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Singer is aging along with the very population she serves: “Tomorrow I could be the ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ person!” She laughs a self-deprecating chuckle, which belies the stresses and traumas she’s experienced. In 2001, a flood devastated the BNA office and much of its equipment. Then there was Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I was lucky to get a tour before Sandy struck, when she showed me the years of BNA’s life charted haphazardly on her cluttered walls. Singer breezed over articles called “This and That With Pat,” “Special Honorees Make Brighton Neighborhood Life Grand” and “Singing the Praises of BNA Founder.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy — when homes and businesses in Brighton Beach were flooded and badly damaged; when the smell of leaking gas crept through the streets, and pounds of sand from the beach lay on sidewalks — Singer worked in the dark without heat, using her cell phone to help those stranded in buildings without working elevators. Recently, she temporarily lost government funding and had to lay off her part-time staff, the bilingual outreach workers who connect her to the newer immigrant groups. Still, she persists.
Some elevators in buildings with high elderly populations are still not working, even months after the storm as landlords wait for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or insurance money. Singer has been posting daily updates written in capital letters on Facebook about the status of these repairs, shaming delinquent landlords. It’s actions like these that make her friends and colleagues note her tireless dedication. State Assembly member Steven Cymbrowitz remembers her walking through vacant and dilapidated buildings in the 1970s with the same fiery determination that she has now: “She shows no fear,” he says.
And she shows no sign of letting up or retiring. Each day brings something new. Maybe she’ll explain Section 8 housing waiting lists to a crying Russian who can’t afford to live in the area anymore. Maybe she’ll stuff goodie bags for the annual senior Christmas party. Maybe she’ll gossip over the phone and watch TV.
What she originally saw as a duty to fight drugs and crime has now shifted. “Now I deal with leaky faucets.” I asked her once if she felt like she’d made a difference, and she said: “My only regret is not taking out a pension plan 30 years ago. I love what I do and that’s the end of it.”
Tanya Paperny is a writer, editor and translator. Her work has appeared in The Millions, The Literary Review and Campus Progress. Visit her at tpaperny.com.