PROPEL: Lives in the Balance, The Stories of Women
By Alissa Shams and Randi Eisenstein
These are the women of our community, here are their stories:
Meet Bonnie Shams, Occupational Therapist and recipient of PROPEL’s “Support Inspires Success” Award
Last week, we had the pleasure of sitting down for coffee with Bonnie Shams OTR/L. Bonnie is an extremely well-known, and beloved occupational therapist in the Community. For over 25 years, Bonnie has focused her talents on helping adults, and more recently children, overcome challenges with hard work and determination.
Bonnie comes from a family of working women. Her grandmother Molly Mishaan Kapiloff A”H worked in both wholesale and retail establishments selling linens, gloves, and handkerchiefs. When Bonnie was in high school, her mother Phyllis Shams decided to go back to school and graduated with a degree in English from Brooklyn College. Phyllis opened Fitness Underground, a store specializing in exercise clothes and later on dance-ware with her good friend Jeanette Shrem. They successfully managed the store for over 30 years. The fourth generation of the family is following in their Matriarch’s footsteps, with daughter Danielle teaching at The Sephardic Academy of Manhattan (SAM), and Phyllis living in Israel and serving in the Israeli Army.
The importance of education was highly regarded in Bonnie’s home, and she and her three brothers were motivated to achieve successful careers. Bonnie attended Flatbush Yeshiva and then New York University where she received her Bachelor of Arts and Masters in OT. Bonnie was inspired to pursue a career in occupational therapy when she met a wounded soldier while on a volunteer program in Israel. She had a strong desire to help people in need.
After obtaining her masters in occupational therapy, Bonnie had an internship and then a full-time position at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She found working with patients in the burn unit at the hospital tremendously rewarding. When her eldest child was born, she decided that she did not want to commute from Staten Island (where she was living at the time) to Manhattan so she obtained a job at a nursing home in Staten Island. Bonnie transitioned to a position in the school system where she discovered her passion for working with children. In Bonnie’s own words, “it was truly satisfying being able to see my impact on the children’s development over a short period of time.”
Taking into account the needs of her three children, Bonnie eventually made a decision to concentrate on building a private practice in her home in Brooklyn. This enabled her to better manage her work schedule and to carve out time for her children. Bonnie fondly recounted the importance of spending quality time with her son on their daily trips to school every morning when he was younger. Bonnie credits the Brooklyn community, husband Elan, and her loyal housekeepers, Angela and later Rosa, with providing support when she was busy working with clients – many of these people continuously offered to bring one of her children to an after-school activity or run an errand for her when she could not leave work.
Bonnie notes that it is crucial to evolve professionally with the times. She stays current as an occupational therapist by taking numerous continuing education courses, which have included courses in manual therapy and sensory integration.
Bonnie’s face lights up when she describes working with children. She proclaims, “if you have an intent to help them, they can be helped!” She feels that her clients and their parents are part of an extended family. She loves what she does and being an occupational therapist is more than a job to her. Bonnie has supported and immensely improved the lives of countless children and families in our community.
Bonnie will be receiving an honor at the PROPEL graduation in May. She is the recipient of the “Support Inspires Success” Award and a fund has been established in honor of Bonnie to support women in the community on their path to professional success.
If you are interested in a career, please reach out to PROPEL and we can help you fulfill your professional goal.
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