Tag Archives: Jackson Heights

The challenge of buying in Jackson Heights: Q&A with Michael Carfagna


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Michael Carfagna, principal and founder of MPC Properties LLC, has been selling real estate in Jackson Heights for the past 16 years, and has sold over 450 properties exclusively during that time. His family has been living in the neighborhood since 1985, and he has seen Jackson Heights go through numerous changes, especially in the real estate sector, since becoming a landmark district.

La Guerre: How is Jackson Heights benefiting from the recent buzz about Queens?

Carfagna: As you know, Lonely Planet mentioned Queens as the top U.S. destination next year. Things like that are going to help bring awareness of Queens in general, and I think that’s where we end up benefiting. We get the spill-over effect. Because there will be people looking into Long Island City and Astoria and find quite high pricing based on what they think it could be, and then they’ll drift out this way and find Jackson Heights.

La Guerre: But there is a problem with inventory. Why is that?

Carfagna: We have this great inventory, but we don’t have a lot of sellers. Here’s what’s happening: people are searching, but they don’t see a big selection, so they are keeping Jackson Heights in the back of their minds and then hope more inventory opens up. But we are probably at an all-time low in inventory in the neighborhood.

La Guerre: So you don’t have much diversity then, and there’s not going to be three-bedrooms available, for example?

Carfagna: Well, there are only two of those on the market and I have both of them. And you have a total of maybe five two-bedroom, two-baths, and I believe two are already spoken for. You just don’t have a lot for people to choose from.

La Guerre: And because there isn’t much vacant land and it has the historical district, Jackson Heights won’t transform much. But in your opinion, where will the neighborhood see change in the future?

Carfagna: Anything close to the city like we are is going to pick up momentum, and it will almost be seamless. People will be going back and forth depending on where they work. And so I see Jackson Heights accelerating in price because of that, as well as it should pick up more momentum with—let’s call it a commercial facelift as for the selection of restaurants that will come here and blend in with the existing restaurants that we have.

La Guerre: What has been popular and easy to sell here and why?

Carfagna: Anything that has distinctive quality like The Towers, Hawthorne Court, Elm Court and The Chateau. People have heard about those and they have the larger size apartments. The Towers, Elm Court and The Chateau have fireplaces, so that is an added uniqueness to them.

La Guerre: What about detached or attached single-family homes, how do those sell?

Carfagna: I sold one recently. Only two families had lived in it in 90 years. I may get another one, where it’s only been one [family]. The grandparents had it, and then gave it to the son, and now the grandchildren have it. Those homes don’t turn that often.

La Guerre: I guess it could be looked at as a good thing. People must really love their homes there.

Carfagna: You don’t see a lot of them on the market, because they are generational homes. But that could be the new up-and-coming inventory for us. When you look at the prices and compare them to even certain sections of Brooklyn, such as Kensington, it’s still a great value here—under a million to get a beautiful attached home. These have fireplaces, they have four bedrooms, three baths, very well built. They sold anywhere from $30 to $35,000 in the ’20s. If you look at it from an inflation-adjusted basis, they should be worth well over a million dollars.

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Protesters in Jackson Heights confront police


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Dozens of protesters gathered in Jackson Heights on Friday evening to protest Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police on Staten Island and to draw attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants who also fear police abuse.

“And even if we get a [citizenship], will anything change for us?” Fahd Ahmed, the group’s leader, asked more than 50 protesters at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights. “No, it won’t, and we can see why when the cops are even killing citizens.”

The protesters, led by the South Asian Organizing Center DRUM, marched in the rain from the Jewish center to the 115th Precinct, using the same chants and tactics to block traffic that have been used in protests taking place across the city since a grand jury cleared a police officer in Garner’s death last week.

No arrests were made, according to police, and the activities ended at 9:30 p.m.

For the Queens protesters, the recent spate of killings by cops reflected their own plight.

“Conversations won’t be enough. We have to take action,” Ahmed said. “ We face being targeted in our country of origin and then we come here and we’re targeted, too.”

