Tag Archives: Juniper Valley Park

Star of Queens: Ed Shusterich, president, Pullis Farm Cemetery Historical Landmark


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

_2Ed Shusterich

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Ed Shusterich is the founder and president of Pullis Farm Cemetery Historical Landmark, a nonprofit organization that handles the upkeep of the Pullis Cemetery in Juniper Valley Park, Middle Village. Shusterich founded the association in 1993 to transform the decrepit site into a beautiful garden, firmly believing “we could do better than what we have.” Over the years, he planted trees and other foliage on the barren wasteland and even built a utility house. He believes that it is part of the culture and heritage of the community and it is the community’s civic duty to improve it. Most of the volunteers involved in the project are above 50 years of age. Shusterich said that one of the unintended benefits of the project is that it also helps senior citizens connect with each other. On Oct. 18, his organization is holding a drive, calling volunteers of all ages to plant more flowers in the park.

BACKGROUND: Shusterich was born to Slovenian immigrants in Brooklyn but moved to Queens more than 50 years ago. He was in the army for two years during the Korean Conflict before working in the private sector. He lives in Middle Village.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Getting funding and support from local elected officials is the biggest challenge,” said Shusterich. “They support us but it takes time. Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. has been a great supporter.”

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: Shusterich recalled, “I had a flag pole installed in 2003. It cost us $17,000. On the occasion I dedicated the flag pole and the plaque to the heroes and victims of 9/11. I invited the fire department, veterans and the general public to the installation.”

INSPIRATION: “Self-inspiration,” laughed Shusterich. “I am a self-starter.”

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Middle Village, local 10-year-old featured in soon-to-be-released movie


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos by Kelsey Bennett

Middle Village is ready for its close-up.

The neighborhood is the backdrop for a soon-to-be-released film focusing on an ex-mafia captain (“capo”) as he comes to grips with how his former life has changed after spending the last 20 years in federal prison. The movie also features a 10-year-old actress from the neighborhood, Olivia Panepinto, in her debut role.

Director, writer and producer David Rodriguez was inspired to make “Once Upon a Time in Queens” after seeing a program on the Investigation Discovery channel about an FBI agent who went undercover in the Gambino crime family in the Bronx. There was one member who was recently released from prison and came home to reclaim his old rackets, but most of the people from his former mob life were dead, in prison or informants.

“In his mind it was still the early 90s … where you could still survive in this world and be untouchable, and what he didn’t realize was that it was the opposite,” Rodriguez said.

In the film, Paul Sorvino plays Joseph Scoleri, who was sent away for racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder. After his release, he goes to live at his Middle Village home, with his 43-year-old daughter Rita (Renee Props). In addition to leaving his gangster lifestyle behind and being forbidden to speak to former associates, Scoleri must reestablish his relationship with his daughter and come to terms with how she has been living her life.

He also becomes reacquainted with his neighbor Bobby DiBianco, played by Michael Rapaport, whom he last saw as a teenager.

Bobby now has a family of his own and runs his father’s deli, and agrees to help run errands for the ailing Scoleri. The character represents a progressive, professional lifestyle, instead of a wannabe gangster, according to Rodriguez.

“He speaks to [Scoleri] like nobody has ever spoken to him,” Rodriguez said. “That is another shocker to him.”

Part of Bobby’s family man image is his daughter Liv, played by Olivia.

Olivia

The current fifth-grader landed the part after three impressive auditions. She was so good that her part was changed from a boy to a girl.

“She really knocked it out of the park in the audition,” Rodriguez said. The part was also changed to make the film less male-centric and more heartfelt.

Olivia’s dream of acting started at two years old when she was watching TV and asked, “How can I be in the box?”

After a trip to Los Angeles where she visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame and asked her parents how she could “get one of those stars,” Olivia started taking acting lessons, and landed her first part in “Once Upon a Time in Queens.”

“It was like my dream come true,” she said. “It was even more cool that we shot it in my neighborhood.”

Filming was somewhat challenging, but mostly fun, Olivia said, especially when Sorvino would sing opera between takes.

The young actress has also appeared in a web show called “Mona in Manhattan” with her older sisters, Alessandra, 14, and Emmanuela, 12, and will be filming a movie with them in LA this January called “Marilyn Monroe Zombie Hunter.”

Olivia  during a scene at a Middle Village deli with actor Michael Rapaport (far right).

Olivia during a scene at a Middle Village deli with actor Michael Rapaport (far right).

