Tag Archives: queens community house

Kew Gardens Community Center members perform in first ‘Gotham’s Got Talent’ show

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Giulio Gallarotti/www.gothamcomedyfoundation.org

When comedian Giulio Gallarotti started volunteering with the Gotham Comedy Foundation (GCF) he thought he would be the one doing the entertaining.

The nonprofit, co-founded by Bill Drewes, a cancer survivor who “knows the first hand benefits of humor as a part of the healing process,” and Chris Mazzilli, co-owner of the Gotham Comedy Club, sends stand-up comics to hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers and social services agencies at no cost to bring humor to the sick, aged and lonely.

While Gallarotti, whose work includes the show “Totally Clueless” on MTV, was volunteering, audience members would sometimes volunteer to sing for him.

As host of the first “Gotham’s Got Talent” show at the Kew Gardens Community Center, the Brooklyn resident again had the chance to see the artistic skills of those he usually entertains.

The show, held on Wednesday, featured not only comedic performances by its members, but singing and poetry as well.

The community center is a creative outlet, according to Program Director Rachel Epstein.

“I think of this place as one big talent show,” she said.

Run under the auspice of Queens Community House, the center offers creative writing, visual art and dance classes, a comedy workshop, a chorus and a theatre group that performs all over Queens called “Belle’s Players.”

The center also holds “ show us your talent” shows twice a month, coordinated by one of its many volunteers, that features dancers, singers, poets and more, where anyone can come up and perform.

After having GCF comedians visit the center once before, Epstein was excited to work with the nonprofit again, and to see members, who are mainly senior citizens, have another opportunity to show off their skills.

“Age is just a number,” she said. “[Sharing your talents] enhances your self-esteem and image, and empowers you to give back to the community.”



Op-ed: Finding jobs in Queens

| oped@queenscourier.com


As the winter weather is at long last breaking, so is a seemingly never-ending downturn in the labor sector. Employers appear to be relishing in warmer temperatures as suddenly the country has seen an increase in jobs for education, health, retail and more.

The United States’ unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent in March to 6.3 percent in April — the lowest stat in about five years, according to the Labor Department.

However, at home, we still have work to do. While the country overall has seen improvement, New York City — and Queens — might be falling behind.

The latest numbers show the city at about an 8 percent unemployment rate and Queens not far behind at 7.6 percent. Residents in Queens, the most diverse and one of most populous New York City boroughs, have a range of skill sets that presumably would be ideal for any given employer, yet we continue to fall short with job opportunities.

It is no secret the city’s middle class population has struggled to maintain its class status. My constituents speak of holding two or more jobs or living in a multiple-income household just to get by. But there is also the all-too-frequent case of those coming to my office because they are trapped — unable to find work and scared as to how they will move forward.

For the younger demographic, many fresh out of college and eager to work, finding a job is priority number one. I know this group has the energy to apply to companies day in and day out, and many of them are rewarded for this perseverance. However, those with a few more years under their belt are occasionally overlooked by employers.

My office is hosting job fairs to address the need for finding employment for those who want to work. The first job fair is for those 50 years old and over. I have come to see this growing, overlooked senior population run into a variety of issues when searching for a job — sometimes they have “too much” experience; other times their work history doesn’t line up with current job qualifications. Many times, this group is too busy running a household or taking care of children to devote an endless amount of time to filling out applications. That’s the reason we sought specific vendors to help the older individuals find a job.

The Senior 50+ Job Fair is on Friday, May 30, at the Queens Community House in Kew Gardens, where groups such as the New York State Department of Labor, Sunnyside Home Care Inc., Family Aides Inc., GoodTemps, the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center and more will be present to give attendees the opportunities they need. Over the last year, the health care sector was one that added the most jobs and grew the fastest.

My other job fair is Friday, Sept. 19, and will feature approximately 100 vendors offering job opportunities to all who attend. That job fair will be held at the new Rockaway YMCA located at 207 Beach 73rd Street. For more details on either job fair, call me at 718-738-1111.



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.



Star of Queens: Jean. C. Silva, president, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


COMMUNITY SERVICE: Jean. C. Silva is the president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, a civic association that is dedicated in preserving, restoring and maintaining the natural, historic and cultural integrity of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

BACKGROUND: Silva was born and raised in Brooklyn, and then moved to Queens. After spending most of her time and effort working in Manhattan, Silva decided she should put more time into her own community and got involved with the Conservancy. She has been the president of the organization since November, 2011.

“In 2004, I met Patricia Dolan [while] volunteering at the Queens Community House, and she was the person who got me involved in the Conservancy,” said Silva.

GOALS: In the coming year, Silva plans on preserving and maintaining the natural and cultural virtue of the park, in order to ensure the park’s educational, environmental and recreational benefits for all users.

“We would like to work with the Parks Department in continuing to preserve and maintain the Pat Dolan Trail with our hikes, field trips and bird watching.”

BEST MEMORY: Silva’s fondest memory is watching people’s reaction when entering Willow Lake, a hidden treasure smack in the middle of two major highways, the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway.

