Bubba Jo: Portraits of 14th Street Y


This morning I worked out in the gym, I volunteered at the Preschool, and then I took a Yiddish class. That’s today’s activity. I’m here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and I have activities all morning and sometimes in the afternoon. This is my second home. I really feel that way. This is my main community and my second home. I love it.

This is a very important place for a senior to be. The 14th Street Y has everything I want. I want to be in the gym, I want to do aerobics, I want to do Zumba, I want to take a Yiddish class, I want to do play-reading; and It’s all here. I walk the 8 blocks and it’s heaven.

The people are so lovely. Once you start taking certain classes, each class becomes a little family. I really love it. I feel very blessed to have this Y.
One thing I really love about this Y is the diversity. You don’t get that in many YMHAs.

I’ve been coming here since 2004. I signed up for classes, and then one day, as I was standing in the lobby, a young woman came and she said, “I have some children in the nursery school, and I’m looking for someone who can read to them. Would you be interested in doing that?” As a retired teacher, I thought that would be neat, to be working with kids in the nursery. I had been a teacher for 48 years, from elementary to city university. So, I asked her why she wanted someone else, don’t they have enough teachers? And she said that many of the kids who come here, and this was years ago – it may not be true now, but many of them then had come from other countries and didn’t have much family here. They didn’t have a bubba or a zeda, or a grandma or a grandpa. They wanted someone who could be like a grandma. So I said fine, I can be a grandma; I am a grandma! Then I thought, “Oh, what are they going to call me, Mrs. Abrams?” It just didn’t feel right, so Bubba Jo became my name, since “Jo” is my nickname. I became Bubba Jo and I love it. It’s been wonderful, and I’ve really had a great time with those kids, and I’m still here. It’s really nice walking in the street and hearing someone yell “Bubba Jo!” and come over to you, and I get to watch them grow. It’s really lovely.


Portraits of the 14th Street Y is a photography project by Bridget Badore that tells the stories behind the many faces of the 14th Street Y community, including members, staff, teachers, trainers, artists, caregivers, families, and local business owners. Each year, the unique stories of more than 20,000 New Yorkers is woven into the fabric that makes the 14th Street Y a Downtown home for all.

Learn more about this exciting photography series here. You can also follow along and support the Downtown Stories on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.