Tag Archives: star of queens

Star of Queens: Vita Leone, P.S./M.S. 207 PTA vice president


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Vita Leone

COMMUNITY SERVICE: As vice president of P.S./M.S. 207’s PTA in Howard Beach, Leone is always working on a project. She has helped put together various events such as the school’s kindergarten graduation, blood drive, health fair, fundraisers and more. This holiday season, she helped with a new project, “Cookies with Santa.” She also puts together the fall carnival, complete with rides and games for the students and neighborhood.

BACKGROUND: Leone, a Queens native, was born in Astoria but moved to Howard Beach when she was in the third grade. She went to St. Helen’s, then graduated to St. John’s Prep in Astoria. Leone is also very proud of her Italian heritage and travels to the homeland every summer. She met her now-husband in Italy, and the pair will celebrate 23 years together this May. Together, they have a 20-year-old son who went to P.S. 207 but now is at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice studying criminal law, and an 11-year-old daughter who is in the sixth grade at the Howard Beach school.

FAVORITE MEMORY: During her time on the PTA, Leone said her favorite memory was the first year they did the fall carnival, two days before Sandy hit.

“It was one of the best feelings,” she said. “I was so happy the kids had Halloween and could go home with goody bags.”

The students each had a free 45-minute period to go out and enjoy the fall carnival, where they could play carnival games, go on rides and play in inflatable play structures.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: For the PTA Vice President, her biggest challenge has yet to come. Once her sixth grader graduates, Leone doesn’t want to have to leave the school of which she has “made part of her life.” When her daughter leaves, Leone said she still wants to be involved with the school, whether it’s as a volunteer or as a full-time employee.

INSPIRATION: Leone’s biggest inspiration in doing all of the work she does for the school lies within a love to help people and give back.

“It makes me happy when I accomplish something and when I see those kids’ smiles,” she said. “That’s my high of the day.”

 

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Star of Queens: Jessame Hannus, Transportation Alternatives Queens Activist Committee co-chair; Biking Public Project co-founder


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Jessame Hannus is the co-chair of Transportation Alternatives (TA) Queens Activist Committee and a co-founder of the Biking Public Project.

BACKGROUND: By night Hannus is an activist, but by day she works as an insurance broker. “I have no training in urban planning, but have long been fascinated with the correlation between planning community, what makes a healthy neighborhood or shopping district, and how environment contributes to that. I grew up in a fairly suburban community with the amazing good fortune to have free public transportation and moved from there to Los Angeles and then New York,” said Hannus. “I have never actually owned a car! Even in LA I took the city bus.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “Getting involved with TA Queens Committee really changed my life. I got to know a truly phenomenal community of caring and committed people who I now call friends,” said Hannus. Being part of the committee has allowed Hannus to be empowered to become a better public speaker and organizer.

One of Hannus’ favorite events was the “Around the World in Dumplings” ride she led last January. During the ride the group sampled cuisine from eight different countries in a seven-mile ride, and each stop Hannus gave the group some information about ongoing activism in the immediate neighborhood. “I loved being able to share my love of food, the culture of Queens and spread the word about community involvement in a way that was fun,” she said.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: According to Hannus, the biggest challenge with complete streets advocating in Queens is explaining the concept to those who are not looped in to the urban planning community. “Time and time again I encounter people who cannot envision a way things could be better. It can be disheartening and discouraging, so I can only imagine how the DOT [Department of Transportation] and City Planning feel when they encounter this sentiment time and time again when presenting their proposals to community,” said Hannus.

INSPIRATION: Living in many neighborhoods in New York City, Hannus encountered a whole new set of transportation challenges when she moved to Rego Park. “Sandwiched between Woodhaven and Queens Boulevard, I quickly discovered that finding safe bike routes would be very difficult. I found TA because I was looking for people to ride with to help me navigate this confusing and dangerous streetscape.”

Then, after a number of years involved in the advocacy, a friend of Hannus, spurred by the lack of representation of minorities and working cyclists in the advocacy movement, started the idea for a group to address that lack. The Biking Public was created.

 

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Star of Queens: Richard Khuzami, Community Board 1, chair, Parks and Culture Committee


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY  SERVICE:  Richard Khuzami has served on Community Board 1 for the past 11 years. He is currently Chair of the Parks and Culture Committee. He is also a member of Borough President Helen Marshall’s Queens General Assembly, and  has  served as a panelist for the awarding of grants for the Queens Council on the Arts.

