Ex-Chef Finds the Right Recipe for Seniors

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Senior center director finds the value of non-profits

By Rochana Rapkins

At 141 W. 73rd St., Upper West Side locals congregate to try their hand at belly dancing, yoga, strength training, tai chi, swimming, poetry and art. Visitors can also learn how to prevent falls in their homes, receive Medicare support and receive protection from rent increases.

Aaron De Broux, director of the Hamilton Senior Center, said when his family went away on vacation without him, he began to understand what it’s like to live alone.

Each month, up to 2,700 seniors come to the Hamilton Senior Center to exercise, share a meal and socialize. At the center’s helm is director Aaron De Broux.

“I do what I do from the heart, and that’s what draws me to not-for-profits,” said De Broux. “Anyone working for not-for-profits knows it’s not for the money. You have to love the people.”

Seniors at the center, which was established through Project FIND, appear to return the love.

“He’s the best that we’ve had since my time here. And I’ve been here going on 14 years,” said Nelly Holm, a senior citizen who volunteers at the center. “If anything arises that needs looking after, he’s there. He always approaches everything with care, concern and compassion.”

De Broux, 47, holds an engineering degree from Hampton University, but could not find work when he got married and moved to New York 27 years ago. But he was willing to take any job he could get, and worked his way up from dishwasher to sous chef at Michael’s Restaurant. He went on to work as a chef in the catering business for five years.

As he moved up the ladder, De Broux also returned to his roots.

“I learned how to cook from an early age from my grandmother and my mother, and I just put that to work,” he said.

Eventually, he decided to get out of the business world and started cooking for the Boy Scouts of America and Friends for Life, an organization that supports people with HIV and other life-threatening diseases. He also served on the board of directors for The Olive Branch, an international organization that serves HIV-positive children. When he read about the dire conditions that some senior citizens were living under, he decided it was time for a change.

At the Hamilton Senior Center, De Broux injected new energy into the center and bumped up membership. The center now serves upwards of 2,400 senior citizens each month. On Thanksgiving, it expects to dish up traditional fare to nearly 200 seniors.

Yet it wasn’t until his family went away on vacation without him that the importance of socialization hit home.

“I sat there and realized it is awkward to be here by myself,” he said. “It’s awkward and a little scary. And you think that is how people feel when their loved ones pass away and they’re on their own. You can’t just sit in the house all the time; you need to get out and be social.”

Senior citizen Eve Moravec, who helps out at the center, has known De Broux for over 10 years.

“We should all have bosses like him,” she said. “He is very understanding, and he has time to listen to you if you are upset. And he appreciates you. If people appreciate you, you put in more effort and don’t mind overextending.”

“I love him, even if I’m old enough to be his grandmother,” she added. “He’s a doll.”

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