Tag Archives: star of queens

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


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY ROSS BELSKY

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.”

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


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Rodney Dutton

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

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.”

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


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

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.’”

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Star of Queens: Roger Gendron, president, Hamilton Beach Civic Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Roger Gendron

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

BACKGROUND: Roger Gendron was born and raised in Hamilton Beach. He continues to live there with his wife Holly and two sons — Christopher, 20, and Matthew, 16. He likes living in Hamilton Beach because he feels it is like a small town in a big city, where everybody knows everybody else and they watch out for each other. Gendron, 52, is a Local 3 electrician and shop steward at the Resorts World Casino.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Gendron was a member of the Hamilton Beach Civic Association for five years before he became president in February 2012. In the early days of his presidency, he dealt with issues such as poor street conditions, broken sidewalks and people hanging out at street corners, which were “easily rectified.”

The dynamics of his presidency changed dramatically when Hurricane Sandy hit the neighborhood that October. The association members, and the community as a whole, banded together to help each other out. The effects of the devastation are felt even today. Gendron spends most of his time serving as a liaison between his community and the city’s elected officials and agencies. The association has helped get a playground repaired at Hamilton Beach Park and a boardwalk reconstructed. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, new residents have moved into the neighborhood and the association tries to make them feel welcome in the community by inviting them to meetings and circulating a newsletter.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “There is no single achievement, but I have been able to become the voice of Hamilton Beach,” said Gendron. “Earlier, we were the forgotten stepchild of Howard Beach. One of the things I had promised was that Hamilton Beach will get recognition as a separate entity. We are there, in a way. Some good has come out of Sandy.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “My biggest challenge has been dealing with the bureaucracy of New York City,” said Gendron. “If you call one person about an issue to get an answer, they’ll promise to get back. One week later when you haven’t heard from them and call them again, they’ll say, ‘Oh, that person is on vacation.’ It is frustrating. We are blessed to have strong allies in our elected officials and all of them work well together and with us.”

INSPIRATION: “There is no one person. I’ve always found myself to be a helpful person, I’ll help anybody with anything. That’s the way I was raised. My work in this position helps more than one person, it helps the neighborhood. My mom would be proud of me.”

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Star of Queens: Bob Coccia, Trustee and Eucharist Minister, St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

BACKGROUND: Bob Coccia has been living in Queens for 71 years and has been a resident of Bayside for 45 years. He and his wife Barbara have two children and two grandchildren.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Coccia is the Eucharist minister at the St. Robert Bellarmine Chatholic Church. This parish has members of various communities — Italian, Irish, Filipino and Korean being just a few. Coccia conducts the weekly 9:15 a.m. Korean mass. He has been involved with the Korean community for the past 11 years. Over the years, he has built relationships with the community and its leaders, which makes it possible for him to have them participate in efforts organized by the church jointly with the other communities.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “The Robert Bellarmine community and the Korean community have honored me with different awards,” said Coccia. “I’ve been accepted by all the parish community. That has been my greatest achievement.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Trying to keep all the communities together,” he said. “We have many communities – senior citizens, Filipino, Irish, Italian, Korean — and I try to keep all of them together on the same page.”

INSPIRATION: “Father Henry Lang. He was a pastor who passed away a few years back. He was a wonderful man. When I lost two children, he was there to guide my wife and me spiritually.”

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Star of Queens: Thao-Nguyen Le, co-director, Vietnam Heritage Center


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BACKGROUND: Thao-Nguyen Le was born in Vietnam. Her family immigrated to Seattle in the ’90s. She went back to Vietnam to work for a startup after a career at KPMG and then came back to the U.S. She has been living in Queens for the past two years. She finds Astoria to be very quaint with its tree-lined streets.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Le develops and implements programs for Vietnam Heritage Center, recruits and manages volunteers, organizes special community events to celebrate Vietnamese culture, and cultivates and maintains relationships with donors and community members.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “I hosted two festivals — the first of their kind in the city — celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and the Moon Festival, in February and September respectively,” Le said.

