Tag Archives: star of queens

Star of Queens: Debra Toscano, actress, singer and voice teacher

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Debra Toscano

PERSONAL BACKGROUND: Debra Toscano is originally from Long Island but has resided in Bayside for about 15 years. She comes from a musical background with a father who worked as a music teacher and she had a lot of early exposure to the music industry. She has one older sister, who is also in the music industry as a piano player and drummer.

PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND AND CAREER: Toscano is a professional singer and actress who works as a music teacher in Frank Toscano Music School in Astoria, which is owned by her father. He has owned the school for over 50 years, and Toscano currently teaches there as a vocal coach. She is also working on movie called “Bohemia,” which will feature her own original screenplay and begins filming in January.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMUNITY: Toscano brightens the day of hospital patients by visiting with the cast of her last film project, a crime drama dubbed “Snitches.” They created a program called Snitches Give Back to visit both children and adults in local hospitals, talking with patients, signing autographs, and giving out headshots to bring cheer into the lives of patients.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Toscano says her biggest challenge as an actress is getting consistent work and locking in a gig. While acting has a glamorous image to those outside the profession, finding good acting parts and doing good work can be difficult for performers.
“When you’re in one gig you’re always looking to secure the next one,” she said. “Booking the work is always the biggest challenge to keep yourself motivated.”

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: Toscano is most proud of singing the national anthem for major sporting events including games for the New York Jets and Giants, and the U.S. Open.
“That’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done because it’s a huge honor to sing the national anthem.”


Star of Queens: John Choe, executive director, Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



BACKGROUND: John Choe is the executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. Choe works to identify and address issues of, as well as advocate for, the Flushing business community. As executive director, he provides networking opportunities to the Flushing community, such as Flushing Night Out, to provide a multicultural space and encourage conversation. Choe also organizes educational opportunities for immigrant business owners to learn about city rules and regulations, different types of resources and marketing or financial assistance.

MOTIVATION: “I really believe that for a city like New York … we need to address all the needs of the people in different neighborhoods regardless of their background,” he said.

CAREER: After serving in the Coro Fellowship program, Choe’s past employment record includes the Red Guidelines Board, the Corporation of Supportive Housing, and the NY State Department of Finance. In 2001 he helped John Liu to New York City Council and worked under Liu as his chief of staff. In 2009 when Liu became New York City comptroller, Choe became his director of policy. Choe then returned to Flushing as the executive director of One Flushing, a Flushing-based organization that provides resources to small business owners and local residents. The organization discovered that a Flushing chamber of commerce was needed to improve Flushing businesses. In December 2014, Choe was appointed as executive director.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: One challenge Choe faces on a daily basis is encouraging residents to communicate in open dialogue.

ACHIEVEMENTS: Choe says that his biggest achievement so far was bringing the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to Flushing when local businesses and employment agencies struggled to understand an issued subpoena. The DCA agreed to not only extend the subpoena, but also have it translated from English to Korean.

“We had them save thousands of dollars. It may not seem like a lot, but for a lot of businesses, it’s the difference between staying open or closing.”

PERSONAL LIFE: Born in Korea, Choe grew up in Australia and later moved with his family to Staten Island. Choe attended Binghamton University, where he was heavily involved in student government, and obtained his master’s degree at the University of Chicago. He has lived in Flushing for over a decade.

“I’ve traveled and lived in many countries,” he said, “but it’s my home and where I established my roots, and I feel really privileged to help my community.”



Star of Queens: Sarah Feldman, Community Board 5

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Sarah Feldman

Background: Sarah Feldman’s family was originally from New York City but moved to Houston in the ‘70s. Her parents then moved to the West Coast, where her father works for a software company. She moved back to New York in 2006 to study fine arts and web design at Parsons School of Design. Feldman moved to Ridgewood in 2011, where she met her fiance Neil Myers, and she fell in love with the neighborhood.

Occupation: Feldman is self-employed. She also owns a small jewelry business, Prince Peacock, and works at the YMCA teaching art to kids.

She owns Ridgewood Market, which sells affordable art, goods and alcohol.

“I wanted a safe environment that is community driven with the decisions of others,” Feldman said. “I wanted to bring awareness and a new, unbiased perspective of old businesses.” The next market will take place on Sept. 13.

Community Involvement: Feldman was recently appointed to Community Board 5. She’s one of the youngest people on the board and says that she’s learned so much already from the other board members.

“They’ve lived here all their lives,” Feldman said. “There is so much you can learn from them.”

