BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
Woodhaven residents of all ages gathered at the historic Forest Park Carousel on June 12 for an evening of fun and merriment to help benefit the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) Educational Center for Women.
The center, located at 87-04 88th Ave. in Woodhaven, provides a four-tier ESL program and High School Equivalency Exam courses to local women from a variety of countries, backgrounds and religions.
The center was initially founded in 2004 at St. Clement Convent in South Ozone Park with only 18 students. Since relocating to St. Thomas Apostle Church in 2009, the center’s enrollment and services have greatly expanded.
“When we moved to Woodhaven, it just blossomed,” explained the center’s director, Sister Catherine Feeney. “We just gave out 84 certificates.”
Sushelia Loknath, a mother of two, was one of those recent graduates. Loknath completed the center’s High School Equivalency course and is awaiting a date to take the exam.
“I like everything about the center,” she said. “The teachers are there for us anytime we need them. They make a lot of sacrifices for us there and we really appreciate all they are doing. I feel so happy going there.”
Sonia Saleh, director of development at the center, echoed this sentiment. “We’re educating women and helping them to get better jobs. It makes a difference in the whole community,” she said. “The women are motivated. They come here because they want to learn. They want a better life. You get to see the women evolve.”
The special fundraising event at the Forest Park Carousel was created and organized by Woodhaven Historical Society President and SSND board member Edward Wendell.
“This group has a really deep impact on people’s lives. They’re really great,” he said.
Because students pay a one-time fee of $40 to attend multiple classes at the center, fundraising events such as this are a vital part of the center’s survival.
In addition to benefiting the center, the fundraiser also helps raise awareness and increases attendance at the landmark carousel.
“I love bringing together two different organizations to really help each other,” Wendell said.
“They do wonderful things for the people in the community,” said Wanda Sample, the center’s reigning 2015 Queen of Mardi Gras of the center’s major fundraising gathering held every February. “This is our first fundraiser here and hopefully we’ll have many more.”
Many of the women from the center brought their children to the fundraiser for an evening of face painting, hot dogs, $3 carousel rides and a special magic show.
“We want to reach out to the community and want the community to know about us and the school because we’re a big benefit to the community,” Saleh added.