BRONX, N.Y. - Josephine Bastone, an attorney who lives in Somers, recently accepted the “Woman of the Year” award at the NAACP Parkchester Branch’s annual Freedom Fund event.
The 20-plus-year resident was honored for her extensive professional and charitable work, most of which takes place in the Bronx. By day, she is an attorney for the New York State Unified Court System, where she has worked for 30 years, the last seven as supervising referee of the Mortgage Foreclosure Conference Part of the Bronx Supreme Court. On evenings and weekends, and sometimes during her lunch break, Bastone somehow finds time to volunteer with several charity organizations.
She is an officer of the Enrico Fermi Cultural Center Committee; she co-founded and remains the president of the Columbia Society Inc.; she was the first female president of the oldest continuing Sons of Italy Lodge in New York State; she was the first person representing the Bronx to be elected to a state position in Order Sons of Italy in America in over 40 years; she founded the Bastone Bocce League; and is a member of the Van Cortlandt Park Community Council.
“It’s difficult, but if it’s something you really believe in, you make the time,” Bastone said. “I think a good many of us are very lucky to be able to live the kind of life we lead. There are others who are not as fortunate. If anyone’s in the position to help, to me, there’s moral obligation to do so.”
In her job for the New York State Courts, she acts as an intermediary between banks and homeowners who have difficulty paying their mortgages. She oversees the negotiations in an attempt to modify mortgages and avoid foreclosures. In her seven years, her part has the highest settlement rate in the state.
“Here in the Bronx, we try to make it comfortable for the [homeowner] to come in and put their cards on the table and try to work something out,” Bastone said. “We try to get them to come to an agreement...It works for both sides. The bank doesn’t want a bunch of homes and homeowners want to stay in their homes.”
The Bronx NAACP’s Freedom Fund award dinner was held Saturday, Nov. 12. During her speech, Bastone told audience members that she does what she does because of the message it sends to the younger generation.
“We should all keep in mind that we are the example for the children who are coming after us,” she said. “By showing them what we can do, by participating in activities for other people, by doing fundraising, let’s show them that they should be giving back to the community, that they should be helping others who are not as well off as us.”
Though she is not a resident of the Bronx, it is certainly Bastone’s home away from home. Her mother lived in Woodlawn Heights, where Bastone served as a member of Bronx Community Board 12, a local government unit in the North Bronx, and on the Woodlawn Heights Taxpayers Association.
She has served as co-chair of the Gender Fairness Committee for the 12th Judicial District for many years. As the Bronx Courts’ continuing education liaison, she has organized educational programs for the court attorneys, judges and outside lawyers.
Bastone is also past-president of the Network of Bar Leaders and the Bronx Women’s Bar Association. She has served as an at-large delegate and a delegate from the 12th Judicial District in the New York State Conference of Bar Leaders, as co-chair of the Women’s Rights Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association, and was a member of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York’s Executive Council.
“I have done a lot of work in the Bronx,” she said. “I try to reach out to people who are in need—victims of domestic violence, people without means of support, food pantries. It pulls at your heartstrings and you want to help.”
Bastone has raised money for various charities and has organized food, clothing and toy drives for various shelters, Toys for Tots and the Montefiore Hospital Children’s Center.
“At one point, we were raising money for toys for Montefiore,” she said. ”They came to us and said we have plenty of toys, but we need anatomically correct dolls (to provide examples of what their surgery will look like). We purchased two; they were quite expensive. They help the little kids. If you can see exactly what [the doctors] are talking about, I think that’s a relief to them to a certain degree.”
Bastone has also spoken on domestic violence at Hostos Community College, arranged for mammography vans to provide free breast cancer screenings in the South Bronx, distributed prostate cancer information, provided information and assistance to high school seniors regarding college scholarships, screened potential judicial nominees, reviewed proposed legislation, provided information to teens on careers in law and in writing, and conducted programs on navigating the court system, domestic violence, gender fairness issues, stereotyping and police/public relations..
In Somers, Bastone was a Girl Scout leader for a dozen years and served as the community’s registrar and QSP chair. In that capacity, she involved her troop in activities such as a coat drive for a domestic violence victim safe-house and working in a food pantry.
Bastone has received a number of awards, including Girl Scouts Outstanding Volunteer Award, NYCLA’s Pro Bono Award, citations and certificates of merit from Bronx borough presidents and state senators and assembly members.