Ronald McDonald House is a very special place that provides a "temporary 'home away from home' for pediatric cancer patients and their families. " Having had an apartment, for a short time, just a few doors down from their 73rd Street location, I was aware of the wonderful work that they do. When I mentioned to Sophie, one of our Manhattan Sideways team members, that I wanted to feature them on 73rd, she lit up and shared her close connection to the organization on the West Coast. Sophie told me that she was honored to visit and help her mother volunteer with her miniature horses at the Los Angeles and Pasadena chapters. "I was immediately won over by their mission, but even more important, by the children themselves. A significant aspect of their programming is to provide children with the opportunity to just be kids, first and foremost. Seeing the kids interact with the miniature horses showed me how much excitement and exuberance these children have. The smiles on the faces of their parents were always equally heart-warming. "Ronald McDonald House New York has been providing care and support to families since 1978. They "coordinate emotional and physical services, psychological care, ministry support, wellness programs, tutors, music, art, transportation, activities for siblings, holiday and birthday parties, and camaraderie for parents struggling with their child's cancer diagnosis. " In addition, this particular location has a Greek Division that provides services for families from Greece and Cyprus, Camp Ronald McDonald in the summer, classes in English as a second language, therapy for dogs (Angels on a Leash), and Weird Science, where the kids conduct intriguing and engaging experiments. Love and care are Ronald McDonald's central tenants. New York has its own set of angels in the way of the volunteers who play a major role in the day to day lives of the children. The Day Team leads afternoon activities and the Evening Team coordinates birthday parties, holidays, and dinners. The volunteer sign up is a major commitment to help provide a sense of normalcy and strength to the children and their families. If interested in volunteering, please visit their website.
The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission. The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner. I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances. " Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth. The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life. " And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.
Like many surgeons, when Dr. Thomas Romo III graduated medical school, he hopped on a plane to India and Vietnam in order to fix cleft lips. "We felt like we had time and a reason to give back, " he said of himself and his peers who choose to travel the world doing medical procedures before settling down and developing a practice. Though Dr. Romo operated on numerous lips, he realized after a while that the program he was traveling with was only fixing a quarter of the problem. After the lip healed, the palate still did not close correctly and teeth did not grow straight. Patients would experience chronic Eustachian tube problems, resulting in earaches. Dr. Romo wanted to fix the rest of the palate, but the mission that he was with focused solely on lips. "I wanted to change the paradigm, " Dr. Romo declared. Back in New York, he began developing a plan to help children with facial birth defects through all operation stages, not just cosmetic. Dr. Romo admitted that he did not have any experience putting together a foundation, "I did not go to business school, " he pointed out, and therefore it was challenging for him to lay the groundwork of his new venture. He decided to accept only newborns through age twenty-one who were on Medicaid or required other financial assistance, with emphasis on those from the United States. As he phrased it, "Little Baby Face Foundation helps "children from Harlem to Ethiopia. "With his mission in place, Dr. Romo then recruited thirty doctors, including pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and various specialists. This impressive brain trust assembles each month to discuss fifteen to twenty children whose financial statements have been checked. They ask, "Who does this child need to see? " If they are not sure, they bring them in for a "look-see" with each of the doctors. He then went on to say that when these children come in to meet this large group of doctors, they are experiencing something unique - this number of medical professionals is rarely seen in one room. For the entire stay, including during the operation and recovery time, the child and his or her family are taken care of every step of the way: their flights are paid for, "Mario picks them up in a car service, " and they are welcomed with open arms at the Ronald McDonald House. What most impressed me about the Little Baby Face Foundation is that every doctor volunteers his or her time. It has been worked out so that no one needs to perform more than a handful of procedures each month. Occasionally, when Dr. Romo is met with slight reluctance from one of the doctors, he often responds with a poignant, yet witty response: "How much fat do you want to suck and how many boobs do you want to do? Or do you want to change a child's life? "Dr. Romo performs a significant number of the operations. He sometimes ends up doing as many as ten during the winter holidays. Speaking with him is an enlightening experience, as he is so full of energy, compassion, and joviality. He shared a few stories of patients