Olivia’s father Ignazio was also involved in “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” receiving a co-executive producer credit for helping find most the locations for the film, which was mainly shot in Middle Village and Ridgewood. Some scenes were filmed at Juniper Valley Park and Village Gourmet on Eliot Avenue, a stand-in for Bobby’s deli.

Though the film was shown at several film festivals around the country last year, including the 2013 Austin Film Festival, its official premiere, with its new name, will take place this Wednesday in the East Village.

In February, Lionsgate purchased the movie, which was originally called “Last I Heard,” and renamed it “Once Upon a Time in Queens.”

It also will have a Los Angeles premiere on Thursday, which will be followed by a seven-day theatrical run in the city. On Nov. 11 it will be available on DVD, iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Rodriguez hopes audiences “see the film for what it is.”

“I don’t want people to see the movie and think it’s a mob movie,” he said. “It’s a slice of New York life.”

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Speed bumps installed along Juniper Valley Park, residents call for more safety measures


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Salvatore Licata

It’s going to be a bumpy ride for speeders along Juniper Boulevard North after the installation of three speed bumps last week.

The stretch along the north side of Juniper Valley Park has long been a source of community concern. Cars and motorcycles would routinely zip along the street, which had no traffic lights or stop signs, residents said.

After a request from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and the approval from Community Board 5 (CB 5), speed bumps were installed at 78th Street, 77th Place and 75th Street to deter cars from speeding, according to a Department of Transportation (DOT) representative.

But on the south side, residents are calling for a traffic signal to make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street.

For over a year now, CB 5 has been asking the DOT to do a traffic signal study to possibly add a traffic light on Juniper Boulevard South.

“The transportation members of the board felt a traffic light would be more efficient on [the south] side,” said Gary Giordano, district manager of CB 5. “A lot of people go to the park each day. They should have a safe place to cross.”

The community board is calling for a light on 78th Street where there is an entrance to the park.

The request for a light at the intersection was denied once already by the DOT but the board is asking for a reconsideration.

The DOT did offer to put a speed bump in the area of 78th Street, due to a request from Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, according to a DOT representative.

But CB 5 turned it down because they would like to see a light there.

Board members feel that even though speeding is a problem all around the park, this spot would be safer with a traffic light because it will eliminate two problems: speeding and crossing issues, Giordano said.

The request for a reconsideration of a traffic signal study was made on March 31.

The DOT has yet to make a decision. Giordano hopes that the DOT will decide soon, especially because school is now back in session and P.S./I.S. 49 sits just two blocks away on 80th Street.

But if the DOT does again deny a traffic signal, Giordano said the board will be more open to other options.

“If the traffic signal gets denied again,” Giordano said, “then we will be more open to possibly putting a speed bump there.”

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New Juniper Valley Park bocce courts met with skepticism


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Juniper Valley Park’s three new bocce courts opened on Wednesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and talk of meatballs and spaghetti. But for the players, most of whom are older Italians, the new courts don’t meet their standards.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said that the new courts, which replaced two older ones, were “Grade-A.” But many of the players present during the ceremony weren’t such generous graders.

 “It looks nice. They spent a lot of money on this,” John Pistone, 62, said. “So I give them an A for effort but for efficiency, I give them an F.”

Pistone and his fellow bocce players complained that the new $850,000 courts weren’t leveled correctly and that the design of the overhead shades didn’t prevent rain from soaking the courts. The bulk of the money came from Katz’s office and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley allocated another $50,000.

Queens Park Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski boasted that the shades placed on all three courts would keep the players cool. But Frank Trocchia said the shades were too small to provide any real protection from the sun.

“We get here in the morning and by 11 o’clock it’s too hot for us to even play,” Trocchia, 64, said. “They didn’t consult us on this design.”

Trocchia and Pistone then proceeded to argue with each other over the ineffective shades and the unbalanced field and which one truly made the bocce courts flawed.

 

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Quiz asks: What NYC park are you?


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File Photo

With hundreds of parks in New York City, it is hard to find the right one to call your own.

The city’s Department of Parks & Recreation just put up a quick quiz on its website to match individuals with a local green space based on likes such as favorite food, book and vacation spot. 

Will you be Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Astoria Park, Juniper Valley Park or another Queens greenery?

To find out, take the quiz here.

 

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U.S. Coast Guard visits Middle Village boy, Colin Flood, with helicopter


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Bob Holden

Follow me @liamlaguerre

 

It was a cool day on Monday for 8-year-old Colin Flood in more ways than just the weather.

