Tag Archives: star of queens

Star of Queens: Richard Hourahan, collections manager at the Queens Historical Society

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Background: Richard Hourahan was not enthusiastic about history in his youth, and had primarily been interested in business, math and physical science. He studied chemistry for a short time as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania before being drafted as a soldier into the Vietnam War. After he got back to the United States he resumed his studies to finish a degree in business school and a master’s degree in computer software. It was only after a career in software database and archival work that he began to pursue an interest in historical knowledge and preservation.

Occupation: Collections manager at the Queens Historical Society

Community Involvement: Hourahan’s presentations can be seen by audiences all throughout Queens in various locations, with an estimated 7,000 people having attended an exhibit he produced for the World’s Fair Anniversary Festival in 2014. The Queens Historical Society also takes history right to members of the public in other ways, with lessons in local classrooms and satellite exhibits with participating locations, such as Queens College.

Biggest Challenge: Hourahan says that creating programs to appeal to people of different communities and backgrounds is one of his biggest challenges, especially in Queens, largely known as the most culturally diverse community in the world. A big part of his job is breaking barriers and speaking to people of different languages and socioeconomic backgrounds, so he tries to tell stories that can the whole community can relate to by telling historical stories though various perspectives. He also focuses on connecting to his audience.

“They talk to you, they ask questions, they know stuff,” Hourahan said. “I find I have to get outside myself, and so I try to listen to people.”

Inspiration: “Queens is my biggest inspiration,” Hourahan said. “It is. You just have to go out and walk around.”


Star of Queens: Bishop Witold Mroziewski, auxiliary bishop-elect, Diocese of Brooklyn

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo by Anthony Giudice

BACKGROUND: Auxiliary Bishop-elect Witold Mroziewski was born in Augustow, Poland, on March 25, 1966. Mroziewski graduated from his seminary with a master’s degree in theology and was ordained on June 29, 1991. The following year, he was sent to the Diocese of Brooklyn to continue his parish duties as an associate to the pastor at Our Lady of Czestochowa. He was named pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa in 2000 and worked there until he was transferred to Holy Cross Church in Maspeth in 2013. He will be ordained an auxiliary bishop on July 20.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Mroziewski and his parish have an active relationship with the 104th Precinct. “They are doing outstanding work and protecting all our events when we celebrate parish events and occasions,” Mroziewski said. He has also worked with the City Council to help rename 56th Road, the block of Holy Cross Church, Pope John Paul II Way. “The cooperation with them has been outstanding,” Mroziewski said of the City Council.

FEELINGS ON BEING APPOINTED AN AUXILIARY BISHOP: “I got a phone call from the Nuncio who actually announced that Pope Francis appointed me auxiliary bishop. It was absolutely unexpected. It overwhelmed me and I was deeply touched because I never expected that honor, never. It’s a great responsibility, not only for Catholics, but for all people locally in the diocese and also in the universal church.”

CHALLENGES IN NEW POSITION: “From now on I will be more involved in public work. As a parish priest, I was recognized in the parish on a local level and sometimes in the community where that parish was located. Now, they will know me more often with my work and relation to the people of this diocese.

PERSONAL LIFE: “From childhood, I did like to be a sportsman. I was a good runner and I like to bike and to ski. Another hobby is contact with the people. I like having discussions and meetings with them to teach them and answer their questions. I enjoy talking to the children and the youth because they are the future of the nation, of the church and the local communities.”



Star of Queens: Souha Ltifi, president, QCC Business Society

| asuriel@queenscourier.com


Background: Souha Ltifi, 39, currently lives in Elmhurst but came into the United States from Tunisia in 1999. Fascinated by American culture and music, Ltifi came to the country for a better life and a chance to enjoy freedoms that were forbidden to her as a woman in Tunisia, where her younger brothers were allowed to play outside and ride a bike but she wasn’t. She speaks Arabic, French and English and is now married and the mother of two children, ages 9 and 5 months.

Occupation: Ltifi is currently a full-time student in her final semester of Queensborough Community College studying business administration, but she has worked a number of jobs to support herself, including busing tables at a restaurant, driving an ice cream van, and counting prescription medication as a pharmacy technician. She will be transferring to Queens College following her graduation.

Community Involvement: Ltifi became president of the Business Society after being encouraged to apply for the position by professor and mentor Linda Meltzer.

