothing and sundry items being shipped to Haiti.
“ As it happens, none of us that worked on that project were Haitian,” Iris recalls, “because color or nationality doesn’t matter here. That’s part of the beauty of the center.”
Parkchester Enhancement Program (PEP) for Seniors
Takes art classes
Born in Russia, professional violinist
Each day, residents living at Beth Abraham’s housing in the Bronx are treated to the exquisite strains of a violin coming from Galina’s apartment. The selections can range from a soft and lilting Mozart concerto to an emotional rousing segment of a Beethoven symphony.
Galina belies her demure, soft-spoken demeanor when it comes to her music. Armed with her violin, this 78-year-old virtuoso becomes an energetic powerhouse. When she’s not practicing at home, she’s rehearsing and performing as a member of the Bronx Symphony Orchestra, or another local orchestra of which she is a member. When she is not performing herself, she can often be found attending performances at Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic or The Metropolitan Opera.
Oh, I love to travel, anywhere.Galina, Bronx
Galina emigrated to the Bronx in 1994 from Rostov-On-Don, a cultural center in Russia. In the 16 years since, she has studied English with other Russians living in Beth Abraham housing. Galina continues to feed her love of learning, reading everything she can get her hands on (though she confesses to a preference for novels with a love theme).
Mention the word travel, and a broad smile spreads across her face. “Oh, I love to travel, anywhere,” she says. Over the years, she has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Israel and even to and from New York to California by bus. Her dream — Galina looks forward to returning to Rostov-On-Don to visit with relatives and old friends.
Beth Abraham Housing
Happily married for 50 years
Happily married for 50 years, Ida and Aron met in their native Ukraine while both were students at the Metallurgic Institute in Dnepropetrovsk. They began dating and were married a year later while Aron was completing his studies in mechanical engineering and Ida was completing her studies in economics.
After their graduation Aron began working in the mining industry and Ida became an economist. Following Ida’s retirement in 1997 (Aron retired two years earlier), the couple emigrated to the United States with their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Their adult son remained in the Ukraine. In 2003, the same year they became U.S. citizens, Ida and Aron moved into Beth Abraham housing.
On any given day – morning and evening – Ida and Aron can be found strolling their neighborhood. There are of course many trips out of the neighborhood as well: to the museums in Manhattan, to the theater and to Carnegie Hall.
Twice a week, we walk to The New York Botanical Garden to see the beautiful rose gardens…or how the sun glistens on the grass, or just to watch the shadows change with each season.Aron & Ida, Bronx
As dedicated to each other as they are, they also have some separate interests. Ida loves to read …everything. She is also the glue that keeps the family together, planning elaborate family gatherings with dinner and music in the Beth Abraham community room, exploring new sites and exhibits to see in Manhattan or researching and planning trips to visit their son in the Ukraine.
Aron walks three or four times a week with a group of residents from his building to the public library to engage in some friendly chess competitions. Friendly competition or not, Aron admits with a smile, “When my adrenaline gets pumping, I want to win.”
When asked what the secret to their successful 50-year marriage is, Ida and Aron answer nearly as one: “respect and love.”
Beth Abraham Housing
Born in Georgia, writer and publisher
Idella may well be the embodiment of the saying, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.” Indeed, it is difficult to tell whether she is busier in retirement than she was when she served New York County Health Services as their Administrator of Children’s Services.
Of her time at New York County Health Services, Idella says simply, "I feel I’ve justified my existence and given all I could to others in need.”
Still, at 69 her so-called retirement is a whirlwind of activity and engagement, from serving on her condo board and writing synopses for future selections of the Parkchester Enhancement Program (PEP) for Seniors’ Book Club, to volunteering with the Department of Aging through PEP for Seniors’ Partners to Partners program. In that capacity, Idella makes weekly home visits to her 84-year-old “partner” and is researching her partner’s ancestry.
No stranger to genealogical research, Idella recently completed a two year project researching, writing and self publishing her own family’s history. What’s more, because she is so actively involved in the Parkchester community, she has been named to the PEP advisory board.
I feel I’ve justified my existence and given all I could to others in need.Idella, Bronx
Idella also attends art classes at PEP and has exhibited her paintings at library art shows and at the annual art show at Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx.
A native of Savannah, Georgia, Idella has traveled extensively throughout Europe, South America and the United States. She earned a Masters Degree from Yeshiva University. Her “retirement” affords her the time get to know her neighbors better, attend more Broadway shows and jazz concerts in the park, and explore museums throughout Manhattan.
