Tag Archives: Forest Hills

Queens pro arm wrestlers to be featured on new AMC show


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy NYC Arm Control

Two Queens professional arm wrestlers will show their muscle in a new series on AMC.

Rob Bigwood, a Forest Hills resident, and Whitestone native Mike Ayello, are part of NYC Arm Control, the New York team on the show. The new series, “Game of Arms,” will feature professional arm wrestling teams from five states. The other members of the New York team are Mike Selearis, Dan Fortuna and Kevin Nelson.

The show intends to reveal the sport of arm wrestling in documentary style episodes starting Feb. 25. It will not only show the brawn that wrestlers need to participate, but the personal lives of the athletes.

“Game of Arms not only focuses on the technique and skill in this high-stakes world, but also the family, careers and personal struggles of each man outside of the sport,” said the AMC website description about the show.

The series will follow the personal lives of the country’s premier arm wrestling figures, such as Ayello, who is a firefighter from Ladder 135 in Glendale. Ayello said the show followed him around at home and also featured his work in the FDNY.

A graduate of Bayside High School, before he became an arm wrestler, he was a bouncer at clubs around New York City. He used to arm wrestle with the fellow bouncers, and being at 6 feet 5 inches, 270 pounds, he always won. Four years ago someone challenged him to wrestle in the professional circuit and he started researching professional arm wrestling and attending amateur tournaments. He quickly worked his way through the ranks and is recognized as one of the strongest arm wrestlers in the country.

Bigwood, who is vegan, is being featured among various accomplished vegan male athletes in a new documentary called “The Game Changers” by James Wilks, a former MMA welterweight champion and fellow vegan.

Both men believe that arm wrestling needs a show, such as the one on AMC, to expand.

“It’s actually a huge underground thing, but no one just taped into it yet, but I think this show will bring it out,” Ayello said.

The series is coming from Matt Renner and Ethan Prochnik, the Emmy Award-winning producers of the “Deadliest Catch,” and executive producer Dan Ilani.

Trailers have already been circulating about the show.

 

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Local advocates march for Queens Boulevard safety improvements


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated, 5:22 p.m

A group of local residents want to make the “Boulevard of Death” a thing of the past.

Regardless of the snow, members of Transportation Alternatives’ (T.A.) Queens Activist Committee and residents gathered Saturday to march down Queens Boulevard during the “Winter Wander” Rally to call for a safer thoroughfare.

The group of advocates, who began the event at New Life Fellowship Church in Elmhurst, spoke about the Zero on Queens Boulevard campaign, calling for a redesign of the strip with pedestrian safety improvements, dedicated lanes for Select Bus Service (SBS) and protected bike lanes.

The snowy march served as the first step in letting people know what they can do to change the busy corridor.

“We’ve been trying to build community support for the city to re-envision Queens Boulevard,” said Jessame Hannus, co-chair of T.A.’s Queens Activist Committee, who carried a sign that read “30 mph” to remind drivers of the speed limit. “We just want to make it clear that this is a neighborhood street and we are all neighbors.”

Hannus said even though many accidents happen on the boulevard, the community just ignores them because they believe it is normal.

According to a “Queens Blvd. Crash Data” map by T.A., there have been 890 pedestrian injuries, 17 pedestrian fatalities, 205 cyclist injuries and 2 cyclist fatalities between 2002 to 2011 on Queens Boulevard stretching from Jackson Avenue in Long Island City to Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica.

“The community doesn’t respond to it,” she said. “It does not have to be this way and it’s not going to change unless we make a fuss about it.”

During the march street safety advocates discussed the history of the roadway, stopping at specific spots pedestrians lost their lives. The “Winter Wander” Rally ended in Forest Hills.

The Zero on Queens Boulevard campaign,  with more than 40 coalition partners and close to 2,000 petition signatures, has a long-term goal of making sure the city allocates funding and energy to change the boulevard on a large scale saving lives and strengthening the local economy.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who has worked with the Department of Transportation to implement neighborhood slow zones and other pedestrian safety improvements in his district, also joined the group on the march. In his district three children have also lost their lives in traffic fatalities in the past few months.

“This is a very, very serious issue and we have to continue to stress the seriousness of this because sometimes people dismiss it as just something that doesn’t affect their lives but when you look at the statistics you see that there are more pedestrian deaths than there are murders in the city of the New York,” said Dromm. “I believe in the three E’s:  engineering, education and enforcement on these issues and that’s what we have tried to do in my council district. More needs to be done.”