Greatest Achievement: “When I came here, for a whole week I didn’t know where I was sleeping. I slept in the airport for a couple of days, Astoria Park for a couple of nights. I didn’t know the language, didn’t know anybody. I never thought one day that I would be a student, that someone would be interviewing me like this. I feel very proud of myself. I didn’t speak the language, but now I’m sitting in a student’s desk and I understand and I get A’s and B’s.”

Biggest Challenge: “Balancing between study and home. It’s really hard to balance having kids and doing schoolwork, I have to do homework together with my son. I have to be mother, wife and student at the same time.”

Inspiration: Ltifi had to work to support her four younger siblings while they pursued an education, and she is the last one to finish up her degree. She was motivated to work toward her own education after each of her siblings found success in their respective fields, and she says that her biggest inspiration is to make her family proud, especially her 9-year-old son.

“I want them to be proud of me, how I did,” Ltifi said. “It’s not easy to come here and advance and study. I want him to use me as inspiration, and finish school and be a good citizen.”


Star of Queens: Veronica Tsang, president, Gift of Life

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



BACKGROUND: Veronica Tsang is a Fresh Meadows resident who loves to give back to her community. This passion has been recognized by the Museum of Chinese in America, which recently awarded Tsang with the “Community Hero” award for advancing the needs of the Chinese American community.

OCCUPATION: Tsang is the senior vice president of branch administration for the eastern regions at Cathay Bank. She is in charge of all retail branch business in New York, New Jersey and Chicago. She has worked at Cathay Bank for 10 years and previously worked at JPMorgan Chase.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Tsang is the president of Gift of Life, an organization that provides free heart transplants for children with congenital heart disease. She is also a board member at the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts. Tsang is a chairwoman for the community advisory council at New York Hospital Queens and serves on the finance committee for Holy Redeemer Academy in Flushing.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “My greatest achievement is to provide mentorship and training to my team so that they become more successful in their career and personal life.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “How to utilize my limited resources to make a bigger impact in the business and community.”

INSPIRATION: “My husband is my greatest inspiration in my life. He taught me how to live life to the fullest. One of his favorite sayings is, “The best time is now. If you can do things today, why wait for tomorrow.”




Star of Queens: Angelica Harris, historian and author, founder of Excalibur Reading Program

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BACKGROUND: Angelica Harris, 58, was born and raised in Queens and now lives in Glendale. She was chosen to be the Queens poet laureate in 2010 and wrote a poem titled “Queens My Hometown.” Harris enjoys living in Queens because “we are a close-knit community of many cultures, backgrounds and creeds. We live together, work and play together and in times of need we stand proud and tall together.”

OCCUPATION: Harris is a medieval historian and author of several books and short stories including the trilogy “The Quest for Excalibur,” which chronicles the story of Arianna Lawrence and her journey as she travels back in time to Camelot to return Excalibur to King Arthur. Harris was also commissioned by the Titanic Museum in Florida to write a book about her uncles who worked on the Titanic.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Harris is the founder of the Excalibur Reading Program, a nonprofit organization started in 2005 to help children and adults with special needs reach academic and personal goals. Teachers in the community conduct workshops and tutor students in reading, history, math, science and also offer SAT, ACT and GED prep classes. The program also offers art classes and mentoring programs to children who have experienced issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and those who have been incarcerated.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Part of my greatest achievement is overcoming some very serious issues I went through in my youth. I’m a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse in my youth and if I didn’t have the faith and if I didn’t have some influential people in my life, especially in high school, I don’t know where I would’ve been today.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “One of my biggest challenges in the last couple of years was making sure that my center stayed open. We went into a major financial deficit. We did some fundraising. It was making sure that our bills were paid and keeping the center open and running. Through the challenge, this year we’ve started getting recognized through the schools in the surrounding area. I ask how the parents hear about us and I hear that the parent coordinator at so-and-so school told us how well you worked with the community.”

INSPIRATION: “There are two through my high school. I graduated from William Cullen Bryant and two of my high school teachers … knew I was going through some challenges. Lila Klauseman was my greatest inspiration for the arts and she brought out the artist in me. So was Mr. Chahallis, who was my history teacher who gave me the love of history. But my biggest inspiration is Jesus. Through everything I’ve been through in my life, if I didn’t have him and I didn’t have him to either follow or fall back on … you know he’s there and he’s my first and foremost [inspiration].”