who had touched his heart. He told me about operations that involved a Texan child with nerve paralysis and another from Harlem who was born deaf and missing an ear on one side. On the latter, Dr. Romo performed a cochlear implant and that the child "heard his name said at graduation. "Speaking about a few other patients from abroad, Dr. Romo continued to touch my own heart as he spoke of a child who came from farther afield - in Ethiopia. The girl had a large mass on her neck that no other doctor would touch. Dr. Romo said, "We had to fly her from a small village to Addis Ababa to Dubai to New York. " Not only did the girl have the mass removed, but she also got to have a New York adventure. As he continued on, I learned about a couple from England who came with their eighteen-month old son, who had a tumor falling over his eye. The parents, who were only nineteen and twenty-one, themselves, were given the opportunity to spend several weeks in Manhattan while their child was having his life changed. Dr. Romo is proud of how far the foundation has come since it began in 1990. He recently experienced a year in which he raised enough money in order to pay a small staff. One of the members of his team is his own wife, Diane Romo, who is the surgical coordinator. She deals directly with the children and has the extreme pleasure of contacting families to tell them, "We're going to bring you to New York. "Now that he has a model and a brand, Dr. Romo hopes to expand. "We can helicopter to Chicago, LA, or San Francisco, " he told me excitedly. But he is also devoted to New York, and emphasizes the concept of "New Yorkers helping New Yorkers. " He wishes that more people knew that the Little Baby Face Foundation existed. He said that a lot of hospitals are in the red, which should not be the case, since there are so many doctors willing to occasionally work for free for the sake of the greater good. His need to give to the community in any way he can is inspiring. As he perfectly phrased it for me, "I'm a surgeon. This is the only way I know how to give back. "
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
On its own personal wiki (wiki. hackmanhattan. com), Hack Manhattan defines itself as a nonprofit public “hackerspace, ” the only one of its kind on the island of Manhattan. A hackerspace is a community work center for constructing, collaborating, and communicating about technology. Unfamiliar with such venues, I was curious as to what I might find when visiting Hack Manhattan. Walking into Hack Manhattan’s second floor workspace I found myself surrounded by shelves and shelves of machine parts and various gadgets organized into countless bins and drawers. In the center of the room, members and visitors lounged at a large communal table, some typing away on their laptops, others participating in a book club meeting. Dave Guan, one of the members at Hack Manhattan, led me around the space. He showed me the workshop members use to construct large-scale projects and the 3D printing station, where I watched a cute little Printerbot spit out a design in green plastic. Dave told me that while Hack Manhattan does participate largely in common hackerspace activities like electronics and coding, they also open the space to lectures in quantum mechanics, “Shakespeare nights, ” and other non-traditional goings on. For instance, using an iPad displaying the day’s selection, Dave gave me a sample of Hack Manhattan’s own draft beer, brewed on site by one of the members who is interested in microbreweries. The tabs on the tap were created using one of the 3D printers, and the hops for the brew were grown in the rooftop garden. Also on the rooftop, one can find crates for beekeeping and a custom built antenna. The group is very accommodating of everyone’s individual interests. When I asked Dave who frequented Hack Manhattan, he replied both hobbyists and professional programmers alike. It is an open space for anyone to exercise their gears of innovation. To do so, stop by one of Hack Manhattan’s regular Tuesday and Thursday open houses.
A psychological and cultural resource center combining a bookstore, libraries, training institutes, and continuing education, the C. G. Jung Center serves as a fulcrum for all things Jungian in midtown Manhattan. An air of learnedness wafts throughout the premises, awash in the smell of old books and older dreams. Carl Jung's wide-reaching areas of interest wind their ways through our unconscious, through dreams and myths and memories, and all are represented in the literature available here. The bookstore downstairs has readings on these and more from authors Jungian and otherwise, but the real treasure is the library on the fourth floor. We stopped in and chatted with Robin, a psychoanalyst-in-training who waxed historical on Jung's break with contemporary academics and with Freud, symbols, myths, and newer-age psychoanalytical practices. One of our writers, a once and future psychology student, spent quite a bit of time perusing the literary offerings, happily flipping through tomes from "The Presence of Siva, " to "Existential Psychotherapy" to "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" and "Psychopathia Sexualis. " The reading room is carpeted with a large, worn, oriental rug and furnished with colorful squishy seating. Chairs sit in a pleasantly haphazard arrangement around a wooden table, giving the impression that the ghosts of scholars remembered and forgotten were sitting in the room reading just before browsers arrived. Certainly, they have not strayed far from this house of learning.