Flood, who is battling his second round of acute lymphocytic leukemia, received special gifts from the U.S. Coast Guard, which landed a helicopter in a closed off Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village.

The Coast Guard wanted to treat Flood to the helicopter visit because they learned he is a fan of the TV show “Coast Guard Alaska.”

Photo by Lorraine Scuilli 

Members of the Coast Guard air crew gave Flood a tour of the helicopter and a picture of it. Flood also received a Coast Guard hat and T-shirt along with unit patches and a personal name tag. Members of the nearby 104th Precinct and the U.S. Coast Guard members then took pictures with him.

“It meant a lot to us to see the happiness on Colin’s face and to be able to fulfill his dream to see a Coast Guard helicopter up close and personal,” said John Keeley, special agent of Coast Guard Investigative Services.

Photo by Bob Holden 

About two years ago Flood was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant and there was a successful collection drive in the neighborhood, where thousands of people volunteered to be tested.

Also, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Flood’s wish to go to Walt Disney World Resort in November last year.

 

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Parks Dept. hosts snow activities in Juniper Valley Park


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

The first snowstorm of the new year was every child’s dream. It gave youngsters an extra vacation day from school and a snowy wonderland where they could play.

The Parks Department hosted free activities in Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village on Saturday, courtesy of massive amounts of snow from Winter Storm Hercules, to which hundreds of children and parents took advantage.

The recreation division of the city agency provided free sleds, hot chocolate, snow shoeing and music for children to enjoy the snow in the park.

“It’s vital to the community to have open spaces where they can come out, play sports, relax, make friends and socialize,” said Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner of the Parks Department. “We want them to do it year round. Snow days encourage people to come out climb those hills, slide down, and come out in the winter time when they might not otherwise be in the park.”

It’s an annual event that the recreation division tries to sponsor on the first sighting of large snow storms.

The Parks Department holds the free activities at just five parks around the city, one from each borough. They chose Juniper because the hilly environment provides a great bunny slope for children, but there also weren’t impediments.

“They don’t have good hills in those locations,” said Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, Queens’ chief of recreation for Parks. “Although it’s fun we want the kids to do it in a location that is safe.”

While the massive amount of snow dropped on the city shut down streets, and made for hellish commutes for some, for others the snow was excellent winter fun.

“It’s absolutely wonderful, it makes the whole day wonderful for the kids,” said Jennifer Suffel, a Middle Village resident. “I think its a great part of our community and I would hate to see it stop. its good clean fun the kids should be having.”

 

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‘Snow day’ at Juniper Valley Park Saturday


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File Photo

Updated 4:00 p.m.

Just because Mother Nature has dropped a few inches of snow, doesn’t mean you can’t put on your snow boots, get the sled and, go out and have some fun.

Keeping in mind to stay safe and bundle up, the Department of Parks and Recreation has declared an official snow day for Saturday, January 4 at five parks across the city. The snow day will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In Queens, the Parks Department will hold a snow day at Juniper Valley Park, at 78th Street and Juniper Valley North in Middle Village. During the snow day, free organized activities include supervised safe sledding, snowman building contests, best snow angel contests, friendly snowball fights, music, and complimentary hot chocolate.

For more information, please call 311 or visit the Parks Department website for updates.

Even though Juniper Park will be the only park in the borough to include free activities in the case of a snow day, here are other local parks you can visit for some fun in the snow and suggestions for sledding spots, courtesy of the city’s Parks Department. But remember to stay warm and be safe!

Astoria Park, Astoria, 19th Street between Shore Boulevard off Ditmars Boulevard

Bowne Park, Flushing, Small hillside on the 155th Street side of the park

Cunningham Park, Oakland Gardens

Crocheron Park, Bayside, 35th Avenue opposite Golden Pond

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Forest Park, Mary Whelan Playground at 79th Street and Park Lane South

Hermon A. Macneil Park, College Point

lower Highland Park, Jamaica Avenue & Elton Street

Kissena Park, Flushing, Eastside of Lake: enter Metcalf and 164th Street

 

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Police arrest a Queens Parks Department manager for sexual abuse of a minor


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rene Herrera

A Woodhaven resident and long-time Parks Department employee was arrested on Sunday and charged with three counts of sexual abuse of an underage family member, stemming from his alleged actions five years ago.