BACKGROUND:  Khuzami is Lebanese-American, and while he was born in Bayside, he was raised in Rochester. His parents were both professional dancers, which led to his interest in music from the age of 10.

“I have kept this interest alive over the years, and today I specialize in the music of the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean and Northern Africa,” said Khuzami.

He also spent many years in the international shipping business in freight forwarding sales.

“This afforded me the opportunity to travel throughout the world for many years. I still love traveling to many cultures, but today I only have to go around Astoria, one of the most ethnically diverse municipalities in the world,” he said.

FAVORITE MEMORY: Khuzami enjoys having the privilege of working with many dedicated community board and General Assembly members, who donate so much of themselves to making their neighborhood and borough the best it can be.

“My favorite accomplishment is in helping to facilitate the conversion of Astoria Park’s diving pool from a mosquito infested eyesore to the potential of becoming one of the most important performance venues in the United States,” said Khuzami.  “Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.’s foresight has made this space a reality, and I look forward to working with our new councilmember, Costa Constantinides, to secure the funding to complete the second phase of the construction, creating an unparalleled venue for 2,500 patrons.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Probably my biggest challenge is to have patience and understanding to realize that everything, especially when dealing with the public sector, takes time. But with perseverance, progress can be made,” said Khuzami.

INSPIRATION:  “My father was a big proponent of public service, and taught us all to respect government and politics, and not shy away from making our opinions known or getting involved,” said Khuzami.  “As my free time increased, it was natural that I try and give back to a community I love, Astoria.”

 

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Star of Queens: Christian Amez, Business Enterprise instructor, Woodside on the Move


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Christian Amez has worked with Woodside on the Move for about five years, starting as an aide in the afterschool program. He ultimately created his own year-long class, the “Business Enterprise” program. It teaches children, in grades four and above, various financial literacy and math skills. From learning how to create a budget, to understanding credit and loans, these students ultimately create their own business plans and professionally pitch them to community leaders.

Woodside on the Move has served the Community Board 2 district for over 30 years, providing youth and cultural development programs all across Woodside and its surrounding neighborhoods.

BACKGROUND:  “I’m a first-generation American born in Queens. My family moved from Peru to Woodside, then finally Sunnyside,” said Amez. “Having grown up attending public schools in both neighborhoods (I.S. 125 and P.S. 150, respectively), the two are synonymous with home to me, so I spend a great deal of time getting to know my neighbors and participating in community outreach.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “My biggest challenge here had to be one I shared with Woodside on the Move, and that was our rally in May 2012 to restore funding for the afterschool and summer programs we host at P.S. 11 and 152,” said Amez.

During this time he said he had never seen so many students, parents, and community members engaged in what was a collective time of need.

FAVORITE MEMORY: The outpouring of support during the 2012 rally became Amez’s favorite memory at the organization.

“Soon after, due to the efforts of our executive director, Adrian Bordoni, all our staff, and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, we succeeded in temporarily restoring funding. In the following months, even more support came from Congressmember Joseph Crowley, who donated hundreds of school supplies for the children to prepare for their upcoming school year,” said Amez.

INSPIRATION: “I went through a very transformational time while studying finance. A lot of businessmen and women dream of becoming CEOs or billionaires, but why create one success story when you can create many,” asked Amez. That is what inspired him to work at Woodside on the Move, where the organization can improve the future of the city locally from the ground up, starting with the children.

 

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Star of Queens: Edward Chung, board member, Community Board 8; member, Board of Directors of the Jamaica Estates Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Edward Chung

Community Service: Edward Chung says he is a strong believer in doing everything he can to keep civic organizations in touch with homeowners. Chung is on the Board of Directors of the Jamaica Estates Association and was inducted this year as a board member of Community Board 8.

He said he is the go-to man for neighborhood problems, like cleaning parking lots, removing damaged trees, having abandoned cars towed away or fixing knocked down telephone poles.

Background: “I take pride in my neighborhood,” Chung said.

His celebration of diversity in various events, like JEA’s International Night, shows the emphasis he places on embracing diversity in a community. This has led him to accept many leading civic positions.

