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Sandra Haber
Sandra Haber

Sandra Haber


Sandy with dog



We know dogs are intelligent and some are very intelligent, but in Sandra Haber’s story about Baxter, her family’s dog, they can even speak!


Baxter is on a mission to foster world peace through Esperanto, a language invented toward the end of the 1800s by Dr. Ludwik Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist living in what was then Poland. Zamenhof believed that if everyone could speak the same second language, people in different parts of the world would be able to understand one another and that would lead to better relationships and ultimately to international peace.


Sandy is now taking classes in Esperanto. She wrote her story to make people more aware of the continuing existence of the language and its goal.


Sandy was born and educated in Brooklyn. “As an undergraduate, I chose psychology,” Sandy says, “because it seemed to be a broad field and at that time,I wasn’t ready to make a commitment.” Later, once she became a psychologist and following the untimely death of a friend who died of cancer, she realized how much psychologists could contribute to helping cancer patients, their partners and children manage this illness. “I have had and continue to have a very rewarding career as a clinical psychologist of which this is just one significant part,” Sandy says.


“I see my career as being in two parts,” Sandy continued. “Early on, I was a striver. I wanted my professional life to be the best, the very best it could be.”


“Now, I see my life as being on a different track. I volunteered to help after 9/11 and I was stationed at Ground Zero, helping people deal with the horror of the event. Afterwards, like many other volunteers, I became very ill. As I was recovering, I decided to make some of my personal interests, in addition to my family, the center of my life.” (With husband Steve, Sandy has a blended family of five children and 11 grandchildren).” I didn’t want to give up my professional practice but was comfortable just doing things that I know I’ll never excel in but could give me pleasure.”


At the time, the 92 nd Street Y was offering singing classes. “The publicity about the class said everyone can sing if they really want to. I wasn’t so sure so I took the class three times! After that, I signed up to be part of Pete Seeger’s Walk-about Clearwater Chorus. He believed everyone could sing too. So, when Good Neighbors asked for suggestions about new groups, I wrote down ‘folk singing', and, of course, I was then asked to lead the group. We have two kinds of singers: those who are enthusiastic but don’t have the greatest voices and those who are enthusiastic and do have good voices. As I’m in the former group. I think my limitation relaxes us all and we have a very good time.”


“At the same time, I began to learn the guitar and have hosted a once-a-week guitar group for several years. Like the folk singing group, we’re supportive of one another and enjoy playing together.”


“But my greatest interest right now is Esperanto. Hence the book, ‘Baxter Speaks.’ I decided to take lessons on Zoom at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Students come from all over the world. I’m not a great linguist, so it isn’t easy. But I enjoy being part of a movement supported by people from many different countries who share Zamenhof’s dream. About two million people worldwide speak Esperanto and I’m hoping that someday I’ll be one of them.“


Sandy may not call herself a striver anymore but most people would say she savors life to the full. And in working to spread the adoption of Esperanto, she has put her amazing energy into a goal for humanity rather than herself.

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Linda Brown
Linda Brown

Linda Brown


linda for meet our member



Think what it would be like if you couldn’t read or couldn’t read above fourth grade level. So much of what you take for granted would be closed to you. “For me,” Linda says, “reading has always been so important that I think the worst deprivation I can imagine would be not being able to read.”


Linda Brown grew up in Levittown, Long Island and Cape Vincent, a small New York State community near the Canadian border.


Immediately after college, she volunteered for the Peace Corps and was sent to Uganda for two years to teach English. Peace Corp volunteers at that time were mostly inexperienced idealists. “Teachers were lucky. They were often more successful than community workers because they could work within the existing structure. It was hard to be effective as a community worker because you had to build everything from scratch.”


“I think I got more out of it than the students. In fact, after that, I decided that if you want to change the world, you should stay in the United States. It’s a harder job than you think.”


Her first inkling of what would later motivate her, she says, came when she was watching a documentary, narrated by Edward R. Murrow, on farm workers and being struck by the poverty and terrible working conditions.


Linda has spent most of her adult life as a literacy instructor. One of her earliest jobs, after the two years she spent in Uganda, was teaching reading to people at the Bronx House of Detention Center, a place where people are sent before they go to trial.


“A large percentage of people who end up in the criminal justice system can’t read above fourth grade level,” Linda noted. “I knew that being able to read was important so I went to the Department of Corrections and explained what I wanted to do. I was sent to the recreation director who agreed to allow me to create literacy and GED (general educational development) classes. I had to develop the curriculum and pay for supplies out of my own salary.”


