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Two Chefs Settle in Poughkeepsie

click to enlarge DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid

Jennifer and Vinicius Rosa sleep on a single mattress without a bed frame. They own a bed, but it's in the guest bedroom for when his parents visit. They also own a sofa, a flea-market dining room table and six chairs. There's a build-it-yourself desk in an office and a crib in the nursery for baby Hannah. For now, that's about all the furniture inside their home.

But furniture alone does not make a home. And for these immigrants who fell in love at the Culinary Institute of America and wanted to settle in the Hudson Valley, home was whatever they could find: possibly a trailer, a fixer-upper, or a cramped apartment. But thanks to the nonprofit community development organization Hudson River Housing, the Rosas found the perfect place: an off-white, 2,678-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom, circa 1880 Victorian on Clinton Street in Poughkeepsie. Now they will be a stable, working part of the city's future.

Jennifer and Vinicius took dissimilar paths to Poughkeepsie. She was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, then moved to Hartford, Connecticut, at age eight. When she turned 13, Jennifer was taken from her mother and put in foster care. She lived in a succession of five foster homes, and was given the opportunity to attend college through the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. Jennifer chose the CIA to follow her dream of becoming a baker.

Vinicius hails from Salvador, a city on the tip of a peninsula in eastern Brazil. Jennifer calls Salvador, which sits on the Atlantic Ocean, "paradise." But Vinicius left paradise to pursue his dream of becoming a chef in America, and chose to further his education at the CIA, which he felt was the best cooking school in the world. There, the Brazilian faced the realization that Americans weren't used to seeing a man jog around campus wearing nothing but a Speedo, a regular sight back home. "Every time I did it, a security car would just pass by me," he says. "Just pass to see what was going on."

click to enlarge DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid

An Intense Bond

Vinicius and Jennifer met through a friend in October 2011, just weeks before she was to earn her associate degree. Vinicius, meanwhile, was considering returning to Brazil to open a restaurant, but his attraction to Jennifer quickly formed. The feeling was mutual. "We found out we're really intense people," added Jennifer. "All my boyfriends dumped me for being intense, and all his girlfriends dumped him for being intense. So we had a connection from the beginning. With everything we were just like twins. We were soulmates."

Their only major difference was in their religious beliefs. Jennifer is a devout Bible-based Christian, and Vinicius, at the time, was "a violent atheist," regularly challenging Christians and other believers. Both opposed the traditional Catholic Church of their parents, claiming it stood primarily for money and supported a narrow mission. After Jennifer received her associate degree, Vinicius planned a romantic New York City weekend, which included a visit to the Hillsong Church, a famous Bible-based church known for its youth-targeted services accented with modern Christian rock. He enjoyed its messages of inclusion and "God is love." Slowly, he started becoming a Bible-based Christian.

After graduation, Vinicius moved into an apartment in Hyde Park and found a job at Lola's Café and Catering in Poughkeepsie. Jennifer continued at the CIA to earn her bachelor's degree. The couple married in 2013 and moved into the apartment together, but the rent was too high. So, starting in June 2014, they looked at trailer homes, nearly purchasing one for $13,000, but the model sold out before they could close. They looked into other trailers, then small homes, but the only properties they could afford needed extensive renovation, which was beyond their means. Adding to this stress, Jennifer was pregnant. A lack of money, with more expenses to come, jeopardized their dream to start a family in the Hudson Valley. But they prayed. Jennifer, who admits a fear of mice and dislikes basements, even prayed for trivial things. "I was saying, 'Lord, I want a house that has the laundry upstairs.'"

One house finally emerged, but that led to a bidding war, and they couldn't compete. Then, one day, Vinicius's phone rang. It was a number he didn't recognize. "A person tells me, 'I found your house,'" says Vinicius. "I ask, 'Who is this?'"

It was his friend Alex, who wasn't in real estate.

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