“It’s like a different world, it’s so quiet, soothing, and peaceful, you feel like you’re not even in Queens,” she said.

Silva remembered seeing a variety of different birds migrating south, and even a muskrat while on the Pat Dolan Trail.

“We have a lot of different animals here, and some of them you would never think would be here in Queens. It’s like you’re really in the country.”

INSPIRATION: Silva’s biggest inspiration was working with the Parks Department to get Willow Lake open again. It took 18 years, but the organization was able to do it, and renamed the trail the Pat Dolan Trail in remembrance of the founder, Patricia Dolan, who had been killed in a tragic car accident in November 2011.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Silva says Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is underutilized and underfunded and she wants to change that. She also mentioned potential plans to restore the New York State Pavilion and her hopes to bring it back to its glory.




Call to reinstate free parking at Pomonok Community Center

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Visitor parking spots that were once free will now cost a Pomonok community center roughly $2,700, officials said.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), since partnering up in March with Greystone Parking Services, has come under fire for spiking some annual parking rates at 43 citywide developments.

Now it is facing more heat for billing the Pomonok Community Center $272 for 10 visitor spaces that used to be complimentary.

“The new parking fees at the Pomonok Community Center are outrageous and unacceptable, and NYCHA must repeal them immediately,” said Congressmember Grace Meng. “They’re treating this parking lot like it’s their own business, and it’s a business gone bad.”

The Pomonok Community Center at the Queens Community House provides meals, activities and cooling stations during hot weather to more than 50 seniors who visit daily, officials said.

“It’s unconscionable that NYCHA and Greystone are extorting money from senior citizens,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

Monica Corbett, president of the Pomonok Resident Association, said the center is a second home to residents even outside the neighborhood.

Parking is already limited, she said, since Queens College and P.S. 201 are around the corner.

“The nearest senior center is not close nor is there an after-school center that serves children from K-5 grade,” Corbett said. “To ask staff and participants to pay for parking is asinine.”

Local leaders said hundreds of residents have complained to Greystone about a slew of issues — including months-long waits for parking permits and multiple cars being assigned to one spot — to no avail.

“The current policy is extremely shortsighted and threatens the operation of the center,” said Assemblymember Mike Simanowitz.

NYCHA did not immediately comment.




Star of Queens: Amy Tam-Liao

| GGiaconelli@queenscourier.com

Amy Tam-Liaow

Amy Tam-Liao, market manager
Queens Community House Pomonok Center

Community Involvement: Amy Tam-Liao is the director of community services at the Pomonok Center for the non-profit Queens Community House. She manages the Pomonok community-run farmer’s market.

As director of community services, Tam-Liao organizes workshops and classes, helps with housing assistance, participates in the Pomonok Cancer Action Council, and supports the Senior Center and Youth Services with events.

The Pomonok farmer’s market, currently in its second year, is a project “by the community, for the community.” The goal of the market is to provide access to fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. The market also supports local family owned farms and the John Bowne High School Agriculture Department by giving out seasonal produce and eggs.

Personal: Tam-Liao is a native of Queens and is married with two children. She enjoys experimenting in the kitchen with healthy recipes. After graduating from Hunter College’s undergraduate program for health education, Tam-Liao decided that her way of giving back was to work with people in their communities. She returned to Hunter for graduate school to become a community organizer.

Inspiration: Her inspiration comes from her own children and children in general because “they are our next generation.”

Challenge: “My challenges are spreading the word about eating well in a society that is used to convenience and processed foods,” said Tam-Liao. She also believes it is “a struggle to get others involved in the community.”

Seven Beacons set for closure

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Samuel Field Y at M.S. 158

Public protest proved to be in vain, as the Department of Youth and Community Development announced that seven Beacon city-wide programs will close their doors in July.

Founded in 1991, the 80 Beacon programs existing throughout New York City as a subset of Queens Community House are “youth-development centers” providing year-round, complementary services, specializing in young people ages six to 21 and focusing on leadership and skills growth.

Beacons operate after school, on weekends, school holidays, and throughout the summer, representing a program model that has been adopted in over 10 cities across the country. Each Beacon program serves roughly 800 youth and adults.

Queens Community House is a network of social service providers assisting residents with benefits such as tutoring and athletics, as well as classes for General Education Diploma (GED) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

The Beacons set to be shut down are Phipps Community Development at I.S. 192 in the Bronx; Heart Share Human Services at I.S. 259 in Brooklyn; Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center at P.S. 198 in Manhattan; Hudson Guild at M.S. 414 in Manhattan; Queens Community House at J.H.S. 190 in Queens; Samuel Field Y at M.S. 158 in Queens; and Tottenville High School Jewish Community Center of Staten Island in Staten Island.

When a list of 16 potentially closing settlement houses was compiled earlier in 2012, Patrick Pinchinat, Director of Queens Community House Beacon Program at J.H.S. 190, said the center is at-risk because it resides in “low-needs zone,” – an area with a relatively low poverty rate and average socio-economic standing.

Dr. Steven Goodman, Executive VP and Chief Executive Officer of the Samuel Field Y M.S. 158 Beacon Program, was surprised that this decision was made so early in the budgeting process.