“The biggest problem in teaching teenagers and adults to read is getting them to form new habits. Once you get past that, which can take a great deal of time and patience, you can make a difference,” Linda explained.


Linda worked for many different literacy programs, from those run by the United Farm Workers Union and the New York City Technical College in Brooklyn to classes organized by CUNY all over the city. Some of her students, often from Caribbean countries, were studying to get their High School Equivalency Certificate so they could move from up from a menial job to one with better pay and status. They were very highly motivated and gave her an appreciation of the immigrant struggle and also their contribution to the city.


Now that she’s retired, what does a person like her, living in Park Slope, do? Luckily for her, and for the rest of us, she lived opposite Joyce Jed, president of Good Neighbors, who in 2014 recruited her (and many others) to work on the creation of what is now Good Neighbors of Park Slope.


“I was lucky to be in on the beginning of this marvelous organization,” she says, “and I never stop being surprised at how involved I still am. Of course, the people who live in Park Slope live in a kind of wonderful bubble. Long may it stay inflated.”

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Arlynn Brody
Arlynn Brody

Arlynn Brody


Ollie Bio



As a teacher and then a principal, Arlynn Brody was devoted to the kids in her school. They faced all sorts of obstacles to learning which she helped them overcome. She had such a positive effect on their lives that some of them still keep in touch with her. “They still write to me. They even celebrate my birthday,” she says, laughing with a note of pride.


Arlynn (Ollie to her husband, Van, friends and neighbors and Brody to her colleagues) was born in Brooklyn but raised in Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida. “As a college student, I had worked for Eastern Airlines and I expected to continue working there as a manager after I graduated but, at that time, they weren’t hiring women as managers,” Arlynn explained,” so I decided to try my hand at teaching. My first job was as a classroom teacher at a school near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The success of my students prompted the then Chancellor to ask me to begin the first Title I Math Lab in the city. Afterwards I was a Professional Development staffer, traveling throughout the city. I received a degree in Administration and then worked in the Bedford Stuyvesant community for 25 years as an Assistant Principal until 1996 when I became the principal of PS 87 in Queens.”


“At that time, the school was one of a group of failing schools that was going to be taken over by the state. Less than 20 percent of the students read above grade level. But seven years later, PS 87 was one of the top 10 schools in the city,” she said.


How did she turn school around?


“When I joined the school, 40 percent of the students were considered to be learning disabled. Some 20 percent were in Special Education programs. But it turned out that kids were often misdiagnosed. Many needed reading glasses. Some hadn’t been able to see the chalkboard since they started school. Some had hearing disorders. Some lacked the proper language and communication skills, which is not surprising when you realize that they often didn’t have anyone to talk to at home about what they were doing in school,” Arlynn explained.


This was a time when computers were beginning to be used in the classroom to help kids like this learn. “There were many different programs and levels, each designed to diagnose and remedy specific deficiencies,” Arlynn continued. “The results were amazing. A computer can work with each kid individually and make them repeat things over and over again until they get it right but a teacher has a limited time to help each one. And as the kids began to overcome their problems

and see progress, they were excited. They wanted to learn.”


”For me these were seven years of magical living... learning how the brain works, and how easily some of the problems could be corrected with the right tools. It became an all-encompassing passion.”


Arlynn successes didn’t go unnoticed. In 2003, when she was about to retire, the Queens Chronicle published an article which said that the Mayor of New York City liked to have his photo taken with her because the changes she had introduced as principal of PS 87 had made the school a model for the rest of the city.


Arlynn says she misses the involvement, the problem solving and the sense of being needed that she experienced being the principal of PS 87. But she’s lucky, she says, to have opportunities that compensate. She has led some very memorable GNPS groups. In one book group, members read “The Giver”, a story about a dystopian society where each person is assigned a set function in life. “It’s a book that leads to so many different kinds of discussions, a book that you’ll come back to at different periods of your life and see things differently,” she said. And now she uses her experience as an educator to participate in peer learning with retired professionals through a CUNY program known as LP2 (Learning Program squared).....another way of passing on the skills and using the intellectual energy that has inspired her adult life.


Arlynn has been a Park Sloper since 1973. She is married to a retired Architect, Van and has two grown children: Shawn Brody-Katsanos (living in Windsor Terrace), and Eric Brody (living in Greenpoint), and four grandchildren.

