Flushing Town Hall Hosts Nibal Malshi Quintet

By Daleelah Saleh | news@queensledger.com

Bashar Farran, Nibal Malshi, and Gilbert Mansour (left to right). Credit: Daleelah Saleh

On Friday, May 17th, Flushing Town Hall hosted the Nibal Malshi Quintet for a concert showcasing music from across the Arab world, including Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. 

The concert was part of Flushing Town Hall’s mission to bring global arts to a global audience through world music programming (among other events).

“Flushing Town Hall showcases the talent and cultural traditions of artists from all over the world, as a way to bring people together,” Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall, said in a press release. “We are proud to welcome the extraordinary Nibal Malshi Quintet to our theater. Nibal sees her work as a platform for positive change and a message of peace and humanity.” 

Sami Abu Shumays, the deputy director of Flushing Town Hall, built upon this sentiment: “It’s been an honor to have Nibal here. It’s really important for us to be able to show Palestinians as human beings, as people with culture and music and joy rather than the way that Palestinians are often misrepresented in our media.” 

The event started at 7pm, with an interactive percussion workshop led by Gilbert Mansour, a Berklee College of Music graduate percussionist who has performed with The Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra and has accompanied various renowned Middle Eastern artists around the world. 

Gilbert sat in a chair in front of the stage facing the audience, engaging with them every step of the way. He started out by introducing two of the main percussion instruments played in the Arab world: the riqq, a small, circular drum resembling a tambourine, and the tabla (also known as Doumbeck or Darbuka), a goblet-shaped drum. 

He demonstrated some of the classic iqa’at, or rhythms, that many Arab songs are built around and explained how each rhythm and beat changes regionally. For each new rhythm he introduced, he had the audience practice by clapping it out. Audience members were invited to sing along to the beat and demonstrate dabke, a traditional dance from the Levantine.

Gilbert teaching drum lesson. Credit: Daleelah Saleh

When asked how long he had been playing during an audience Q&A, Gilbert shared that “these instruments have been in me since I was nine years old”. He noted that he used to tap out different beats on a door during the Lebanese war, then learned how to play the tabla once the music conservatory reopened. 

He has been teaching for the past ten years, and loves “connecting people with other countries and seeing people learn something new.”

After a quick break, the curtain opened to Gilbert on stage with his riqq and tabla, as well as Gabriel Dahrieh on violin, Maurice Chedid on oud, Zafer Tawil on qanun, and Bashar Farran on bass. They played an instrumental, then Nibal was met with resounding applause as she walked on stage, donning a traditional Palestinian thobe, with an embroidered design, known as tatreez

She opened the set with “Rajeen ya Hawa” by Fairouz, which translates to “We Are Coming Back, Oh Love.”

Nibal later shared that she chose that song because “We all know what it’s like to miss home. Rajeen is about going back home, longing for your memories, the nature of your homeland, and your bedroom. There’s nothing like home, it hurts us to leave regardless of the reason. You have roots in the land no matter where you go.” She also shared that Fairouz and Umm Kulthum were huge inspirations for her growing up – so naturally it felt fitting to pay an homage to both ofthem in the performance.

Over the next hour and a half, she guided us on a musical journey throughout the Arab world, singing classics from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq. She introduced each new region as she went, and invited people to clap and sing along. 

Nibal and quintet. Credit: Daleelah Saleh

The show felt like a gathering of old friends that just so happened to take place at one of the most iconic venues in Queens and include one of the most renowned Palestinian singers. 

“Music is an international language that people can connect to regardless of lyrics,” Nibal said. “Whether or not they knew the song, people were singing and moving together. That’s why no matter how far away from home I am, I don’t feel like I’m a stranger on stage; I feel at home.”

While Nibal currently lives in Dallas, she has played in NYC before. “I always love coming back and everyone knows the music. And it’s always interesting to meet new people and see familiar faces.”

Hailing from Haifa, Palestine, Nibal has always seen music as a way to build bridges and connect people, but shared that over the past 6 months, she has felt the weight of that responsibility even more: “It’s a duty for me as an artist and musician to show the beauty of my culture and people, and I feel like my home shines through me.” 