Favorite Memory:  One of Chung’s favorite memories from civic leading is the Annual Jamaica Estates Association’s International Night that brings together the community and celebrates its diversity. It is a night full of local merchants’ food, great entertainment, culture and fun.

“It promotes diversity to show that we are all together, living together,” he said.

Biggest Challenge: One of Chung’s most memorable challenges was dealing with the high number of car accidents on Dalny Road in Jamaica Estates. He decided to take action with Barry Weinberg, the late president of Jamaica Estates Association.

With the support of Weinberg, who encouraged him to begin this project, Chung and his neighbors worked on organizing facts and collecting police reports on the countless accidents that had occurred on the narrow, two-way street.

Both Weinberg and JEA President Evan Gorin led Chung to a meeting with the now retired Borough President Claire Shulman. Chung’s neighbors pitched a presentation, suggesting a change in the road. As a result, Chung helped decrease the number of accidents that occur on Dalny Road. His neighbors’ issues were resolved and the Department of Traffic set new rules in place to create a safer environment.

Inspiration: Many years back, Weinberg sparked Chung’s interest in civic leading and community involvement. He had once told Chung that he “should get involved in the neighborhood because he is a homeowner and everyone has a stake in the neighborhood.”

He then assisted him in his Dalny Road challenges.

“Because of him, I became more involved and I see the benefits of joining a civic group and being an active member,” Chung said.

NIKKI DJOKOVICH

 

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Star of Queens: Joseph Wind, treasurer, photographer, Bellerose Hillside Civic Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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Community Service: Joseph Wind is the treasurer and photographer of the Bellerose Hillside Civic Association.

“My service is to the Bellerose area. It’s important to me to help preserve the quality of life in my neighborhood,” says Wind.

He also served as a member of the Community Advisory Board of the ICL Milestone Residence and a former volunteer for Long Island Jewish Hospital.

“When I served on the Milestone Board, our goal was to remove the stigma associated with mentally challenged individuals,” said Wind. “I got a great deal of satisfaction from helping them realize their potential.”

Background: His father, Jerry Wind, is the president of the Bellerose Hillside Civic Association and executive secretary of Community Board 13. This has greatly influenced Joseph to become a civic leader as well.

“I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and have overcome most of my problems. This inspired me to help other individuals that have mental disabilities.”

Favorite Memory: “My favorite civic-related memory was when I received a Citation from Assemblymember David Weprin for my service at the Milestone Residence.”

He continued, “In the summertime, I participated in Friends and Family Day, an event which reached out to the local community. This was always a lot of fun and I met many interesting people.”

Biggest Challenge: “My biggest challenge, as a mentally-challenged person myself, was to be accepted into the civic community by my peers,” says Wind. “It makes me feel good when my opinions are sought after.”

Inspiration: “My father is my greatest inspiration.” Wind explains, “He never gave up on me and helped me overcome many of the social problems in my early life. He has been helping our community for many years and showed me the importance of ‘getting involved.’”

 

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Star of Queens: Mohamood Ishmael, president, Queens Village Civic Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Mohamood Ishmael has been a member of the Queens Village Civic Association for over 20 years. He had served as treasurer before becoming president in 2011.

In April, he became a member of Community Board 13, where he is committed to providing community service.

“As a civic leader I see myself as an advocate to preserve and improve the quality of life for all of our residents,” said Ishmael. “It gives me great satisfaction in seeing positive results on many of the projects and issues that we have worked on. Sometime, a great accomplishment might simply be getting a stop signed installed that could prevent a serious accident.”

BACKGROUND: Ishmael has been living with his family in Queens Village for over 27 years. Along with his community and civic services, he is a Certified Public Accountant who is currently the vice president of finance for a healthcare organization.

Ishmael is also an adjunct professor of accounting at York College of the City University of New York.

“As an immigrant from Guyana I consider myself successful and feel obligated to give back to the University and community that made it possible for me to succeed.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: I recalled a few years ago, as a result of our civic leaders’ effort, we prevented a developer from getting a variance to proceed with his project. The project was out of character with the area and it would have created congestion.”

He continued, “on a personal note, my favorite memory was having my five-year-old granddaughter lead us in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the last civic association installation dinner.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: It is a challenge to motivate people to get them to participate and to accept positions. I think most residents feel that it is much easier to call someone to complain and have them take care of their issues.”

