Tag Archives: Plaza College

Queens nonprofit programs look for new home after 5-alarm fire caused by overloaded power strip


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Riyad Hasan

Lilian Castillo lost what felt like her second home last week after a five-alarm fire, caused by an overloaded power strip, engulfed a Jackson Heights building.

Castillo was a former student at the Queens Community House (QCH)’s Adult Education/English Classes for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program and is currently an employee for the nonprofit organization.

QCH, which provided four of its programs at the Bruson Building, located at 74-09 37th Ave., lost its home when the building’s third and fourth floors went up in flames the evening of April 21. Various other organizations, businesses and Plaza College were also housed inside the building.

“When I came to this country from the Dominican Republic, Queens Community House was the first place that welcomed me,” Castillo said. “It was where I met the people who became my friends. I feel as if I lost my second home in the fire.”

The Jackson Heights site was home to QCH’s Adult Education/ESOL program, which provides free intensive English and citizenship classes; immigrant services, providing assistance with citizenship and other legal residency needs; a CASP program, helping youth who have obtained a diploma through a non-traditional high school apply to and succeed in community college; and its Queens Center for Gay Seniors, the borough’s only senior center primarily serving an LGBT older adult population.

Also lost in the fire was a computer lab that was used by all four programs, which aided about 300 residents daily.

“The Center was full of many special, shared memories from the past decade,” Program Director John Nagel said. “Photos, awards, artwork…all gone.”

QCH has been able to secure some space at the Sunnyside Community Services for its Adult Education English classes. It’s Queens Center for Gay Seniors will operate out the QCH’s Kew Gardens Community Center.

According to the FDNY, nine people sustained minor injuries as a result of the fire, including seven firefighters and a police officer.

The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical due to an overloaded power strip, according to the FDNY.

Anyone interested in helping QCH, can visit www.queenscommunityhouse.org.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: P.S. 117 finds its heroes, $7K donated by community organizations


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre


 

P.S. 117 may not need to wait for Superman any longer to save graduation.

The Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Briarwood Latchkey Generation Facebook group stepped up to contribute about $7,000 together to help save the cash-strapped school.

Nearly 170 graduating fifth-graders were in danger of losing caps and gowns, yearbooks and a senior prom, which are usually sponsored by the school’s PTA, because the Department of Education is investigating $30,000 missing from the accounts of the school’s Parent Teacher Association. While the investigation is ongoing, the organization is not allowed to fundraise and is barred from all financial dealings.

At a school meeting on Monday, Jack Friedman, the executive director of the Chamber, and Nick Tomizawa, who represented the Facebook group made of Briarwood residents and alums of P.S. 117, announced the donations to a room full of parents and teachers.

“I feel ecstatic,” said Nicole Lopez, a parent from the school. “If I could go to the top of a mountain and scream, ‘Thank you,’ I would. I think it’ll get done in time for them to have a nice prom and ceremony.”

The money will pay for expenses for the senior items and dance. Parents are currently creating a list of needs, which they will present to principal Paula Cunningham for approval.

However, because of the short time the children may still not receive physical yearbooks. Instead, the school is considering CD yearbooks with class pictures, and getting autograph books for the children.

The members of the Briarwood Facebook group donated more than $1,000 through the crowdfunding site Giveforward.com.

The Chamber collected $6,000 in donations from Melrose Credit Union, New York Community Bank, TD Bank, Plaza College, Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association and Thermos & Thomiavia, PC.

The Chamber will hold a press conference to officially announce the donation on Friday.

 

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Five-alarm fire engulfs Jackson Heights commercial building, injuring nine


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Riyad Hasan

CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO 

Updated 1:55 P.M.

A five-alarm fire broke out Monday night at a Jackson Heights building that houses a college and several businesses, leaving nine injured.

The blaze was reported about 5:45 p.m. on Monday, April 21, at the 74-09 37th Ave. building’s third and fourth floors, the FDNY said. By 10 p.m. it had grown to five alarms, with 44 units and around 200 firefighters responding. It was finally under control at about 11:40 p.m., according to fire officials.

An FDNY spokesman said nine people sustained minor injuries as a result of the fire, including seven firefighters and a police officer. The ninth victim, according to published reports, was a child from a nearby building who was taken to the hospital for evaluation.

The community’s “biggest immigrant service provider,” Queens Community House, an LGBT senior center, Plaza College and about 50 other offices, stores and businesses were located inside the fire-damaged structure, according to Councilman Daniel Dromm.

“This is a devastating fire for our community,” Dromm said. “I have spoken to the business owners, many who I know personally, and the effect on their establishments is truly horrible. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. We will rebuild and come back as a better and stronger Jackson Heights.”

Charles Callahan, president of Plaza College, said classes were not in session when the fire began and he has not been informed of the cause of the fire on the partially vacant floors.

“All faculty, staff and students were safely evacuated from the building,” a post on the school’s Facebook page said. It added there will be “no services of any type” at the college Tuesday.

