Tag Archives: Sunnyside Community Services

Queens nonprofit programs look for new home after 5-alarm fire caused by overloaded power strip

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Riyad Hasan

Lilian Castillo lost what felt like her second home last week after a five-alarm fire, caused by an overloaded power strip, engulfed a Jackson Heights building.

Castillo was a former student at the Queens Community House (QCH)’s Adult Education/English Classes for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program and is currently an employee for the nonprofit organization.

QCH, which provided four of its programs at the Bruson Building, located at 74-09 37th Ave., lost its home when the building’s third and fourth floors went up in flames the evening of April 21. Various other organizations, businesses and Plaza College were also housed inside the building.

“When I came to this country from the Dominican Republic, Queens Community House was the first place that welcomed me,” Castillo said. “It was where I met the people who became my friends. I feel as if I lost my second home in the fire.”

The Jackson Heights site was home to QCH’s Adult Education/ESOL program, which provides free intensive English and citizenship classes; immigrant services, providing assistance with citizenship and other legal residency needs; a CASP program, helping youth who have obtained a diploma through a non-traditional high school apply to and succeed in community college; and its Queens Center for Gay Seniors, the borough’s only senior center primarily serving an LGBT older adult population.

Also lost in the fire was a computer lab that was used by all four programs, which aided about 300 residents daily.

“The Center was full of many special, shared memories from the past decade,” Program Director John Nagel said. “Photos, awards, artwork…all gone.”

QCH has been able to secure some space at the Sunnyside Community Services for its Adult Education English classes. It’s Queens Center for Gay Seniors will operate out the QCH’s Kew Gardens Community Center.

According to the FDNY, nine people sustained minor injuries as a result of the fire, including seven firefighters and a police officer.

The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical due to an overloaded power strip, according to the FDNY.

Anyone interested in helping QCH, can visit www.queenscommunityhouse.org.



Sunnyside to get two new public plazas

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Artie Weiner

Sunnyside will soon have two new public spaces that residents can enjoy during the summer.

Last year, the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District (BID) applied for the Department of Transportation’s NYC Plaza Program and early this month were notified that the applications were accepted.

“Through this innovative program, we will expand the amount of public space that is available to everyone in the community,” Councilman JimmyVan Bramer said. “I look forward to working with Sunnyside Shines BID, members of the community, and local arts groups to bring the space to life through a diverse array of public events, programming and cultural performances.”

The plazas will be located under the elevated No. 7 train line at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard, and 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Both locations currently are closed to vehicles.

The Sunnyside Shines BID will work as the nonprofit partner to maintain the plazas and program yearly community events and activities in it.

“As more and more New Yorkers come to know Sunnyside as a great place to live, work and play, I’m sure exciting announcements like the forthcoming public plazas will keep on coming,” Senator Michael Gianaris said.

These two public plazas will receive improvements such as planters, benches and movable tables and chairs, in order to create public gathering places for the neighborhood.

“The NYC Plaza Program has done a tremendous job creating new usable, public spaces throughout the city, and we are thrilled to bring this innovative program to Sunnyside,” said Rachel Thieme, executive director of Sunnyside Shines. “We look forward to making these spaces more vibrant public places in the neighborhood.”

A community outreach meeting to go over design and programming options is scheduled for Wednesday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-13 39th St.



Sunnyside Community Services gets $2.6M to expand, renovate senior center

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Sunnyside Community Services is getting a much needed change to continue helping local and city-wide seniors.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer surprised the seniors at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th Street, during their lunch on August 30 to announce that he has secured $2.6 million in capital funding for the expansion and complete renovation of the organization’s senior center.

“Sunnyside Community Services is a borough-wide institution that each and every single day gives seniors the opportunity to enjoy life through quality recreational activities, inspirational programming and interactive services that keeps them active and engaged,” said Van Bramer. “This is the place where our seniors are taken care of and nothing is more important than taking care of our senior citizens.”

The plans, which are expected to begin within one year, will include the expansion of the Sunnyside Community Service’s Adult Day Services program by opening the space and increasing it by 1,000 square feet to serve close to 20 more seniors. The program will also be relocated to the front of the second floor in order to be easily accessible and safer for seniors. The funding will also feature the installation of new fixtures, flooring and equipment.

The expansion will also double the capability of the Home Health Aide Training program at the center and provide home care for more seniors. It will also allow the Case Management Services to be upgraded and increase the number of caregivers providing therapy for seniors throughout the city.

“We all want you to consider this your second home,” said Judy Zangwill, executive director of Sunnyside Community Services, to the seniors. “We feel all these improvements will make for a much more welcoming environment and greatly improve the experience for seniors.”

The Sunnyside Community Services began almost 40 years ago as a senior center, said Zangwill, and now continues to offer different programs to seniors from all over the borough. Each week the center offers 53,000 hours of health and home care services to 1,500 homebound western Queens residents and serves 15,000 people annually.