Feldman additionally runs the Ridgewood Social website as its head of marketing.

Biggest Challenge: “The recession was scary,” Feldman said. Additionally, at one point, Feldman couldn’t leave the house due to a health problem.

She had a lot of social anxiety but was able to overcome it. Feldman absolutely loved the feeling of being welcomed into the Ridgewood community, and she has a very positive outlook on life.

Greatest Achievement: “My greatest achievement was my social anxiety not being as bad,” Feldman said. Now, she has more self-confidence, and she added that the people in her neighborhood definitely made her happier.

“Kindness can get you so much further in life than jealousy can,” Feldman said.

Biggest Inspiration: “My biggest inspiration was my grandmother and my stepmom,” Feldman said. Her grandmother, who passed away in 2008, was a creative artist and a feminist who was like a mother to Feldman.

Feldman’s stepmom was the mom she never had. She is self-sufficient and a great role model. “My stepmom practically saved my life,” Feldman said.



Star of Queens: Felice Hannah, North Shore Towers board of directors member

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Felice Hannah


Background: Felice Hannah was born in North Carolina and raised in New York City. Her father passed away, leaving her mother to raise three daughters by herself. Hannah said that her mother’s advice was to “set goals and work to achieve them, be proud of who you are, take time to help others and get an education.”

Occupation: Upon graduating from nursing school, Hannah received her first job as a nurse. She loved nursing, but soon realized that it wasn’t her passion. She later decided to become a teacher. Hannah retired from the New York City Board of Education as an administrator. Prior to her retirement she also worked as an adjunct professor.

Community Involvement: In 2013, Hannah was the first African-American elected to the North Shore Towers board of directors as the political action chairperson.

“I was lucky to select a group of dedicated individuals to work with me in bringing many candidates for political offices and elected officials to North Shore Towers,” Hannah said.

The group presented monthly seminars and workshops on health, domestic violence awareness, voting procedures, fire safety, understanding co-op abatements and taxes, and avoiding identity theft.

Currently Hannah organizes workshops for her retiree union. She is also a volunteer for the Board of Elections and a volunteer as a state-certified Medicare consultant. Her responsibilities as a Medicare volunteer include assisting individuals in navigating the complexities of the health care system and to access their benefits.

“Nothing warms my heart more than when I am able to access services and benefits that will allow a person who is living alone with a chronic disease to remain in their homes with dignity upon their request,” Hannah said.

Biggest Challenge: “My biggest challenge through all of the adversity has been to keep my eyes on the prize and to maintain a positive attitude about myself,” Hannah said.

Greatest Achievement: Hannah’s greatest achievement was becoming a mother and raising her two children to believe and achieve. “As an African-American woman, I have been faced with many, many challenges,” Hannah said.

Biggest Inspiration: Hannah is greatly inspired by her mother, as well African-American historical figures who triumphed in the face of adversity, such as Sojourner Truth, Dr. Alexa Canady, Janet Collins, Eva Jessye and Shirley Chisholm.


Star of Queens: Alexander Maureau, Community Board 5

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Alexander Maureau


Background: Alexander Maureau, 28, has been a lifelong resident of Glendale. For 25 years he lived on 79th Place with his mother Roberta, his father Thomas and his brother Andrew. Maureau most recently moved across from the Glendale Library and lives on 73rd Place.

Occupation: Maureau works for the NYC Parks Department as a parks analyst for the Queens borough commissioner. He handles correspondence for Queens and provides assistance on some Rockaway issues. He enjoys what he does and has been holding this position since November of 2014. Prior to this position, Maureau served as a constituent liaison for state Senator Joe Addabbo’s office in Middle Village for five years.

Community Involvement: Maureau is involved in several community organizations. He participates in Relay for Life in Middle Village each year. In 2014, the event’s biggest year yet, he co-chaired the event. That year they raised more than $200,000, and more than 1,000 people participated.

Maureau has also coached high school basketball at Sacred Heart in Glendale for the past three years.

For the past four years, Maureau has helped organize and promote the annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Dry Harbor Playground’s 9/11 memorial.

He is also a newly appointed member of Community Board 5.

Greatest Challenge: One of the biggest challenges Maureau faced was when he was working for Senator Joe Addabbo during Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent recovery efforts.
“It was a very trying time for everyone on the staff, as we were getting devastating phone calls, mostly from people in the Rockaway and Howard Beach areas. Many had been flooded out and lost everything,” Maureau said.