According to the DOT, there have been decade-long improvements to the seven-mile strip that have re-engineered the streets for enhanced safety. Some of these improvements include pedestrian countdown signals at more than 60 intersections at Queens Boulevard from Queens Plaza South to Hillside Avenue, lowering the speed limit on Queens Boulevard from 35 to 30 mph, installing 15 electronic boards displaying the speed of passing motorists, installing 46,000 linear feet of pedestrian fencing along the entire corridor to prevent jaywalking and many more.

“Safety is DOT’s top priority, in the last ten years, traffic fatalities have fallen borough-wide by nearly 35 percent,” said DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera. “Queens Boulevard saw 18 pedestrian fatalities at its height in 1997 and zero pedestrian fatalities in 2011, the first time this has been recorded, and two last year along the entire seven-mile corridor. We continue to look for ways to enhance safety both on Queens Boulevard and citywide.”

 

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Two Queens men indicted on sex trafficking charges


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Two Queens men have been indicted in separate sex trafficking cases for allegedly forcing teen girls to work as prostitutes, District Attorney Richard Brown announced Tuesday.

Peter Gerardi, 28, of Forest Hills, and Christopher Stephensbush, 20, of Richmond Hill, have both been arraigned on kidnapping, prostitution, rape, sex trafficking and other charges, according to the district attorney.

“The defendants are both accused of enslaving three young girls, raping them and forcing them to work as prostitutes. They allegedly forced the girls to turn all of their money over to them,” said Brown.

Gerardi is accused of threatening his 13-year-old victim when she wanted to stop prostituting herself for him. He also allegedly had a 16-year-old work for him as a prostitute through threats of physical violence, according to Brown. Gerardi allegedly had sex with both his victims.

Stephensbush allegedly met his 15-year-old victim while she was taking the bus to school one morning. He is accused of bringing her back to his apartment and not letting her leave until she agreed to work as a prostitute, said Brown. He allegedly raped her several times before temporarily letting her go. He then allegedly made her earn money for him again as a prostitute on multiple occasions.

If convicted, both face up to 25 years to life in prison.

 

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Op-ed: Proposals for QueensWay project


| oped@queenscourier.com

ASSEMBLYMEMBER MIKE MILLER

I want to take a moment to address the QueensWay project, a proposed public greenway that will transform the Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch, which was abandoned over 50 years ago. Specifically, the former railroad extends 3.5 miles from Rego Park and Forest Hills down to Ozone Park. This proposed project is one of great concern to many residents in certain areas of the rail line due to its potential negative impact on the local residents.

Certain sections of the proposed QueensWay, specifically the area of the rail line that runs parallel to 98th Street in Woodhaven, will be adjacent to the backyards of nearly 200 homeowners. Although I have been informed by the Friends of QueensWay that they plan to build the QueensWay completely gated around the entrances and make it inaccessible at night, local residents should not be the ones burdened with the cost of building a more secure fence around their backyards to ensure the privacy and safety of their home.

To find additional evidence of the resident’s safety concern, you do not have to look any further than several incidents that have occurred in and around the vicinity of Forest Park in recent years. I echo the sentiments of residents by asking how can we expect the local precincts to carry the additional responsibility of patrolling and responding to incidents on the proposed QueensWay when our precincts are already being spread too thin within our district as it is? Many of the residents on 98th Street are okay with the rail line being underutilized and prefer it stay that way. I also agree that the rail line from Park Lane South down to Atlantic Avenue be left untouched as to not interfere with the quality of life of the local residents.

Further, as per the suggestion of the MTA in its 20-year plan, the rail line from Atlantic Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard should be left as is and eventually be used as a connection for an express line connection into Manhattan.

After carefully balancing the potential positive impact of the QueensWay versus the potential negative impact on certain local residents, I recommend that:

1) The QueensWay be built only on the part of the rail line that stretches from Rego Park to Park Lane South

2) The rail line from Park Lane South to Atlantic Avenue be left untouched as to not interfere with the quality of life of local residents; and

3) The rail line from Atlantic Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard also be left untouched, so it can eventually be used by the MTA as an express line connection into Manhattan

In regards to maintenance of the QueensWay, it must be said that this proposed project should not at all be compared to The High Line public greenway in Manhattan. I remain unconvinced that The QueensWay when built from Rego Park to Park Lane South could achieve anywhere close to the level of corporate membership, sponsorship, and support the High Line in Manhattan has based solely on the lack of surrounding businesses in the area and the lower level of tourism that attracts the private funding necessary to maintain a public greenway. Without a consistent level of support and sponsorship from local businesses in addition to private funding, I fear that the QueensWay will eventually become an eyesore for local residents when funding for maintenance becomes an issue.