Star of Queens: Paula Snider

| MKirk@queenscourier.com

Paula Snider 2

Star of Queens: Paula Snider

Tutor with Sunnyside Community Services After School Program

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Whether it’s math, writing or reading, Paula Snider helps elementary school students with their homework after school. She says she usually ends each session by reading the kids a story.

PERSONAL: Born and raised in the Bronx, Snider attended college in Tennessee where she met her husband, who became a minister. As a part of her husband’s religious duties, the couple lived all over the country while Paula taught elementary school. They have two daughters.

FAVORITE MEMORY: “It’s hard to pick just one!” she said.

Last year during a tutoring session, Snider recalled a young boy touching her arm and saying, “Ms. Paula, your skin is so old!”

The two took a break from their normal studies and talked about age for a while. Snider told the boy she was 70, a number he reacted to with great surprise.

“It was really cute,” she said. “Kids are so honest, it’s something I really enjoy.”

INSPIRATION: Snider said one of her strongest influences is her mother, who worked, volunteered and remained active in the community all throughout her childhood in the Bronx’s Parkchester housing projects. She prides her mother on doing things like advocating to integrate the neighborhood, ensuring streets were properly lit and being a member of the community’s tenant’s association.

She said her husband inspires her as well, having remained active through volunteer efforts in every community they’ve lived in.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: While volunteering often has the ability to inspire unity, Snider feels great strides can still be made.

“I love Sunnyside because all of the people from different places,” she said. “Different, but all alike.”

Snider went on to say that she wished this sense of collectiveness achieved through volunteering could transcend on a universal level.

“I wished there was more of a sense of community,” she said. “We’ll all be benefitted. I wish we’d all try to see we’re all the same people and what benefits one, also benefits others.”


Star of Queens: Gemma Cullen

| MKirk@queenscourier.com

Gemma Cullen

Volunteer at Sunnyside Community Services

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Gemma Cullen does secretarial work in the Social Services department at Sunnyside Community Services, a social service agency providing assistance to those in need through programs for senior citizens, home care or afterschool programs, among others.

PERSONAL: Cullen was born and raised in Sunnyside. After retiring from her secretary position at Pfizer after 35 years, she began looking for ways to volunteer in her community.

“I’ve been very lucky,” she said. “I want to give back.”

When she’s not volunteering, she likes to read and go for walks.

FAVORITE MEMORY: In addition to her clerical work at Sunnyside Community Services, Cullen also volunteers to drive patients to and from medical appointments. One of the patients she drove was a woman receiving radiation for breast cancer. Cullen, who would remain during the treatments to keep her company, recalls this as her favorite memory for the bond that was formed between the two of them.

“We were strangers in the beginning,” she said, “but eventually developed quite a friendship.”

INSPIRATION: Cullen said she finds the entire process of volunteering very rewarding and that’s ultimately what drives her to continue her service.

“I think I get more out of it than I give, to tell you the truth,” she said.

She also cited the quality of the programs at Sunnyside Community Services as being a reason for her continued service at the agency.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Because Sunnyside Community Services is funded by the city, Cullen says recent budget cuts have continued to pose a challenge as far as being able to provide more services at the highest quality.

She hopes there will soon be a way to ensure that the agency has a larger representation in future budgets.


Residents voice concerns over weekend shutdown of No. 7 train

| squigley@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Sean P. Quigley

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer hosted a town hall meeting in order to give frustrated residents a chance to rail against the MTA, focusing specifically on problems with the No. 7 train.

Close to 100 residents showed up at Sunnyside Community Services to voice their concerns at the January 11 meeting, with the MTA assembling what Van Bramer called an “army of officials.” These officials answered questions, defended themselves and explained the upcoming 11 weekend long complete shutdown of the No. 7, as well as the countless subway shutdowns to come over the course of the next five years.

Between January 21 and April 2, the No. 7 train will be on a hiatus every weekend starting at 11:30 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday morning.

The primary questions asked by Van Bramer were, “why 11 weeks, why now, why in the dead of winter, why is it so important and why is it taking so long?”

Joseph Leader, vice president and chief maintenance officer of the MTA, and Demetrius Crinchlow, assistant chief officer of the No 7 line, both cited water leaks, obsolete signals, silt and muck build up, rail repairs, concrete depletion and lack of workable space as just a few of the many problems plaguing the line.

In lieu of the No. 7 train, commuters will have to utilize the “E”, “F”, “R”, “Q” and “N” trains with increased service to get around, or the above ground option of shuttle service which will run frequently with buses every five minutes throughout the day.

The MTA’s main objective is to update the Steinway tubes with Communication Based Train Control (CBTC), a $500 million project which Crinchlow calls “the wave of the future.” Scheduled shutdowns for this project are predicted to continue up until 2018.

Although contentious at times, Van Bramer said that this meeting was an overall positive step forward.

“People are going to continue to be rightfully frustrated, but it’s important to give them the opportunity to speak to those in charge face to face,” he said. “I think we did make some progress tonight.”