Gilbert shared this sentiment, saying, “I want to bring awareness to where I’m from, that’s a large part of why I play these instruments and why I teach,” and shared a message to people less familiar with Arab music and culture.

“Listen to our music, come to our concerts, and get rid of the stereotypes of camels and music.”

Nibal Malshi. Credit: Daleelah Saleh

Nibal Malshi. Credit: Daleelah Saleh

Mural Brings Color and Comfort to St. Mary’s Hospital

By MOHAMED FARGHALY mfarghaly@queensledger.com

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children recently unveiled a vibrant mural at its Bayside Facility, commissioned by Maspeth Federal Savings and crafted by Splashes of Hope, aiming to uplift patients and families. Courtesy of Maspeth Federal Savings.

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for kids and young adults with special health needs, celebrated the unveiling of a vibrant new mural at its Bayside Facility on May 15. 

Commissioned by Maspeth Federal Savings (MFS) and crafted by Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization known for its transformative healthcare murals, the artwork aims to uplift the spirits of patients and their families.

Jill Nicolois, Vice President and Community Affairs Director at Maspeth Federal Savings, shed light on the recent collaboration with St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children and Splashes of Hope to unveil a new mural. Nicolois highlighted the longstanding relationship between Maspeth Federal and Splashes of Hope, emphasizing their shared commitment to supporting healthcare facilities, particularly during the pandemic.

“St. Mary’s has long been a beacon of hope for the New York City families,” Nicolois said.  “It is our hope that this mural becomes a source of light and healing for patients and their loved ones.”

Nicolois noted the specific details about the mural’s design and its significance to the Queens community. She emphasized the meticulous attention to detail in portraying Queens’ rich tapestry of landmarks and iconic locations, which collectively contribute to the borough’s vibrant spirit.

“Somebody from the hospital requested this theme,” Nicolois said. “They came up with that idea and so as a lifelong Queens, we were able to brainstorm the A to Z Queens locations.”

Nicolois elaborated on the diverse array of Queens landmarks depicted in the mural, ranging from renowned structures like the Unisphere and JFK Airport to local favorites such as the Queens Zoo and the Seven Train. Each element was carefully selected to represent the borough’s cultural and historical significance, offering patients and their families a visual journey through Queens’ storied landscape.

Representing the diverse tapestry of Queens, the mural features iconic landmarks and businesses, highlighting the borough’s cultural richness and celebrating its entrepreneurial spirit, with bilingual elements to reflect the community’s diversity. Courtesy of Maspeth Federal Savings.

The inclusion of representations of local businesses within the mural was also highlighted, underscoring the community’s interconnectedness and the mural’s role in celebrating Queens’ entrepreneurial spirit. From beloved eateries like the Cone Ice King to prominent establishments like Target, the mural serves as a tribute to the diverse economic ecosystem that thrives within the borough.

Additionally, Nicolois pointed out the bilingual elements incorporated into the mural, reflecting Queens’ status as one of the most linguistically diverse places in the world. With portions of the artwork featuring text in both English and Spanish, the mural celebrates the cultural diversity of the community and ensures that all visitors, regardless of language proficiency, feel welcomed and represented.

The decision to commission the mural for St. Mary’s stemmed from Maspeth Federal’s desire to bring light and inspiration to the hospital’s patients and families. Nicolois outlined the collaborative process, which involved visiting the hospital with Splashes of Hope to select a suitable location for the mural and commissioning the artwork at no cost to the hospital.

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, known for its advanced care and specialized services, was described as a lifeline for children with long-term health needs.  St. Mary’s  has been a beacon of hope since its establishment in 1870 as New York City’s first hospital dedicated to severely ill children. Regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, St. Mary’s provides essential care for children who require advanced treatments, serving as a lifeline for countless families.

“As a community bank, our mission is to always try to help those in our community that need help and to complete this mission we need to find partners who share the same vision of helping those that are in need,” Thomas Rudzewick, President and CEO of Maspeth Federal Savings. “St. Mary’s Children Hospital’s mission statement says, ‘We bring big hearts to our little patients,’ so who better to partner with.”