Additionally, I am interested to know whether Queens-based companies and local businesses will be the ones who are given the contracts to build out this proposed project. I believe that if the QueensWay is going to be built for the benefit of Queens residents and if it will positively impact Queens’ local businesses, then why are there currently no Queens-based companies being sought for the contracts even in the early stages of this project? I can only see a positive impact on the economy of Queens if our own borough’s businesses benefit from building the QueensWay.

Michael G. Miller represents the 38th Assembly District, which includes the neighborhoods of Woodhaven, Ridgewood, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and Glendale. He was elected in September of 2009 in the Special Election called by Governor David Paterson.

 

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Board derails QueensWay funding


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association

Community Board 9 has taken QueensWay funding out of its budget.

At its November meeting, the board voted 30-13 and concluded that its capital budget should not prioritize the proposal, which would convert a 3.5-mile former Rockaway Beach LIRR line into a public greenway.

Late last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded $467,000 to study the project’s potential, and an additional $600,000 was raised through private donations.

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land has put together a team that will conduct the study.

“If the feasibility of a project can’t be figured out when it already has nearly a half million dollars to figure it out, then there’s a problem,” said Alexander Blenkinsopp, CB 9 and Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) member.

The QueensWay, if built, would connect Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park to Forest Park, provide pedestrian and bike paths, as well as public green space and serve as an art and culture forum.

Marc Matsil, the New York State Director for Trust for Public Land, said CB 9 was right to have taken the QueensWay out of its priorities because “the funds were raised.”

The proposal, however, has met a varying amount of both opposition and support.

Many area residents believe instead of a new park, the rail line should be reactivated to provide more public transportation. Others say the safety of current parks, such as nearby Forest Park, should be assured before a new greenspace is created.

The WRBA decided not to support either the QueensWay or a train reactivation because there were “some important questions that couldn’t be answered adequately,” Blenkinsopp said, mentioning safety.

CB 9 has not yet replaced QueensWay with any other item on its budget priorities.

“We know there will be critics,” Matsil said. “Our goal is to work with everyone.”

Matsil said, however, there is an “immense amount of enthusiasm in the community” for the potential new park and that though the safety concerns are “fairly clear,” he is confident residents feel there is a “need for a project like QueensWay.”

 

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Brooklyn man charged in 11 Queens burglaries


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

A Brooklyn man has been charged with breaking into 11 homes in the Forest Hills, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Howard Beach neighborhoods of Queens and stealing thousands of dollars worth of property.

Mario Girau, 28, was initially arrested in connection to a September burglary of a Tahoe Street residence in Ozone Park in September, according to District Attorney Richard Brown, but was later tied to the other 10 incidents after police recovered stolen items from his home.

According to the criminal complaint, said Brown, officers assigned to the Burglary Larceny Apprehension Surveillance Team were investigating a pattern of residential burglaries last month when they arrested Girau for the Tahoe Street break-in.

Following that arrest, a search warrant was obtained for his home where police found items which were later identified as the property of 10 victims whose homes had been burglarized. Those burglaries all took place in 2013, with the exception of one which occurred in 2011.

Some of the items recovered included jewelry, cameras and computer equipment. According to Brown, investigators located the owner of one of the cameras by finding the bride who appeared in wedding photos take with that camera and discovering that some of her guests were burglary victims.

“People’s homes are their sanctuaries and this defendant is alleged to have crossed a very serious line in entering those homes and stealing personal and valuable items,” said Brown.

Girau was charged with burglary, criminal possession of stolen property and possession of burglar’s tools for the Tahoe Street break-in.

As of Wednesday afternoon, he was awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on multiple counts of burglary, criminal possession of stolen property and criminal possession of a weapon in connection to the 10 other burglaries. He faces 150 years in prison if convicted.

 

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Op-Ed: Where are we one year later?


| oped@queenscourier.com

BY STATE SENATOR JOSEPH ADDABBO JR.

