Name of Individual: Zoila Velez
ARRA Award: Senior Nutrition Program
Project: Congregate Meals for the Elderly
Administered By: New York City Department for the Aging
Zoila Velez is 80-years-old and is a member of the Cypress Hills Senior Center, which received ARRA funding to purchase food and disposables for congregate meals. Born June 26, 1931 in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Velez grew up under poverty stricken conditions to humble parents. She went to school and completed her high school diploma. She participated in many radio shows as a singer of Ecuadorian national music during these years. She married at a young age of 19 and had eight children with her husband, Jorge. They struggled to provide for their large family—Jorge as a bus driver, and herself as a housewife, doing sewing jobs on the side for extra income.
Velez reflects back on her life. “It has been a struggle from the day I was born, tragedy after tragedy.” She lost three of her eight children due to a robbery, pneumonia, and SIDS. Her husband died of a massive heart attack in 1986, only six months after her son was murdered. To help cope with her tragic losses, she worked as a literacy volunteer, going into rural areas teaching people how to read for five years. Her remaining children had immigrated to New York and petitioned for her residency. She landed in New York on April 15, 1996 and did not have any idea of what an “old lady” was going to do in such a big city.
Luckily, Velez was able to find work as a seamstress in East New York--which she proudly did for five years. After her lay off, she found herself in a depressed state. Through a church friend, she learned of the Cypress Hills Senior Center and decided to join. “The center has been a fountain of youth for me, and I feel like I’ve gained a new family since joining,” she comments. Velez participates in daily exercise classes from yoga to zumba and is a regular at the gym. She has controlled her hypertension through these activities as well as the nutritious congregate meal program. Sitting down together in the dining room over a hot, well-balanced, delicious meal provides opportunities for socialization and companionship. She loves the feeling of coming in and feeling the warmth from both staff and friends she has made throughout the years.
Velez recently became a United States Citizen in May 2011 with application assistance from the center’s resource staff and credits the center’s ESL course as a great help in passing the test. As she says, “My life has changed for the better since joining this center. I will continue to support and attend as long as God grants me life and health. God bless this center that has given me so much to live for.”