In response to the surrounding area being deemed a “low-needs zone,” Goodman claimed that when the program was established in Little Neck in the early 1990s, it desperately needed its services.

“The bottom line is that we were successful in turning the community around and sustaining it,” said Goodman. “Youth crime has declined tremendously. Academic improvement has inclined. Parents faced with hard economic times have been able to go back to work without being concerned with child care. It has encouraged parents to seek employment and better paying jobs. Now two parents can work instead of one.”

According to a representative from the mayor’s office, the closures are attributable to “painful funding decisions.”

“We are committed to providing the quality programming on which so many rely, and will work within our means to continue to provide them,” said the representative.

The elimination of these programs is expected to save the city approximately $2.1 million in the 2013 Fiscal Year.

According to Goodman, before the final budget is decided on, representatives from the closing Beacons will have a chance to express how much this will affect their communities.

“We will stand together and stand firm to get our message out,” said Goodman. “We hope that all seven Beacons can make something happen. Optimism isn’t enough. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”


Beacon Program closure protest continues

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Community outcry at the possible closure of several Queens Community House Beacon Program centers is growing louder as more neighborhoods, faced with potentially losing their facilities, are speaking out.

“The state of the community’s outrage is an understatement,” said Marva Dudley, president of the advisory board at Parsons Beacon, a center facing possible closure. “It serves so many people and is essential to working parents. The community is devastated.”

According to a representative from the office of Councilmember James F. Gennaro, The New York City Youth Alliance, a group of non-profits, compiled a list of 16 Beacon Programs potentially facing closure. Eight of these programs are located in Queens.

“We know these proposed cuts often occur as the city finalizes its budget, but Beacons are a vital part of this community and must be preserved,” said Gennaro. “If we stand up now, we send a message that we are paying attention, and we take the first step to ensuring the funding continues. And that means all these great kids keep getting the tutoring and supervision they need to succeed.”

Queens Community House is a network of social service providers, assisting nearly 30,000 people borough-wide with benefits such as tutoring and athletics, as well as classes for General Education Diploma (GED) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

The Beacon Program, a subset of Queens Community House, is a “youth-development center,” providing year-round, complementary services, specializing in young people ages six to 21 and focusing on leadership and skill growth.

On Tuesday, February 13, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, expressing his opposition the potential termination of a Beacon Program located at J.H.S 190.

According to a representative from the mayor’s office, the possible closure of services such as the Beacon Program is attributable to “painful funding decisions.”

“We are committed to providing the quality programming on which so many rely, and will work within our means to continue to provide them,” said the representative, who alleged that the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) will eliminate seven Beacon programs in the interest of saving approximately $2.1 million in the 2013 Fiscal Year.

DYCD has undergone measures to investigate the effectiveness of at-risk centers, analyzing population and socioeconomic data. This process has not yet been completed.

Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and locals plead for Beacon program

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


In danger of shutting its doors, a Forest Hills Beacon Program’s last hope may be a plea from a local politician.

Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg objecting to the possible closure of the Queens Community House Beacon Program, currently housed in J.H.S. 190.

Queens Community House is a network of social service providers, assisting nearly 30,000 people borough-wide with benefits such as tutoring and athletics, as well as classes for General Education Diploma (GED) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

The Beacon Program, a subset of Queens Community House, is a “youth-development center,” providing year-round, complementary services, specializing in young people ages six to 21 and focusing on leadership and skill growth.

According to a representative from Hevesi’s office, funding for the Beacon Program is allocated in the mayor’s budget for a fiscal year (FY). The Queens Community House Beacon Program at J.H.S. 190 has funding through June 30, 2012, according to the representative.

However, if no funds are appropriated by July 1 (the start of the 2012-2013 FY), the J.H.S. 190 program will most likely face termination.
The representative was unsure as to where the original recommendation for closure began.

According to Patrick Pinchinat, director of Queens Community House Beacon Program at J.H.S. 190, the center is at risk because it resides in a “low-needs zone,” – an area with a relatively low poverty rate and average socioeconomic standing. Pinchinat alleged that 16 Beacons are in danger, including centers in Bayside and Flushing.
Pinchinat said that since the J.H.S. 190 branch was included under a list of potentially closing centers, community advocacy for the Beacon Program has skyrocketed.
“There have been a lot of efforts around [keeping this center open],” said Pinchinat. “[The center] is something that’s really needed in the community. It’s a safe haven we have constructed with activities for young people. We further education. Not only are we after school programs, but we are other services too.”

The J.H.S. 190 program, which opened in 1998, services youth from Long Island City, Jamaica, Rosedale and Woodside, particularly catering to children of minority groups.

“[The Beacon Program] is a reflection of what New York City is: a snapshot of ethnicities and culture,” said Pinchinat. “We’re going to fight because it’s a worthy cause and something the community wants us to do.”

The mayor’s office could not be reached as of press time.

Photo courtesy of Queens Community House Beacon Program at J.H.S. 190

Children who participate in the Queens Community House Beacon Program at J.H.S. 190 are in danger of losing their facility because of lack of funding.