Plaza College, which has about 750 students, has been located in the building since 1971 and has been planning to move to Forest Hills in September 2014. Classes were expected to begin in May.

However, at the moment, school officials are surveying nearby sites to find a temporary location for the school until September.

“We want to help students ensure that they aren’t misplaced. I’m sure we’ll get through this,” Callahan said. “My heart goes out because this has been my home for all these years.”

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation and firefighters were still at the scene as a precaution as of Tuesday morning, according to the FDNY.

 

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Plaza College raises domestic violence awareness


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Alexa Altman

Instead of flowers or chocolates, students at Plaza College celebrated Valentine’s Day by raising awareness about domestic violence.

On February 14, students at the Jackson Heights college sold sweets and raffled off prizes to raise money for Safe Horizons, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence by providing counseling, mentoring and assistance with finding jobs and homes as part of VDAY, a global initiative to end violence against women.

In the past, Plaza College celebrated VDAY with poetry competitions and performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play typically performed on Valentine’s Day that contains a series of stories about the feminine experience. This year, several on-campus organizations teamed up to expand the event.

“We have never done it this big before,” said Zahid Razack, chair of the Student Affairs Committee at Plaza College. “We decided to go a little larger so I decided to make it a little better and get a little more involved. We’re trying to raise as much money as we can.”

Razack said he hoped the event would raise more than $2,500 for Safe Horizons, which is located in the same building as Plaza College.

 

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They’ve got the ‘write’ stuff


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

For Neresa Joseph and Alexandra Palma, writing is more than a hobby used to pass monotonous moments – it is a tool they employ to express themselves from the depths of their being and relay feelings that otherwise may never reach the surface.

Joseph and Palma, both undergraduate students at Plaza College in Jackson Heights, recently represented their school’s chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta (SKD) – an English honor society for those pursuing their associate’s degree – in the National Chapter of the Year competition in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The two students returned to Queens with the top prize, being recognized as the best SKD chapter in the country over the past year from a pool of 120 colleges.

“I had tears in my eyes when we won the award,” said Palma, 24, from Jackson Heights. “I know how hard people worked on this, and it felt great to be recognized for that.”

At the event in New Orleans, Joseph, the secretary of SKD, also won a $750 national service scholarship – one of only five handed out for a pool of over 1,200 candidates.

“When I first entered, I did not think I would win,” said the 25-year-old from Jamaica. “I figured I would give it a shot, and whatever happens, happens. I just felt someone from Plaza should win. But hearing my name announced, I was shocked. It showed me that I belittle myself, and I can accomplish more than I thought I could.”

To win the Chapter of the Year award, the members of SKD had to select a single service project they coordinated last year – which best represented their chapter’s work in promoting the English language – and assemble a portfolio for submission to the contest.

The students chose an event they called Sisters Without Voices, a poetry slam held last March to promote non-violence against women.

“I have never been in an abusive relationship, but I know women who have been, and that show was amazing because it helped women and showed we care,” said Joseph. “It is a way for women to come out and voice their opinions and what they’ve been going through. It is a relief.”

The open-mic poetry reading was organized through a partnership with Safe Horizons, an assistance agency that provides support, prevents violence and promotes justice for victims of crime and abuse. The event raised over $3,000 for Safe Horizons, and provided a venue for dozens of women to express themselves. Sisters Without Voices was organized by SKD President Candace Nixon, Vice President Janet Hill and Secretary Tiffany Graham.

“We had poetry celebrating woman, written by woman, bringing light to woman’s issues,” said Professor Jonathan Howle, who is actively involved with SKD. “That project was the best representation of our work all year.”

As part of the chapter’s anti-violence movement, members also performed “The Vagina Monologues,” which proved to have special significance for Palma.

“We performed this play talking about things that people usually don’t talk about, but that they should talk about,” she said. “It helps people being more familiar with their sexuality and women appreciating themselves more than anything else. This event really hit home for me, because I was in an abusive relationship, so when this opportunity came along to tell people about it, I jumped aboard to try and make a difference. So many people go through things and don’t say it, so by having said it, we help each other.”

Palma has received her associate’s degree in business administration and is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in the same field. She is now the president of Plaza’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honor society for bachelor’s and graduate students.

Her chapter has already organized a book drive, which collected 540 college-level books, and is planning a spelling bee and summer theatre program. After graduating, she hopes to get a culinary degree and open a restaurant.

Joseph recently helped coordinate an SKD multicultural poetry slam, which raised over $700. Once she has completed her studies, she plans to pursue a career in child psychology or continue writing, by becoming a journalist.

Regardless of what career paths Palma and Joseph follow, writing is sure to be a prominent part of both their lives.

“I’ve always liked to write since I was young,” Joseph said. “It is a way for me to voice my feelings.”

Palma enjoys the freedom and purity of the art.

“When you are writing, no one is judging you or speaking down to you,” Palma said. “It is just you and the paper.”