Dr. Edwin Simpser, President and CEO of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, expressed gratitude for the partnership with MFS and Splashes of Hope, emphasizing the positive impact such collaborations have on the hospital’s programs and services.

“With the help of philanthropic support from organizations like Maspeth Federal Savings, our programs and services keep thriving and enriching the daily lives of children at St. Mary’s,” Simpser said.

The unveiling ceremony, attended by representatives from MFS, Splashes of Hope, and St. Mary’s, featured heartfelt speeches and the presence of patients eager to witness the unveiling of the mural, which had been concealed until the event. The event marked the culmination of months of collaboration and planning, with the mural serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all who encounter it.

“Today marks another step toward transforming medical spaces from clinical to colorful,” Elizabeth Schafer of Splashes of Hope said.

The collaboration between Maspeth Federal Savings, Splashes of Hope, and St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children underscores the power of art in healthcare settings, providing comfort, inspiration, and a sense of belonging to those facing challenging circumstances.

To find out more about Maspeth Federal Savings, please visit maspethfederal.com. For information about Splashes of Hope and their impactful community work visit splashesofhope.org.

Maspeth Federal Savings, established in 1947, is among New York City’s oldest mutual savings banks. Committed to providing fee-free, community-centered banking services to individuals, families, and small businesses throughout Queens and Long Island, MFS upholds core values and actively engages with the community. Recognized as a certified Great Place to Work, MFS supports local initiatives through charitable donations and partnerships.

NYC DOT Seeking Artists to Create Five Public Artworks Across the Five Boroughs

By MOHAMED FARGHALY mfarghaly@queensledger.com

NYC DOT Art Program, Community Commissions 2017, ‘Common Demoninator’ by Anthony Heinz May. Courtesy of the NYC DOT.

In a bid to infuse the city with creativity and community engagement, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) has announced a call for artists to design temporary public art works across the five boroughs.

Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez unveiled the initiative, dubbed Community Commissions: Artists Request for Proposals (RFP), as a collaborative effort between the agency and local community-based organizations. The selected artists will have the opportunity to create and install temporary art pieces on NYC DOT infrastructure, including sidewalks, medians, and triangles.

“Public art inspires New Yorkers and beautifies our streetscape, and there’s no better way to amplify and support the mission of these local organizations than collaborating to make our public spaces more vibrant,” said NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “We encourage all local artists to apply for this unique funding opportunity to produce artwork in their neighborhoods.”

The RFP, open until June 30, 2024, at 11:59 p.m., invites artists to submit proposals for site-responsive artworks. Selected artists will receive up to $20,000 for production costs and other project-related expenses.

NYC DOT has partnered with community-based organizations to facilitate the development of these artworks. These organizations will play integral roles in various project phases, including artist selection, design evolution, community engagement, fabrication, installation, and maintenance.

The designated sites for the artworks span each borough, including the Bronx’s sidewalk at Grand Concourse and East Fordham Road in partnership with Concourse House, Home for Women and Their Children; Brooklyn’s pedestrian space at Washington Avenue and Empire Boulevard in collaboration with I AM Caribbeing; Manhattan’s sidewalk median at Lenox Avenue and 124th Street, partnered with West Harlem Art Fund; Queens’ Diversity Plaza at Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway, partnering with the Rubin Museum of Art; and Staten Island’s Corson Avenue and Victory Boulevard, in collaboration with On Your Mark.

Community Commissions, aims to bring new art onto the streets through collaborations with local organizations. After selecting five organizations and sites across the boroughs, NYC DOT opened an open call for artists to submit proposals for artworks in those locations. Criteria for selecting partner organizations included their capacity to engage in such projects and alignment with the program’s mission. The goal is to bolster community programs and enliven public spaces while reflecting the neighborhoods’ cultural significance.

The program aims to foster enriching pedestrian experiences and draw attention to the missions of partner organizations. NYC DOT emphasizes the importance of connecting artists with organizations to ensure a meaningful reflection of each borough’s identity in the artworks.

NYC DOT Art will display the selected artworks for up to 11 months at the designated community sites, aiming to enrich pedestrian experiences and highlight the cultural significance of each neighborhood.

