By Cindy Mindell
BRIDGEPORT – The face of the greater Bridgeport Jewish community is the property at 4200 Park Avenue, the Jewish Center for Community Services (JCCS), home to UJA/Federation and the JCC.
Perhaps that is why the Seymour Hollander Apartments, known as the “Hollander House,” built behind the JCCS at 4190 Park Ave. 30 years ago, is not as well known in the local Jewish community as its neighboring Jewish institutions. With a new infusion of federal funding and a potential transformation to the adjacent JCCS campus by the Jewish Home for the Elderly, Executive Director Margie Rosten hopes to reacquaint the Jewish community with what she calls the “jewel in our crown.”
Hollander House was built in response to a needs-assessment survey conducted in the late ‘70s by the Jewish Federation of Bridgeport (now UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County). Among the most pressing issues that came to light in the local Jewish community was a lack of affordable housing for elderly Jews.
The Jewish Federation organized a committee of community-members to craft a response. Then-board president Jon Bowman, with the help of his fellow law partners at Cohen and Wolf in Bridgeport, discovered that the project was eligible for funding through the Section 8 program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Jewish Federation sold the softball field behind the JCCS building to the newly formed Greater Bridgeport Jewish Housing Corporation and provided a loan for construction. Another loan came from the Seymour Hollander Foundation.
Construction was completed in 1982. The five-story building houses up to 100 elderly residents aged 62 and older, who are independent and who qualify for federally funded subsidized housing. Originally overseen by Bridgeport-based Jewish Family Service of Connecticut, the facility is now self-managed. There is a long-standing relationship between Hollander House and the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield: Hollander residents move to the Home when they can no longer function independently, and the Home’s president and CEO, Andrew Banoff, has served as consultant on elder-care.
While federal funding requires that the facility be non-sectarian and non-denominational, Jewish programming around the holidays is provided for Jewish residents, facilitated by Jewish Family Service of Connecticut.
In March, Rosten and attorney Michael Rosten led the Greater Bridgeport Jewish Housing Corp. through a mortgage-refinancing process with HUD. As a result, apartment kitchens have been renovated and bathrooms upgraded. Pella windows and new air-conditioning units have been installed throughout the building. Common rooms have been renovated and the administrative area has been reconstructed to provide more privacy and energy efficiency. An outdoor patio is nearly complete. Funding will also be used to develop and implement wellness and cultural programs, including exercise classes, a writing course, music therapy, and an in-house chorus.
Rosten says that the 15 current board members were selected partly because of their willingness to be involved in activities at the House, from socializing with the residents to leading craft projects to organizing high-school students to interview residents. A group of Eagle Scouts, engaged by a board member, recently built a gazebo on the outdoor patio. The House has a refurbished website and a Facebook page.
Rosten hopes to keep weaving the Hollander House and its residents into the larger community. A committee is developing plans for an in-house transportation service. When the JCCS campus is reconfigured, Rosten foresees many opportunities for collaboration and shared programming. “Once the Jewish Home and JCC decide what they’re going to be, there’s no question that the three of us will be interacting, both for the benefit of our institutions and for that of the greater community,” she says. “I’m so proud of this place and I want to let the community know what a gem they have created.”
That collaborative relationship may have been literally set in stone 30 years ago: locals recall that JCC nursery-school children prepared and delivered a time capsule to the construction site, incorporated into the foundation of the building.
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