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Jerry Krase
Jerry Krase

Jerry Krase


Jerry Krase for bio


How many amateur photographers get a chance to exchange ideas with somebody whose pictures have been published in dozens of books and periodicals and who has shown and discussed his work at conferences and exhibitions worldwide and on line?


Jerry Krase leads Good Neighbors’ Old Fotogs group whose members include a number of other, more accomplished, photographers. He is a Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn College where his specialty was visual sociology. Visual sociology focuses on learning about different cultures throughout the world through visual media and data collection.


“I have been using photography and drawings to capture life in urban spaces since I was a teenager,“ Jerry says. “I have a good eye for composition and I’m interested in the aesthetics of a picture. But I’m more concerned about what it shows and what it means to viewers than its technical excellence, although that’s important.“


“At first, I was taking photos in Brooklyn, and then in the other boroughs of New York City and then abroad. I have always been interested in taking pictures of marginalized groups, showing how they are, in effect, excluded from certain neighborhoods and how these change over time.“  


Over the years, Jerry’s work has taken him to Australia, China, South Africa and many other countries. “In each country, I have documented the everyday things that people do, alone or with family members, and also the festivals and religious practices that bring people together. When I was in South Africa, I tried to capture ordinary life on the street and the dignity of the people there, despite their poverty. In my pictures, whatever the scene, I’m not looking to make people look bad.” 


He sometimes uses photographs to provoke a discussion. After 9/11, Muslim Americans were shown in a negative light in the media, Jerry noted. “The visual depiction of Muslims was pretty nasty. I tried to talk about Islamophobia by showing photos of Muslims performing the same ordinary activities of daily living as the rest of us.”   


“One question that social science photographers always have to ask themselves,” he says,” is how much text do you need to accompany the photo.“ There are no hard and fast rules,“ he says. “It depends on the subject and the audience and the photographer’s purpose in taking the photo.  I like using the photos I’ve taken over the years to show how urban neighborhoods, such as the City’s financial district, change over time. Very often, little or no text is needed.”


Jerry and his wife, Suzanne Nicoletti, a GNPS Board member, were both born and raised in Brooklyn as were their three daughters and their grandchildren. 


Jerry took over the Good Neighbors’ photography group in 2022. Now called The Old Fotogs, it currently meets over Zoom. In the near future, Jerry hopes the group can attend photography exhibitions and meet outside to take photos in different parts of the City.  



“I want us to exchange ideas and comment on each other’s work: on techniques and how they can be improved, and on what the photographer was trying to achieve. I’m honored by the fact that there are some very good photographers among us and I can learn from them.”

Jerry 1

Jerry 2a

Jerry 3a

Jerry 4a



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Sharon Montoya
Sharon Montoya

Sharon Montoya


sharon montoya


The story of Sharon Montoya’s early adult life reads like a traditional” boy-meets-girl” movie script.

 

Born in Brooklyn, Sharon received her B.A. from Brooklyn College and her M.A.in English as a Second Language (ESL) from Columbia’s Teachers College. She was unhappy working in New York City public schools because many of her students spoke Spanish and almost no English. She felt a little lost not knowing any Spanish and so decided to go to Madrid, Spain to learn the language. To earn a living, she taught English in a private language school.

 

“One young man, an artist, began writing me notes on his homework papers, asking whether he could take me to see the Prada Museum,” she recalled.“Thinking his advances were inappropriate, I asked to have him removed from my

class,” she said. 

 

But he was persistent. Weeks later, while she was going down some steps to leave the school and he was going up, he stopped to talk to her, wanting to know why she had refused to have him in her class. “I was totally embarrassed,” she said. “I had to explain and justify what I had done." And then he asked whether he could walk her to the bus stop. ”And, that’s how it all began,” she said laughing.

 

True to the movie script, Manuel and Sharon were married two years later: not in Spain but in Gibraltar. “To get married in Franco’s Spain both parties had to be Roman Catholics, Sharon explained. . Gibraltar, which is British, had no such requirement so that’s where they decided to go.

 

But there’s more to getting married than making the decision. There are legal documents to be signed so they needed witnesses. ”We didn’t know anyone in Gibraltar so we had to ask people passing by whether they would come to the Registry Office to witness the signing of the marriage contract.”