NYC DOT Art, Community Commissions 2017, ‘Exquisite Corpse’ by Fanny Allié. Courtesy of the NYC DOT.

To provide further insights into the RFP process, NYC DOT Art will host a webinar on June 5, 2024, at 12 p.m. The webinar will cover details about the open call for artists, introduce partner organizations, discuss installation sites, and review the application process.

The Community Commissions initiative underscores NYC DOT’s commitment to fostering cultural vibrancy and community pride through public art. For more information about the program and how to participate, visit www.nyc.gov/dotart and @nyc_DOTArt.

Representatives from partner organizations expressed enthusiasm for the collaboration, emphasizing the potential for these artworks to reflect and enrich local communities.

“The Rubin is excited to partner with NYC DOT Art and an artist to create public artwork in Jackson Heights,” said Jorrit Britschgi, executive director of the Rubin Museum. “As we explore innovative ways to share art outside our walls, this is an important opportunity to make art more accessible and celebrate the rich culture of this diverse neighborhood.”

“I AM Caribbeing is thrilled and grateful to partner with NYC DOT for Community Commissions,” said Shelley V. Worrell, founder and cultural entrepreneur at I AM Caribbeing. “This vibrant art installation will be located adjacent to Caribbean-American communities, small businesses, and culturally iconic landmarks, showcasing the rich heritage and diversity of the area. This collaborative effort will not only beautify the area but also foster community pride, cultural exchange, and economic growth.”

As the deadline for artist submissions approaches, NYC DOT anticipates a diverse array of proposals that will contribute to the cultural fabric of New York City’s neighborhoods. With art as a vehicle for connection and expression, the city looks forward to welcoming these temporary installations as vibrant additions to its public spaces.

50 Ideas for a Stronger, More Equitable Queens


The Center for an Urban Future (CUF) and the Thomas & Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation have released a major new report outlining strategies to create a stronger and more equitable Queens. The report, titled “50 Ideas for a Stronger and More Equitable Queens,” compiles policy recommendations from 50 local leaders aimed at improving access to affordable housing, quality health care, and well-paying jobs, while bolstering neighborhoods across the borough.

The report, funded by a small grant from the Long Island City-based Elmezzi Foundation, was jointly released with them as they support various programs, primarily in Queens.

Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of CUF, highlighted the organization’s mission to produce thorough, data-driven research that identifies actionable solutions to bolster New York City’s economy and create pathways to the middle class. 

“We wanted to drill down to a more local level,” Bowles said. “This report focuses on Queens, we know it’s the city’s borough of opportunity, it’s probably the most important launchpad to the middle class in New York. But there’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of things still needed to capitalize on the borough’s many opportunities to address a lot of a lot of challenges, and to ensure that more of the Queens residents are able to get ahead.”

The report is a follow-up to CUF’s 2022 publication, which offered 150 ideas for city-wide equity. This time, CUF gathered insights from 50 community leaders, including advocates, entrepreneurs, artists, health experts, and educators, asking each to propose a single actionable idea for strengthening Queens. The suggestions range from economic development to affordable housing and cultural promotion.

“We believe that 50 Ideas for a Stronger and More Equitable Queens highlights the many strengths and untapped opportunities in this borough and offers some unique ideas for long term growth and sustainability benefitting residents that call this borough home,” said Pooja Joshi, Executive Director of The Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation. “The Foundation’s approach has been to directly understand and tap into the needs of the community in order to have a wide breadth of impact. We believe that any solutions unearthed as well as piloted in Queens present far reaching implications not only for the borough but for the City and beyond.”

Contributors to the report include a diverse array of community leaders, educators, entrepreneurs, artists, faith leaders, nonprofit executives, and public health experts. Notable contributors include Kenneth Adams, President of LaGuardia Community College; Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College; Dennis Walcott, President and CEO of Queens Public Library; and Theo Oshiro, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. Their ideas provide a comprehensive roadmap for addressing key challenges in Queens.

One notable idea comes from Seth Bornstein, Executive Director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC), who proposed the creation of a community foundation for Queens. Currently, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island have their own community foundations that provide funding and grants to local nonprofits.