On any particular day, whether I’m working, getting a cup of coffee, shopping or having dinner in the district, people detail their experiences involving Superstorm Sandy in many different ways. A year later, many still get tears in their eyes, others remain frustrated about the lack of progress, while some see it as a chance to make improvements and some are optimistic about community improvements. One storm, a year later, still causes many emotions.

While we can’t control the weather, we can take steps to control the level of our preparedness and what direction our government takes in addressing the next storm. We’ve learned a lot from Sandy, and I would urge my constituents to think ahead and make sure they have detailed emergency plans in place: know how to contact one another in case of an emergency; have adequate supplies of canned goods, medicines, batteries, flashlights and water on hand; know what to do to help secure your homes and properties to minimize risks during a storm. Useful hurricane preparedness information may be found at this NYS Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services website: http://www.dhses.ny.gov/oem/event/hurricane-safety.cfm.

I, along with other elected officials, have been advocating for adequate funding and needed legislation to help the district address the many serious human, economic and other consequences resulting from Sandy. As a member of the New York State Senate Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy, I look forward to continuing the effort of our state in responding to Sandy’s devastation and obtaining assistance for those in need.  Currently, our city’s and state’s portion of the federal funding of $61 billion to help Sandy victims is being distributed through NYC Build It Back program, and the state’s utilization of community leaders in its NY Rising Community Reconstruction program aimed at improving our infrastructure.

A range of bills aimed at addressing various aspects of Sandy’s impact were passed by the state legislature and have been recently signed into law by the governor. Some topics include rebates of real property taxes, assisting Breezy Point residents with street frontage issues unique to Breezy Point, exemptions to filing fees related to federal Small Business Administration Disaster Loans, and the implementation of improved tornado warning systems.

This year’s Atlantic Hurricane Season is not yet over. We have learned a lot from Sandy and a year later are still dealing with its aftermath. It’s OK to share our emotions, feelings and sentiments about Sandy, knowing also that by working together we can rebuild and be prepared better than ever.

Senator Joseph Addabbo represents the 15th Senatorial District encompassing the communities – in whole or in part – of Broad Channel, Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Glendale, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Woodside and the Rockaways.

 

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Woman wanted in connection to homicide of missing woman whose body washed ashore in Breezy Point


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/FILE PHOTO

Police are looking for a woman in connection to the death of a missing woman whose body washed ashore on a Breezy Point beach in February.

According to the NYPD, on Saturday, February 16 at approximately 8:40 a.m., officers responded to 149 Bayside Avenue in Breezy Point after a body was recovered from the beach. The body was later identified as 24-year-old Marisha Cheong, who went missing from her Jamaica residence, where she was last seen at approximately 10:30 a.m. on December 19, 2012.

According to reports, Cheong’s live-in boyfriend was supposed to pick her up at a Forest Hills subway station on the day she went missing, but she never showed up. There was no sign of the young woman until her remains washed up just across from 121 Bayside Avenue.

In May, the Medical Examiner’s office ruled Cheong’s death as a homicide.

There are no arrests and the NYPD is attempting to find an unknown female that can be seen in a surveillance video leading Cheong from her home to an unknown location.

Police have released the surveillance video.

Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call Crime stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).  The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime stoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Woman killed in Queens Boulevard hit-and-run


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File image

A 58-year-old Elmhurst woman was killed Saturday night in an apparent hit-and-run while crossing Queens Boulevard, police said.

Nisath Hossain was struck by a car in Forest Hills near Queens Boulevard and 71st Avenue on September 21 shortly after 10 p.m., cops said.

The driver fled the scene, police said, and Hossain was later pronounced dead at North Shore University Hospital.

Authorities believe Hossain was crossing the major thoroughfare when she was fatally hit by a car going westbound.

The notoriously dangerous Queens Boulevard is unofficially known by borough residents as the “Boulevard of Death.”

There are no arrests, police said, and the investigation is ongoing.

 

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Vegan arm wrestler wants to bust myth that men need to eat meat


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

When Forest Hills resident Rob Bigwood gave up meat to live a vegan lifestyle a few years ago, he was scared he would become weak.

Bigwood, 30, is an interactive art director in Manhattan by day and a professional arm wrestler by night. He has been competing in tournaments for more than a decade and aspires to be the best, but wanted to stop thinking of animals as just protein.

