Five-Room Apartment Over Baptist Church

 Location Corona, Queens
Rent $700 (monthly donation to church)
Square feet 1400
Occupants Recardo Fonseca (sales, Humanscale ergonomics; deacon, Sunday school teacher, and drummer at Baptist church); Jeidar Fonseca (full-time mother; clerical assistant, event planning); Joileen (11); Zuri (7); Markie (3); Caleb (1 1/2)

What are the mysterious messages written on your living-room ceiling— "QUEENS IS A REAL KING'S EMPIRE" and "TRY AND TOUCH THE LIGHT"? [Jeidar] The person who lived here before wrote all over the ceiling and the walls. It's like he was a rap artist. He thought he was Michelangelo.

Your apartment is over a church that has velvet benches, lace on the altar. Recardo, all you have to do is walk out your front door and go across the hall to teach Sunday school. Your daughter Joileen's room has a pink flowered quilt. Radio Disney is playing. What a station! They play songs from The Little Mermaid.

The Fonseca Family, at Home in Corona
photo: Sandra-Lee Phipps
The Fonseca Family, at Home in Corona

You can hear Ariel in her high voice sing, "Wanting to be a part of your world." How long have you lived here? [Jeidar] We moved here in July. [Recardo] Before that we were a few blocks away in Elmhurst. That area is to die for. The end of the block is shaped like a horseshoe, Overlook Park. You can see the LaGuardia tower. This whole area is great for kids to go to school. A lot of money goes to East Elmhurst, Corona, in terms of education.

Corona is where Louis Armstrong lived. Corona-Elmhurst is supposed to be one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world, immigrants from over 100 countries. Northern Boulevard is hopping— stores, restaurants. And there are so many churches. [Jeidar] Almost 20 within nine square blocks. [Recardo] Some Pentecostal, one Haitian, two or three Spanish. I think there's an increased need for answers, for spiritual food. People want to feel safe.

Recardo, you used to live in Jamaica, where your father was an accountant at a sugar factory. You came to New York when you were 12, in 1977, and lived in Yorkville Towers. Your mother was a diplomat. Jeidar, you moved from the Dominican Republic at 11 to Brooklyn— Cypress Hills, which was an Italian neighborhood. You left your mother at 15 because of continuing physical fights and you lived in three foster homes, the worst was . . . [Jeidar] Covenant— imagine being with a major amount of women who were streetwise. They only had six little rooms, so the rest of us had to sleep together in the TV lounge with our belongings next to us. It was like jail. The best was Heart's Ease, 70th and Second. That place was gorgeous, brass staircases, an elevator. But they told me I couldn't read The Village Voice because there was a photo of a giant . . . sexual organ! Anyway, you said a great force drew you to live here over the church. It started long before, with that first Elmhurst apartment. [Recardo] Before we found the Elmhurst apartment, we had seen this other apartment off 108th. We wanted it. I had my money in hand. But we could not get in touch with the landlord, could not reach him. So the next day we saw an ad for the Elmhurst apartment in the paper. We called and clicked like this with the woman on the phone. [Jeidar] I told her, I'm still nursing, and do you mind having three children in a two-bedroom apartment? She said, I don't mind if you don't. [Recardo] We went over. She opened the door, she was on the phone. She just let us in without looking. This is a person who lives by faith. Later, she said, I knew you before I even met you. Something just pulled us in there. It turns out that's where I would meet the pastor of the church we live above now. She was the pastor's wife. They owned the house. And that's how I got my calling. The pastor would set me on the road to become a deacon. We've been blessed tremendously ever since. I was between jobs, too. The job came, everything came. The pastor had always said, You should hear me preach. Once I came in here, it was home! When God has a plan for you, he has a plan. There's nothing you can do.

 
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