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Finding renewed life in volunteering

In January 2014, first-graders in Liza Womack?s class

In January 2014, first-graders in Liza Womack?s class at Birch Elementary in Merrick threw a surprise 80th birthday party for Marlene Soling of Merrick, a regular volunteer in their classroom. Photo Credit: Lori Walsh

My life, as everyone's, has had many ups and downs. The hardest year of my life was 2010, when I lost my son and then my husband within three weeks. You have to make a choice either to be crushed by life or to move ahead. I have a daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons and a daughter-in-law who needed to know that I was going to be all right.

I had always been a very busy person with many different careers. Time began to weigh very heavily on me. I needed to find something worthwhile to do.

One day on my way to a supermarket, I unexpectedly turned into Lakeside School in Merrick -- the school my children attended. I asked if I could volunteer to work in the school. They referred me to the administration building (that I didn't even know existed).

They took my name and asked for a personal reference and a doctor's note. After several weeks, they called and said they had an opening at the Birch School in Merrick. I was willing to work Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday for the entire school day. When I reported to the class, the first grade teacher, Liza Womack, welcomed me.

I helped some children with reading. At 11:30 a.m., the class went to recess and lunch. Ms. Womack thanked me and said she would see me the next day. I was very disappointed not to work the whole day.

The next day the same thing happened, and I was more disappointed. I still had a whole empty day before me. On Friday, I approached Ms. Womack and said that if she didn't need me in the afternoon, perhaps another teacher would. Her comment was, "I'm not letting you go!" It finally dawned on me that she had been testing my ability to respond to the children. How smart she was! I have just finished with my fourth year at the school. Luckily, I get left back every year. I am still in first grade with Ms. Womack.

Volunteering at the school has kept me young. In 2013, I was honored at the Founder's Day Celebration. I was so proud of what I had accomplished.

In January 2014, Ms. Womack and the children made me an 80th birthday party in class and invited my family. It was such a wonderful surprise.

Every day that I go to school fulfills me. The entire school is now my family. When I know that I am helping the teacher and giving her extra time to teach, I feel wonderful. When I have a success with a child, I feel so rewarded. My life is filled with joy because I feel as if every year I get a new batch of "grandchildren" to love. Volunteering is its own reward.

Remember when your children were in school and you were so happy to know where they were? Well, now my family feels the same, because now they know where Grandma is from 9-3.

Marlene Soling,



When I was 5 months old, the family moved into a five-room apartment on Rockaway Avenue in Brownsville. The apartment was located over a shop that built the wooden cabinets for the butcher shops that dotted Belmont Avenue Market.

The move to Brownsville gave us closer access to the two main shopping streets, Pitkin and Belmont Avenues. When I was allowed out alone, I would window-shop on those streets. On occasion, I would go to Kishke King's on Thatford and Pitkin Avenues. They had a takeout window where you could buy knishes, frankfurters, French fries made from potato chunks, kishke and sodas.

I would go to Belmont Avenue where both sides were lined with pushcarts selling all kinds of fruit and vegetables. But my interest was the elderly man on the corner of Belmont and Thatford Avenues who sold warm potato pancakes from a heated cart.

To get money for my "wants," as my mom called them, I would run errands for neighbors and get paid a nickel or a dime. I would also collect milk, soda and beer bottles and take them to the grocery stores for the refunds. Milk bottles brought three cents, small soda bottles gave two cents and large soda and beer bottles gave five cents. And when I reached 12- or 13-years-old, I would baby-sit for my brother and his wife for $2.

In the '60s, garage gates covered all the stores on Belmont and Pitkin Avenues, so there was no more window-shopping.

Ruth Raysor,



Dad drove a Chrysler DeSoto-New York City Cab, called a Skyview, in the early 1940s.

As a driver for a cab company, he was allowed to take home the cab to our Brooklyn apartment on Myrtle Avenue each weekend. (This is because he was a hustler in making good money for the owner.)

In those days, when I was 13 or so, he drove me, my brother and some of our friends around the block to Throop Avenue; he'd make a right onto Vernon Avenue and another right onto Tompkins Avenue and then back to Myrtle Avenue.

He would roll back the Sky-view window at the top of the cab, and we would jump on the backseat and stick our heads out of the Skyview and enjoy the air and do a little yelling.

Years later, my father received a citation from Mayor Ed Koch for being one of the oldest cabdrivers in the city. Long gone is the DeSoto Skyview, also the Myrtle Avenue El and the trolley car. But not the memories.

Mel Cohen,
Great Neck

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