 

At first, they lived in a small farming community of some 500 people where many of the old farmers spoke in aphorisms so she improved her Spanish. “We lived in an old granary, using a hot plate to cook on.” Sharon related. After almost a year of being a “Hippy,” Sharon said she missed the more traditional comforts of life so they moved to Segovia, a picturesque, historic city northwest of Madrid with a 2,000-year old Roman aqueduct and an old castle that Walt Disney used as a model for the film “Cinderella”. By then they had two sons. Sharon taught English in a girls’ high school, run by nuns, and also had a group of private students, doctors who were studying to pass U.S. Medical Board exams.

 

However, she wanted their children to have a better future, so they moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn where Sharon taught Spanish at Middle School 51. Her husband then returned to Spain for his art career, while Sharon stayed in New York with the children.

 

Once the kids were out of the house, Sharon decided to fulfill her dream of joining the Peace Corp. At age 59, she was accepted and assigned to the Philippines where she became an itinerant reading specialist, serving 12 schools in the province of Cavite.

 

“It was a demanding job because their only books were written on newsprint with line drawings and no color. When I had to stay overnight in a school far away, I slept with the lights on to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I developed a reading curriculum and, with the aid of a teacher/friend on Long Island, wrote to U.S. book publishers asking for donations for the province’s 200,000 school children. And I also spearheaded the creation of a mobile library system to circulate the books and worked with the teachers to label them according to grade level.”

 

When she returned from the Peace Corps, in 2002, Sharon taught ESL classes and Accent Correction at Long Island University, until she retired.

 

In 2020, GNPS recruited her to teach beginner Spanish classes. “Good Neighbors gave me a chance to meet new people, to be active and to be productive again.” And her students love her.


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Karen Peterlin
Karen Peterlin

Karen Peterlin


Karen for Bio


Hoarders are great subjects for cartoons. “We laugh because we have some of those tendencies ourselves. It’s hard getting rid of all the ‘stuff’ we have accumulated,” says Karen Peterlin who together with Joyce Jed set up the first Good Neighbors Clutter Group about three years ago and now co-leads the group with her.  


Everyone has different priorities about what to keep and what to throw out, Karen notes. “Some people want to save their wedding dress even though their daughter has said she wants to choose her own. But they’re willing to part with grandma’s china tea set which, like thousands of others, has gold paint on the rims so can’t be put in the dishwasher nor into the microwave, and therefore isn’t used. Some will sort through the piles of photographs that they’ve kept for years and throw out the ones in which they no longer recognize the people or where the photographs were taken.”


 “The things that are hardest to say goodbye to are those we’re personally attached to, those that bring back memories of what we’ve accomplished in our lives and the people we have met,” Karen says. 


You can find professionals who will take items of value and sell them for you but what we need at this stage in our lives, Karen says, is help making decisions about all those things we’ve collected over time that have little or no market value. 


“Most of us know what we have to do and there are lots of tips online,” Karen says, “but doing it on your own is much harder than doing it with the help of a group.  


Karen started the Clutter Group, she says, because she heard a lot of people who were moving say how difficult it was to decide what to take with them when the place they were moving to was so much smaller. And she knew she had some of the same problems, wanting to keep everything that reminded her of the people she had worked with as a social worker all over the world, from Kenya and Tanzania to Cambodia.


“One of the most important aspects of belonging to the group is that you commit to accomplishing something. Then at the next meeting you’ll report on your progress. Members will give you tips such as ‘don’t try to clear up more than you can handle’ so you don’t become discouraged. You also get a sense of accomplishment and avoid the embarrassment of admitting how much you fell short.  


“You can’t get rid of everything all at once,” Karen says. “You should tackle only what you know you can do in the time between meetings. A good tip is to give yourself a time frame: set a timer and give yourself an hour. Leave the rest for the next time. The group will help you be honest with yourself. Do you need all those table settings and dressy outfits now that we mostly don’t give big parties and everything is casual. They’ll help you assess what you need to keep, and suggest strategies for getting rid of other things you no longer need such as old documents, books and kids’ report cards.” 


There are many ways of running a clutter group but they work best when membership is limited to 10 members. If the group is too large, some people won’t get a chance to report on what they’ve accomplished since the last meeting and so one of the key elements --reporting progress --is lost. 


“I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing other people’s success,” Karen says, smiling. “Most people enjoy some sense of order and I like to share their journey to get to that point.”  



Do you want to be part of a Clutter Group? Karen’s group is full. Why not solve your clutter problem by organizing a new group? 

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Deborah Maltby
Deborah Maltby

Deborah Maltby


Deborah Maltby


When GNPS President Joyce Jed asked members, in the middle of the worst part of the pandemic, whether anyone would like to lead a new interest group on Zoom, Deborah Maltby immediately responded. Her great love, she said, was 19th century British (and American) literature, and she would like to start a 19th century literature discussion group. 