As the protesters marched in the middle of Northern Boulevard, they recited callback chants like, “Whose streets? Our streets.” In between shouts, drivers honked their car horns, some in support and others out of frustration that they were blocking traffic.

Cops looked bewildered as they exited the station house to a group of people yelling “killer cops,” along with other chants. The group, now thoroughly soaked by rain, held a moment of silence for the death of Eric Garner, who was killed during an arrest by cops in Staten Island.

“Most of our folks are undocumented and so they’re scared to take to the streets,” Ahmed said. “But we have to fight because if American citizens are getting killed imagine what the authorities are doing to these undocumented people who have even less rights.”

The protest ended on 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue after the protesters formed a circle on the intersection.

“More people need to be mad,” said Ame Hayashi, one of the protesters.

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Ridgewood man gets 16-year prison sentence for pizza delivery robbery


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Title

A Ridgewood man was sentenced Wednesday to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to beating a pizza deliveryman with a baseball bat and stealing his cash and scooter in Jackson Heights, District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Anardo Batista, 26, of 30-04 92nd St., pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery on Sept. 3, before Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, who handed down the sentence that also includes five years of supervision after his release from prison.

“The defendant has plead guilty and has now been sentenced to a significant amount of time behind bars. The public can rest assured that the defendant is no longer a danger to society,” Brown said.

Batista and co-defendant Jorge Paret attacked Victor Mehia, who was delivering a pizza to a 31st Avenue address in Jackson Heights in 2010. The victim was struck with a baseball bat and had both cash and his scooter taken by the pair.

Paret was sentenced on Sept. 13 to 14 years in prison and five years’ post-release supervision, after pleading guilty to first-degree robbery.

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15-story mixed-use building to rise on site of former Jackson Heights church


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Scott Bintner/PropertyShark 

Prayers for more housing in Jackson Heights will soon be answered.

Permits were filed to the Buildings Department on Monday to construct a 15-story, 139-unit mixed-use residential, retail and community building at the site of a former church located at 71-17 Roosevelt Ave., which is adjacent to the elevated 7 train tracks.

Gilman Architects is designing the building, which will have about 8,400 square feet for retail use and nearly 19,000 square feet for a community facility, according to New York YIMBY. There will also be 167 parking spaces.

Roosevelt 5 LLC, which owns the building, bought the property from New York Cho Dae Church last year for $7 million, according to city records.

The church closed and moved from the area earlier this year.

Demolition permits have yet to be filed at the site.

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Queens HS student wins US Congressional Award Gold Medal


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Garden School

One Queens high school student has stood out from the rest for her dedication to serving the community.

Astoria resident Julia McKenna, a senior at the Garden School in Jackson Heights, was one of 13 New York State students to win the 2014 US Congressional Award Gold Medal.

The Congressional Award, this year handed out by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, is given to students who meet goals in community service, personal development, physical fitness, plus exploration and expedition.

Those who are awarded the gold medal are required to have a minimum of 400 hours documented for volunteer service. McKenna managed to log more than 550 hours volunteering at organizations such as the New York Blood Center, Special Olympics, Dellamonica Senior Center, Common Ground Outreach and more.

Along with community service, McKenna is also co-captain of the varsity volleyball and basketball teams and won Academic Honors last year.

According to a statement released by the Garden School, McKenna’s dedication to serving the community “is a great example of Garden’s mission of ‘social involvement’ in action and we could not be more proud of her.”

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Jackson Heights primary care program aimed at low-income, immigrant women


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Grameen PrimaCare

One nonprofit is looking to be the helping hand for women in Queens to lead healthier lives, no matter their immigration status.

Grameen PrimaCare, a New York City-based organization looking to provide high-quality, affordable and comprehensive access to healthcare, has opened its first primary care and health promotion program in Jackson Heights.

The program, called Grameen VidaSana, is open to women 18 years and older living in low-income, immigrant communities in Queens and who have no health insurance. The service at 82-11 37 Ave. opened in September.

