March 11, 2014

Bronx Builds “Characters”


Volunteer Terance helped Joseph K. prepare his intake forms at Refuge House. Joseph worked for the Metropolitan Opera for 16,602 performances.

Joseph K. has lived in his Bronx apartment on Valentine Avenue since he left Hungary over 50 years ago. Joseph was part of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a spontaneous nationwide movement against communism and Soviet policies. He escaped Hungary under a death sentence and got a job with Metropolitan Opera, where he worked for 40 years as “front of the house” staff supervisor, overseeing the ushers, security and ticket takers. During his time at the Met, he befriended Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Maria Callas.  He enjoys all operas- but if asked to select his favorites to take with him on a desert Island, he would choose Boris Godunov, Norma, Bluebeard’s Castle and Don Carlo. Bluebeard’s Castle is a Hungarian Opera and Joseph read the prologue in his native language to the Met audience.  Joseph published a book In Hungary about his experiences at the Opera House and shares his stories at senior centers and local schools.  “Older people enjoy my talk and forget about their aches and pains for a while.  I also get to pass on my knowledge and experience to young people.  It is very rewarding.”

Oliver was hand-picked by Executive Director, Sr. Mary Alice, 18 years ago to join the POTS kitchen staff.

As the Chef at POTS, Oliver prepares nutritious and tasty meals for up to 600 people a day.  Oliver always enjoyed cooking, but wasn’t a Chef.  He was laid off from a construction job, and joined the Pots community, when then Director Sr. Mary Alice noticed his punctuality and asked him to join the kitchen staff.  “I started on dishes, but then one day the cook did not show up.” Oliver‘s talents as a chef was recognized and he scrambled to get his food handling and safety certifications and licenses. Founded in 1982 as a soup kitchen, POTS has expanded its mission from feeding its neighbors to providing holistic community services for its members, including legal services and case management in a beautifully renovated space on Webster Avenue. Prior to its 2011 relocation, Oliver worked in a well-used, but cramped space down the block.  When asked to describe the old kitchen, Oliver responded, “misery, pain, agony and stress.”  Today, Oliver works in the renovated kitchen with “a gourmet selection of spices” and fresh ingredients, serving his delicious meals in a bright and cheery space to his Bronx neighbors. Oliver is preparing to retire as POTS chef, but has no plans to retire from this community of which he is very much a part.

Frank is “content” at Rose Hill Apartments for low-income senior citizens, but is surprised he is still here. Pictured above, Frank shares a joke with UNHP intake worker, Joe.

Frank is nicknamed “the candy man” at Rose Hill senior apartments, because he always has candy in his pockets.  He keeps it on hand to regulate his sugar level, but he is happy to share his candy as well as a good joke. A long-time Bronx resident, and a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Frank moved into Rose Hill about 9 years ago.  “I came here to kick the bucket, but I am still here” and still in good health and humor.  Frank drives his 1999 Buick Century Custom to visit his Bronx friends and has lunch with them most days.  Frank filed his taxes with UNHP right in the lobby of his building on a UNHP senior mobile day.  He was pleased with the tax service, but was hoping to get more money in his return to “play the horses.”  But don’t let Frank fool you – he is more likely to spend an extra dollar on a friend than the ponies!

William finishes up Mildred’s tax return in the community room of Rose Hill Apartments.

Mildred, 91, jokingly calls her daughter Mom. “She is always checking up on me- she wants to get a GPS for me.”  Keeping track of Mildred is a full-time job – she enjoys getting out, keeping busy and staying active.  Mildred, a long-time Bronx resident sold her home on Grant Avenue in the late 1970’s after being robbed a number of times.  Mildred moved into Rose Hill in 1986 and is one of the original tenants.  She is happy to be in a building with neighbors and staff who care – “help is a door away.” Mildred trained as a seamstress, but had a hard time getting a job out of school.  She was skilled in fine needlework, but “Saks Fifth Avenue did not hire blacks” to work on their clothing line. Mildred did factory work, raised her daughter and was involved in her Bronx community. Mildred remains involved in her Rose Hill community – she comes to every event, is actively engaged with the other tenants and made great friends with the construction workers who were on site during the UNHP supervised 2011 renovation at Rose Hill.   A Rose Hill staff member shared – Mildred had the ability to talk to just about anyone- not an easy task in a building where the languages are many. “Very often, if she is in the lobby, you hear her greet and chat with just about everyone there, even if they don’t have the same language in common.”