Mental Health Center Revamped in Woodside


The center was renamed following the five million dollar donation from the Cohen Foundation.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

The Child Center of NY in Woodside was renamed the Cohen Family Wellness Center after a philanthropic couple donated five million dollars to fund holistic mental health services for youth. 

As a family-focused nonprofit, the center serves approximately 700 families in Queens every year through a range of programs that target a spectrum of mental health needs present in youth from birth to 24 years of age. Their cultural competency is reflected in clinicians that speak almost a dozen different languages to adequately serve all communities in Queens. 

“The Cohen Family Wellness Center is a place that promotes hope, growth, and empowerment for its residents—and our city’s children need a place exactly like it right now,” said Traci Donnelly, CEO of the Child Center, in a statement.The pandemic only exacerbated the struggles of young New Yorkers dealing with the most severe mental health challenges, and the Center is designed to fill that need.”

The Child Center of New York was founded in 1953 as a mental health counseling center in  Queens. Today, it serves nearly 43,000 children and their families across the city and on Long Island. The Woodside location is one of the center’s 70 community and school sites that provide services ranging from early childhood education, an intensive outpatient program and substance abuse treatment.

“The uniqueness about the center is that we have all these programs in one location,” said Abraham Santana, a therapist at Woodside location who previously worked as a school social worker prior to 2020. “I believe the most impact I’ve made was more with individual work with the families.”

One of the center’s success stories is Jonathan Molina, a 17-year-old and life-long Woodside resident who began treatment at the center in 2020 following a psychiatric hospitalization. He experienced anxiety that manifested in overly frequent trips to the bathroom that he says began to affect his quality of life. 

“I thought therapy was for people who are severe, and they needed it. But I came to realize that therapy is for people who just need a support system,” said Molina in a zoom interview with the Queens Ledger. 

Santana, Jonathan’s therapist for the past two years, recounted his experience with working with Molina to reframe anxious thoughts, develop coping strategies and ultimately reduce his anxiety-induced trips to the restroom. They went from meeting twice a week, to only once a month as Molina’s symptoms improved from receiving talk therapy and medication. 

“Whenever these big changes happen, I kind of tend to fall back to my original self ,just like freaking out or having second doubts about everything,” said Molina. “But I’ve always managed to come back. So each time it happens, I come back stronger, in a way because I’m more prepared and prepared to tackle these issues. So I feel like the hardest parts are just going away.”

Santana has a caseload of young clients that are working through symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, anxiety and depression. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, he also has a slew of clients that are experiencing bereavement following the loss of a family member. 

A family checks in to receive mental health services.

One in 200 children in the city lost a parent or caregiver to COVID, according to a statistical analysis conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. That is nearly double the rate across the country. The data also showed that Black, Hispanic and Asian children are three times more likely to lose a caregiver than their white peers. 

Molina says that one of the greatest benefits of the center is that they accept Medicaid, which makes mental health treatment accessible for him and his family. The center’s main source of funding is through the federal government, but donations like the one from the Cohen family and grants are also common. 

One of their main initiatives is Alternatives to Residential Treatment (ART) which approaches mental health treatment with a holistic approach. Family involvement, particularly with parents, is central to the center’s approach to treat youth in a comprehensive way. 

“Seventy years ago, The Child Center of NY started in the basement of a 99 cent store at the Big Six Towers, and thanks to this generous donation from the Cohen Family and the Amazin’ Mets Foundation, they will now be able to expand their reach and better serve our neighbors in their new facility,” said Council Member Julie Won, who represents Woodside, following the ribbon cutting ceremony on April 11. 

Currently there is no waitlist for any services that the center offers in a hybrid model. Clinicians at the center also speak ten different languages including Mandarin, Farsi, Spanish and Bengali.

“Two years, three years ago, I was very lost. And I wasn’t very focused on my life,” said Molina. “And right now I feel like I have a sense of what I want to do with my life.”

He will graduate from Civic Leadership Academy in Elmhurst this spring as the school’s valedictorian. Next fall, he will study psychology at Queens College where he was accepted into the Honor Program. Molina says his experience at the center inspired him to pursue a career in the psychology field.

“We’re trying to solve a lot of traumas from previous generations. We kind of want to have a clean slate. They don’t want to reflect a parent’s behaviors,” said Molina. “So a lot of people tend to go to therapy or go to places that will provide help for them, so that they can be better parents or be better people in general.”


Eviction as Retaliation: ‘Good Cause’ Could’ve Protected This Fresh Meadows Family

The apartment complex where the Sajid family received a notice to evict.

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

After years of moving around between Pakistan, Canada and Texas, Sumra Sajid and her family were finally able to call a Fresh Meadows apartment home for the past 13 years. 

