Alyce Kaufman has always been good at connecting with children, first as an entertainer at kids’ parties and then as a social worker and yoga instructor.
“It all started when I was taking guitar lessons and volunteered to play for the kids at my sons’ school. That went so well that I decided to start a birthday party entertainment business! I was Clownella. I did music, magic, puppets and balloons. I was fairly well paid. My “office” was a 10-word ad in New York magazine. I closed up shop in June so I could spend the summer in Vermont with my family,” Alyce explained.
Bookings were mostly on weekends and Alyce wanted a more normal family life and a steadier source of income. So she became a case worker at Protective Services for Adults and while she was working there she was awarded a scholarship to Columbia University School of Social Work.
A few years after graduation, she joined the Administration for Childrens’ Services (ACS), working with parents and children in the foster care system. Along the way she became interested in yoga.
“I took a month off work to learn more about it and became a certified yoga teacher in 1997,” she said. “At first, I offered yoga classes to colleagues twice a week during our lunch hour. The emphasis was on stretching and deep breathing for relaxation and better balance. They loved it.”
“Then a colleague and I developed a therapeutic program for kids who were waiting for placement in foster care homes,” she said.
They went weekly to the ACS Children’s Center to give classes to teens and younger children. Over 90% of the children reported they felt better able to cope with their family situation after taking her class. “That was very gratifying,” Alyce noted.
Alyce was born on Coney Island, Brooklyn and has lived with her guidance counsellor husband, Irwin, in Brighton Beach for more than 50 years. They have two sons, one of whom now lives in Japan and the other in Westchester County.
Alyce retired from her social work job in 2008 but, as a volunteer, she has continued to teach the gentle yoga class at Sivananda Yoga Center. She also volunteered at the Payne Whitney Clinic, teaching yoga to psychiatric patients on Tuesdays and leading a prayer and meditation group for inpatients on Thursdays.
How did she come to join Good Neighbors? “I had heard great things about Good Neighbors from a friend. But it wasn’t practical to join the organization because Brighton Beach was too far away from Park Slope to participate in activities which were all ‘in person’ at that time.” Then the Covid pandemic introduced us all to Zoom.
For Alyce, it has been a godsend. “I joined immediately and was totally in awe of what had been accomplished,” she said. She participated in many groups, including the Art Museum Lovers group. When Irene Porges, who was leading the group, resigned because it was too much of a strain on her voice, Alyce agreed to take over because she didn’t want it to disband.
“I wasn’t trained in art as Irene was, but I love doing the research, finding the best videos and paintings of the artist we have agreed to study. Somehow, something deep within me responds to the images and color I see as I put together the presentations. There is so much good material on the Internet that it sometimes feels as though we’ve been to an artist’s retrospective.”
“From a Good Neighbors standpoint,” she says, “it’s the next best thing to visiting an exhibit and, in some respects, even better because we can choose which artist we want to see and also enjoy the art without leaving the comfort of our homes.”