‘I think that the borough could definitely benefit from having a local foundation, something that is investing in the needs of the borough, and in nonprofits across the borough,” Bowles said.

Reverend Patrick O’Connor, lead pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, advocated for the development of affordable housing specifically for public servants and nonprofit workers. His proposal emphasizes collaboration between the borough president and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to address this issue.

Another innovative idea comes from Yanki Tshering, founder and executive director of Accompany Capital. Tshering recommended hosting “Celebrate Queens” events to draw attention to the borough’s unique businesses and cultural venues. She cited a successful local event as a model, which brought thousands of visitors to local eateries and showcased the area’s diverse culinary offerings. 

Additional suggestions include extending ferry service to Willets Point and LaGuardia Airport, proposed by Tina Lee of Cooper Investors Inc., and establishing new 24-hour communities to attract young professionals, suggested by Melva M. Miller, former CEO of ABNY.

“We know not all 50 ideas will be adopted, but even a handful could make a significant difference in creating a stronger, more equitable Queens,” Bowles said.

Other significant recommendations include instituting an arts and culture tax on new developments to fund local arts organizations, proposed by Sally Tallant of Queens Museum, and facilitating the development of affordable housing on unused land owned by religious institutions, suggested by Ben Thomases of Queens Community House. These visionary ideas aim to create a more vibrant, inclusive, and prosperous future for Queens.

Bowles expressed optimism about the report’s reception among city officials and agencies. 

“We’ve already shared the report with various government offices, including the borough president, city council members, and city agencies,” Bowles said. “Our goal is to spark a conversation and inspire action to implement some of these ideas.”

CUF plans to continue advocating for these proposals through meetings and public forums in the coming months. 

For more information and to read the full report, visit CUF’s website at nycfuture.org. 

“If New York City is going to succeed in creating a more equitable economy, Queens will need to play a starring role. Getting there will require bold new policies and investments that capitalize on the borough’s many opportunities and ensure that more of its residents are able to participate in its growing prosperity. This report provides 50 bold, innovative ideas to create a stronger, more equitable borough – from Flushing to Far Rockaway, Long Island City to Laurelton, and everywhere in between,” Bowles said. 

The CUF and the Elmezzi Foundation recently released “50 Ideas for a Stronger and More Equitable Queens,” compiling policy recommendations from local leaders. 

The report, funded by Elmezzi, suggests initiatives like hosting events to boost local businesses, providing affordable housing for public servants, and expanding ferry service to LaGuardia Airport. 

NYC DOT Unveils Ambitious Plan for 500 Secure Bike Parking Locations

By MOHAMED FARGHALY mfarghaly@queensledger.com

Two example designs for small capacity bike parking facilities. Courtesy of the NYC DOT.

New York City is gearing up to revolutionize its biking infrastructure with the announcement by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez of plans to introduce a network of 500 secure bike parking locations starting next year. 

This move aims to bolster the city’s surging bike ridership, offering crucial support for residents who lack in-home bike storage space.

The initiative, unveiled on May 9, marks a significant milestone in the city’s efforts to accommodate its burgeoning biking community.

Commissioner Rodriguez emphasized the importance of addressing the growing demand for secure bike storage, particularly as more New Yorkers opt for e-bikes and cargo bikes, which pose unique storage challenges.

“With record bike ridership and an all-time high number of protected bike lanes, New York City is experiencing a booming cycling renaissance,” said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “This initiative will support continued growth in cycling by addressing a key barrier to bike ownership: the lack of access to secure bike storage.”

The surge in bike ridership, coupled with an unprecedented number of protected bike lanes across the five boroughs, underscores the need for accessible and secure bike parking facilities. This initiative not only promotes cycling as a safe and eco-friendly mode of transportation but also addresses the practical challenges faced by many New Yorkers in storing their bikes.

Two example designs for high-capacity bike parking facilities. Courtesy of the NYC DOT.

“As more people ride bikes to get around, including heavier and pricier e-bikes, we must create infrastructure for safe, convenient storage,” stated Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. “New York must be built for people, at the density our growing city requires. These storage lockers will create many more spaces for New Yorkers commuting needs on our limited roadway.”