“I don’t feel it’s right to eat an animal when there are so many other options,” Bigwood said. “They don’t have a voice so I speak for them.”

Bigwood is now being featured among various accomplished vegan male athletes in a new documentary called “The Game Changers” by James Wilks, a former MMA welterweight champion and fellow vegan.

The concept of the film is to study whether males need to eat meat to be physically strong and the psychology of why eating meat is a requirement to be a “real man.”

Wilks and his film crew have traveled around the world to talk with various vegan athletes, including strongman Patrick Baboubian, who carried 1,216 pounds 10 meters, setting a new record; four-time NBA champion John Salley; and Andy Lally, a NASCAR driver who was the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 2011.

“Our goal is to create a new vision of what eating plant food is like,” said Joseph Pace, creative producer and the script writer of the documentary. “There have been too many stereotypes like that’s something for weak people and women. Our deeper message is that it won’t make you less of a man to care about stuff.”

And Bigwood really cares for animals. His change to veganism began after seeing piglets at a farm. Later that day when he tried to eat a bacon and egg sandwich, he felt sick remembering how the pigs were like little puppies.

The arm wrestler dislikes factory farms and even that humans kill animals for clothing. His love for animals has actually had an adverse effect.

But Bigwood’s compassion hasn’t affected his ability. In 2011 he won the won the New York City Big Apple Grapple arm wrestling tournament and various professional arm wrestlers said that Bigwood has gotten stronger since his lifestyle changed. More surprisingly, they say, his stamina has also grown and he has become more difficult to pin. Despite all the benefits, some in the field said they said can’t make the commitment just yet.

“It’s the way to go if you can handle it,” said Gene Camp, president of the New York Arm Wrestling Association. “I personally cannot, because I still like a hamburger and I still like to have a steak.”

“The Game Changers” is set to be released across the country next year.

 

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Ex-Queens teacher sentenced to six months for statutory rape of former student


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News

The former Queens middle school teacher who confessed to statutory rape dropped his plans to withdraw his guilty plea and was sentenced to six months in prison, the district attorney’s office said.

Daniel Reilly, 36, a married father, admitted in May to having sex multiple times at his Forest Hills home with a 14-year-old girl he used to teach, according to authorities.

His legal team was considering withdrawing his plea earlier this month, a lawyer said, after learning a conviction would keep Reilly from raising his infant daughter.

But the former sixth grade English teacher at I.S. 237 instead followed through with his planned sentencing on Monday, August 19, the district attorney’s office said.

As part of the plea bargain, meant to spare the victim from testifying, Reilly also agreed to serve 10 years probation, give up his teaching license, register on the state’s sex offender registry and take a sex offender reform program, authorities said.

His lawyer did not immediately comment.

The relationship between Reilly and the teen, which began last August, surfaced when her sister found sexually explicit text messages on her phone, according to the district attorney.

The ex-educator, who made close to $62,000 a year, resigned a month after his arrest from the Flushing school, where he had worked for six years, a Department of Education spokesperson said.

 

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Mailers direct Whitestone voters to wrong polling sites


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

An apparent mistake by the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) would have had Whitestone residents voting in Forest Hills during the upcoming primary.

About 100 people in Whitestone, College Point, Malba and Beechhurst were sent BOE mailers last week directing them to vote more than six miles away, double the distance of their usual polling place, a local civic leader said.

The 61-20 Grand Central Parkway poll site listed on the notices is on the border between Corona and Forest Hills.

“I’ve been in Whitestone for 27 years. I’ve always voted at P.S. 193. It’s four blocks from my house,” said resident George Mirtsopoulos, 58. “I get this notice saying I’m voting in Forest Hills. I thought it was ridiculous.”

Mirtsopoulos, Malba Gardens Civic president Alfredo Centola and the area’s city councilmember said they alerted the elections board of the blunder.

The BOE first told residents the change was due to recent redistricting and later switched to say it was a “glitch” that sent voters in the 11357 ZIP code to poll sites in the 11375 area, residents said. The two numbers differ only by switching the last two digits.

“You should check and double check,” Mirtsopoulos said. “Somebody should have said, ‘Wait. They live in Whitestone, why are they voting in Forest Hills?’ The bells and whistles should have gone off a little bit.”

The mailer blindsided multiple residents, mostly the elderly, who did not take immediate notice of change in poll site, Mirtsopoulos said.

“A lot of people on my block didn’t even realize it,” he said. “It would have caused a lot of confusion.”

