New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

We Will Survive

**CHONA RASKIN HAS SERVED** *as the board president of the 415-unit Shore Towers condominium in Astoria, Queens, for 20 years. An elegant, energetic woman of a certain age – which she won’t reveal – Raskin, above, was born and raised in Manila, where she attended an all-girls school run by nuns. After college, Raskin worked as a flight attendant on Philippine Airlines, a job that took her all over the world and gave her a special fondness for the Italian island of Capri. Today her wanderlust is on hold, as the coronavirus pandemic has filled her days with working to secure the safety of the residents of the 23-story tower which has views across the East River toward Manhattan.*
**HABITAT:** *First, because it’s everybody’s main concern, what kind of measures did your board implement to fight the coronavirus?*
**RASKIN:** We closed our management office, but they can be reached on our website and by phone. All of management is working from home, but anybody in the building can talk to them. We closed all our amenities – the swimming pool, the gym and the community room. This way, there will be no social gatherings. We had a shuttle bus that brought our residents to and from the subway, and we’ve stopped that, too. We have not reduced staff yet. They’re essential. So our garbage and recycling are still getting done, and we disinfect the elevators and the lobby and so forth. Our 24-hour security team is also still working. We have one of our five elevators designated for medical use and the sick only.
**HABITAT:** *Have you lived through crises before?*
**RASKIN:** Yeah, I’ll tell you my story. I married a very rich man in the Philippines, and that’s when I stopped working as a flight attendant. We had two children, but my marriage didn’t work out. So what I did, I took my two children and came to America, to New York, Astoria. That was in 1972, and I’ve lived in Astoria ever since. I had to struggle early on because even though I had a rich husband, he wouldn’t give me any support unless I would come back to the Philippines, but I did not go back. What I did was I went to school, I got my master’s degree in human resources from the New School, and eventually I did very well. In the 1980s I met this wonderful Jewish man who lived in my building, James Edward Raskin, and I married him in 1985, and I’m still married to him today. We moved into this condominium in 1993. For 25 years I worked for Empire Blue Cross on Third Avenue. Then, in 2001, the company decided to move to the World Trade Center.
**HABITAT:** *Were you working there on 9/11?*
**RASKIN:** No, I did not move with them because I decided to take early retirement. I believe God wanted me here a little longer. Even though Empire Blue Cross had 1,900 employees, I knew all the people who died because I was in personnel, a benefits administrator. All these people had come to me for help or for benefits questions. The people who died, really, I knew them. It was traumatic.
**HABITAT:** *Your building is close to the East River – what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit?*
**RASKIN:** Our building was compromised but not destroyed. We got lucky. We had to get sand out of our garage, and we needed to do some repairs. As president, I urged the board to build a seawall. We spent about $1 million, and we’re glad to have it. We also waterproofed the stairwells, the driveways and the parking lot. During my presidency we also did a lot of other capital projects. We did a $235,000 LED lighting project with Fairbanks Energy Services that’s saving us about $40,000 a year. We also did elevator renovations, facade and balcony restoration and a laundry room conversion.
**HABITAT:** *How is the mood in the building in these difficult times?*
**RASKIN:** Last Saturday we had singing on the balconies! Two people stood in front of our building with speakers to conduct the music and the singing. We all sang “Imagine” and “I Will Survive.” Everybody was singing and crying. It was very nice. We had printed out 400 sheets of paper, and we put them under doors and told the residents to go to their balconies and sing at 2 o’clock. The sheet also had the lyrics to the songs. It was fun. People were passing by in front of our building, just walking their dogs, and they stopped and sang with us. At first, when the idea came up, management said, “No, no.” But I said, “Why not?” Management was afraid that people would congregate in the lobby, and then we would not be able to practice social distancing. But it turned out to be so good. So every now and then, we’re a happy building.

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