Nat Solomon is 101 years old, and a lifelong Brooklyn resident. He’s a veteran of World War II, a lover of motorcycles, music, and dancing, and an extremely proud great-grandparent.
He tells a story about his time in a MASH Unit (“Just like on TV!”, he says), where he was in charge of the kitchens. A five-star general was on the way to make an inspection when his fellow servicemen decided to pull a prank on Solomon, pulling his uniform down around his ankles. As he ran out of the tent after them, he bumped directly into the General— sans pants. “At ease, Soldier,” he was told.
“That was a great experience,” Solomon laughed.
Solomon is full of stories like these, stories that he says would take hours to remember and tell.
“I saw plenty,” he says. “Some of it was good, and some of it was very bad.”
According to the NYC Department of Veteran’s Services, Brooklyn is home to over 54,000 veterans. Solomon is a World War II Veteran, and they make up only 11% of the city’s total. He is also one of 40,000 older New Yorkers who benefit from the work of JASA, an agency that has been providing home care, meal delivery, and programming across the city for over fifty years. Before the pandemic, JASA hosted lots of in-person events for their members, 300 of whom are veterans, that has been moved virtually now.
Aisha Parillon, the Senior Director of Senior Centers at JASA, says that things have definitely changed since March. The virtual programming JASA now offers is free, and includes things like Zumba, belly dancing, music, and mental acuity courses.
“I have no complaints, JASA is very good,” Solomon said.
Like us all, Solomon has noticed a bit of a change in his daily routine despite his continued mobility. He gets meals home-delivered from JASA, allowing him to stay home. For those in need, The Department of Veteran’s Services (DVS) has also partnered with GetFoodNYC to further provide food assistance during the pandemic, and have so far provided over 10,000 meals.
Solomon lives alone in his Brooklyn residence, right across the street from one of his daughters who checks on him frequently. His other daughter lives in New Jersey. Solomon is, at heart, a family man, and speaks of his great-grandsons with extreme pride, marveling over how handsome they are.
“[My daughters] both call me every day. ‘How you feeling, Pop?’ Oh, I’m great,” he says.
“I want to say that our clients are very resilient. They led wide lives before they came to JASA,” Parillon said. “We have seen an increased need for mental health services. Some members have expressed depressive symptoms, or even an increase in anxiety. [COVID-19] runs the gambit.”
When Solomon was young, about seventeen years old, he recalls driving motorcycles— before you needed a license to do so.
“Oh, I used to love to drive a motorcycle,” he said in a video recorded by JASA.
After the war, Mr. Solomon worked for an elevator company, and later as a welding inspector.
Senior centers and the Department of Veteran’s Services around Brooklyn have all had to adapt to the pandemic, dealing often with issues of funding and turning to virtual programming options.
The Mayor’s Office and Thrive NYC launched Mission: VetCheck this year to support veterans during the pandemic. Through the program, veterans offer check-in calls to other veterans, providing information about local services. The DVS has also provided over 45,000 masks to veterans in the city to help combat the effects of the pandemic.