“Together, they brought 1,000 people to celebrate. There is a lot of work involved, with recruiting and training around 50 volunteers, and creating a program that will draw people in.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Seeing the organization grow and reach its full potential,” Le said. “Trying to balance different facets such as fostering and building relationships with advisors and board to get donations, train volunteers and retain them, how to reach out, get people interested in Vietnamese culture to come together for events.”

INSPIRATION: “The community I serve inspires me,” Le said. “The students learning Vietnamese, the young people who come to volunteer after spending long hours at work, and all the people who come to support us for our events.”

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Star of Queens: Harold Rutgers, contributor, Jewelers For Children


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

BACKGROUND: Harold Rutgers was born and raised in Flushing. His father Victor was a jewelry designer who opened a jewelry store in Great Neck in 1962. Rutgers, a certified gemologist, joined the family business and opened Bell Family Jewelers in Bayside in 1987.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Rutgers is associated with Jewelers For Children. It is a nonprofit organization that donates to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Rutgers has a box and a sign in his store that states that he won’t charge customers for services such as jewelry cleaning.

Instead, they can donate a sum of their choice to the charity by dropping it in the box. Rutgers said that after he started this initiative 10 years ago, he found that people come to his store for the services because they also get the opportunity to give back at the same time. This year, he has already collected more than $1,500 and hopes to surpass that and collect $2,000 next year.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Being able to give back to the wonderful community,” said Rutgers. “Just being able to give back every day makes me feel great. I try to teach my two children to do the same.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Staying competitive in the business, keeping prices reasonable with today’s rising costs,” said Rutgers. “It’s a tough business environment.”

INSPIRATION: “My father,” said Rutgers. “He gave me an engraved ID bracelet when I went to high school that said, ‘The secret to success is consistency to purpose.’ That’s the rule I live by.”

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Star of Queens: Suzanne Bettis, assistant district attorney, Iraq veteran


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

BACKGROUND: Suzanne Bettis was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to the U.S. in ’97. She joined the Marine Corps when she was 17, because she wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself. She did two tours in Iraq as part of the unit that searched for and found troops who died on duty, processed their effects and sent them home to their families. She left the Marines in 2010, studied law at the New York Law School and now works in the office of Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. Since August, she has made Woodhaven her home.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: When she was a law school student, she set up an association that helped veterans and their dependents navigate the red tape of the Veterans Affairs department and get access to the benefits available to them. Now she is involved with the community falling under the 103rd Precinct. Every month, she attends the community council meeting to work closely with the community and the cops and reduce instances of gangs and gun violence. This year, she’ll be participating in the Veterans’ Day Parade.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “I feel like I am not done yet,” said Bettis. “I could go to law school because of the benefits from Veterans Affairs. That’s why when I was at school I focused on how veterans and their dependents can maximize the VA benefits. There are lots of veterans coming home now, and they should be able to use them to the best advantage. Also, many veterans can lose their benefits if they are convicted of criminal charges. At the DA’s office, we try to give them a second chance.” If they reform, for example, the charges against them are dismissed.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Getting acclimatized to being home,” said Bettis. “Military people are closed up. I am learning to interact with more people, ease myself year by year to trust people and hope they don’t look at me as a threat. There are so many misconceptions about why people join the military. We are all not killers. I just want to be understood. In the military, we don’t have the luxury of being fallible. Turning that off when you get home is tough.”

INSPIRATION: “I have a lot of people to thank,” said Bettis, “but especially those men and women we had to send back home in boxes. At 18, 19, 20, they are willing to sacrifice their lives for people they’ll never meet. Everyone I processed, searched for, dug out of still burning Humvees, are special people to put themselves in that position, knowing you’ll never get the opportunity to go to school, get married, have a family life. Their story has to live on. Every day I come to work, interact with someone, this is the community they were protecting. And I have to continue doing that.”