Like many families, they fell on hard financial times during the pandemic. Sajid Khan, her father and the sole provider for the family of eight, could no longer work as a taxi driver due to a lack of demand and safety concerns. For months their rent went unpaid, and their arrears accumulated to over ten thousand dollars. 

Word of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), a federal government program to support housing stability during the pandemic, felt like a lifeline. They applied immediately with hopes that relief and security would replace the intrusive thoughts that told them they could end up homeless. 

But shortly after their landlord received their back pay rent in the form of a check from the government, they received an eviction notice.

“Even now I still don’t really understand it,” said Sumra, the family’s second oldest daughter, a recent graduate of Columbia University. She spoke on behalf of her family in a phone interview with the Queens Ledger. 

To the family, and legal experts, this appears to be retaliation from the landlord for utilizing ERAP to cover their rent during a crisis period. It came as a shock to the family that the landlord wanted to terminate their tenancy after the debt was settled. 

On January 15, 2022 the state’s eviction moratorium expired. Since then, eviction rates have crept up, rents soared and homelessness surged in NYC. 

Ellen Davidson, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, says that this is not the first time that a landlord retaliated against their tenants for receiving assistance from ERAP, despite being made whole. Complaints about needing repairs, and subsequent 311 calls that often lead to city inspections and possible fines, are also common triggers for landlords to evict. 

“We see that a lot,” said Davidson in a phone interview. “And we see tenants even who are just too afraid to even risk retaliation, and so they won’t complain about pretty dire conditions in their apartments.”

A bill that many say would provide eviction protections for tenants in unregulated housing, while also addressing the affordability housing crisis, is currently sitting idle in Albany. The Good Cause Eviction bill, first introduced in 2019, is sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar who represents much of northern Brooklyn. 

Good Cause legislation would prohibit landlords from ending tenancy without just cause and would set grounds for the removal of tenants. Breaking a lease agreement, failing to pay rent or creating a nuisance for others, would be considered just reasons. If passed, the bill would also cap rent increases to three percent or 150 percent of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher. 

“It is outrageous that there are thousands of people in our state who are experiencing homelessness in the wealthiest state in the country in one of the wealthiest cities in the world,” said Senator Salazar at a rally promoting Good Cause in Astoria last week. “It doesn’t need to be this way.”

Progressives in the state are currently pushing for Governor Hochul to include the legislation in the already late budget proposal. They argue that without it, tenants who live in unregulated buildings will continue to face skyrocketing rent and dire homelessness rates with limited protection from the state.

Activists rally in Albany for the inclusion of ‘Good Cause’ in the state budget. Photo Credit: HJ4A

This type of regulation already exists in around half of NYC units that fall under rent-regulated status, which includes rent-stabilized units and the few rent-controlled apartments. If you reside in a regulated building, state law protects you from being wrongfully evicted and being disproportionately priced out. 

“It’s a weaker regulation than the rent stabilization law in New York,” said Davidson on Good Cause. “But it’s so much more than tenants have now. To be able to have tenants who are currently completely unprotected, have weak protections, would be incredibly important.”

Those strongly opposed to the bill include landlords, realtors and builders who argue that the legislation will lead to higher rents, limit the building of new housing and revamp the market out of their favor. They see it as the renter acquiring more rights than the owner of the property. 

Putting Up A Fight

Only a small percentage of evictions end up in housing court. The majority of people ‘self-evict’ by leaving their residence without putting up a fight, according to Davidson. For some, it’s because they don’t know their rights while others have no rights. But more and more tenants are facing ‘no cause’ evictions.

This past February, the Sajid family had their first appearance at NYC Housing Court against Fresh Meadows LLC, who brought a holdover case against them. Unlike a nonpayment case, a holdover case — where the landlord wants to evict for reasons other than nonpayment — is more complicated and rare. 

Under NYC’s Right to Counsel law, all low-income tenants brought to Housing Court are mandated a free attorney to navigate the process. Sumra’s family was offered representation by a Legal Aid Society lawyer at their first appearance. 

“In the no defense holdover cases, it doesn’t really matter whether the people who were being evicted are good tenants or bad tenants, because the landlord doesn’t have to give a reason,” said Davidson. “And because the landlord doesn’t have to give a reason. There’s no defense to that.”

Prior to the pandemic, close to 85 percent of cases filed in housing court were for non-payments. Only 15 percent were for holdover cases. 

The Mental Toll

“There’s normal stress that normal people have. And then there’s stress of where are we going to live,” said Sumra. “When you don’t have money, it just seems like everything, everything works against you.” 

The possibility of losing housing took a significant mental toll on the entire family. Sumra’s two younger brothers, who are 13 and 15 years-old, could sense the financial stress in the air without being told. They did everything they could to avoid burdening their parents, even with minor costs.