“Our vision, our belief is that it’s unjust if all people don’t have equal access to affordable, quality healthcare, so that’s why we were born,” said Brooke Beardslee, executive director at Grameen PrimaCare. “We were born because it’s just clear that there are so many people in this country who, because of their documentation status, don’t have access to the affordable health care and we find that unacceptable.”

Grameen PrimaCare, is a sister organization of Grameen America, which was started in 2008 and is based on the structure of Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. Yunus offers microloans, training and support for women who do not otherwise have access to traditional banking structures. Grameen America opened its first branch in Jackson Heights.

For a monthly fee of $49, women using Grameen VidaSana receive unlimited access to a bilingual staff at the site that includes a doctor and four health coaches, also known as “compañeras de salud” in Spanish, who meet members first and then continue to work with them through their full membership.

Members also have access to group-based health workshops with a curriculum of many topics that the women themselves identified as concerns they need more information about. Some of these topics include diabetes management, hypertension management, obesity, stress, domestic violence, parenting and nutrition.

Program organizers have also been working with health care providers to find discounted and affordable referrals for members.

“Our practice is unique for many reasons: we are truly community based, we’re located in ground zero of the immigrant community,” Beardslee said. “[Jackson Heights] is ground zero for immigrant life and most likely [a large proportion of them are lacking documentation] and that’s who we are here for.”

According to Beardslee, the curriculum and overall program was designed after more than a year of working together with local community groups, such as Make the Road NY, and holding two health care fairs. During the fairs, they handed out 120-question questionnaires to all attendees. 

With their membership, women will also have access to classes such as Zumba, yoga, healthy cooking and ESL courses. For now these classes are free and open to the community as well. 

“We know that there has been such bad experience and mistrust, we know that the community is suspicious,” Beardslee said. “We want you to cross the threshold here and come meet us and then decide.”

Grameen VidaSana will be holding Giving Tuesday on Dec. 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. featuring free flu shot vouchers, blood pressure checks, healthy cooking demonstrations, an opportunity to meet the doctor and health team at the site, and many giveaways.

“We’re anticipating health literacy rising with the women who become members of Grameen VidaSana,” Beardslee said. “That through all this talking they’re just going to become so much more informed and feel in control with their health.”

Grameen VidaSana is currently open Monday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday 1 to 5 p.m., Wednesday 3 to 7 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Jackson Heights teen charged with raping, robbing female livery cab driver


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com


A 19-year-old has been accused of robbing, choking and raping a female livery cab driver in East Elmhurst this past weekend, according to District Attorney Richard Brown.

The 32-year-old driver pulled up in front of 26-24 93rd St. sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. on Saturday when the passenger, Luis Barrija, of Jackson Heights, choked her and demanded her money, Brown said. While demanding the money Barrija said, “I am in a gang that robs and rapes people. I am the leader.”

The victim then handed over about $100 in cash and Barrija allegedly tried to pull her into the backseat of the cab while continuing to threaten her life.

Barrija then choked the victim with one hand and told her that he had a knife and would kill her if she did not listen to his demands, according to Brown. He then raped her.

The cab driver suffered bruising and redness on her neck, chest and wrists from the force used by Barrija, according to the charges.

“The allegations in this case chronicle a frightening ordeal of mental, physical and sexual violence. Hopefully the young woman who was brutally victimized will rest easier in knowing that her alleged rapist has been brought to justice and will be vigorously prosecuted,” Brown said. “However, even after the physical abuse has stopped, the psychological trauma caused by sexual assault can be severe and long lasting.”

Barrija is currently awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on rape, robbery and assault charges. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

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Jackson Heights man offers ‘midnight’ food tours down Roosevelt Avenue


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Donny Tsang / Courtesy of Jeff Orlick

For the past three years, one Jackson Heights resident has been showing visitors how delicious his neighborhood is once the sun goes down.