In 2001, The Center for Alternative Photography (CAP) opened its doors in the heart of a midtown district with rich photographic history (Abraham Lincoln came here to be photographed). Run by the non-profit Penumbra Foundation, the center focuses on alternative and historic techniques. In the words of Executive Director Geoffrey Berliner, “People are forgetting what photography is and where it came from. In a photo-based world, it is important to understand the history of photography. ” In this spirit, the Center educates, exhibits, and provides support for artists. When I visited in 2013, the center was planning a series on how the depiction of war has changed over time. Walking into the space, I also passed through a tintype studio, where one can have his or her portrait taken using the same methods as were used in the mid 1800s. The event space houses an artist lecture series in an effort to delve deeper into the photographic works. Recurring shows showcase daguerreotype, toy camera, and alternative techniques. The “In Conversation” lecture series has photographers and artists of different disciplines bring in their work to discuss and gain more perspective. A particularly powerful “In Conversation” lecture recently paired up Andrew Moore (whose pictures of urban decay in Detroit find romance in the otherwise decrepit parts of the city), with Philip Levine, a poet who sympathetically describes blue-collar Detroit.
“My only connection to chess is through my son, ” confessed Noah Chasin, the unlikely leader of the Marshall Chess Club. Grandmaster Frank Marshall, a native New Yorker and longstanding U. S. Chess Champion, established the club as a haven for chess buffs. It relocated several times, beginning at Keens Steakhouse — featured in the first Walking Manhattan Sideways book — until it finally found its home on 10th Street in 1931. Perhaps the most famous chess club in the world, every champion has played a game here over the past century. “It’s essentially an obligation for all of the top players at some point. ” This is also where the illustrious Bobby Fischer rose to prominence. Fittingly, parts of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer were later filmed on the Marshall’s premises. Though some might be intimidated by the Marshall’s storied reputation, Noah emphasized that the atmosphere is more welcoming than one might expect. The club’s regular tournaments are typically a fifty-fifty split between its members and those who simply possess a love for the pastime. Noah’s own son started visiting the Marshall when he was only eight years old and has since spent years attending some of the largest competitions around the globe, including the Philadelphia World Open. Though certainly no chess disciple himself, Noah was a devoted father, and as his son participated in workshops, camps, and matches at the Marshall, Noah was recruited to represent the parents of other scholastic members on the club’s board. In 2016, he became the president and is now “neck-deep in the chess world, which I never could have imagined before. ” He is delighted to see players old and young, from New York and abroad, find their way to the Marshall. Better yet, he relishes the second-hand thrill of witnessing opponents face off over one of the club’s elegant boards. “It’s not the trajectory I would have imagined as a parent, but it’s been such a spectacular one. ”
In the mid-twentieth century, Tibet — which is devoted to Buddhist practices and is led by the Dalai Lama — was invaded by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, sparking a decades-long dispute over Tibetan sovereignty. China’s Communist Party has since destroyed vital elements of Tibetan culture, including over 6, 000 monasteries. With so many cultural centers demolished by the Chinese forces, the rich, centuries-old Tibetan way of life risks extinction. For this reason, the fourteenth Dalai Lama asked to establish Tibet House U. S. to preserve the heritage of his people. Thus, the intriguing institution was founded by prominent American Buddhists: composer Philip Glass, author Robert Thurman, and actor Richard Gere. Since the 1990s, Executive Director Ganden Thurman has dedicated himself to Tibet House U. S. ’ mission of protecting and presenting Tibetan culture to society at large. Having spent time in India as a child while his father — a professor of Buddhist studies — did research, Thurman came to appreciate the “poise, humility, and perspective” of the Tibetan lamas and academics who frequented his family’s home. Though he considers himself more secular than religious, he clarified that Tibet House is neither a political nor religious organization. However, there are often times when they find themselves engaged in conversation on such topics. Through art exhibitions, lectures on subjects including medicine and mind sciences, and classes such as “Developing Compassion” that fuse Buddhist practices with Western psychology, Tibet House allows visitors to draw their own conclusions. With its library and permanent installation of Tibetan artifacts — open regularly to the public — this precious museum safe-guards the culture of the region within its walls. Since members of Tibet House are considered too political to attain travel visas by the Chinese authorities, the House does not have the ability to source artworks on its own. Instead, generous collectors donate the majority of the pieces on display. According to Thurman, such artists and art aficionados are the House's greatest supporters, as they tend to feel a personal connection to the fight for freedom of expression. This collaboration was evidenced by the prints we observed of the current Dalai Lama, donated by Richard Avedon, hanging above a printer, and musician Philip Glass' name listed on the roster of the Executive Officers. Thurman revealed to us that during the course of the Tibet-China conflict, over 100 Tibet nationals have resorted to self-immolation in order to catch the world’s attention and direct it towards their struggle. They are desperate to be seen - and through its efforts Tibet House US is providing them the right to be present in the narrative of world heritage.