INSPIRATION: “I realized many years ago that if a community does not have advocates, it will be shortly changed in the allocation of resources and services. In other words, if the residents of a community do not participate, quality of life in that community will decline.”

 

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Star of Queens: Maria Odysseos, Greek American Housing Association, Greek Childrens’ Fund, Ronald McDonald House


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Maria Odysseos lends her efforts and enthusiasm to a number of organizations and causes in the community. She is a dedicated member of the PTA at her son’s school as well as the Pancyprian Youth Soccer League. Whether bank sponsored or by her own individual effort, she allocates time and resources to the Greek American Housing Association, the Greek Childrens’ Fund and the Ronald McDonald House. On November 13 she will be participating in the Long Island City Partnership tradeshow.

“I love to be involved in the community in any way I can. I’m especially drawn to organizations that benefit children.” said Odysseos.

Odysseos is praised by her co-workers and members of the community for her professional excellence and dedication to the community.

BACKGROUND: Odysseos, an AVP/Branch manager at Investors Bank and organizer of the inaugural Investors Bank Queens County Conference for Nonprofits, has been involved in banking for the past 25 years. She previously held posts as VP/Branch Manager at Community National and Sovereign Banks. She has been involved in the Astoria market and a community volunteer for the last decade and is an active member of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

INSPIRATION: Odysseos indicates her strong love of helping people as her prime inspiration.

“If I can do something to help someone else better his or her career, to help him or her in any way, I’m happy,” she said. “I enjoy encouraging and mentoring; watching people grow.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: Despite not having a particular memory in mind, Odysseos cites a particularly fulfilling consequence of community service as her “favorite memory.”

“If I see beneficial results come out of an event or organization I committed my time to or help spur, I feel so good,” she said. “It’s deeply satisfying.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Balancing a career and family life,” she said. “You have to work at it. You want to be there for everything.”

RACHEL LANDAU

 

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Star of Queens: Bobby Sher, board president, Bell Park Manor Terrace


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: As board president of Bell Park Manor Terrace, Bobby Sher has made countless positive improvements to the living situations of the shareholders residing there.

“Everything from high-tech security cameras to working with the Department of Buildings to allowing shareholders to have the option of building new patios, basements, private entrances, electric awnings, etc.”

Sher intends to keep evolving the community toward the 21st century with more storage availability and various technological upgrades. “Residents appreciate anything that makes their lives a bit easier.” Sher also branches out in assisting the surrounding community and developing a better quality of life for the citizens.

BACKGROUND: Sher’s father moved to Bell Park Manor Terrace after returning from World War II. Though Sher moved out at 17 years old, he returned to live there some years later.

“After a successful career in show business, running a music/entertainment business, owning a production company and finally as a board member at the North Shore Towers co-op, I think that I have learned and know how to work with people. I know how to get things done.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: When the property owner of the local Key Foods did not want to renew the lease, Sher created a “Save Our Supermarket” campaign.

“For many of our senior residents who no longer drove cars, this was the only place to purchase basic needs only a few short steps from their apartments.”

By working with civic leaders, politicians and the media to create a protest march through the local streets, the property owner ended up renewing the lease for 15 years. “It was a gratifying experience to say the least,” said Sher.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Sher wants to implement a Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) Program within the Van Buren district with hopes of reversing the large percentage of local students not attending district schools. With P-TECH, Sher said, “students would receive a free associates degree and an internship with companies such as IBM…free college education and a job with a future. I believe that many parents would want to send their kids to attend such a program and it will restore the reputation of Van Buren, bringing it once again to be a school of excellence.”

INSPIRATION: “When you upgrade the face of a community, I believe that exponential growth of real estate values follow right behind. It is not an easy task, but I am a fighter and the love of my community will always be the impetus of my drive and my resolve.”

 

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Star of Queens: Gabrielle Fonrouge, president, Society of Professional Journalists, St. John’s University; Homes for the Homeless at the Saratoga Family Inn


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: Gabrielle Fonrouge is more than just a journalism student at St. John’s University and president of the Society of Professional Journalists. She is also a major community service leader at Homes for the Homeless at the Saratoga Family Inn in Jamaica. She works with the adult program there which assists homeless adults in finding jobs so that they are one step closer to being off of the streets or out of shelters.