Deborah started her career in journalism and public relations. She returned to academia in her 40s to take an M.A. in English and then a Ph.D, and later joined the faculty of the University of Missouri, St Louis where she still teaches part-time.

 

“I don’t mind not being physically on campus,” she says. “Working keeps me in touch with what’s going on and teaching remotely is something I was doing even before the pandemic,” she explained. “I took a course offered by the university to faculty who wanted to learn online teaching. And now I’m teaching an advanced writing course.”   


Deborah’s Good Neighbors group is as fascinated by 19th century literature and the social history of the time as she is. 

It’s not hard to see how 19th century writers would appeal to mature students. The subjects they deal with are still current and their works have stood the test of time –only the best survive. Older students are more likely to see life’s experiences in a different way from when they were young. Now stories about love, marriage, family intrigue and clashes between the social classes have a deeper meaning for them and the frustrations and struggles of women in a male dominated society to achieve a measure of self-fulfillment still resonate with women.   


“With my Good Neighbors group, I try to think of myself as a facilitator, not a teacher, and to be ready for where the conversation might go. These are really smart people talking about what they’re interested in – what women’s lives were like two hundred years ago, for example. And I like to come up with resources for them to explore.” 


As to what drew her to 19th century British literature, she explained that she was interested in the culture of the time, the history, particularly the social history. And now, with the Good Neighbors group, she says, she’s reading some books that she has never read before and rereading others she has read many times but now with new insights. 


Some of the novels the group reads are quite long. “I try to be sensitive to what’s doable,“ she says. “People in the Good Neighbors group have demands on their time that limit what they can read in a month. So sometimes we need to divide the book up into sections. For the next two months, for example, we will be reading the Bostonians by Henry James in two sections.“  


“Some of my favorite writers from the 19th century include Thomas Hardy and Wilkie Collins,” Deborah says. “I have read most of their works but when I open one of their novels again, and see how they set up the characters and the plot and how they write, I am smitten all over again.” 

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Ellen Raider and Dana Simon
Ellen Raider and Dana Simon

Ellen Raider and Dana Simon

Ellen and Dana


As we age, we’re more susceptible to vision disorders, especially if we’re short-sighted. Members of Good Neighbors who become visually impaired are extraordinarily lucky. They can join the Vision Support Group run by two exceptional women: Ellen Raider and Dana Simon, both of whom are legally blind which means they have severe vision loss in at least one eye. Dana is deaf too, but has had a Cochlear implant which improved her hearing. 


Ellen Raider had her own consulting company which offered expertise in conflict resolution and international negotiations to such organizations as the United Nations and to large multi-national corporations. “Through this work I began to understand that our global economic system puts profits before people. I wanted to be part of growing movements for social change. So, I decided to devote my energies to helping parents, teachers, students and social justice advocates learn the important life skills of collaborative negotiation and mediation.” She joined the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, Columbia University.” Ellen is still active in the educational community.  


When did she start to lose her eyesight? “It started to change when I was in my 30s and I could no longer pass the vision part of the driving test,” she recalls. “My sight continued to deteriorate, but during the last few years I’ve had severe vision problems.”

Dana is a librarian, now retired. “My eyesight began to change when I was thirteen,” she says, “when I discovered at a camp-out I couldn’t see at night.” Nevertheless, she still planned to be an artist.


“I attended the NYU Studio Arts program but then realized I needed to have a more secure income than most artists do. I took a graduate degree in Library and Information Science at Pratt Library School, and then worked at various public libraries in Manhattan before moving to the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library on 20th Street.”  


Dana is a “can-do” person with many skills and interests. She’s been computer savvy since the 1980s, has organized fairs to showcase assistive devices for the visually impaired and, like many librarians, she can’t rest until she’s found what she’s looking for to help her clients. And she still continues with her art, mainly mixed media. 


When did the support group start? About two years before the pandemic, Ellen approached Andi Peretz, the Good Neighbors Activity Coordinator, about forming a group to help the visually impaired. Andi arranged for members to meet in a room at Methodist Hospital on Saturday mornings and found various speakers, such as social workers and representatives from equipment suppliers. “Meetings were not just a means of becoming better informed but also an opportunity to socialize, to meet others with similar problems and enjoy a pot-luck lunch,” Ellen said. Now meetings are held virtually, on Zoom, and they are run by Dana.