Rene Herrera, 57, who oversees such green spaces as Juniper Valley Park, sexually abused an 11-year-old female relative on three separate occasions in 2008, cops said.

The mother of the girl, who is now 16, reported the incidents to the police on Saturday, December 28. Police have not released specific details of the alleged abuse.

Herrera has worked with the Parks Department for about 25 years, according to the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), and became a regional manager in 2002. He is married and has three children.

People that worked with Herrera said that he is a good person.

“I’ve worked with him on many projects. I’ve known him for a long time, he’s a team player,” said Simcha Waisman, vice president of the Richmond Hill Block Association. “From 2008 to now? Something is wrong with that.”

And Herrera has been very helpful and reliable in managing the parks in his districts, according to JPCA.

“He has been efficient and responsive to any issues we may have, always attempting to solve any problems that are reported to him,” said Lorraine Sciulli of JPCA. “He is readily available by phone if we have the need to get in touch with him quickly. He has always been cooperative and helpful to the JPCA.”

Herrera has been suspended without pay, according to a Parks Department spokesperson.

 

Follow on Twitter @liamlaguerre 

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Middle Village-based Gottschee Soccer Club needs room to play


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Miguel Brunengo

The legendary Middle Village-based Blau Weiss Gottschee Soccer Club is so popular it’s literally outgrown the borough.

The soccer club, which remains one of the shining examples of high-level urban athletic competition, has so many players that it utilizes a scattered combination of public fields across the city and has gotten to a point where the league needs to turn young soccer hopefuls away.

The team’s main field is Brennan Field in Juniper Valley Park, but they also travel to practice at Randall’s Island, located between Manhattan and Queens in the East River, and they rent space for games at Aviator Field Sports & Events Center at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, to name a few locations.

“We’ve got [players] spread like seeds in the wind,” said Timon Kalpaxis, a youth coordinator. “Some guys have to schlep up to Randal’s Island just to train.”

The club was created in 1951 by Gottscheer immigrants, an ethnic German-speaking people of from what is now south central Slovenia.

A few decades ago a boom of Hispanic immigrants began entering the club. And as soccer’s popularity began to grow recently in the United States, more and more players have been coming to Gottschee.

The club currently has 30 registered teams in various age and skill divisions, numerous intramural programs and free clinics. During warm months it can accumulate nearly 1,000 players combined, sometimes from the Bronx, Long Island and even New Jersey.

Organizers want more Queens field space so their players can play at a centralized location.

“We not looking for a huge bite of the apple, we’re just looking for a nibble,” Kalpaxis said.

In searching for new fields to expand, Gottschee organizers have identified Grover Cleveland High School Athletic Field near Seneca Avenue and Deklab Avenue as a great location. The field is regulation size and has lights, so night practices and games would be possible.

The Department of Education (DOE) is currently revitalizing that particular soccer field.

“We are currently in the early stages of design with topographic surveys and storm system investigations underway,” said DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg. “Construction duration will be determined after the surveys and investigations are complete.”

The soccer club has reached out for support from local leaders and politicians to help get access to it when it is completed.

“We are always open to working with them and supporting them,” said a spokesperson from Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley’s office. “We are very supportive of sports and culture programs that serve kids in the district.”

Gottschee attracts much attention from many top Division I schools.

From 2005 to 2012 more than 80 Gottschee players received scholarships to play soccer at well-known universities, including the University of Michigan, Duke, Villanova, Princeton, St. John’s, Holy Cross and Rutgers, just to name a few.

Coordinators said even with the Grover Cleveland field, their problem is part of a fundamental issue of lack of ball fields in the city.

“We lament the fact that we got kids running around getting into trouble, but what are we giving them,” Kalpaxis asked. “Where is the infrastructure for these kids?”

 

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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

morning roundup

TODAY’S FORECAST 

Tuesday: Partly cloudy in the morning, then overcast with thunderstorms and rain showers. High of 95. Winds from the SW at 5 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 30%. Tuesday night: Mostly cloudy with thunderstorms and rain showers, then a chance of a thunderstorm and a chance of rain after midnight. Low of 73. Winds from the SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Summer 2013 Juniper Valley Park Concert Series – Italian Night

NYC Department of Parks & Recreation and Juniper Park Civic Association presents the Summer 2013 Juniper Valley Park Concert Series.Playing tonight are Tony Valenti and Chris Macchio. Starts at 7 p.m. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

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Women in Ohio kidnap case thank public for support 

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Cyclists take part in sixth annual Tour de Queens


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

After completing the Five Boro Bike Tour last year, Astoria resident Jennifer Chakrabarti wanted to do a bike ride with her nine-year-old son Bhaskar.