Still, the activity that remains Idella’s top priority is spending time with her grown son, who lives in Staten Island (as well as myriad uncles, aunts and cousins), and keeping the memory of her ancestors alive.
Parkchester Enhancement Program (PEP) for Seniors
Takes art classes
Born in Korea, black belt in Tae Kwon Do
A Sergeant Major in the South Korean army, Kwang Ho was also an accomplished practitioner of Tae Kwan Do, the Korean martial art and national sport. While in the service, he achieved the level of Black Belt and enjoyed practicing and unofficially instructing his fellow soldiers in the “the art of the foot and fist."
After his three children were born, Kwang Ho knew that if he was going to provide good educations for “his number one son, his second son and his daughter,” he would need to go to America, work hard and send money back home to South Korea.
So it was that Kwang Ho arrived in the United States in 1985. For the next ten years he worked six days a week, 12-hours a day at a green grocer in Manhattan. Finally, he found a maintenance job in an apartment building where he says proudly, “I earned very good money.” Kwang Ho continued to regularly send money to his children and they did get good educations and good jobs in South Korea, where they remain to this day.
After 12 years in the United States, Kwang Ho became an American citizen.
Now a member of CenterLight Healthcare’s PACE program, Kwang Ho, attends three-days-a-week and credits the acupuncture treatments he gets there each week with helping to control the pain in his back and cope with his asthma. He also enjoys watching movies in Korean, which he borrows from the CenterLight Healthcare centers.
Ironically, it was his South Korean army career that brought him into close contact with Americans and gave him the opportunity to taste their traditional foods: hamburgers, French fries and steak. Indeed, though Kwang Ho still cooks the traditional Korean dishes he grew up with such as rice and soybeans or tofu with squash, mushrooms, garlic and scallions, he still “loves the hamburgers and American food they serve at the CenterLight Healthcare centers.”
Kwang Ho, who speaks to his children in Korea each week, and happily receives updates from his “number one son about his two wonderful grandchildren.”
Born in Puerto Rico, charity walk leader
“Each morning I wake up with love in my heart,” says the energetic Julia. After being picked up by van for her short ride to the adult day center, Julia, who suffers from arthritis in her joints and glaucoma, can be seen in action by 8:30 a.m. She’s greets everyone she sees with a smile, hug and words of endearment. It doesn’t matter that many don’t understand Spanish. Julia’s language is universal...brimming with warmth, smiles and a sense of caring for all those she meets.
Julia , who is called “mamasita” by most registrants and staff, is the first to volunteer and help CNAs serve and feed those people who need assistance. She welcomes all newcomers with the same greeting, “Welcome to my family. All your needs will be met here.” Julia is quick to explain that when she arrived at the center five years ago from Puerto Rico, she had no clothing, food or money. “The staff took care of all my needs and now I do that for others,” she recalls with tears in her eyes.
Each morning I wake up with love in my heart.Julia, Bronx
Julia is also the ring leader for charity walks benefiting such causes as breast cancer, multiple sclerosis or diabetes. When asked why she supports so many causes, she responds, “I walk for those who can’t because they would walk for me.”
When Julia is not attending to her unofficial duties as “mayor,” she can be seen participating in many activities. Her favorites include anything that involves dancing and music. As one staffer who was watching Julia at a dance session remarked, “Beyonce has nothing on Julia. Just watch her moves.”
Adult Day Health Care, Bronx
Born in the Bronx, loves playing games
Evelyn is no stranger to the healthcare system. Though now a resident of Beth Abraham nursing home due to a stroke that left her partially paralyzed, she spent her professional lifetime as a registered nurse in the Bronx, working in hospital settings and in home environments as a visiting nurse.
“I loved the one-on-one with my patients,” says Evelyn. “I loved taking care of them and making a difference in their lives.”
Still, there were some occurrences in the course of her long career that still loom large in her memory. In one such instance, Evelyn was making a home visit to a diabetic patient. It was her first visit to this patient and she had could not have guessed what was waiting for her on the other side of the apartment front door. Until, that is, the new patient swung the door open to reveal a six-foot python wrapped around his neck. The patient affectionately referred to the python as his "pride and joy" and apparently kept the snake wrapped around his neck for the amusing shock appeal it offered him.
I loved the one-on-one with my patients.Evelyn, Bronx
”He also made sure I knew that he fed the snake rabbits and rats that he bought from the local pet store,” recalls Evelyn. “From that day forward, our deal was that whenever he was expecting me to visit him, the python would be in a covered tank,” she smiles.
And so it was.
