Tag Archives: star of queens

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

| a.giudice@timesnewsweekly.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.’”


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

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Roger Gendron


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.”


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

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

QNE_p021.pdf - Adobe Acrobat


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.”



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

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


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.”


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

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



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.”



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

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

star of queens


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.”


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

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Mike Brothers_Star of Queens_10-30

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.”