Star of Queens: Nan Khin May, CUNY service corps volunteer, New American Welcome Center at the Flushing YMCA

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Nan Khin May


Background: Nan Khin May, 25, was born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar, and now lives in Fresh Meadows. She loves Queens because it is one of the most diverse places she’s ever been and a place where she can taste food from all around the globe. She also appreciates how much time she can save commuting easily to her college and her jobs.

Occupation: May works part time at the office of information technology at Queens College as an assistant, where she learns from her supervisors, coworkers and other students. She also works as an independent financial planner at World Financial Group in College Point, as she would like to become certified after graduating because she wants to help others who are planning to go to college.

Community Involvement: Currently, May is a CUNY service corps volunteer at the New American Welcome Center (NAWC) at the Flushing YMCA. NAWC serves the immigrant population by providing a range of services including ESL and computer classes. The goals for the immigrants are English literacy, cultural competence and self-sufficiency. May translates Chinese and Burmese for them, as well as conducts intakes of client information. The majority of students are adults from China, Korea and the Dominican Republic. In addition, May occasionally volunteers for the Mahasi Meditation Group.

Greatest Achievement: “I would consider getting the experiences of volunteering and giving the community what it needs to be both my greatest personal and professional achievement,” May said. “My 4-year-old niece told me ‘sharing is caring,’ and I couldn’t agree with her more.”

Biggest Challenge: “Going to college and getting all good grades because that is an important requirement in Asian families. Also, dealing with my father’s heart disease and elderly health issues.”

Inspiration: “My aunt. She is my mentor and best friend. She is a very strong woman and she takes care of her family. She loves me like her own daughter and has taught me since I was in Myanmar. With my parents’ support and her guidance, I am able to live here and succeed.”


Star of Queens: Marlene Smith-Sotillo, president and CEO, Sickle Cell Awareness Foundation International

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Star of Queens


Background: Marlene Smith-Sotillo, 46, lives in Jamaica and was born and raised in Morvant Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. She loves the diverse and multicultural community in Queens, which includes the best variety of restaurants, shopping malls, schools and public transportation.

Occupation: Smith-Sotillo is a home health professional. She helps families manage illness or injuries, explains diet and nutrition programs, and teaches self-monitoring techniques. Her office is located at 108-03 164th St. in Jamaica. She said she chose this line of work mainly for the happiness she could create by making a difference in people’s lives and making the world a little healthier and safer.

Community Involvement: Smith-Sotillo is the president and CEO of the Sickle Cell Awareness Foundation International based out of Jamaica. She engages the community with educational outreach workshops, health fairs and support group development to improve the quality of life for those affected by the disease. She raised a daughter and son who have both been affected by the disease and recognized the lack of knowledge from medical staff members in hospitals. She puts a great deal of importance in better educating medical facilities, so she started the nonprofit organization. She also directs walk-a-thons and seminars in local schools and churches. The foundation holds an annual “Health is Power” 5K walk at Roy Wilkins Park, as well as an annual dinner theater fundraising event held each October. Whether people are looking to get help or give help, she connects them with the tools and resources they need.

Greatest Achievement: “My greatest achievement is educating the community in sickle cell anemia by starting my own nonprofit organization. I have developed the unique ability to inspire families and sustain a commitment to excellence that’s earned the applause of many in the city.”

Biggest Challenge: “Carrying on with the cause in spite of the loss of my son, Syd Sotillo, who assisted in starting the organization.”

Inspiration: “My family and Maya Angelou.”




Star of Queens: Victoria Grappone, vice president, Maspeth Kiwanis

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo by  Anthony Giudice

Community Involvement: Victoria Grappone plays multiple roles in the Maspeth community as vice president of the Maspeth Kiwanis and treasurer of the Queens West division of Kiwanis. Maspeth Kiwanis holds several fundraisers throughout the year to raise money to send children to camp during the summer and for scholarships. Grappone has organized fundraisers such as a casino night and a murder mystery dinner for the Kiwanis.

Motivation: “The people in the community” are the biggest reason Grappone gives back, she said. “I’m dedicated to the communities I work within, Forest Hills and Maspeth, and I just want to give back to everybody,” she added. “I love to help people, that’s the bottom line.”

Occupation: Grappone was recently promoted within Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, becoming the vice president and retail sales development manager — a brand-new position with the bank. “I am going to be coaching and mentoring the employees here at Maspeth Federal with customer service skills and ongoing training,” Grappone explained. “It’s going to be interesting,” she said of having to set the groundwork for a new department.