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Star of Queens: Michael Brothers, chairman of the board, NYFAC Foundation


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BACKGROUND: Born in the Bronx and raised in Pequannock, New Jersey, Michael Brothers, 56, moved to Queens in 1987 to become a licensed insurance broker for a firm in Woodhaven.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Brothers has been the chairman of the board of the NYFAC Foundation based in Howard Beach since its inception in 2012. NYFAC is a 100 percent volunteer organization and works to better the lives of adults and children with autism. Brothers chairs the quarterly board meetings, ensures the board members are running fundraising events and raises awareness about the NYFAC Foundation. Under his leadership, the organization developed its website which helps it to spread awareness and raise funds.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Without a doubt my family is my greatest achievement,” said Brothers. “I have a wonderful wife, Aida, and two great sons. I come from a strong, tight-knit family. I am lucky enough to still have both my parents and four supportive siblings in my life. I also love my job and look forward to coming to work every day. Serving as chairman of the NYFAC Foundation is right up there as well. Knowing we are helping is a great feeling of accomplishment.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Fundraising! Knowing the economy here in New York still has not recovered, it is extremely difficult getting donations, sponsorships and participation in our events. With the many worthy charities out there it is a difficult decision for people to determine where their charity dollars go.”

INSPIRATION: “I have many people who inspire me — my wife, my sons, my family. But when it comes to why I am involved in the world of autism I have two people who inspire me. First is my sibling, Dr. Kevin Brothers. He is the founding executive director of a school for children with autism. When he was going through his training many years ago, he showed me what patience it takes in dealing with a child with autism. That always stuck with me and I always knew I would someday help out an organization involved with autism. Second would be Andrew Baumann, president and CEO of NYFAC. His dedication is remarkable. He is a father of three children, one of whom has autism. He eats, sleeps and works for NYFAC. When I met Andrew for the first time back in 2009, I knew his organization was the one I wanted to volunteer for.”

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Star of Queens: Dr. Nicholas Rallis, volunteer, Free to Smile Foundation


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BACKGROUND: Born in Greece and raised in Brooklyn, Dr. Nicholas Rallis, 51, moved to Queens in 1988 and began his dental practice in Bayside in 1990. He knew that he wanted to be a dentist since high school as he sees this profession as the only one in which a doctor “can see the result of your handwork, what you build for people, the before and after,” he said. “You can be a doctor and an artist at the same time.” He likes the fact that he gets to interact with his patients and feel the joy they express after a dental makeover.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Rallis’ friend is involved with the Free to Smile Foundation, an organization that offers free dental and surgical care to the underprivileged around the world. Last year, the foundation invited him to Guatemala to help treat people with dental emergencies. It was a shock, seeing how people live in mud huts with no roofs over their heads. He was touched by the experience, and this year, he went again to Guatemala, taking two assistants from his private practice with him. He led the team of 22 dentists, nurses, anesthesiologists and surgeons in their work in the city of Santiago Atitlan. He stayed there for nine days in the first week of September. The team treated about 260 patients and conducted 48 surgeries. They treated problems such as tooth pain, dental abscesses, cleft palates and cleft lips. These are not just cosmetic problems, according to Rallis. “Kids [with cleft palates or cleft lips] are usually undernourished because they cannot eat and cannot be fed even through a bottle as they don’t have the ability to create suction with their tongue,” said Rallis. “It is a challenge to make them get the nutrition necessary to make it possible for them to undergo surgery.” The organization works in other countries such as Tibet, Niger, Cambodia and Colombia, and Rallis is eager to volunteer again next year. “You see the need that is there, you can’t really stop going,” he said.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “My family is my greatest achievement,” said Rallis. “I have a beautiful family, three wonderful children and a great wife.” He adds, “I am also the clinical instructor of the Mouth Rehabilitation Clinic at New York University. It is a prestigious position. It is a four-year continuous education course where we teach dentists, not students, from all disciplines of dentistry how to incorporate the various disciplines and become better clinicians. It is really fulfilling.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Both of them [family and position at NYU],” he laughs. “Things that you are good at are the things you have to work on the most, because you always want to strive to become better.”

INSPIRATION: “I had a mentor in dentistry who passed away,” said Rallis. “His name was Dr. Dan Ianniello. I just like the way he interacted with people and strive to be better at his work. He was very humble. I try the best I can [to emulate him].”