Members who attend the meetings often have different conditions that affect their vision in different ways. As with people who have any problem in common, they like to share what they have found out that may be helpful to others, in particular their experiences with various doctors and treatments. “This is a new age for eye treatments,” Dana says. Clinical trials and interest in alternative strategies are just beginning so it’s not surprising to hear some members say they feel as though they’re being treated like guinea pigs. Sometimes the best thing to do is wait and monitor the condition,” says Dana, “and that can be difficult to accept.”



Good Neighbor members with some vision loss might like to attend the Vision Support Group. They would be inspired by Ellen and Dana, both of whom refuse to let their vision loss prevent them from leading purposeful lives.

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Mel and Louise Spain
Mel and Louise Spain

Mel and Louise Spain 

Mel and Louise Spain


Sometimes you meet a couple that seems totally in sync. If they were both musicians, you might say they worked from the same score but played different instruments. They’re not musicians but share a love for classical music. In high school Louise played the cello in a teen-age amateur string quartet and was a pianist, and has been a lifelong choral singer. Mel has always been an avid listener. And it was not only their mutual love of music that brought them together, they say, but happenstance that they met while Mel was working on a political campaign and canvassing for voters like Louise who lived in his district in Greenwich Village.  


The Spains joined Good Neighbors early, after Louise attended the Ethical Culture Society open meeting in October 2015 when the organization had already incorporated and was ready for business. “Good Neighbors was successful in bringing the older Park Slope community together,” Louise says. She herself was looking for more local activity and a broader social life so she joined several groups and “met some terrific women.”  


Before the pandemic, the Spains joined Jim Marshall, a friend and GNPS member, in creating a program called Old Folks Telling Jokes, doing just what that title described. “At first, we met in people’s homes and then in the party room at Dizzy’s Restaurant which has since closed. But after a while the group ran out of new material,” Louise said. 


When the pandemic started Jules Trachten began teaching Shakespeare over Zoom. Both Mel and Louise attended and greatly enjoyed his classes. Mel says those classes inspired him to form the Gilbert and Sullivan discussion group that has been meeting since the latter part of 2021.  


Mel is a long-time admirer of Gilbert, the lyricist, who was also a poet, journalist, soldier, playwright, illustrator and lawyer. He thinks of Gilbert as England’s 19th century Shakespeare and gives context to the discussions with details of the writer’s life and work.

 

Each participant receives the text of the libretto and reads one of the characters’ parts aloud. “Once we’re familiar with the text, we all watch a video of an actual performance on Zoom. We’ve done four Gilbert and Sullivan operettas so far.”

Both Louise and Mel grew up and worked in the city and have lived in their Park Slope brownstone for over 55 years. Before they retired Louise was a public and academic librarian (New York Public Library and CUNY) and Mel was an attorney in Manhattan. Mel says he liked the sense of order in law and the excitement of trial work. The Spains have two children, a daughter who lives in Miami and a son who has just moved from Los Angeles to Armonk, New York (Westchester County) with his wife and three children. Because of the pandemic, they bought their new house virtually, seeing it only after they moved in several months later.


What makes this partnership work? Mel says it takes patience, perseverance and an acceptance of what life metes out. Louise credits their close, longstanding family ties. May it continue! 

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Irene Porges
Irene Porges

Irene Porges



Irene porges for bio



Irene Porges enjoys a challenge. Not just an everyday challenge but a challenge she can put her whole being into, body and soul. And she’s not happy unless she’s fully engaged. 


People who know Irene from Good Neighbors might think her background is solely in art. She created the GNPS Art Museum and Gallery Lovers group, which started out just before the Covid 19 pandemic as a program in which members would visit specific exhibits, on their own or with friends, and then gather in someone’s home to talk about what they liked and disliked. “I wanted people to share their reactions to the art and the artist,” Irene explained. “Now thanks to Zoom and the proliferation of videos on YouTube” she said, “we can learn far more about an artist’s work than we were able to at a single exhibition.”  


Irene was encouraged to attend the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn by a high school teacher who saw one of her sculptures. She wanted to major in industrial design but was told that was a job for men so she graduated with a degree in Art Education and Fine Arts. She didn’t want to teach so she switched to NYU where she got a master’s degree in Health Administration. But she credits Pratt with setting her on the right path. “Pratt gave me the best education I could have gotten anywhere,” she says, “because it taught me to think outside the box.” 


