Date: May 17, 2001
Press Release Number: 75-2001
Ninety-year-old Ann Modifica of Astoria, Queens, was at her “Apple Aide” station at LaGuardia Airport when a frantic man from another country complained that he could not figure out the public telephones.
“He was very frustrated,” she said. “He had been standing at the phone with a long list of numbers dialing for hours and couldn’t understand why his calls would not go through.”
Ms. Modifica, a supervisor for a team of LaGuardia volunteers known as Apple Aides, was the desperate man’s last hope. She quickly identified the man’s problem. “Area codes,” she said. “He had forgotten to dial the area codes before the telephone numbers.”
Once again, she had saved the day for a distressed traveler. Since 1986, retirees from several Queens senior centers near LaGuardia Airport have volunteered to don the bright red sweaters of the Apple Aides and give information and assistance in more than a half-dozen different languages to many of the 25 million people who use the airport annually. Mondays through Saturdays, the Port Authority dispatches a bus to senior centers or the volunteers’ residences to transport them to the airport to occupy the two Apple Aide stations in LaGuardia’s Central Terminals Building for two four-hour shifts each day. The volunteers are given a voucher that can be used to purchase lunch at any of the restaurants in the airport’s Central Terminal Building. The typical Apple Aide volunteers at the airport twice a month.
“Apple Aides provide a very valuable service to both the airport and its customers,” said Warren Kroeppel, General Manager of LaGuardia Airport. “They help travelers find their way around the airport and make them aware of the services the airport has to offer. They also help to enhance the images of the airport, New York City and the state.”
Hedy Von Thaden, 84, has been an Apple Aide since the program began. The Astoria resident says that travelers require many different kinds of information. “They’re looking for information on anything from bathrooms to bistros to Broadway shows.”
German tourists have been grateful that Ms. Von Thaden can answer these questions in two languages. She learned to speak German in Germany as a child before her family immigrated to New York.
Many of the Apple Aides are bilingual, a skill that naturally comes in handy at an airport. In fact, Ms. Modifica speaks Italian and Mildred Ciangiola 86, of Astoria, is “trilingual” – speaking Italian and some Spanish. She’s been an Apple Aide for ten years.
“I like working at the airport,” she says. “Coming here gives me the chance to meet lots of interesting people whose path I might not normally cross.”
The Apple Aide program has become very popular with seniors at the centers.
There is now a waiting list and those who get one of the 100 positions often have interesting stories to tell.
Eighty-six-year-old Jean Le Clair of Jackson Heights is another 14-year veteran of the program who speaks French, Italian and Greek. She enjoys assisting troubled travelers, distributing maps of the city and state and pamphlets about the hundreds of attractions tourist can enjoy, learning about the many different aspects of airport operations and working with her fellow Apple Aides.
Together, these four ladies bring almost 350 years of experience to the job, and still their positive, youthful attitude helps to keep each day new and interesting – for themselves and for those they meet and greet at LaGuardia Airport.