The selection process for an operator to oversee the bike storage network kicked off today with an open call. Once a company is chosen, NYC DOT aims to roll out the first storage locations next year, with the full complement of 500 sites expected within five years.

“Providing residents with secure bike parking is instrumental in ensuring more New Yorkers are walking, biking, and using mass transit, which helps to cut our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mayor’s Office of Climate & Environmental Justice Executive Director Elijah Hutchinson. “New Yorkers require a mixture of travel options to meet their daily needs, and this RFP presents more green alternatives while also helping us meet our PlaNYC commitments.”

The rollout strategy prioritizes strategic locations, including major transit hubs, residential areas lacking in-home storage options, and sites equipped to accommodate e-bikes. Additionally, the agency plans to distribute the storage facilities equitably across all five boroughs to ensure accessibility for all New Yorkers.

“The creation of this network of secure bike parking locations will go a long way toward making bike ownership more feasible for people in Queens and throughout our city,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “These locations will give bicyclists the peace of mind in knowing they can safely secure their bikes once they reach their destinations.”

The initiative has garnered widespread support from various quarters, including transportation advocacy groups and local officials. The consensus is that enhanced bike parking infrastructure will not only encourage more New Yorkers to embrace cycling but also contribute to the city’s broader sustainability goals.

“Ensuring that New Yorkers have secure bike parking is a critical component to the continuing growth of bicycling across the city,” said Ken Podziba, CEO of Bike New York. “This major increase in bike storage will make bicycling significantly easier and more accessible.”

With New York City’s embrace of cycling showing no signs of abating, the launch of a comprehensive secure bike parking program represents a significant leap forward in the city’s quest for a greener, more bike-friendly future.

“We can encourage people to make better, greener transit decisions by making alternatives like biking safer, easier, and more accessible. It’s infrastructure like bike storage and protected bike lanes that are necessary to get more New Yorkers onto bikes,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “Thank you, DOT, for this work to begin to advance a bike storage network so more New Yorkers can get out of their cars and enjoy the open air on two wheels.”

Aigner Chocolates: A Sweet Story of Community Engagement

By MOHAMED FARGHALY mfarghaly@queensledger.com

During National Small Business Week, Aigner Chocolates, a cherished Forest Hills establishment, shines as a symbol of community resilience. Credit: Mohamed Farghaly.

As the nation celebrated National Small Business Week during the month of May, the spotlight falls on Aigner Chocolates, a cherished local establishment that has been serving up delectable treats since 1930. Founded as Krause’s Candy Kitchen, this iconic chocolate shop has evolved into a cornerstone of the Forest Hills community, thanks to the dedication of its current owners, Rachel Kellner and Mark Libertini.

Founded in 1930, it evolved into a cornerstone under owners Mark Libertini and Rachel Kellner. Their commitment to community engagement is exemplified. Credit: Mohamed Farghaly.

What sets Aigner Chocolates apart is not just its mouthwatering confections, but also its unwavering commitment to community engagement and social impact. Rachel Kellner, a licensed clinical social worker, brings a unique perspective to the business, viewing food not just as a delight for the taste buds but also as a form of therapy.

“My background is as a social worker, and I worked in drug addiction for 10 years. Now I help enable addiction, chocolate addiction that is,” Kellner said. “And my business partner always wanted to open a chocolate shop and he’s driving down Metro and one day, saw a chocolate shop, went in to buy me chocolate, he saw there was a for sale sign and we bought the business four weeks later.”

Owning the business for the past 9 years, Aigner Chocolates prides itself on its diverse and predominantly female-led management team. With certifications from WBENC, NYC, and NYS, the shop exemplifies excellence and inclusivity in its operations.

“I think that females tend to be attracted to work in a female owned business,” Kellner said. ” I think that it’s inspiring and motivating and they just gravitate towards that.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Aigner Chocolates stepped up to the plate, donating their chocolate and goods to spread joy and hope in the community. 

“The pandemic gave us the opportunity for me to channel the social work that I have, and the desire to always give back and do for others,” Kellner said. “We were fortunate enough to be able to donate $30,000 worth of chocolate during the pandemic, and really start to be seen as a source of healing and hope and joy through the magic of our chocolate and sharing that with the community. And the more support that we’ve received from the Queens community, the more we’ve been able to give back. And we just feel really fortunate to be a part of a community that welcomed us and gave us the opportunity to continue on this legacy that we have and institution that we own.”

