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Meet the Team: Theresa Cheney

For our next "Meet the Team" feature, Anthony Rodriguez, People & Culture Associate at DOROT, sat down with Theresa Cheney, Program Assistant for Kosher Meals at Home and Impact & Evaluation, for a conversation while overlooking Manhattan’s skyline from the top floor of our Upper West Side office. Like this view, Theresa’s story is expansive.  

Theresa has served the DOROT community for over 6 years, but her public service spans a lifetime. She grew up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a rich, multicultural community, which was predominantly Jewish.

Anthony: “What was it like growing up in that neighborhood?”

Theresa: “My upbringing really sparked a fascination and appreciation for Jewish history, food, art, and culture.”

Theresa’s natural curiosity for the world brought about many adventures and experiences. She has a passion for helping people and understanding where they come from. This was in part because she knows what it is like to be misunderstood and excluded from the narrative. “Growing up a Black woman in America during the civil rights era, I often felt invisible,” Theresa shared with Anthony. In many of her jobs, she was the only person of color. She felt pressure to always prove herself, even when her voice and presence were overlooked. Instead of feeling defeated, Theresa wanted to make a change. She shared that she never held back when her rights were being debated. She would often introduce herself to politicians and policy makers by asking, “What will you do for my community?” Theresa believes we can all be a catalyst for change. “We have changed as a society, but we still have work to do. The only way we can bring about change is through channeling the lessons of our experiences.”  

Anthony: “How else did your activist spirit manifest during this time?”

Theresa: “Well, I marched on Washington, climbed a tree, and watched the “I Have a Dream Speech” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Anthony: “Wow.”

When Anthony asked Theresa about her career trajectory, she shared that it started out with the Department of Education in the Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus. There, she worked with Chinese immigrants and helped them adjust to American cultural norms. Shortly thereafter, she continued her public service as a medical coordinator, helping older adults with special needs, cancer patients, and liver transplant patients. Theresa’s life would take an adventurous turn when she moved abroad to England and worked as a career coach for disabled older adults. Six years later, she moved to Taif, Saudi Arabia where she established a support group to help give women a voice and a place in society. After a brief time in Taif, Theresa moved back to the United States and decided to pursue a degree in Human Services at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. While there, she created yet another support group, this time, for older adults.

Anthony: “So, how did you end up at DOROT?”

Theresa: “Well, I needed a job, and I realized I am a lifelong learner and doer, and there is more work to be done! I learned of DOROT while I was taking computer training courses at the Department of Aging.”

Theresa joined the DOROT team full-time and continues to fulfill her personal mission of learning and making a positive impact. The work she does here is deeply personal to her: “I am more of who I am because of DOROT. It has made me a better person working here. I strongly feel that DOROT’s mission, and values reflect who I am as a person, and the fit was and continues to work for me.”

Anthony: “What would you like your legacy to be?”

Theresa: “That I did my best.”

Anthony: “Thank you for sharing your amazing story, Theresa. You are an inspiration.”