Despite the consequences of her stroke, Evelyn remains as active and engaged as she can be. You will rarely find this affable mother of three and grandmother of five in her room at Beth Abraham. Most often she is off socializing with other residents, playing bingo, Pokeno, or group crossword games, or participating in arts and crafts sessions. And when it comes to offsite excursions such as trips to the local movie theaters, lunch at a restaurant in Co-op City or shopping the boutiques on City Island, Evelyn is among the first to sign up.
Beth Abraham Health Services
Born in Jamaica, music feeds his soul
At the age of 28, Horace was the chef/owner of a Chinese restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica. In one devastating stroke of violence, a robber attacked him, thrust an ice pick into his brain and left him bereft of short-term memory, virtually unable to speak and completely unable to walk. So it was that Horace left Kingston for the Bronx to live with his sister. It was she who introduced him to Beth Abraham, and set him on the long, hard road to rehabilitation.
That was 30 years ago.
Today, most people would envy Horace’s impressive list of accomplishments. To the restaurateur/chef credit that began his saga, one can now add musician, lyricist, singer, band leader, performer, clothing model and artistic painter.
Determined to recapture what had been lost in a moment of staggering violence, Horace worked relentlessly to improve the quality of his life, and with the help of Beth Abraham’s world-renowned music therapy program and its rehabilitation center, his remarkable turnaround began.
It's a pleasure working with my music therapist. I was not able to speak very well and he helped get me back on track."Horace, Bronx
Now, each weekday without fail Horace walks the three blocks from his apartment at Beth Abraham’s housing to the Adult Day Health Care Program. A dapper dresser, he makes his arrival known by bellowing: “Good Morning, Everybody.” The “Ambassador,”as everyone affectionately calls him, has arrived.
First item on his daily “to do” list is a visit to his “adopted” 91-year-old grandmother, who is a resident at Beth Abraham’s long-term care facility. Frequently, he’ll cook one of her favorite dishes the night before and deliver it to her with a loving greeting. Then the Ambassador is off to “brighten the day of others less fortunate.”
Horace can also be frequently heard at bible study meetings leading the group in singing his lyrics praising the Lord. “It’s the Lord who has given me strength to keep on going,” says Horace, “so I could help so many others to live and love.”
When Horace isn’t participating in group activities, playing the drums or delivering balloons to bring cheer to others, he’s spending time with his “someone special.” They met two years ago at the Adult Day Health Care Program “and,” he says with a broad smile, “she just loves my cooking.”
Adult Day Health Care, Bronx
Services Received:Physical Rehabilitation Music Therapy
Born in Puerto Rico, friend to many
Energetic, outgoing and eager to help a friend or neighbor at the Beth Abraham apartment building he calls home, Basilio keeps a pace that would tire a man many years younger than his 80 years. Always ready with a kind word for, and about, his neighbors, Basilio often volunteers his time at his building’s main entrance, opening the door, ensuring that visitors sign in and that those who need a hand carrying packages to the elevator get the assist.
Up and out by 8:30 each weekday morning, Basilio meets his buddies at the local senior center, where they shoot pool and play dominoes. Once a week, Basilio’s pool regimen changes from knocking numbered balls into sunken pockets to swimming laps in the center’s indoor pool.
Ever open to new things, Basilio even tried his hand at the center’s Nintendo Wii system, but dismissed it as something “for the ladies.” Still, at night in the privacy of his apartment, Basilio watches TV exercise programs, follows along with their aerobic workout routines and even shadow boxes a round or two to keep in shape. Adding to his healthy routine, a registered nurse visits Basilio every week to make sure his diabetes is under control.
I stay healthy because my nurse checks on me every week to make sure my diabetes is under control.Basilio, Bronx
Preparing dinner is a creative activity for Basilio, who was taught to cook by his sister. While his favorite dishes are chicken stew with yellow rice, or cod fish with eggplant, onions and a side dish of plantains with olive oil and garlic, he concedes that “oregano and tomato sauce adds a kick to any dish."
As the day winds down and the dinner dishes are put away, Basilio makes a couple of quick phone calls to his son in Manhattan and his daughter in the Bronx, just to make certain they are okay. Then it’s finally time to kick back, relax and watch a baseball game on TV, or a round of golf, or maybe even a horse race.
Beth Abraham Housing
Born in China, 104 years young
When Fung Shee was born one hundred and four years ago, Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States; a first class U.S. postage stamp cost 2 cents; a new car cost $500, and the gas to power it cost six cents a gallon. All of these historic events had little to do with the proverbial cost of tea in China, which was where Fung Shee spent the first 53 years of her life. Fung Shee did not set foot on American soil until 1959, when she and her husband emigrated from their native Shanghai.
