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By: Alissa Shams And Randi Eisenstein

Meet Bonnie Shams, Occupational Therapist and recipient of PROPEL’s “Support Inspires Success”Award

Last week we had the pleasure of sitting down for coffee with Bonnie Shams OTR/L (Occupational Therapist Registered/Licensed). Bonnie is an extremely well-known and beloved occupational therapist in the community.  For over 25 years Bonnie has focused her talents on helping adults, and more recently children, to overcome challenges with hard work and determination.

Bonnie comes from a family of working women. Her grandmother, Molly Mishaan Kapiloff, a”h, worked in wholesale and retail establishments selling linens, gloves, and handkerchiefs.  When Bonnie was in high school, her mother, Phyllis Shams, decided to go back to school. Phyllis graduated with a degree in English from Brooklyn College. Phyllis opened Fitness Underground, a store specializing in exercise clothing, and later on dancewear, with her good friend Jeanette Shrem. They successfully managed the store for over 30 years. The fourth generation of the family is following in their matriarch's footsteps, with daughter Danielle teaching at The Sephardic Academy of Manhattan (SAM), and Phyllis serving in the Israeli Army.

Education was highly valued in Bonnie’s home, and she and her three brothers were motivated to pursue successful careers. Bonnie attended Flatbush Yeshiva and then New York University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts and Master’sin OT. Bonnie was inspired to pursue a career in occupational therapy when she met a wounded soldier while on a volunteer program in Israel. She felt a strong desire to help people in need.

After obtaining her master’s in occupational therapy, Bonnie had an internship and then a full-time position at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She found working with patients in the burn unit at the hospital tremendously rewarding. When her eldest child was born she decided not to commute from Staten Island (where she was living at the time) to Manhattan, so she took a job at a nursing home in Staten Island. Bonnie transitioned to a position in the school system where she discovered her passion for working with children.  In Bonnie’s own words, “It was truly satisfying being able to see my impact on the children’s development over a short period of time.”

Taking into account the needs of her three children, Bonnie eventually made the decision to focus on building a private practice in her home in Brooklyn. This enabled her to better manage her work schedule and to carve out time for her children. Bonnie fondly recounted the importance of spending quality time with her son on their daily trips to school every morning when he was younger. Bonnie credits the Brooklyn community, her husband Elan, and her loyal housekeepers, Angela, and later Rosa, with providing support when she was busy working with clients.Many of these people often brought one of her children to an after-school activity or ran an errand for Bonnie when she could not leave work. 

Bonnie notes that it is crucial to evolve professionally and keep up with the times. She stays current as an occupational therapist by taking numerous continuing education courses, which have included courses in manual therapy and sensory integration.

Bonnie’s face lights up when she describes working with children. She proclaims, “If you have intent to help them, they can be helped!” She feels that her clients and their parents are part of an extended family. Sheloves what she does, and being an occupational therapist is more than a job to her. Bonnie has supported and immensely improved the lives of countless children and families in our community.

Bonnie will be receiving an honor at the PROPEL graduation in May. She is the recipient of the "Support Inspires Success" Award, and a fund has been established in honor of Bonnie to support women in the community on their path to professional success.


If you are interested in a career, please reach out to PROPEL and we can help you fulfill your professional goal.

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