She also travels abroad to places such as Ecuador and Vietnam in the hopes of creating a sustainable service that can change lives. Her mantra is “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

“I believe in justice and sustainable service,” said Fonrouge. “It is changing the systems and studying the systems and finding ways so that [people] no longer will be in these positions.”

BACKGROUND: Fonrouge is originally from a low income neighborhood in southern Florida. Growing up there, she made it her mission to assist people in reaching their potential through motivating them.

“I think some people just got off the right track because they do not have someone there motivating them, telling them that they can do it, telling them that they are worth it, all of these things. Those people will never go anywhere and I have watched it first hand, so that made me want to let people know that they do have a purpose, they do have a meaning and you will succeed if you try.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: On the final night of a three-week program in the Miguel Chiriap community of Ecuador, the group Fonrouge was with prepared an American feast and dressed in native garb and danced tribal dances.

“It was such a magical moment,” said Fonrouge. “We were underneath the stars, outside, the music was playing and nothing else was happening in the world at that moment. It was just us, the people we were serving and the music and dance.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “To truly commit yourself to community service and fully devote yourself, it means saying goodbye to yourself and the other people in your life, saying goodbye to your responsibilities, saying goodbye to your income, saying goodbye to all of that. You must put yourself and the ones you love second to those you serve.”

INSPIRATION: She finds inspiration through her passion for media and journalism by creating documentaries that focus on the underserved population and impoverished communities. She hopes to bring awareness to her subjects so that she can make a difference in their lives. “If the world doesn’t know a problem exists, it is never going to change and will always exist.”

NIKKI DJOKOVICH

 

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Star of Queens: John Ferreira, president, Junction Boulevard Merchants Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

John Ferreira

COMMUNITY SERVICE: “I’m the president of the Merchants Association on Junction Boulevard, so I take care of basically anything that has to deal with merchants. If we need to get in contact with the police precinct, I’m in charge of that. If there’s a problem with local sanitation, I’m in charge of that also. I’m the person who’s more or less in charge of representing the merchants in all matters that might benefit us and the community around us.”

BACKGROUND: “I was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Manhattan in 1957. I went to local schools, and then received my masters degree in business at St. John’s University. Eventually my father bought a house in Queens, and I’ve been living here now for over 55 years. I’ve been living in the Jackson Heights area for a long time, so I’m very attuned to the area and its makeup. One of the reasons I’m able to do this job is because I’m not married, because this job requires a lot of time and work, especially around particularly busy times such as these. But I do it because I’m a member of the community, I like the community, and I want it to do well.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “It’s more of an achievement than a memory, but basically, the fact that Junction Boulevard is still a very vibrant area for merchant business is my favorite memory. Stores here generally do pretty well, but they have the same problems that all other commercial areas have. For example, we have no garage area for our customers, so 80% of them have to walk to our stores, and the fact that our community has managed to remain lively, vibrant, safe, is not an accomplishment on my part so much as one for the merchants. That makes me happy.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “I would imagine that getting more participation from the merchants is my biggest challenge. Today we have a lot of big stores that come in. These stores aren’t as invested in the community as the small merchant is.”

INSPIRATION: “My inspiration is definitely other people who have worked in the community. It’s inspiring how these people are so invested in the well-being and safety of the community. I’ve been going to community meetings for years now, and I always see the same people every time I go. I’m very impressed by that. The people who I see involved in the community and very, very committed to it.”

JOHANN HAMILTON

 

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Star of Queens: Gina Baldwin, Americorps, Hunters Point Library, NYC Civic Corps


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Gina Baldwin

COMMUNITY SERVICE: “I do community outreach for a living, and it’s always been a part of my life. Even my introduction to New York was through community service when I moved here four years ago to work with the Parks Department, so I really only known New York City in general through community service.

Most of my volunteering involves environmental outreach, and eventually I became involved with the Hunters Point Library. I wanted to find a way to become involved in my local community, because most of what I do is helping other people to do the same. One of the things that makes me feel good is seeing people involved in their communities. When I see people giving their time to do things they don’t necessarily have to do, I think that’s really special and it makes me very happy.”

