Emily Alvarez, Class of 1977, was once described by our founding Executive Director, Susan Feingold, as a ‘Bloomingdale soul through and through’. Emily started with us at age 3, following her brother Max. Her cousins Mary, Walter, and Kristy also attended Bloomingdale. She grew up surrounded by friends and family on the Upper West Side, attending PS 75 and Holy Name through middle school, and the Cathedral School for high school. Emily had this to say about her family and Bloomingdale, “Our parents formed a community and became friends with other parents. Everyone felt at home and learned from each other. It was the first school that they sent their children to in America. Bloomingdale was an actual Family Program, and still is.”
Emily has been remarkable in her involvement with Bloomingdale in two significant ways: First, she worked in our classrooms as a one-to-one play therapist for 14 years, and second, she started and produced our annual celebration of cultural diversity, beginning in 2008. Emily is now a SEIT (special education itinerant teacher) on the UWS. Emily came to Bloomingdale with extensive training in preschool education and a Masters in Special Education, but one-to-one play therapy was new to her. She credits Wendy Feinstein and the One-to-One team with supporting her and giving her the training she needed to work with children individually. Of early services she says, ‘The earlier, the better to help the children succeed in school. I have seen a significant amount of success in my former students. I have parents that still call me saying their child is doing great and no longer needs special ed or counseling services in elementary school. Play therapy is not just a service. It’s a commitment to the children and the families. As therapists, we support the family through the whole process. It’s fantastic to see the growth and the changes children have made. We also help parents advocate for their children’s services, present or future.” Wendy Feinstein had this to say, “Emily is a very dedicated play therapist, who worked very closely with her families in order to help their children reach their goals. Emily also provided a great deal of support to teachers and children in their classrooms, and shared those strategies with parents.”
Emily’s community growing up was her inspiration for the Cultural Diversity Days: “I grew up in a community where everyone cared for each other and a diverse community where I appreciated and learned from all my friends’ and neighbors’ cultures. Our vecinos (neighbors) were our friends; my parents knew all my friends and my brother’s friends and their parents. We all watched out for each other…In elementary school, my mom made mangú (a Dominican dish) for my friends before school for breakfast. Our friends would come over after school, and my mom would make rice, beans, and chicken. We would play outside before going in for homework. My father helped me with math, and my mom helped me with art, cooking, and cultural projects. My brother helped me with all the other subjects when my parents couldn’t because of language barriers. Growing up, my father ordered Spanish books from the Dominican Republic so I could be bilingual. He felt for me to have a career in the U.S. I needed to speak, write, and read Spanish and English. He didn’t want me to forget my native language.”
Her work on the Cultural Diversity Days was honored by State Senator Adriano Espaillat in a Proclamation in 2011, along with Bloomingdale staff members who made large contributions to organizing the annual event: Nicholas Donis and Luz Legakis. In more recent years, staff member Jacqueline DeLeon co-organized the event with Emily. Dominican Sunday, a non-profit organization serving the community in Morningside Heights, Manhattan Valley and the UWS.
As a Bloomingdale alumni, therapist, and cultural diversity presenter, Emily has done so much for Bloomingdale! We hope she will stay connected with us for many years to come.