For a while, Irene worked in the field of medical communications. After helping her father deal with massive medical bills, she went back to school at age 51 to get an associate degree in Health Information Management. She realized what was needed to be successful in dealing with medical claims was persistence and the ability to navigate the medical and insurance industries’ maze of information. So she founded her own company, Claims Made Easy. In an article by the New York Times about her new business, Irene is quoted as saying, “I’m the person that gets on the backs of these people…And I won’t give up until there’s a satisfactory outcome.”  


In 2002, at a time in life when most people are thinking about how they’ll manage their retirement, Irene decided to join the Peace Corps. When the Peace Corps was first created in 1961, it was designed to attract recent college graduates who were interested in working in developing countries. By the time Irene applied, applicants had to have specific skills. In her application, Irene cited her work in the business arena. She was accepted and sent to a small, picturesque, mountainous community in Bulgaria which, post Communism, was struggling with a 39 percent unemployment rate. 


Under a program sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme, Irene and her community partners won a regional competition to spur new economic activity. They created a plan that would support new local businesses, particularly those related to tourism, with loans, offices rent free for 10 years, and a business center equipped with computers. Irene stayed on to witness and oversee the success of the project. 


More recently, Irene signed up for in a multi-generational program at MoMA. Applicants had to pretend they were a teenager for a day and describe what that day would look like,” she said. Given Irene’s mental energy and ability to “think outside the box,” no one would be surprised that Irene won a place in the group.  

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Jules Trachten
Jules Trachten

Jules Trachten



On most Monday mornings you’ll find twenty or so members of Good Neighbors, each with the text of the chosen Shakespeare play, listening intently to Jules Trachten as he reads and comments on the play’s language. Sometimes he explains the meaning of a word that’s no longer used or used in a different way, or draws attention to a particularly beautiful turn of phrase.  



Jules says he had only participated in Good Neighbors events occasionally but when the pandemic hit and we were all confined to our homes, he recognized that this would be a good time to start a virtual Good Neighbors Shakespeare study group on Zoom.  


Jules’ students are faithful followers, rarely missing a session. Looking at his class, you might see Jules as a modern- day alchemist, turning students with some knowledge of Shakespeare into rapt Shakespeare lovers and changing newcomers into ardent admirers. As Jules explains, “it takes a while to get know and love Shakespeare, but once you arrive at that point, your experience gets richer each time you read or reread a sonnet or a play.” 


Jules has been teaching Shakespeare for more than 30 years, first in public schools and now he’s retired, to adults. In addition to his Good Neighbors class, some 30 retired teachers sign up for a session through the United Federation of Teachers and other people meet him at libraries in Florida where he and his wife vacation. “I love to teach Shakespeare and I teach it wherever there’s a group that wants to listen to me.”


His special interest is in the language of Shakespeare, his sonnets and his plays. “You can always see new things in Shakespeare’s work. Sometimes things sparkle in different ways and you get different reactions from new participants. And sometimes it’s your own personal experience that makes what a character has to say especially meaningful. And again, because Shakespeare’s work reflects on humanity, you can sometimes see what’s happening around you today embodied in a character created more than four centuries ago. In Henry VI, for example, a play that’s rarely performed, the world is beset by vengeful people who are angry at the elite.” 


Since Jules has taught so much of Shakespeare’s work so many times, you might think that words and ideas would roll off his tongue without any preparation. “I always have to go back and take a look at my notes,” he says. “Each time, I notice different things. You can never be overprepared.”


Jules grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. “When you grow up in a university town, you have a different view of the university than a visitor or a student,” he says. “I much prefer a larger and more diverse population.” Did he ever consider a career other than teaching? He did apply to law school and for a while considered working on immigrant issues but ultimately decided against being a lawyer. 


When he’s not teaching, Jules likes to play tennis. In the winter, when he’s in Florida, he looks for a place where it’s easy to find people to play with. “And I like to go jogging periodically,” he says, but like the rest of us, he has had to cut back on that!  



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Joyce Jed
Joyce Jed

Joyce Jed




Joyce Jed, president of Good of Neighbors of Park Slope, is an extraordinarily caring human being. She even worries about how candidates for the Good Neighbors board will feel if they lose the election. 


Joyce has always liked running organizations, a talent that has greatly benefitted members of Good Neighbors. And as a professional in the field of mental health, she saw how a lack of social support could lead to serious mental illness. So, when she retired from her job as an administrator at the South Beach Psychiatric Center in 2000, it’s not surprising that, not long after, her thoughts turned to the needs of older adults.