BACKGROUND: “I was born and raised in Idaho, and when people are involved in their communities in a smaller place like that, it’s a lot more noticeable. In college I studied French and political science, and I also worked with libraries during and after my college career. That part of my life was pretty important when it comes to connecting with people. After that, I worked at an organic farm in my college town in northern Idaho, and that made me aware of local food systems and the importance of knowing where food comes from.”

“My mother is also a community organizer, so being part of communities is in my blood. I just can’t help it, I love living in a city meeting people from all over the world, and this is the kind of place where everyone comes together and finds a common ground. In New York, people can connect, find something they care about, and work to share that with other people.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “I taught an outreach educational program at the Botanical Gardens for two years. One of many favorite memories is when I got that chance to work with New Yorkers who were really committed to changing their communities. I still keep in touch with most of them today, and today many of them are people who have dedicated themselves to making a positive change in their communities. They’ve built community networks all over Queens and are thriving, and I feel very honored to have that impact on their lives. The people I taught went on to really change the ways their communities interact with each other.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “One of the biggest challenges I’ve had, especially doing environmental outreach in the city, is getting people into the frame of mind that we’re part of a bigger global environment, and that our everyday actions do actually have an impact on the ecological world around us. It’s hard to get people to forget about their everyday needs when we live in New York, and we really do get wrapped up in this world. What we forget that there is a huge world outside of us, and we create so much trash and pollution. There are people who are really interested in taking care of this world, but it takes a lot of time to change the thinking of the larger group of people.”

INSPIRATION: “The best feeling for me is connecting with people who never thought about changing the world before. There’s a moment when you’re talking to them, and you can see something switch off in their heads. I love when people realize how important it is to take care of their communities, and that moment never gets old for me. I like connecting with people and sharing information with them, and when they realize how easy it is to make a change and make a huge difference, that is extremely inspirational and exciting.”

JOHANN HAMILTON

 

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Star of Queens: Alberta Crowley, volunteer, Bricktown Community Garden


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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COMMUNITY SERVICE: The Community Garden on 106th Avenue and 173rd Street in southeast Queens has become a second home to Alberta Crowley for the past five years. Crowley, 70, volunteers at the garden, planting any and every kind of vegetable. She additionally works with a group of developmentally disabled individuals, helping them harvest their own creations.

Crowley said many of her participants cannot use their hands properly, so she handles plants for them.

“They really enjoy it,” she said.

She additionally works with seniors and is working on making the garden wheelchair-friendly to minimize any difficulty for those with decreased mobility.

Crowley is the only consistent volunteer the garden has seen, she said.

“Basically, I’m doing this by myself. Every now and then I get someone else to come out and work, but it’s a big harvest,” she said.

Five days a week, Crowley travels via two buses to the garden and does weeding, digging and planting.

BACKGROUND: The Queens Village resident has lived in the borough for roughly 50 years. When she was 15 years old, she came to New York from Mississippi by herself and worked various odd jobs, including one in electronics and another at a zipper factory.

Her love for gardening began at the age of six when her mother told her, “Whatever you’re going to eat, you have to work for it.”

With that, Crowley began to grow her favorites, such as turnip greens.

FAVORITE MEMORY: Crowley’s favorite memories of the garden are from when she first started years ago. She said she started late in the season and didn’t have any vegetables to plant. So she got resourceful, and dried out beans and okra from her own cabinet.

She also enjoyed working with the disabled, and said they love coming to the garden.

“It’s a challenge, but I know they appreciate it,” she said. “They look forward to harvesting.”

Crowley collects everything her participants grow, stores it and every Thanksgiving uses it to prepare a meal for them.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: The 70-year-old admitted her biggest challenge is getting people to volunteer to help out at the garden.

“People come, and they see how hard the work is, then they don’t want to come back,” she said. “So that leaves me to do it.”

INSPIRATION: “It’s very inspiring to use your hands,” she said. “It’s very pleasant in the garden. It’s pleasant to work there,” Crowley said.

Aside from her love of gardening and being outside, Crowley said her volunteer work is also great exercise.

 

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Star of Queens: Harriet Krasnoff, head of the Outreach Program, Alley Pond Environmental Center


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Harriet Krasnoff

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Harriet Krasnoff is the head of the Outreach Program at the Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC), a program in which animals are brought to hospitals, nursing homes and hospices to let residents there interact with them. Before she started doing this with APEC, Krasnoff was in charge of the same program at the Bronx Zoo for 35 years.