While Sumra was studying psychology on the pre-med undergraduate track at Colombia, the stress of her family’s housing situation kept her up at night and led her to fall behind in her classes. She recalls more than one instance where asking a professor for an extension came with an explanation that her family could end up homeless. Ultimately, the stress triggered dissociative symptoms and left her severely sleep-deprived. 

“At that point, it just kept piling up. And it seemed never ending,” said Sumra. “Like, okay, now what?”

Since the family came into contact with The Legal Aid Society earlier this year, and now have a lawyer representing them, she says a weight was lifted off her shoulders.  

Sumra and her older sister now live outside of their family’s apartment and work full time. They contribute what is left over from their own costly expenses of living in New York City to the rest of the family.

“When people are able to stay in place, it is better for that family, their communities and for the city as a whole. People are better able to maintain their health. Kids in school have better educational achievement,” said Davidson. “And people who are working have more ability to get and keep employment when they’re stably housed.”

Porcelli: The Other Side of Education 4/19

CTE Shop Class: Now It’s High-Tech

CTE & the Crisis in the Economy

Today, other than inflation, the most talked about economic topic is the Skilled Worker Shortage… a situation that’s growing and rapidly becoming a crisis in every industry.

If you doubt that we are running out of skilled workers, labor department statistics show that the majority of highly skilled and experienced trade workers are my fellow baby boomers, and we are retiring at three times the rate that new entry level workers are being trained to replace us. Many of us are even working well past normal retirement ages because of the high demand for our skills.

Imagine a store where for every three containers of milk sold, only one was restocked on the shelves. How long before the store runs out of milk? We could substitute other drinks for the missing milk, but there are no substitutes for skilled workers. Robots will never be able to replace most tradesmen. Who will? Where will young tradesmen come from? – CTE!

When 3,000 welders, plumbers, mechanics, or any other trade workers retire, if there are only 1,000 new ones to take their places – that is a growing crisis! How long can this continue before the systems those workers build and maintain begin to fail? How long before our roads are clogged by stalled vehicles, riders are stranded in stuck subway and elevator cars, planes begin falling from the sky, or our military runs out of working weapons? Will we continue to be the country others want to move to?

The current fear of a looming recession will seem trivial if we run out of the plumbers, electricians, and the other workers needed to keep our municipal water & sewer systems functioning. Without those critical systems, society will rapidly fail.

What’s the alternative to such a catastrophic future? How was America victorious in World War II? Some of our parents and grandparents rapidly became the workers needed to produce and maintain the weapons of war our troops needed. Remember, as this month honoring women began, this column featured the contributions of the women skilled trade workers represented by “Rosie-the-Riveter.”

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, our economy shifted gears into war production, and many women were rapidly trained to replace the male assembly-line workers who joined the military.

The solution to our current skilled worker shortage is an immediate increase in Career & Technical Education programs nationwide. Like the crash-course type technical training WWII Rossie’s received, modern expanded CTE programs could train our replacements.

In addition to more CTE programs, schools must also begin to promote the value of those programs to students. Unlike the present guidance system that “encourages” all students to enter expensive college programs they may not succeed in; schools must offer training that best matches students’ abilities and interests, develops their talents, and amplifies their potential for career success.

Schools: Provide more & better CTE!

Students: Click on the academic and career path that best fits your needs!


Academic & Trade Education are Two Sides of a Coin.

This column explores the impact of CTE programs on students, society, and the economy.

Mike Porcelli: life-long mechanic, adjunct professor, and host of Autolab Radio, is committed to restoring trade education in schools before it’s too late. 

Pol Position: No Shame Santos

He’s running folks.

The factually challenged and scandal prone congressman for Queens and Long Island announced his candidacy for re-election this past Monday. The congressman, who is under several investigations and admitted to fabricating parts of his resume, made the announcement from Washington DC.

“As a first-generation American, I am no stranger to the issues affecting my district. I grew up poor with a single mom, and thank to the American dream, a poor boy of immigrant parents in Queens can grow up to serve his community in the halls of Congress,” the congressman said in a statement.

Within his first few months in office, Santos has spurned multiple investigations into him ranging from sexual assault allegations to

Most people with a national spotlight hounding on their multitude of lies would most likely want to hide under a rock for the rest of their life. But not Santos. Here in Queens and Long Island we truly have someone special currently representing us.

Hopefully there will be a wide field of candidates both on the Democratic and Republican side who wile file against the walking headline generator, so that a new representative can focus on delivering for the district rather than inspiring Saturday Night Live skits.

Santos will most likely double down on his personal narrative, as indicated in his statement and focus on crime and other issues to win over voters. But unlike his first run for congress everything from local to midsize and national media will have eyes on him and the race.