The family-friendly sixth annual Tour de Queens on July 7 fit the bill. This year, it began in Chakrabarti’s “backyard” at Astoria Park.

“I like that it’s a slow-paced so that kids can do it,” Chakrabarti said. “That’s what really drew us to it, because he wanted to do a ride.”

About 1,250 riders from all over the city saddled up for the annual bike tour to experience a relaxing ride and enjoy unique views of western Queens neighborhoods, which was a major lane change for the event.

For the first time ever, the ride started in Astoria Park instead of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It continued for nearly 20 miles through Long Island City, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Corona and Elmhurst.

The ride also highlighted Juniper Valley Park at the halfway point, where the group gathered to rest, eat and reenergize.

“We change the ride up every year to showcase different parts of the borough, to demonstrate the interconnectivity of the different neighborhoods and to show how easy it is to bike through the borough and to show people the sites,” said event director Ben McRoberts of Transportation Alternatives.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district was included in the tour, hoped the ride could help future business.

“Not only is it healthy for all of us, but it is a great opportunity for people to see sites and small businesses that they never get to see,” said Van Bramer, who participated for the first time this year.

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM TOUR DE QUEENS 

About 100 volunteer ride marshals in orange jackets followed riders to keep them on track and assist in case there were any issues. Paramedics also followed closely behind the bikers in case of medical problems.

The NYPD escorted the ride to manage the crowd and traffic and provide a safe atmosphere. Many participants felt secure with the cops guiding the tour, especially after the tragic events of the Boston Marathon earlier this year.

“With this number of people, I guess there is a little bit of safety concern,” said Astoria cyclist Jonathan Co. “But I feel pretty safe for the most part.”

 

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Middle Village event fights cancer, one lap at a time


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

In 1994, just a few days after his 19th birthday, Darren Alloggiamento was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors discovered a brain tumor after he complained of a headache.

“I was so nervous and depressed,” Alloggiamento recalled.

He underwent successful surgery to remove the tumor a few weeks later. That year, the Queens native attended game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals to watch his beloved Rangers win the title.

Since his battle nearly two decades ago, he decided to donate to cancer research. He has attended the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Middle Village every year since 2004.

On June 22, dozens of survivors and about 1,000 other participants joined in the 11th annual Middle Village Relay for Life at Juniper Valley Park.

“My family was very supportive, but you need other survivors,” Alloggiamento said.

Sixty teams of nearly 600 participants total raised more than $184,000 for cancer research as of June 24, coming close to their goal of $200,000.

Communities across the country have held relays for more than 25 years since Dr. Gordy Klatt started the tradition to raise money for his local American Cancer Society office in Tacoma, Washington.

Today the event takes place in more than 5,000 communities across America, including numerous Queens neighborhoods.

“There is no finish line until we find a cure, which is why we walk in circles all night long,” said Leslie Orlovsky, who has directed the Relay at Juniper Valley Park since its inception.

“It’s too late for my son, but there are a lot of people that need the help,” said Maspeth resident Dolores St. Louis, whose son, Paul, died of cancer in 1996 at age 29. “People have to keep contributing so we can find a cure.”

 

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Art gives Queens students a voice


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Maggie Hayes

Queens artists are blossoming in borough elementary schools.

The LeAp public art program took two schools under its wing to help students make large-scale pieces and present them to the community. The works, by pupils from P.S. 9 and P.S. 75, took on current issues such as gun violence and global warming. They went on display at Juniper Valley Park and Forest Park.

“I am so proud of our students,” said program director Alexandra Leff, adding they “have been extremely brave in taking on major issues in such thoughtful, meaningful and beautiful ways.”

The students worked in groups to transform plain lunch tables into works of art relating to social issues. They crafted 3D pieces and other creations.

“My table sent a message to a lot of people,” said Jerome John, a seventh grader at P.S. 75. “It can touch a lot of people’s lives.”

John added that LeAp helped him reach a level of drawing and writing he “never knew” before.

The showcase will continue throughout the five boroughs as part of the largest student art exhibition in the history of city parks. Other issues such as bullying and drugs will be addressed through the students’ pieces.

“It’s time that young people have a voice in their community,” Leff said. “I hope the public will travel to see what young people have expressed on topics we all face every day.”

 

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