BACKGROUND: Krasnoff was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1927, and came to America in 1948 as a Holocaust survivor. During her childhood, she spent most of her time in the Frankfurt Zoo, where she learned how to handle animals. It was there that her love for animals originated.

“I’ve wanted to help people ever since I was a child,” she said. “Then my husband found an ad in the newspaper saying that volunteers were needed at the Bronx Zoo, and that’s how Outreach got started.

After one of Krasnoff’s friends suggested they bring animals from the zoo to hospitals and hospices, she began bringing mammals, reptiles and birds to facilities all around New York.

“It’s a wonderful feeling seeing these people who seem like they couldn’t care less about anything perk up and get involved,” Krasnoff said. “When I see the looks on people’s faces, it makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something. And that makes my life worthwhile.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “One of my favorite memories is from Calvary Hospital,” Krasnoff said. “A man who simply did not want to be brought down to the main room to be part of things came down and decided he would take a look. He wound up getting so involved, he called his nurse later on and said, ‘You know what? For the last hour, I forgot I was sick. I forgot for the last hour that I was dying.’ Now that’s a statement that I’ll never forget.”

BIGGEST CHALLENEGE: “My biggest challenge is always having to find somebody else to work with. I can only do the Outreach Program once a week now, and there aren’t many volunteers since most people have their own jobs and can’t go out. I do the very best to make people happy every day now with my partner, John Burkitt. He’s as big a part of this program as I am.”

INSPIRATION: “My inspiration is to make people happy for as long as I can. As long as I can hope to stay well enough, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. At my age, there’s always a limit for one reason or another, after having done this for 40 years. I just look forward to being with people and creating smiles.”

JOHANN HAMILTON

 

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Star of Queens: Walter Mugdan, president Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, Westmorland Association


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Walter Mugdan

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Walter Mugdan is the president of both the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee (UCPC), an environmental conservation group, and the Westmorland Association, a small homeowners’ association in the Westmorland section of Little Neck. A Westmorland resident, Mugdan enjoys working for the organizations because they are both in the area where he grew up, and he cares deeply about the environmental well-being of his community. Because he lives in the area, Mugdan says that it was “only natural” for him to become a member of the UCPC, and has been working with them since the 1970s.

JOB: Mugdan works for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

BACKGROUND: Mugdan was born in Flushing, and has spent his whole life in Queens. He recalls growing up by Udalls Cove Park, where he used to play all the time as a young boy. It was after he was diagnosed with asthma as a child that he noticed his aggravation at air pollution.

“When I reached junior high school, I became interested in what was then a brand-new area of interest, which was environmental issues,” he said. “My parents always took me hiking and I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and I was in college around the time that the environmental movement was beginning. Environmental protection has always been an area of interest for me.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “My favorite memories would have to be playing in the slivers of wilderness and undeveloped land on both sides of Douglaston, where I grew up,” Mugdan said. “I was very attached to those woods. It was a great place for a suburban kid to have a bit of area to play in growing up.”

BIGGEST CHALLENEGE: When Mugdan became president of the UCPC in 2002, he was immediately presented with a difficult issue. The city had plans to turn a section of woods into a park, but although they had committed to the idea, they hadn’t acquired all of the properties to make up that area. Because of financial constraints, the city was having a difficult time buying the property from property owners. At the time Mugdan became president, eight of the approximate 45 necessary acres still had not been purchased, and the owners of four of those acres filed an application to build several homes on that property. This posed a serious problem, because these houses would have been placed directly in the middle of the proposed park, and all of the money the city had put into buying the properties would have been lost, and the previous four years wasted.

“It was scary to me that the park would be ruined on my watch,” said Mugdan. “I had to meet with state senators, assemblymembers, and other officials to explain to them why this park was so critical. I was very gratified when Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the decision to purchase the remaining properties.”

INSPIRATION: “I really enjoy the outdoors,” Mugdan said. “I love the idea that in a huge metropolis like New York there are not only parks that you can have recreation in, but also parks where you can have a little slice of the natural world that’s still embedded here. So my inspiration is to maintain and improve that.”

 JOHANN HAMILTON

 

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