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


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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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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Star of Queens: Laura Newman, co-founder, Make Queens Safer


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Laura Newman is one of the founders of Make Queens Safer, which was formed in late 2013 after a child was killed while crossing Northern Boulevard with his grandmother. It was the third such incident in approximately 12 months and sparked in Newman a desire to bring about change. Make Queens Safer works toward ensuring the streets are safe for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Last November, Newman’s organization hosted a march from Corona to Jackson Heights to raise awareness about road safety, while talking to elected officials and parents who lost their children in road accidents. Recently, the group hosted a safety fair educating children about bike safety and pedestrian safety.

BACKGROUND: Newman was born and raised in Forest Hills. Over the years she lived in various boroughs of the city but came back to live in Queens because she said it is a down-to-earth place with no pretensions. She is a qualified psychologist.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Allowing space for everybody in the community to be a part of this movement. Earlier the mood was adversarial. It is easy for pedestrians to blame motorists and motorists to blame bicyclists. That only raises anger levels without accomplishing anything,” Newman said. “We are all on the roads. We should unify to take a stand together as a community. This is solvable.”

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “It is still a work in progress, but my greatest achievement would be bringing a sense of values in younger generations to take responsibility in a variety of ways,” Newman said. “As a parent, I want my daughter to be aware and committed to make a change in the community. Through Make Queens Safer, I can impact other parents to do the same and give the younger generation a sense of involvement and engagement. It is about empowering families and young children to own a sense of responsibility toward making their community a safer, more caring, better functioning neighborhood.”

INSPIRATION: “I can’t say I have a personal hero everyone knows by name,” Newman said. “But there are some young adults I have encountered in Queens and the city at large who are working for food justice and environmentalism. They are trustworthy and inspiring.”

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Star of Queens: Lauren Elizabeth Cornea, Clinton Club of Northeast Queens


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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JANAE HUNTER

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Lauren Cornea has been a Young Democrat with the Clinton Club of Northeast Queens, which serves the neighborhoods of Auburndale, Bay Terrace, Bayside, Douglaston, Flushing, Little Neck and Whitestone, since 2010. The club keeps the community updated on local events and politics in the neighborhood. She is also a member of the Bayside-Whitestone Lions Club and does community and volunteer work for the community through the chapter. When she is not doing work for these organizations or volunteering for attorney Paul Vallone, she is a Learning Leader volunteer, where she tutors students at P.S. 21Q in reading, writing and math.

BACKGROUND: Cornea was born and raised in Flushing. After graduating from the Harvey School, Cornea spent some time traveling in Europe. Now, she is back in Queens and works as a realtor at Amorelli Realty in Astoria, and is the single mother of two children, Dominic John, 8, and Violeta-Rose, 6.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “The greatest obstacle I have faced is being a single mother juggling career and family life,” Cornea said. Raising two young children and balancing a job can be hard, but she makes it work. As for her career, being a female commercial realtor is tough when there are so many men doing the job. “This is a man’s world, and I have had to work extra to live in it. I work extra hard for people to take me seriously and value what I have to say. I have worked very hard to be seen as a woman who is knowledgeable and hard working and not just seen as a pretty face.”

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “I have so many achievements that I’m proud of that it’s hard to choose,” said Cornea. “One of my top achievements has been closing the deal on Steinway Mansion. That deal took 18 months and when we finally closed the deal it went for $2.6 million.” But, she added, raising her children, successfully bouncing back from the divorce, having the opportunity to give back by teaching children to learn to read, write and do basic arithmetic, and being a successful woman in a male-dominated profession are also some of Cornea’s greatest achievements.

INSPIRATION: “This may sound corny, but my biggest inspiration is definitely my kids,” said Cornea. “They rely on me for everything. On days when I do not feel like getting up, all I have to do is think about my two children who need me to be a success in order for them to have a better future.” Cornea said she is also inspired by her natural competitiveness that makes her try and be the best at whatever she does.

