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David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

1 May 2006

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
My brother's keeper. My sister's keeper.

5.1.06 - On Thursday night I went to the opening night gala preview of the 2006 Spring Art and Antiques Show (which runs through Wednesday, May 3rd) at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue and 67th Street benefiting Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and themed “The Time Machine.”

Scores of prominent New Yorkers paid $1000 for a seat at the tables set up for dining after the show closed. The tables were decorated by prominent members of the decorative arts community here in New York. Honorary Design Chairs were Bunny Williams and John Rosselli . Design Chairs were Robert Rufino, Philip Gorrivan and Robert Lindgren . JH shot all of the tables set out in the aisles between the show's exhibitor/dealer stalls.

I was seated between Sydney Shuman , the honorary chair of the event and Diana Quasha who, with Audrey Gruss , was a gala chair. These are the women who, with a lot of help from their committee members, sell those tickets and raise what this year was $800,000 for Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, with the evening underwritten by Rolex USA.

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House has been active in the neighborhood and in Manhattan for the past 112 years. It was set up to help/assist the arriving families, the refugees from political and economic tribulation elsewhere in the world; along with the poor, which many of them were and are. The poor, the helpless, the abused, the homeless. Very often all three categories are one.

More than a century after its founding the LHNH manages 300,000 meals a year to all kinds of people from toddlers in daycare to schoolchildren, to the grownups of all ages who participate in the programs which are designed to assist/help the people in the neighborhood. This is perhaps the richest neighborhood in the world and for many its streets are still mean and yet all they have. Those homeless whom we see on the streets and in parks, those women and men of indeterminate age although not old, possibly younger than they look, those habitués of the sidewalks, the park benches, the cubbyholes of metropolitan misery – they are the clients or the potential clients of the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.

On the other side of Sydney Shuman on Thursday night was a man named Warren Scharf who is the Executive Director of Lenox Hill. Mr. Scharf grew up in Queens, son of poor working class parents who between them knew both the Depression, and the Holocaust. Yet they were able to somehow not only to survive, but to keep a roof over their heads, and feed, clothe and educate their son Warren who graduated from college with a law degree.

After college Mr. Scharf became a Wall Street lawyer, an expert in the lucrative world of M&A's where the sums that exchange hands are beyond the wildest dreams of those men and women who tread the pavement in search of a cubbyhole to rest their weary heads and keep themselves from freezing to death.

During his time on Wall Street, already deeply affected by the poverty and homelessness he saw on the streets, Scharf was looking for more than the lucre of M&A. There is the pro bono route – a very honorable one – which attracted him. He is one of those men who when he sees a man or a woman at their end of his or her rope, a man or a woman without a friend in need, he cannot bear to just walk by.

I learned about his background over dinner in this opulent atmosphere – very glamorous, in the company of some of the most socially prominent and financially accomplished men and women in the world. It was an interesting juxtaposition, a playing out of the absurdities of the human condition.

Eventually Warren quit Wall Street. His parents, despite their own experience, couldn't understand why he would give up the road to wealth to help the poor and the downtrodden. He felt he learned of those miserable conditions growing up watching his parents using everything they had to avoid falling down that dark abyss. He had learned empathy from that. Today he heads up Lenox Hill Neighborhood House which, among other things, has a very active program in helping our brothers and sisters move from their lives of homelessness and utter desperation, into shelters, into rehabilitation, into nourishment, into psychological assistance and support and eventually back into life in self-reliance and self-dignity.

As we were talking and dining on the excellent menu provided by Sean Driscoll's Glorious Foods catering, Scharf pointed out that the upper floors of this very same armory, in the same building where the tapestry in the stall next to my dinner table has a $1 million price tag on it, 100 women from ages 45 to 80 were sleeping or ending their day. This was their shelter, where they slept every night.

LHNH goes out and finds these people and works relentlessly to first persuade them to come in off the street and choose the warm of a fresh blanket and a roof and a meal. That is not easy, and that is only the first step along the way. Many of these people have serious mental problems. Many have endured decades of physical and mental abuse. Many have lost their way in the wells of lonely alcohol and drug abuse. Many have used all of their resources except utter, sheer obstinacy, the same obstinacy that often keeps them on the streets and out of the shelters that LHNH has set up for them.

The sheltering and protecting of these citizens in our community is only one of the many services Lenox Hill Neighborhood House provides for those of us in need including homecare for 650 disabled adults and children, transportation services for older adults, case management for homebound seniors, two social day programs for physically and cognitively frail older adults; English language and computer classes, visual and performing arts, a Fitness and Aquatics Center, civil legal services and much much more.

To learn more about Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, to learn how it can be helpful to you or your neighbor, to donate time or money, go to: www.lenoxhill.org/


Alison Minton