“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” – Albert Schweitzer
Family and Educational Backgrounds:
Serda Cakmak was born on December 15, 1965 in Istanbul, Turkey. Her parents, Anahit and Hamparsum Cakmak and her brother Hagop, were happy to welcome a beautiful baby girl into the family. Serda’s cousin, Zeynep, was also born in Istanbul a few months later on February 4, 1966, to Gulseren and Kemal Semerciler. She was the oldest of three children with a brother Hakan and a sister Hande completing this close-knit family. Her husband Robert Mellman is a web page design specialist.
Serda and Zeynep grew up in the same environment, and attended the same grade and high schools in Istanbul. However after high school, their paths diverged. Serda attended the Istanbul British Turco Institute, where she became fluent in English and was awarded an Oxford/Cambridge certificate of achievement. Then she went to work as an import/export manager for a large Turkish business venture. Zeynep, on the other hand, enrolled at Istanbul University. She graduated with a BA degree in 1991, having specialized in philosophy, sociology, and psychology. Upon completion of her studies, Zeynep was offered a job with a Turkish company, but she needed to become familiar with the English language hence, she set her sights on spending one year in the U.S. to become fluent in the language.
In the Turkish culture, women ordinarily were encouraged to travel with a companion. Hence when Zeynep decided to leave for the U.S., Serda agreed to accompany her. They had contacted a relative, who lived in New Jersey, who was supposed to meet them at the airport. However, when they arrived at Kennedy, the relative was nowhere in sight. Fortunately, they had the telephone number of a friend in Forest Hills, Queens, who picked them up and provided food and lodging for them for two months, until they found jobs and their own apartment. They spoke nostalgically about their first (humble) apartment and their landlady, Margaret Koroglu, who was so kind and considerate, and even shared some of her family’s food with them. These were frugal times for Serda and Zeynep, who worked in the jewelry business during the day and enrolled in English as a Second Language courses at Hunter College at night. Despite the hardships they endured, they nevertheless enjoyed “the greater societal freedom for women” they experienced in the U.S.
Community Volunteer Work:
An unfortunate hit-and-run accident, turned out to be a turning point in the career trajectories of Serda and Zeynep. Despite the fact that the driver left the scene of the accident, they were impressed with the caring and professionalism of the Emergency Medical Technicians who responded to their 911 call. Having already enrolled at LaGuardia Community College for AAS degrees, they decided to switch their focus to the EMT course, which was offered at LaGuardia. They successfully completed the course and became State Certified EMTs. Since they felt empowered by their emergency care training and work experience with Metrocare, they decided to “give something back.” In 1996, they joined the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and have been active members of the Corps ever since, usually “pulling their tour” on Saturday nights with Joseph Magnus.
Both women also volunteer with the Executive Board of The Turkish American Women’s League. Cerda organizes health screenings and parenting classes for Turkish families. Zeynep teaches classes and organizes events which involve interpreting Turkish culture to children and their families. They also conduct fund-raisers for scholarships, host Turkish entertainment groups, teach Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation, and conduct language seminars.
Education Makes a Difference:
Both Serda and Zeynep firmly believe that education makes a difference in one’s life. So hence while they work during the day and do volunteer work on weekends, they continued their education at night. They recently became certified as Phlebotomist and EKG technicians, having successfully completed training programs at The New York Medical Institute in Flushing. They hope to be able to use these skills in their work in the near future.
While Serda is a Board of Education EMT specialist certified to transport children with disabilities, Zeynep plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work. Both women agree that this country gave them many opportunities for which they are grateful. It has taught them what religious freedom and respect for women really mean. They are happy to live a better life. They concluded the interview with a rousing “God Bless America.”