Jeff Orlick has been offering, by appointment, tours down Roosevelt Avenue for people from near and far looking to get a taste of the “real New York.”

The tour, called the Midnight Street Crawl, is one of three tours Orlick gives throughout the year. It is offered Monday through Thursday and goes from 90th Street to 111th Street. A spot on the tour costs $59, and reservations are required.

When he first started the “midnight” crawls, he was able to go from midnight to the early morning, but now, because of a new job, he tends to start the tours around 8 or 9 p.m.

“We basically investigate the street nightlife through food,” Orlick said. “We try to engage a community through the food.”

On the “midnight” tours, Orlick takes groups of two or more participants to street food vendors offering Ecuadorian, Colombian, Mexican, Dominican and sometimes Peruvian cuisines.

Although the route and cultures stay the same during the tour, Orick said he sometimes changes the interaction a bit so the participants and vendors can speak and learn from each other. He tries to make the tour two to three hours long, hitting about eight to 10 vendors.

“It’s like a jazz show: there’s a script and there’s notes, but we definitely go on tangents and explore,” Orlick said. “People definitely like it, they like how real it is. People say it’s the real New York.”

Most of the people who take part in the “midnight” crawl tend to be tourists, with only 10 to 15 percent being New Yorkers, according to Orlick. Others who reserve spots are new members to the community who want to get an idea of their neighborhood.

“I just want them to have a real connection, this is what I want to do when I go visit a place. I just want to come in and have a real connection,” Orlick said. “For me, the best way to connect is through food. It’s a great way to communicate with each other.”

Along with the “midnight” crawl, Orlick also offers a “Tastes of the World” tour and a “Queens Fiesta Crawl.” Both of these events happen during the day and are based on reservations. These tours tend to change depending on where the participants are from, said Orlick.

On Nov. 22 from 2 to 5 p.m. Orlick will also be hosting the third annual Momo Crawl, where restaurants and street vendors who sell the steamed dumpling in the half-mile around the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station will be offering them for $1 each to people who have a 2014 momo map. To pick up a map, participants have to stop by the Jackson Heights Food Court, located at 73-07 37th Rd.

“In Jackson Heights, in Queens, people are proud of their cultures,” Orlick said.

For more information or to book a tour, visit www.vayable.com/users/tastes or www.iwantmorefood.com.

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New precinct captain will start ‘Neighborhood Friday’


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Captain Brian Hennessy feels like he is back home, and he’s ready to bring the tools that helped him succeed in the 108th Precinct to his new command.

Hennessy is now the commanding officer of the 115th Precinct, which covers East Elmhurst, north Corona and Jackson Heights. He made the move from the 108th Precinct on Nov. 6, replacing Deputy Inspector Michael Cody, who since transferred to the narcotics bureau.

“The 108 was my first command and the community there was outstanding. To have that as my first command I was very lucky and I was very grateful,” Hennessy said about the precinct, which covers Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Maspeth. “The community [at the 115] is very involved. It’s going to be good.”

The move for Hennessy is like a return back home, because before becoming the commanding officer of the 108th Precinct in May 2013, he was the second in command at the 115th Precinct for about two years.

“Inspector Cody taught me a lot,” Hennessy said. “He left me in good hands. The community here, just like the 108, is very supportive, very involved. So I enjoyed working here and I’m ecstatic to be back.”

Cody placed an emphasis on community, and Hennessy plans to continue that focus. He hopes to build on relationships with community members and bring in new programs to help strengthen the ties.

One of the big programs he hopes to start up soon is what he calls Community Fridays, which he started at his previous post. Every Friday, volunteers from the precinct and community would address quality-of-life issues such as graffiti and abandoned cars left on the streets. Another issue is homelessness, which Hennessy works closely with the Department of Homeless Services to address.

“Whatever was brought up in a community meeting or a blog or anywhere that we did see a complaint on something that needed to be fixed, we went out and took all the volunteers and did one section a week,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of community first. The relationship between the community and police has to be there in order for us to be successful.”