“Suddenly we found ourselves in that category, older adults,” she said, laughing, referring to her friends and neighbors, most of whom, like her, had spent a good part of their adult lives in Park Slope and were now in their sixties and seventies. “What were we going to do,” she said. “As we got older, what kinds of services would we need?”


 As she talked with other people about this, she discovered that Bob Ohlerking, who lived in another part of Park Slope, was also concerned. They decided to invite the people they knew to a meeting in Joyce’s living room. One Sunday afternoon in 2014, more than 40 people showed up!  


Most had heard of the “Aging in Place” movement so they pooled their knowledge and, after the first big meeting, they broke up into committees, each with a mandate to decide what was needed to set up the kind of organization they envisaged.

“Because of my background, I was thinking that we would have to hire a part-time coordinator to organize services for people and so the annual membership fee would have to be around $1,000, more than most people want to pay.”


“I chaired some of the groups but the task became overwhelming. I had grandchildren who needed me and I was involved in other activities.” (Joyce has two sons, one who lives in California and has one child, and another son who lives in Rockland County, New York and has three.) “In the end we formed a steering committee of about 10 people who met every month to hash out what was required to become a non-profit.” 


Ultimately, they decided to open up in two phases, the first one being social activities run by volunteers and the second, social services, later dubbed Share and Support.


“When it came to organizing the Share and Support phase in 2020, we put a lot of effort into it but surprisingly we found nobody really wanted this kind of help. I’m still puzzled about that.”


“Of course, we had to have a web site. We considered paying $1,000 to someone to set it up but then Lynne Ornstein said she wanted to try. She said she’d been interested for years. And you know the result. We have this amazing website that’s probably the envy of much bigger organizations.” 


When she’s not working on behalf of Good Neighbors, Joyce and Arnie Wendroff, her husband, a serious outdoors man, are thinking about their next expedition. On their first vacation together, they went to Africa. Now they’re in love with France and are exploring the French countryside through a company that helps set up bike trips, mapping out routes and places to stay.  


Anyone who knows Joyce, knows that she brings the same spirit of adventure and planning to Good Neighbors as she does to her backpacking trips. 


Joyce and Arnie biking in France


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Bob Levine
Bob Levine

Bob Levine



Bob Levine is a man of many loves. 


First and foremost, of course, is his love for his wife, Kathy Sonderman, who passed away in 2020. Kathy developed Parkinson’s Disease at a relatively young age and Bob supported her and later took care of her, in all for 36 years. 


bob and wife 2

Bob and his wife Kathy


“You ask what else is important to me,” Bob says. “What’s important is my house. We both loved our house, a four-story brownstone on Ninth Street. It was built in 1885 and still had many of the original features when we bought it in 1976, like the parquet floor under the linoleum. But it needed a total renovation.” They started working on it immediately and were married there a year later. “I had to cover a gaping hole in the living room floor with Masonite and place a table over it so people wouldn’t fall through into the basement,” he said. “Kathy made a chocolate cake for our 20 wedding guests.“  


Through the years, no love was spared on the house. They managed the renovation together and recently Bob began the process all over again. “I have become a self-taught woodworker, plumber and electrician, whatever was needed to get the job done. And the house will always remain in the family,” Bob said. It has all been arranged. One of their two children, both of whom live in Brooklyn, will inherit the first two floors and the other the upper two.


“Another love is Brooklyn,” he said. “I’m a second- generation Brooklynite and I’m fascinated by its history.” Bob has become well-known for his collection of old Brooklyn postcards, magazines, newspapers and other memorabilia. “I picked up a few postcards at a yard sale and I’ve been collecting them ever since.“ Many are of Prospect Park. The Prospect Park Alliance has scanned them into its archives. 


Not surprisingly, Bob is a long-time member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 and chaired its Landmarks Committee. He’s also a photographer—you may remember the photos Bob took of the Garden Club party. And he’s a potter. His wife’s ashes are in a pot he made. You can read about Kathy in the We Remember section on the Good Neighbors web site. Both Bob and his wife were Special Education teachers. Bob became a teacher trainer. 

Bob has been a member of Good Neighbors for about three years. He was drawn to the organization because it offered a chance to meet more neighbors. He’s a member of the new bird watching group which gives him the opportunity to take nature photographs and he hopes to be able to give illustrated talks on-- guess what -- his beloved Brooklyn.


Submitted by Ruth Gastel


One of Bob's many photographs of Prospect Park


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