Two sisters, two buildings, two styles, one school.
As the Upper School students arrive for the day, Donna is sitting at her post in the lobby of 116 Lawrence Street, barking friendly “Good Mornings” to students and colleagues, making sure everyone swipes their ID card. In one way or another, she has been doing just that for 17 years. “They are probably sick of my ‘good mornings,’” she joked.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks west, her sister Cheryl is also greeting arriving students—much younger ones. Not in a lobby, or behind a desk, but right out on the sidewalk, greeting each Preschool student and their families—and all of the other students and families that pass her by—with a smile, with a hug, with a high-five. That’s just her style.
“I love talking to the kids and to the parents,” she said. “I love to interact with the families, and I didn’t realize just how much I loved to do that.”
Before the days when she stood outside—that only started since the pandemic—Cheryl held court at a desk high above the Pearl Street lobby floor.
“When parents and students were allowed to come in and congregate in the lobby, this lobby was like Grand Central Station or Times Square,” she said. “I could stand up and see everybody, and I knew everybody and it really did come very naturally to me. No one said to me, ‘Cheryl, say this or do that.’ Somehow it was just something that was innate and just came right out.”
Cheryl has not always been at the front of the school greeting students and their families—as hard as that is to believe. That role and Miss Cheryl seemed to come straight from Central Casting. No, when she arrived in 1987—yes, 35 years ago—she worked in the Business Office, then in the Lower School, then in the Upper School, you get the idea—she has done a lot of different things here at BFS. She arrived at Brooklyn Friends in 1987 when she enrolled her daughter, Casaundra, in the Preschool. More than 20 years after Casaundra graduated, few have more Blue Pride than Cheryl.
“What has kept me here all these years is that I love what I do. I don’t feel like I am working,” she said. “But never in a million years did I think I would end up at the front desk. I never had a job that was this type of job, but it came naturally to me.”
After spending 28 years at Chase Manhattan Bank working in the International Money Transfer Department, Donna’s BFS career started in 2005, just as the Upper School was making its move out of Pearl Street and into 55 Willoughby Street. They needed someone they could trust at the front door, and it just so happened that Donna was looking for work.
Her sister, Cheryl, had been here since 1987, her niece, Casaundra, graduated from BFS in 2001, and her brother, Cornelius, had graduated from BFS in 1977. This seemed like a natural landing spot for Donna, who has stayed at Brooklyn Friends School for more than 17 years for one very simple reason.
“It’s the children,” she said, her voice becoming very gentle. “They are delightful, and I really feel in my mind that they are keeping me young. They teach me stuff and they are nice—they are good kids, and I love these kids and some of them love me back, which you can feel. I look forward to getting up each day to come to work.”
The two are happy to be working at BFS and just as happy that they are a few blocks apart.
“We are not always together, and that’s what makes it good,” Donna said, matter of factly. “She would get sick of me, just like I would get sick of her, because I like my serenity. She doesn’t choose serenity, so that’s her problem,” she added with a hearty laugh.
One thing is for sure, both sisters are universally beloved by the entire Brooklyn Friends School community. When Cheryl had to be out for a period of time due to illness, she was told just how much she had been missed and how much of a true part of the children’s day that she is.
“It’s just so wonderful to me,” she said, getting emotional. “When I came back from being out for a week, every single parent came up to me telling me their children asked ‘where is Miss Cheryl?’ I cannot tell you what that means to me.”
Between the two sisters, no one in the history of BFS—given their combined 50-plus years here—has interacted with more students, colleagues, and family members.
“It’s been a minute, but I love it,” Cheryl said.
We thank them for their continued years of dedicated service—and their friendship!
Brett Topel is the Director of Communications and Marketing at BFS.