He also plans to bring in a conditions team to the community in which officers are assigned to different neighborhood and build “personal connections and interaction” with residents.

“They can follow up with any issues. It gives a personal face to the command,” Hennessy said.

Hennessy also hopes to work on the bigger issues in the surrounding neighborhoods such as prostitution and illegally vending on Roosevelt Avenue, gang violence and disturbances that come from the local bars and their patrons.

Working on what he began in the 108th Precinct, Hennessy also plans to start a Twitter account for the 115th Precinct because he said there were positive responses from residents at his previous post.

The next community council meeting for the 115th Precinct, which Hennessy will attend, will be held on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. at the precinct, 92-15 Northern Blvd.

“You know when you come to the meeting and you give me a complaint, I’m going to personally address it,” Hennessy said. “I’m excited to be back, and I can’t wait to get out there and work with the community and help in any way we can.”

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Ridgewood couple charged in crime spree targeting moms with strollers


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

A Ridgewood couple went on a pickpocketing spree, stealing from women with baby strollers as they shopped, District Attorney Richard Brown said.

The married pair, Luis A. Chango, 45, and Rosa Jerez, 37, are accused of working together to distract their victims between August and November of this year.

Jerez would often engage the young mothers in conversation, act as a lookout or shield Chango as he removed the victims’ personal property, including cellphones, wallets and as much as $2,000 in cash in one incident, prosecutors said.

During one of the thefts, Chango even allegedly pulled an iPhone out of the hands of a baby that was playing with it, causing the child to burst into tears.

They not only went after women at businesses in their own neighborhood, but also hit a Jackson Heights Carter’s children’s store on 82nd Street several times, other western Queens clothing stores and a seafood shop in Brooklyn, Brown said.

Chango and Jerez have both been charged with multiple counts of grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, endangering the welfare of a child and petit larceny.

If convicted, Chango, who acted alone in six of the 14 thefts, faces up to 38 years in prison, according to prosecutors. Jerez faces up to 23 years.

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9/11 memorial poster of Jackson Heights firefighter torn down; fiancée ‘hurt’


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Every year, on the anniversary of 9/11, Tanya Villanueva Tepper hangs a brand-new poster on a tree in Jackson Heights in memory of her fiancé Sergio Villanueva, a firefighter who perished during the terrorist attack.

Normally, the poster remains affixed to the tree until Tepper replaces it.

But this year, she had to replace it early as it was torn down from its spot in the beginning of October.

“I don’t know or understand why people would do that,” said Tepper. “It hurts my heart.”

Tepper decided to hang the poster in front of the gift shop Inner Peace, located at 79-24 37th Ave., which she once owned with Villanueva, because she wanted people to remember the 33-year-old firefighter as a person and not just a name.

The poster, filled with pictures of Villanueva and his family along with a few words describing the type of man he was, was tied down with rope and string to prevent it being dislodged by strong winds.

But the poster was apparently torn down once several years ago and again last month.

“I’ve never heard any backlash from the community,” said Tepper. “I just want to ask the person who is doing it, ‘Does it make you uncomfortable?’”

Sergio's Poster 2014

Poster courtesy of Tanya Villanueva Tepper

The current owner of the store, Marisol Dittmer, who was also a close friend of Villanueva, said she welcomes the poster and loves having Tepper come and put it up.

“I don’t understand why someone would do this,” Dittmer said. “He was such a great man, always loving, and this poster is meant to show that.”

In front of the tree, there is also a plaque dedicated to Villanueva. Hanging the poster there made it a “little sanctuary” for Tepper during the tender times of the anniversary.
“Life goes by so fast sometimes,” Tepper said. “I want people to see this poster and plaque and just slow down and think about life and how special it is.”

Even though it was taken down, Tepper did not hesitate to replace the poster. Over the weekend, she hung it up to keep Sergio’s memory alive.

She said that she just hopes this would be the last time she would have to replace it until next year on the anniversary.