Councilmember Dan Halloran — who awaits trial for bribery but represents the district for the remainder of the year — said his office “was flooded with calls from angry or upset people.”

He said an 84-year-old widow named Marilyn would not have traveled to Forest Hills despite voting in every election since 1955.

Residents who called the BOE to complain were told new mailers with the correct poll site would be sent out soon, but the Board had no immediate comment for the press.

 

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Star of Queens: Barbara Stuchinski, president, Forest Hills Community & Civic Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Stuchinski, Barbara photo

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Barbara Stuchinski is deeply involved with her community. Not only is she president of the Forest Hills Community & Civic Association, Stuchinski is also involved with the Remson Park Coalition, Community Board (CB) 6, which oversees Forest Hills and Rego Park, and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) of CB 6. Stuchinski’s responsibilities varey: maintaining quality of life, traffic mitigation, maintenance and landscaping of parks, providing awareness for emergency preparedness and much more.

BACKGROUND:  Stuchinski was born and raised in Forest Hills and resides there today. She considers herself a “100 percent Queens resident.” Though she is now retired, Stuchinski once worked in education as well as doing office work, but has always been involved in volunteer work.

FAVORITE MEMORY: “My favorite memory is when I convinced Parks Commissioner Henry Stern to name a playground in Forest Park after Joe DeVoy, who was president of the Forest Hills Civic Association before me,” recalls Stuchinski. “It was a tremendous accomplishment, and a touching way to remember someone.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “My biggest challenge was definitely securing a space for the schools on Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue,” said Stuchinski. “It was a huge fight that took 17 years.”

INSPIRATION: “My inspiration has been watching people who do things for other people, I’m just aware of it,” said Stuchinski. “My parents taught me, if you see someone who is less fortunate than you, you should reach out.” While Stuchinski realizes it isn’t always easy devoting so much time to others, she truly believes in being altruistic. “If you’re just here to take care of yourself, there’s no point in being on Earth.”

MELISSA FERRARI

 

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Star of Queens: Len Santoro, American Cancer Society, Juniper Park Civic Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

star of queens

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Len Santoro started working with the American Cancer Society three years ago. It was his first time volunteering for such a group. Since then, Santoro has worked on several fundraising projects for the society. He also helped work with financial services company Standard & Poor’s to organize a volunteer day.

Around the same time, Santoro started working with the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) after seeing all the work that it does for the community. With the JPCA, he organized neighborhood cleanups, tree plantings and much more. He also helped revive and expand its youth organization. With Santoro’s help, the JPCA has worked alongside the Maspeth High School Green Club, Stop & Shop, the 104th Precinct and others.

BACKGROUND: Santoro was born in Brooklyn, where he lived until he was eight years old. After moving to Ridgewood in 1978, he stayed there for 13 years before moving to Middle Village and then Forest Hills. In addition to his community service, Santoro also works for the IT Department of Standard & Poor’s.

“That job is interesting,” he said. “But it’s the community service that’s really important to me. Society has really opened up my eyes to volunteering, and after my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I found that it was through volunteer work that I was able to feel as though I was doing something to help her and others. It empowers you to make you feel that you can make a difference.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “My favorite memory is probably when I was looking for my first apartment, when I was moving from Middle Village to Forest Hills. At that time, I was becoming more independent. My stepfather taught me a lot about how to negotiate in a way that let me know that I have a voice. He showed me that I’m the buyer in that situation, and if there’s something I want to go my way, I have to say something. That relates to my community service because that period was definitely a period of growth for me.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “I think my biggest challenge is getting volunteers during the summer, especially for the Relay for Life. The challenge there is always getting donations and awareness out on what we do. The biggest advantage that the American Cancer Society has over other organizations is that it offers patient services, does research and doesn’t just focus on one particular cancer.”

INSPIRATION: “I think a lot of my inspiration comes from my mother. I have two older siblings, and even though my parents divorced when I was eight years old, my mother took care of us all by herself. She always put our needs ahead of her own, and that’s what community service is all about, being able to give up your time, but doing it because it makes you feel good. When people appreciate the work that’s being done, that’s a feeling that you can’t describe and can’t replace. My other inspiration is my wife, who was working with the American Cancer Society and encouraged me to become a part of it, and that helped kick off some of the other volunteer work I’ve done since then.”

JOHANN HAMILTON

 

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