Biggest Challenge: “My biggest challenge would be fundraising,” Grappone said. “Getting the word out about Kiwanis, having more people join Kiwanis and having them understand what a good cause it is” are other challenges she faces.

Achievements: Grappone earned a bronze key pin from the Maspeth Kiwanis, signifying that she has brought in one new member this year. She has also received awards from the 112th Precinct for her community involvement, as well as for being treasurer for the 112th Precinct Community Council. As a member of Maspeth Federal, Grappone has been recognized for her work with the Chamber of Commerce and Forest Hills Civic Association. “We’re very involved with all the communities,” she said.

Personal Life: Grappone lives in Queens with her husband, three children and two dogs. “I have a great job here. I enjoy my job. I love meeting people, I love my customers and my employees,” she said.


Star of Queens: Khadjat Oluwo, disaster case manager, Metropolitan Council

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Khadjat Oluwo


Background: Khadjat Oluwo, 31, was born and raised in Brooklyn and now lives in East Flatbush. When mixing with people from Queens, mainly through her job, she notices their enduring strength and good spirit even when times are tough. She appreciates this characteristic because she herself is extremely hardworking and dedicated to her cause.

Occupation: Oluwo is the disaster case manager at Metropolitan Council, a regional agency that plans initiatives that provide housing opportunities for all as well as services such as ensuring water cleanliness. Oluwo sees this job as her chance to make a difference in people’s lives, which is most important to her.

Community Involvement: At Met Council, Oluwo provides assistance to victims of Superstorm Sandy by providing them with things like new furniture, new clothing, and emotional and psychological assistance services. One client of Oluwo’s was recently able to move back into her home without any out-of-pocket costs, using only the organization’s resources. Oluwo is also a member of the National Breast Cancer Foundation and contributes time to the organization’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness month. She also belongs to the Keep a Child Alive Organization, which has the mission of realizing the end of AIDs for children by combating the economic impacts of HIV, especially in Africa.

Greatest Achievement: “Completing college and being able to do what I enjoy for a living — helping people in need.”

Biggest Challenge: “Anytime I am dealing with the occasional lack of resources or minimal access to them at Met Council. It’s difficult when that happens while you’re trying everything you can to help.”

Inspiration: “My parents. They came to this country with nothing and I’ve watched them make a name for themselves without any outside help at all.”



Star of Queens: Rev. Dwayne Jackson, volunteer

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



BACKGROUND: Rev. Dwayne Jackson was born and raised in the South Bronx. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School and completed his bachelor’s from New York Institute of Technology, majoring in science and electronic engineering with a minor in computer science. He graduated with a master’s degree in theology from the seminary in New Brunswick. He has been working in Astoria for around 17 years. Though officially a resident of Newark, New Jersey, he says he hardly goes home and spends most of his nights at the parsonage across the street from his church in Astoria.

OCCUPATION: He is a pastor at the First Reformed Church of Astoria on Ditmars Boulevard.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Apart from his regular duties, Jackson volunteers with tenant associations. He is a mentor for children and teens at the Astoria Houses Community Center. He also volunteers at an Astoria senior center. He meets and interacts with local leaders about job, business, education and training opportunities in the community, and puts forth residents’ concerns about issues that affect the quality of life. He also volunteers at the AIDS Center of Queens County. His most recent responsibility is acting as a clergy liaison for the local police from Police Service Area 9.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Being in the neighborhood for so long, seeing young people moving from a questionable place to a place from where they can contribute to society … just knowing that I can be there for people in their greatest time of need is my greatest achievement,” Jackson said.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Trying to find resources to meet all needs,” Jackson said. “Financial resources, finding work for people or getting them trained … trying to find enough time in the day to meet the needs of all the people who reach out.”

INSPIRATION: “There are a few people but I’d like to mention Rev. Dr. Wilbur Washington. He taught me a phrase when I first joined the church. He said, ‘Love the people and they’ll learn to love you in return. And with this kind of relationship, you can walk with them anywhere they need you to go.’ It allows me to build a confidence with them and that my presence there is for their benefit.”


Star of Queens: Jesse Mills, volunteer, New Immigrant Community Empowerment

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Jesse Mills


BACKGROUND: Jesse Mills, 25, was born in Rhode Island to an American mother and a father of Salvadoran origin. He majored in Hispanic language and literatures at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He moved to Astoria two years ago. He describes the neighborhood as a “cool” one that is “pretty diverse” as it houses the young, the old, immigrants and non-immigrants.