“I have no malice when putting the poster up, but it’s all malice when they rip it down,” Tepper said. “I just want people to walk by it and realize how precious life is and that the best life you can live is being the best person you can be for others.”

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Man robbed, pistol-whipped at Jackson Heights apartment: NYPD


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo/video courtesy of NYPD

Police are searching for four suspects in connection to the armed robbery of a man at his Jackson Heights apartment Friday night.

The 25-year-old victim had just entered his apartment building on 89th Street around 10:30 p.m., when he found two of the suspects waiting for him, cops said. One of the suspects, who was armed with a gun, then took the victim’s keys and went into his apartment.

Once inside, the two suspects searched the victim’s home and took an undetermined amount of cash from the residence, while two other suspects followed the victim to his residence and acted as lookouts, according to police.

The suspect armed with the gun then pistol-whipped the victim before fleeing the apartment, cops said.

Surveillance video, obtained by the police, shows the two suspects who went into the apartment, as well as the two additional suspects.


Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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82nd Street Partnership names new executive director


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Leslie Ramos

The 82nd Street Partnership has welcomed a new face to its family.

After a two-month-long search, the group’s board of directors named Leslie Ramos as the new executive director.

Ramos replaces Seth Taylor, who in August announced his resignation from the position, which he held since 2012. Taylor is now serving as the executive director of the NoHo NY Business Improvement District.

“It’s an honor to join the 82nd Street Partnership,” Ramos said. “To work within such a multicultural and booming community in Jackson Heights is an exciting opportunity. I look forward to continue strengthening the 82nd Street business enclave, which represents the entrepreneurial spirit and diversity of our city.”

Ramos was born in New York but grew up in Puerto Rico until her early teens. She then lived in Chicago and now currently resides in Brooklyn.

“It could not get any better than this,” Ramos said about the opportunity to work in such a multicultural area.

Ramos previously held the position as assistant commissioner for finance at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Other positions she has held include the executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses.

Taylor and the 82nd Street Partnership have been working to expand the business improvement district (BID) to Roosevelt Avenue and tackle issues of graffiti, crime, poor lighting and lack of sanitation.

Yet they have faced a lack of support from residents and business owners in the area — many of whom claim that the change is not worth the rise of costs and would kick out immigrant business owners.

Ramos said that as the group is still counting the ballots of who is in favor or the BID expansion or not, she plans to reach out to businesses and answer any questions or concerns.

“For the most part I find that the businesses are more interested to create an area that is more pleasant for them to come to work and also their customers,” Ramos said. “I want to make sure that their visions and concerns are met because at the end of the day the BID is a community of the businesses coming together to make sure things work out for the best.”

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Jackson Heights man, inspired by own experience, helps teens with cancer stay positive


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos by Don Kang and Justin Vaseur

Danny Alotta wants to make over cancer.

He is not a doctor finding a cure. But the Jackson Heights native is helping some of its youngest victims in a way that helped him through his own battle with cancer years ago.
Alotta is the founder of Joy Juice, a nonprofit that provides fashion makeovers to teens with cancer.

As a senior in high school, Alotta was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. What started out as a seemingly bad cold ended up as “borderline stage 4” cancer for the healthy, athletic teen, he said. Eleven years later, he was declared cancer-free.

“When you are a young person you are still invincible,” Alotta said. “For your parents they understand the seriousness.”

During his chemotherapy, Alotta would find ways to lift his spirits.

On the way out the door for his first chemotherapy treatment he announced it was time for his “joy juice.”

“It was my way of making it a game,” Alotta said. “The only thing I knew how to do was make it a game.”

He also made himself feel better through what he calls “makeovers.”

Alotta would dress up to go to the doctor, don a nice pair of socks around the house or his cousin Billy would buy him a new pair of sneakers.

“Maybe new shoes cure the blues,” he said, adding that a brand-new pair of sneakers still makes him happy to this day.

danny

Danny Alotta before he was diagnosed with cancer and while he was going through chemotherapy treatment. (Photo courtesy of Danny Alotta)

The chemotherapy mentally and physically affected Alotta, rendering him pale and changing his hair.

