Children who dine in at Chick-fil-A Fulton Street may not find a playground, but they may find someone even better. Hope Fonseca.
She bounces through the dining room levels at 144 Fulton Street, sharing the famous phrase, “My Pleasure” so effortlessly, guests smile back knowing she means it. Sometimes she catches kids dancing, and that’s when she surprises them with an impromptu dance battle…which is way more fun than a slide.
Hope lives in the Bronx with her aunt and uncle, her cousins, and a dog named Max that may or may not be spoiled from all her attention. The love of dancing sprung from childhood where she dreamed of being a dancer on Broadway, and spent much of her time in after school programs engaged in African and hip-hop dancing, as well as cheerleading, swimming, acting, choirs, and volleyball for good measure.
With all those pursuits, and her energetic and positive demeanor, it’s shocking to discover she originally entered college to study forensics, specifically blood splatter, because of crime shows on TV.
Those diverse interests also include personal training, where she landed a job assisting in a gym after posting “Aspiring Personal Trainer” on her Linkedin account. She loves the interactions with clients, and has no problem jumping into meaningful conversations.
“People feel comfortable with me, in sharing their struggles with me…it brings me great joy and satisfaction helping people get better. I know how it feels to not feel great or confident.”
It’s in that confession that Hope pulls back the curtain of her smile and exposes the hard parts of her journey, including deep struggles with anxiety and depression.
“I’ve hit really low several times. I did attempt suicide a couple times. I knew I needed I get to a better place, and helping other people feel better makes me better. I love being with people, it helps me not to be alone.”
Her childhood was marked by conflict with her mom, who deals with bipolar disorder, a situation that caused her to live in all five NYC boroughs, spending time in the homes of relatives, and stints in the foster and shelter care systems.
She was timid and shy as a child, and didn’t like going out, but her grandma had a close friend named Elsa who took her out to free and fun things in the community, or around the city, things like church events or Liberty Science Center. Hope credits Elsa for helping her come out of her shell.
The volatile situation in her home escalated as she grew older, and she turned into a protective “mother” to her two younger brothers she adores. There were times when she was forced to react and intervene, and police were called. Although she’s been arrested, there was never any evidence so the arrests never led to convictions, just more disruptions to her life.
Eventually she “learned how to walk away, to keep an even temperament, that not everything is worth a reaction.” She endured and is super proud and excited to be in her second year of college, after attending two elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. “The odds and family history were against me, but the fact is I’m here, and ‘seeing straight’ and ignoring the negative…”
She no longer wants to pursue forensics, switching her major to Dietetics and Nutrition Science. “I didn’t want to be involved in the dark and gloomy all the time. I’ve had enough of that. I love food and I love to cook…and I love helping people, can’t stop doing it, it’s in my blood or something.”
Already engaged in personal training, her current dream is to be an in-house dietician in a gym she opens up with her brother in NYC. She’s passionate about turning her story into wholistic encouragement for others, and doesn’t shy away from the vulnerability of the details.
“I’m an open book sharing these things. You don’t know what people are going through, People can be very private, and you never know who’s on the other side of the screen reading it and you can maybe be the difference between life and death for them.”
“Sometimes in NYC, your skin needs to be tough. I’ve been through a lot, and it wasn’t all pretty, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Your past can help you shape your future. It’s made me such a strong person.”
Her strength shows itself everyday in the hospitality she shows the guests at 144 Fulton Street, a job that has surprised her since day one.
“I felt kindness and love in the interview process, something you wouldn’t expect from managers. Working here for these past months, I see and feel how much people care about me as an individual, it makes me feel really good. And they’ve been so understanding with some of my health problems. I’ve never had a job that cared about me like CFA, makes me never want to leave.”
Recently she met an older gentleman in line who was having a difficult time deciding what to order. She read him each item off the menu and together they “built a meal.” He made small talk about the beautiful weather and she guided him up to the rooftop terrace to enjoy the sunshine. Impressed with the menu and the hospitality, he vowed to return the next day.
“I never wake up where I’m like ‘Ugh, I gotta work today.’ Every day I wake up ready to make people feel happy. I want every guest who comes here to feel how I feel working here. I’m happy working here and I want them to be happy when they eat here. When I’m serving, it doesn’t feel like I’m working, it feels like I’m doing things for the greater good. It feels like family.”