Astoria Couple Preserves Traditional Syrian Music

By Stephanie Meditz

[email protected]

Astoria residents Samer Ali and Marissa Arciola Ali work to preserve traditional Syrian music in the Queens community and beyond.

On May 19 at 8 p.m., the Syrian Music Preservation Initiative (SMPI) will celebrate its fifth anniversary with “Love and Loss: Classical Music of Syria” at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.

The concert will feature SMPI’s Takht al-Nagham, an Arab chamber music ensemble that includes the violin, oud (Arab lute), qanun (Arab zither), ney (Arab flute), bass and riq (tambourine).

It will include both instrumental and vocal pieces sung by a soloist and a small choir.

The music selections will mostly consist of pieces that are not well-known in the United States.

“Some of these pieces are composed recently in the old format, some of them are old pieces. We’re performing a piece from 1936 by a very important composer from Latakia in Syria,” SMPI founder and artistic director Samer Ali said in an interview. “We also have a new piece that was composed in 2009 by a different composer from the same town.”

There are regional differences in Syrian music — music from cities has a distinct sound compared to music from the countryside or a coastal area.

“You can see that in the tuning of the notes, actually. The experienced ear can hear the differences,” he said. “When you play a Kurdish song, the tuning of the song is very different from the tuning from a coastal area.”

The music also reflects Syria’s ethnic diversity.

Syria has a predominantly Arab population, but it also includes Kurdish, Armenian and Syriac traditions.

“It’s different groups and different cultures that add to the richness of the music of Syria,” Ali said.

As a reflection of the music’s rich cultural tradition, the concert will highlight musicians from diverse backgrounds.

“It’s an interesting mix of both Arab and non-Arab musicians and singers. Actually, some of our singers don’t speak Arabic at all but they will be singing in Arabic,” SMPI president Marissa Arciola Ali said in an interview.

Performers include Syrians and non-Syrian Arabs, as well as people from Latin America, Europe and other places around the world.

“That really is a good example of what SMPI is. Even our volunteers are international,” she said.

SMPI’s mission is to preserve the diverse traditional music of Syria through performances, education and free online transcriptions and translations.

Founded by Ali in 2018, SMPI began as a music group to bring music written and played in Syria to the New York stage.

Eventually, the group got the idea to do more than just perform and started to provide resources to make Syrian music accessible to people all over the globe.

“We started the organization to preserve this music tradition and to keep it alive,” Ali said. “Music traditions are to be practiced, and the practice is what is the essence of it.”

They provide transcriptions and translations of different pieces for free on their website.

“If it’s an instrumental piece, then it’s easy for anyone who reads music to work on it. If it’s a vocal form, then we present it in a way that the transcription has the Arabic reading on it. So that involves someone who can read the Arabic alphabet,” Ali said.

When SMPI presents a vocal piece in concert, they translate the work into both Arabic and English for the audience.

“This is not easy, because translating poetry is a tough mission. So we work with translators who are also sometimes poets to provide a good translation, the same way when you go to an opera in Italian to be provided in Italian and English. We do the same thing,” he said.

They also try to provide the context, story and musical analysis of the works they perform to enhance the audience’s understanding.

“The music… is transcribed from people listening. And then from there, sometimes it’s written down, hand-written and then we translate it into Sibelius. It’s a big process,” Arciola Ali said.

SMPI’s target audiences include both people who are well-versed in the tradition and those who are curious to learn more about and possibly play Syrian music.

For their upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall, SMPI opened one of the pieces for the public to audition.

Rehearsals for this piece then doubled as workshops when Ali reviewed the details and tuning of each piece, as well as its musical character.

“This piece is both so interesting and so good for learning because it shows the different sides of the maqam [scale] and how you would use it if you wanted to solo, or if you wanted to play the whole thing,” Arciola Ali said.

SMPI works not only to expose audiences to Syrian music, but to make it easier for those interested in playing it to do so.

“This is a very aural tradition. Usually, you would learn songs from your teacher, but since that’s not available to everyone, especially today, we are in the process of making more and more pieces available online,” she said.

After the devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey in February, SMPI brought together several musicians and dancers from the local Arabic music scene for a fundraiser at City Lore.

They raised more money than they anticipated and donated it to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

“Syria, the country, is going through tough times since 2011, and it’s getting worse. People in the country are busy with basic life needs,” Ali said. “We try to help with this because if this music is not practiced and documented, then it’s going to be forgotten,”

Tickets are available for SMPI’s May 19 Carnegie Hall performance at

To learn more about and volunteer with the Syrian Music Preservation Initiative, visit their website at

“It’s also very rewarding, just to know that we’re not only creating music with people who are excited to create music and building a community, but doing it for a good cause, which is keeping this music alive,” Arciola Ali said.


At the upcoming Carnegie Hall performance on May 19, a group of community members selected through an audition process will join SMPI onstage.

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