“You go through a point where you don’t feel presentable,” he said. “You look in the mirror and you don’t know who is staring back at you.”

In October 2012, Alotta, who is a partner in a clothing line and restaurant, decided to step away from his business ventures and use his branding knowledge to share his experience with cancer in the hope of helping others.

He decided to launch his nonprofit and write a movie, book and a one-man show.

His book, also called “Joy Juice,” was released in January 2014. His show, of the same name, debuted in June at the Kaufman Music Center on West 67th Street. Alotta hopes to perform it in other cities, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., next year, and he has already spoken to a studio about his movie script.

A little over a year ago, he started his teen cancer makeover organization, which received nonprofit status this summer.

joy_juice_las_vegas_june_2014-23

So far, it has held events with the Ronald McDonald House in New York and Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation in Las Vegas and has plans to work with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Teen Cancer America.

The events can be simple as providing lunch and bringing sneakers, socks and headphones so the teens can listen to music during chemotherapy, which Alotta used to do. Sometimes makeup artists and stylists are brought in so the teens can “feel like a celebrity for a day.”

Alotta is also helping those dealing with cancer through the international organization Cancer Positive as its latest ambassador. Cancer Positive, which uses stories, quotes and helpful information to aid people in finding “their own silver lining,” sees Alotta’s story as inspiring because he is using it to encourage others to stay positive.

“They are an organization that sees cancer not only as a diagnosis — it’s about a state of mind,” Alotta said.

“I will never call myself a survivor,” he added. “I call myself a fortunate…because I am fortunate to still be here to tell my story.”

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Public art project to celebrate Queens’ diversity


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Fumi Nakamura

A new public art project is shining light on the diversity of the borough through stories captured in movement.

“MOVE WITH US” is a video created by artists Roshani Thakore from Elmhurst and Fumi Nakamura from Jackson Heights after they visited public spaces throughout Queens over the summer and photographed a total of 167 immigrants creating personal poses.

The final video, set to premiere next week, is a sequence of the images capturing “the most diverse borough in the nation,” according to the artists.

“We try to connect each individual with each pose and I feel like it’s kind of an archive of 2014 in Queens and the people who are making it the more diverse place in the nation,” Thakore said.

The project, funded by the Queens Council on the Arts (QCA), is scheduled to premiere on Nov. 7 at QCA located at 37-11 35th Ave. in Astoria.

Being a dance teacher of an Indian dance class at the Long Island City YMCA, Thakore felt that participants would be able to translate their personal experiences through body movements.

During the summer, Thakore and Nakamura visited public spaces, like the LIC YMCA and Corona Plaza, and spoke with residents in the spaces about living in Queens and their backgrounds. They also received help from a lot of volunteers from local groups.

Once the residents got comfortable, they would be asked to do unique poses expressing themselves and their stories and then Nakamura snapped the photos to capture the movements.

In one example, a man living in Corona shared his story on having worked on a sugar cane field in Mexico. During the conversation he started to do the movement he would do while cutting the canes and this was photographed as part of the project.

“It’s more about listening in a public space to a person’s story. Really understanding who our neighbors are, who are the community members and who makes up Queens,” Thakore said. “In terms of the project, originally it was being proud of your culture but the surprise that came out of it was being proud to be in Queens — Queens pride.”

Originally from Georgia and a daughter of immigrants from India, Thakore said there was not a lot of diversity in Georgia and not a lot of public resources. However, when she made the move to Queens, she said she was able to experience different parts and public institutions of the borough, especially through teaching dance.

“I really feel like in Queens I came home, because of the diversity and opportunities,” Thakore said.

Thakore added that, for both her and Nakamura, experiencing the diversity in Queens daily was what “fired up” the work on the project.

Although the actual video has no music, during its premiere at the Queens Council on the Arts, there will be music and food. All 167 participants of the project were invited to the event.

The premiere, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. To RSVP, click here.

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