 

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Star of Queens: Kellyann Tobin, volunteer, SHAREing & CAREing


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Kellyann Tobin started volunteering two years ago with SHAREing & CAREing, a nonprofit organization based in Astoria that offers grassroots support services to breast and ovarian cancer patients and their families through counseling, educational forums and advocacy services throughout the city. Formed in 1994, it not only provides breast health outreach, education, support and advocacy services for medically underserved and uninsured women, but has also evolved to serve the emerging needs of cancer survivors of both women and men of all ages.

After first creating biographies and other write-ups for its website, Tobin began doing patient outreach, taking individuals to and from chemotherapy, running errands for patients, doing office work, and whatever else the organization needed from volunteers.

Tobin, a registered nurse, also goes into high schools to educate students to give them to tools to educate their parents about cancer awareness. “It’s never too early to start good health practices,” Tobin said.

Her work as an RN and her mother’s battle with breast cancer in the past inspired her to volunteer with SHAREing & CAREing. “I’ve been blessed in life and it’s time for me to give back. It has been so fulfilling,” Tobin said.

“At this age we should not have anyone die from breast cancer. If it’s caught early enough it doesn’t have to be fatal,” she added.

Tobin notes that SHAREing & CAREing is the only local nonprofit that offers these types of services for free. “They don’t have to be afraid to ask any questions and we’ll be there,” she said.

BACKGROUND: Tobin was born and raised in Astoria and never left. She has been an RN for about four years, specializing in psychiatric, mental health nursing and trauma. Tobin originally worked in set design and special effects, but after taking care of her grandparents, including her grandfather who had end-stage renal disease, and who always said she should become a nurse, she changed fields. After becoming a nurse, she decided she wanted to work in the underserved community of the south Bronx.

FAVORITE MEMORY: One time, Tobin was doing outreach at St. John’s Preparatory School in Astoria, where she encountered a student who was scared to do self-breast examinations and to discuss the disease with her mother, until she spoke to her. “[The girl said she] wanted to become a nurse because of me,” Tobin said.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Funding is one of the biggest challenges the organization faces.

“There is so much more we want to do for patients but there are limited resources,” she said. Though the organization wants to go above and beyond with patients, it is difficult when there are so many. “But when you don’t have the finances you figure out a way to do it,” she said.

 

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Star of Queens: Charles Silverstein, captain-commanding officer, Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Charles Silverstein is the captain-commanding officer with the Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service.

Established in 1947, Whitestone Ambulance is a 100 percent free service consisting of about 75 volunteers. It provides a free basic life support ambulance to all of Whitestone, with a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline to respond to medical emergencies. The service also transports Whitestone residents to and from medical facilities in non-emergency situations, and allows them to borrow walkers, canes, wheelchairs and crutches at no charge.

Silverstein started volunteering with the volunteer ambulance service about eight years ago because he needed EMS experience before joining the city’s fire department.

“I wanted to be a fireman. I just didn’t leave,” he said.

He describes his work as mostly administrative. “[I am] kind of like the manager,” he said. Silverstein handles problems with the ambulances and other issues that may arise, and also conducts the service’s monthly meetings.

BACKGROUND: A Queens native, Silverstein, 30, currently lives in Whitestone. He is a firefighter with the FDNY, working in Brooklyn, and has been a member of that department for the past six years. He started as an emergency medical technician, then was upgraded to hazmat, followed by a paramedic, before becoming a fireman.

“It’s phenomenal,” Silverstein said, describing his job. “I’m like a regular guy with a bunch of regular guys and you get to be something else for a moment.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: One of his favorite memories with the ambulance service was Memorial Day 2012, which was a big celebration for the volunteers. They were commemorating the ambulance service’s 65th anniversary and had redone its building. Every year, the neighborhood has a parade for the holiday, and it “pretty much ended at our place,” he said. “It was the culmination of a lot of years of work.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: The biggest challenges Silverstein has while volunteering are people-related. It can take work to find committed volunteers, who must go through a lot of training. Dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis can have its challenges as well, he said.

 

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