The office organized a recovery effort. They accepted supplies of clothing, food, water, batteries and toys and distributed the supplies to people in need. They also had to help with rebuilding their Howard Beach office that had been flooded out by the storm.

“It was a long few weeks, but as a team, we were able to navigate and help many, many people,” Maureau said.

Greatest Achievement: Maureau’s biggest achievement was the successful 2014 Relay for Life event.

Additionally, his ninth-grade boys basketball team winning the championship this past year for Sacred Heart in Glendale was another one of his biggest achievements.

Biggest Inspiration: “My goal is to help things improve and change for the better,” Maureau said. While he says he can’t change the world, he can try to make a difference in his corner of it. He makes an effort to help keep his neighborhood clean, safe and welcoming, and being a part of Community Board 5 will give him more opportunities to do so.



Star of Queens: Janet Hammelbacher, president, Hillcrest Jewish Center

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Background: Janet Hammelbacher has been living in Queens for most of her life. She grew up near Queens College and has resided in Jamaica Estates for 23 years. Hammelbacher graduated from Jamaica High School in 1975, then from Queens College in 1978. There she received a B.A. in psychology and sociology, and she went on to receive a M.A. in music therapy from New York University in 1980. She is married to Frank and has a 19-year-old daughter, Jill.

Occupation: Hammelbacher has been a music therapist at Queens Centers for Progress since 1988. Her job requires working with adults who have developmental disabilities.

Since 2004, Hammelbacher has been a freelance writer for “AccessWorld,” which is a monthly technology publication from the American Foundation for the Blind. Ten years later she published her first book, “Parenting with a Visual Impairment.”

Hammelbacher then went on to write two books that were published by the National Braille Press. In 2014, Hammelbacher wrote “Learning to Use the Mac with VoiceOver: A step-by-step guide for blind users.” In 2015, she wrote “Everything you Need to Know to Use the Mac with Yosemite and VoiceOver: A guide for blind users.”

Community Involvement: Hammelbacher is the president of Hillcrest Jewish Center.

Biggest Challenge: “My biggest challenge has been proving that if a person who is blind has the necessary skills for a job, then blindness isn’t an obstacle,” Hammelbacher said. For instance, when Janet’s daughter Jill was born, a nurse had asked her how she was going to go about taking care of her baby.

Hammelbacher says that her blindness has never been an issue, both at work or at Hillcrest.

Greatest Achievement: “It’s impossible to pick one greatest achievement,” Hammelbacher said. “There are many facets in everyone’s life, so it’s impossible to pick just one thing.”

Biggest Inspiration: “That’s a tough question,” Hammelbacher said. She said that right now, the clergy and congregants of Hillcrest Jewish Center serve as her greatest inspiration. She said that she has had the privilege of getting to know so many wonderful people.

Editor’s note: An earlier version identified Hammelbacher by her maiden name, Ingbar. We regret any confusion which may have resulted.




Star of Queens: John Shehas, Community Board 11

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Background: John Shehas grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He lived in Brooklyn until he got married. He later moved to Astoria for two years, then moved to Hollis Hills in 1995. He has been residing in Hollis Hills for the past 20 years with his wife and two daughters.

Occupation: Shehas works for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 813. This local union was created more than 50 years ago and is one of the most diverse locals in the country. Working for Local 813, Shehas is the business manager and helps people with their jobs. He has been working in the industry for the past 23 years.

Community Involvement: Shehas has been newly appointed to serve on Community Board 11. He is also a part of both the Safety Committee and Landmark Committee. Being on those committees, he helps to make decisions and give opinions to better the community.

Biggest Challenge: “To do my best to help the community get better and stronger,” Shehas said. “It’s a real great group of people we have, and we really do stick together. Community Board 11 gets it done.”

Greatest Achievement: “There had been a big rain sewer problem,” Shehas said. “There was never rain sewage installed in the area before, so when it rained it would flood. It took about 15 years, but they finally ended up putting sewers in to prevent flooding.”
Last summer there were several robberies that were taking place in the area. Six homes in town had reported that there had been a burglary or an attempted one. The community wanted more lights after these incidents, so with the help of Shehas and Councilman Mark Weprin, they helped the community get more lights in the back of homes.

Biggest Inspiration: “The community and the people,” Shehas said. Being involved with the local union helps him with political challenges. “Between my job and being on Community Board 11, it helps me make the right decisions politically and to better the community.”


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

IMG_1081 (1)


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.