OCCUPATION: He works at a sports technology company in the field of product management.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Mills was always interested in giving back and lending a helping hand. His mother was an immigration lawyer, and his stepfather is of Cuban origin. He grew up in an environment exposed to the trials of the immigrant community and he knew that’s where he wanted to volunteer his help. A year ago, he found he had some extra time on his hands. He got in touch with New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an organization based in Jackson Heights that works for immigrant workers. He started with analyzing data they had collected from a survey before moving on to working on their website, http://justice4jobseekers.org. He uses his skills in web design to update the site, keeping current content guiding immigrant workers on how they should not be taken advantage of by job agencies that don’t follow rules and regulations.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “I don’t think I’ve necessarily achieved a lot. I just enjoy meeting and talking to people from different walks of life and I am happy I have been able to do that.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Having moved around a lot [over the years], it’s tough to get to know people for a long period of time. Getting to know a community is difficult. My two years in New York is the longest time I’ve been in one place. It’s nice to be more ingrained for a change.”

INSPIRATION: “I won’t say a particular person inspires me, but the aspects of many people. People who go out of their way to help, who are honest, straightforward with their intentions, those are the people I look up to.”



Star of Queens: Jus Daze, volunteer, Forward Rise

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



BACKGROUND: Rapper Jus Daze, 31, was born in Brooklyn but raised in Queens. He has lived in the borough for the past 20 years and now lives in Ridgewood. He likes the diversity of the neighborhood and calls it “comfy.”

OCCUPATION: He is a hip-hop artist and a voiceover artist, doing voiceovers for documentaries. He works in Manhattan in a law firm.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Jus Daze volunteers with Forward Rise, an organization he says that is dedicated to showing how children with disabilities are active in the community and inculcating positivity in youth. He is currently helping to facilitate an event the organization is holding in the summer in Long Island. He is fundraising and using his connections in the music and entertainment industries to raise the profile of the event, which includes a wheelchair basketball competition. He will also perform and sell CDs, the proceeds of which will be fully donated to charity. Growing up severely bowlegged, Jus Daze learned that if you stay grounded and embrace the community, the community will embrace you. Before Forward Rise, he also put together a mix tape that he gave away in exchange for contributions toward Hurricane Sandy relief. He matched the amounts he got with his own money and gave it all to Red Cross. He also spreads the anti-bullying message to schoolchildren.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Winning rap battles in New York and in Canada, being on Jimmy Fallon in 2013, all that was great, but my greatest achievement is that when I started, I didn’t know what to do with the talent I’ve been given. I am moved when people tell me that they get through whatever they were going through by listening to my music. Helping people through my music because music helped me express all the pain I’ve been going through.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Sometimes, my biggest challenge is staying motivated in an industry [music] that is very underhanded and not letting the politics get in the way of my dreams.”

INSPIRATION: “The previous generations of hip-hop artists, pretty much everybody who listened to my music and gave me feedback, people who supported me, my family, my mom, my aunt, my wife, the children who tell me they did not bully back when they were being bullied. It’s inspiring.”


Star of Queens: John Spagnuolo, president of the Kiwanis Club of Howard Beach

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Background: John Spagnuolo, 46, lives in Howard Beach, where he was born and raised. He loves the no-nonsense character of the town, and flourishes among his neighbors who are genuine and never mince words. The fact that Queens has continued to prosper culturally through both good and hard times keeps him and his wife of 21 years proud to raise their son and daughter in the borough.

Occupation: Spagnuolo is the vice president and store manager of the TD Waterhouse Bank at 162-02 Crossbay Blvd. He joined the bank when the branch opened, basing his decision partly on its sparkling reputation regarding civil outreach, such as its involvement in the Hurricane Sandy relief.

Community Involvement: The Kiwanis Club of Howard Beach was founded in 1962 and offers guidance to community youth through projects such as the Key Club and the Builders Club. Spagnuolo has been a member for three years and was elected president in October. The club comprises 55 volunteers who pay membership dues that go toward initiatives including Project Eliminate, which supports sufferers of pediatric tetanus, and the Silver Shield Foundation which, in conjunction with the Kiwanis Club, will help pay the college tuition for the children of the recently assassinated policemen. Their involvement with the Lindenwood Volunteer Ambulette Service saw them donate defibrillators directly. Spagnuolo discovered the club when he started working at the bank down the block from the club’s meeting place, Lenny’s Clam Bar. He also devotes time as chairman of the board at local St. Helen’s Church, where he teaches kids the importance of hard work without shortcuts, and leads them in writing letters to troops in Afghanistan.