Recalling their arrival in the States fifty years ago, Fung Shee smiles and says, "Everyone wants to come to America. Life is so good here.”
Though Fung Shee and her husband had five children, three died from disease and infection during the Japanese-Chinese war in the late 1930s. Once here, her husband worked long hours so that they could send money back to Shanghai so their two surviving daughters could receive a good education there.
“Life was very difficult during the war,” recalls Fung Shee, gently wiping her eyes. “My husband was stationed overseas and could not send money or letters to us for four years. Each month, the government would give us a few pounds of rice, a little spoiled vegetables and a tiny piece of meat that had to last for the month. Sometimes, it didn’t.”
Eventually their daughters were able to join them here, and in 1978 Fung Shee became a U.S. citizen. Fung Shee’s husband died in 1986.
Growing up female in Shanghai, Fung Shee received just enough formal education to learn to read and write Shanghainese. Typically, girls were expected to sew, knit and make shoes for the family. These were skills learned mostly from their mothers and sisters. To this day, Fung Shee knits vests and scarves without the use of a pattern.
I've seen a lot in my lifetime...I'm happy to be here.Fung-Shee, Bronx
Today, Fung Shee lives at Beth Abraham’s residential facility in the Bronx. She has four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. On special occasions such as birthdays, holidays and the Chinese New Year, all family members gather with their matriarch for a traditional ceremony of respect where they kneel and bow before her and she in turn, gives them “good luck money.”
Beth Abraham Health Services
Skilled Nursing Facility
From Russia, grandmother and engineer
Margarita lived the first 63 years of her life in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she earned a college degree in engineering and economics, raised a family and spent her entire career in Russia’s construction industry. In 1989 Margarita emigrated with her daughter and son-in-law to New York, moving first to Far Rockaway Queens, and then into a one-bedroom apartment in one of Beth Abraham’s apartment buildings in the Bronx.
Now 84 years old, Margarita is quick to mention how happy she is living in the BA apartment building, in large part because of “the great attitude and respect the entire staff has toward the elderly.”
Indeed, the Beth Abraham housing staff goes well beyond providing basic apartment services. Concerned too for the cultural, educational, spiritual and social needs of residents, the staff often arranges for outside speakers to address residents on healthcare issues and medical benefits available to them, invites musicians to put on concerts, and even hosts holiday barbecues and luaus complete with dancing and a large spread of holiday food.
The entire staff has a great attitude and respect toward the elderly.Margarita, Bronx
During the week, Margarita walks with her aide, Maria, to the public library, where she searches for books on history, biography and Manhattan landmarks written in Russian. Her other weekly sojourns include a 15-minute walk to The New York Botanical Garden, and trips to the supermarket and to her hairdresser.
The highlight for Margarita comes on the weekends, when she spends time with her daughter and son-in-law in White Plains, her grandchildren in Manhattan, and perhaps best of all, cradling the newest addition to the family – her great grandson – in her arms.
Life is good.
Beth Abraham Housing
Bronx born, partial to "his Yankees"
At the age of 76, Walter is beating the odds. He retired at the age of 61 from a life of many hats, ranging from plumber’s assistant to a New York City Police Officer, a fire and safety officer, an inspector for the taxi and limousine commission and finally, a security officer for a large retail chain.
His decision to take early retirement was based in part on the fact that, “nobody in my family made it past 65, including my four sisters, parents, aunts and uncles. I decided,” says Walter, “to enjoy life while I could.”
He enjoys cooking dinners, eats only healthy foods, exercises regularly and is committed to making “each day count.” When the discussion turns to his three children, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren, a broad smile animates his face.
Although Walter does have medical issues that restrict him from certain physical activities, he lives a full and active life. Monday and Wednesday mornings he can be found in an Olympic-size pool near his apartment at Beth Abraham’s housing, swimming 50-60 laps. He also uses this time to socialize with other devotees of the lap pool.
“We’ve become good friends and invite each other to birthday parties, holiday dinners and church dinners.”
We swimmers have become good friends and invite each other to birthday parties, holiday dinners and church dinners.Walter, Bronx
These days Walter is taking computer classes twice a week at St. Mary’s Recreation Center in order to stay better connected with his family. Ever up on current events and hot button political issues, Walter also follows all the New York sports teams. “But,” he says, “I keep a special place reserved for my Yankees.”
As a Bronx native, how could it be any other way?
Beth Abraham Housing