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A parting gift for her colleagues

New York Teacher
How it looks now after the facelift, compliments of Diaz-Austin (standing, cente
Miller Photography

How it looks now after the facelift, compliments of Diaz-Austin (standing, center), with her husband and friend Gretchen Durant Scudder, the payroll secretary at PS 279.

Diaz-Austin sets the massage chair in motion for Hernandez.
Miller Photography

Diaz-Austin sets the massage chair in motion for Hernandez.

Attendance is up, way up, in the bright, new teachers’ lounge at PS 205, a retirement gift from Lourdes Diaz-Austin to her former colleagues after 30 years as an ESL teacher at the school in the Belmont section of the Bronx. “It was a gift from my heart,” explained Diaz-Austin. “You can’t imagine the surprise, the delight, the oohs and aahs when staff got their first look at this beautiful room,” said Chapter Leader Sandra Hernandez, recalling the grand opening in September. “Now the lounge is a busy hub.”

The warm hum of lunchtime conversation and of teachers greeting each other as they come and go during prep periods fills what had become a dingy space used mostly for storage. The room, decorated in royal blue (the school color) and gray, invites staff in with all the comforts of home — a refrigerator, a sink, new cabinetry, tables and comfortable chairs.

Diaz-Austin said she had wanted to create a welcoming space where her former colleagues could interact and bond with each other. “The old room was unpleasant and no one used it, so there was no family connection,” she said. Diaz-Austin worked on the redesign with her husband and three daughters behind a locked door through July and August in order to surprise her PS 205 colleagues when they returned to school in September. Diaz- Austin said she loved the challenge of doing the project “on a dime.”

That meant a “beg, borrow and finagle” campaign aimed at neighbors, friends and family that netted a massage chair and ottoman donated for the “relax” corner along with other contributions.

You can watch the family at work on the project on this YouTube video.