Greatest Achievement: “Providing a stable home life for my family in increasingly tough times, while teaching children to love what they do, and yet still finding the time to help those in need,” said Spagnuolo. “It feels awesome and rewarding to have an impact on the old hometown.”

Biggest Challenge: “Juggling responsibilities between managing the branch, leading Kiwanis and being chairman at St. Helens,” he said. “Plus, of course, keeping time for family.”

Inspiration: “My father is number one,” he said. “He came to America with nothing and worked seven days a week to send me and my three siblings to the college of our choice. To this day he looks to help me out and still preaches the value of honesty.”


Star of Queens: Rodney Dutton, volunteer, South Asian Center of Urban Nations Outreach

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Rodney Dutton


BACKGROUND: Rodney Dutton, 50, was born in Oklahoma, but he moved to Queens in the ’90s. He moved away again as he set about visiting and working in other countries around the world. He traveled to 26 countries before coming back and volunteering at the South Asian Center of Urban Nations Outreach in Jackson Heights three months ago. He likes that Queens is such a diverse borough and he gets to learn about different cultures.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: The South Asian Center offers free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, citizenship test classes and computer classes for adult immigrants, mostly Bengalis, Indians, Pakistanis and Hispanics. Dutton helps out where needed but he is mainly involved with the ESL classes. The students are recent immigrants who are unable to get jobs or even visit a doctor because they cannot communicate in English, he said. They have to depend on their children to translate for them. Learning English boosts their self-esteem, he said. Dutton also helps tutor children on their homework, teaches a Bible study program for those interested, and is one of the organizers of the various events the center hosts, such as a fall festival for children and Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. These events help the students understand American culture, he said.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Teaching people English so they can interact with society is a big thing, but I don’t know it is my greatest accomplishment,” he said. “Teaching someone the language brings down the barriers that prevent them from moving forward. They were doctors and lawyers back home but they are standing outside society here and cannot be a part of it. To understand the culture, they have to master the language. It’s a big adjustment.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Getting volunteers is a big challenge. In New York, people are busy, they commute 30-60 minutes to work, work long hours. People want to help but they don’t have the time. Once they start volunteering, they continue, but getting them is a big challenge.”

INSPIRATION: “Jesus Christ is my inspiration. He taught truth, he helped people, he stood up against injustice. Through Him, we can know God. He lived a sacrificial life, helped people and wanted them to have a better life. He is my greatest example and my hero.”



Star of Queens: Vedesh Persaud, vice chairperson of the board of directors, Indo-Caribbean Alliance

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Star of Queens_Vedesh Persaud


BACKGROUND: Vedesh Persaud, 28, was born in Guyana and moved to the U.S. with his family in 1996. He grew up in Queens, and it was only at the age of 18, when he went to college, that he stepped out of the borough for the first time since moving here. Nowadays, he does that more often as his position as a project manager for the city’s Economic Development Corporation takes him all over the city. He lives in Jamaica and likes its liveliness and the blend of different cultures, but, he says, he has a “warm connection” to Richmond Hill.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Persaud started volunteering at the Indo-Caribbean Alliance (ICA) for “selfish” reasons, he said. Four years ago, he needed something to take his mind off the stress of his 24/7 job at John F. Kennedy Airport. Once he got involved, however, that changed. In 1996 he was in the same situation now faced by many of today’s immigrants, and he realized he had a lot to offer them. He launched a tutoring program for high school students who need help with subjects such as mathematics, English, science and Spanish. He was also involved with a program for recent immigrants who need mentorship. Two weeks ago, he was elected and appointed to his current position, which focuses more on fundraising and overseeing the ICA’s programs. But he does see himself continuing as a tutor.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “I feel close to the youth leadership program,” Persaud said. “We make a difference in the lives of the mentees — in social skills, character building, academic improvement — and the results are tangible. Being able to have an impact on individuals while giving back to the community is the greatest achievement.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “You put a lot of hard work into a program, do it pro bono, but you have to make individuals aware it exists and see to it that the program reaches the people who need it,” Persaud said. “Also, getting volunteers to conduct the program.”

INSPIRATION: “I strongly feel that I wouldn’t be the individual I am today without my parents. They came from humble beginnings. To make something out of nothing, while letting their kids explore their horizons. They always taught me to push the boundaries. [They] said, ‘Do more than you think you can.’”