Like many GNPS members, Ellen Heaphy’s adult life has been focused on helping others.
“I trained to be a nurse in the late 1960s and in 1969 I volunteered to work in the mountains in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico as a nurse. That is where I met my husband who was Mexican. We didn’t stay in Mexico. First, we lived in Ottawa, Canada and after a year we moved to Brooklyn where I have lived ever since.”
Ellen grew up in Syracuse, New York. “I still have family and friends there. I visit them least once a year. I come from a large family of seven, five boys and two girls, and I am the sixth. Some now live on the West Coast and some on the East Coast.”
“My father had a business that catered to the construction industry. We all worked there at some point in our lives, my siblings and my parents’ older grandchildren,” she said. My mother was an elementary school art teacher.”
As a nurse, Ellen worked in hospital emergency rooms in both Syracuse and Brooklyn. Then she became interested in long-term care and rehabilitation and received certification in both rehabilitation nursing and case management. She worked at Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island and at Mount Sinai. She retired from Mount Sinai in 2009.
In the 2000s, she volunteered at a medical mission in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico for one or two weeks a year for some 15 years. Although she no longer travels to the mission, she is still active in social justice programs through her church.
Ellen has followed in her mother’s footsteps. Her mother always had ideas and art supplies on hand for us to work with, she says. And many of her grandchildren have fond memories of working with her in the basement of her house.
“Although I earned a living as a nurse, art is my passion,” she explained. “It’s something that runs in the family. One of my two sons went to an art high school and studied art in college as did their two children.” Ellen was fascinated with ceramics. “I took ceramics classes for 30 years at Long Island University’s Continuing Education program in downtown Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they don’t have a ceramics department there anymore,” she says.
“Now I take classes at the Brooklyn Museum for older adults.”
She joined Good Neighbors early on, she says, along with other Cobble Hill members, several of whom are former nurses like herself.
“Good Neighbors is a terrific organization,” she says. “One of my main concerns about retirement was how would I fill my days once my career in nursing was over. Good Neighbors has filled that gap.“
Ellen coordinates the Spanish conversation group which meets now in person at the Park Slope public library on 9th street and 7th avenue. “I’m a lifelong learner so I’m always trying to improve my Spanish,” she says.
“My mother was a good example for all of us. I can still hear her saying ‘you learn something new every day.’ She would have been a member of Good Neighbors for sure.”