In a recent development, Aigner’s announced the filing for 501c3 status of an informal business alliance, Metro Village of Forest Hills, co-founded during the challenges of the pandemic by Kellner. This achievement marks a significant step forward in their commitment to community engagement and social impact which has been vital to Rachel & Mark’s journey since they took over Aigner Chocolates almost 9 years ago.

During the pandemic, Metro Village emerged as a beacon of community support in Forest Hills, Queens, following a burglary at Eisner Chocolates. This grassroots initiative aims to foster camaraderie and bolster local businesses, particularly those along Metropolitan Avenue. Often overshadowed by bustling thoroughfares like Austin Street, Metropolitan Avenue boasts a rich tapestry of longstanding businesses, including Aigner Chocolates. As Aigner’s owner, Rachel Kellner, underscores, community engagement is paramount. 

“I think because people that own small businesses tend to live, work and enjoy themselves in the community,” Kellner said. “They’re more incentivized to make a bigger impact. For me, I live here, I work here, I spend almost all my time here, my son’s school is here. So, for me, I recognize that what I’m doing is not just helping my son, but it’s helping all of the kids here on Forest Hills in a variety of different ways.  I think the world would be a better place if everyone cared a little bit more about the community, that they are a part of, because I believe that if everyone does a small part, it makes a big impact.”

Beyond crafting delicious confections, Aigner’s commitment to social responsibility shines through its extensive engagement with local schools, nonprofits, and hospitals. Through fundraisers, Aigner’s not only raises vital funds but also fosters a sense of unity and collaboration within the community. Whether it’s sponsoring Little League teams or contributing to hospital initiatives like SOS Day, Aigner’s embodies the spirit of giving back.

Aigner’s dedication to tradition and innovation ensures its status as a beloved local institution, proving that small businesses can make a significant impact. Courtesy of Aigner Chocolates.

“We also are involved in beautification projects, and we work with the Forest Park team, and one of the things we started working on with local elected officials is doing a monthly cleanup,” Kellner said. “So, every month we clean up the avenue. But in addition to that, I’m out there sleeping trash up multiple times a day.”

As Aigner’s continues to thrive, it remains deeply rooted in its traditions while embracing innovation. All chocolates are crafted on-site using antique equipment and time-honored recipes passed down through generations, ensuring a taste of nostalgia with every bite. 

Queens Residents Share Feedback at Queens Bus Redesign Open House

By Britney Trachtenberg britt@queensledger.com

Staff members from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) hosted a Bus Redesign Open House on Thurs., May 16 at the Variety Boys and Girls Club in Astoria. The transportation agency invited Queens residents to give feedback on the proposed plan to change bus routes across the borough. This open house occurred in the final stages of the redesign timeline. 

The Queens Bus Network Redesign is the biggest bus network redesign project in the United States. After implementation, the redesign will change travel for the borough’s estimated 800,000 bus riders.

The MTA launched the Queens Bus Network Redesign initiative in Apr. 2019 and published the Queens Existing Conditions Report in Aug. 2019. The organization published the Original Queens Draft Plan in Dec. 2019. The project paused for 18 months due to Covid-19. The initiative resumed in Aug. 2021. The MTA withdrew the Original Queens Draft Plan in Dec. 2021 and published the Queens New Draft Plan in Mar. 2022. The transportation agency conducted outreach for the Queens New Draft Plan during the spring and fall of 2022. During the winter and fall of 2023, the MTA reviewed New Draft Plan feedback while developing the Proposed Final Plan. They released the Queens Proposed Final Plan in Dec. 2023. Throughout the fall of 2023 and spring of 2024, the MTA has conducted outreach for the Queens Proposed Final Plan.

MTA Spokesperson Lucas Bejarano said, “The MTA is redesigning all the boroughs’ bus networks by streamlining routes to deliver more efficient service, better match current travel patterns, reduce travel times, increase off-peak service, improve connections to the subway and commuter rail, and improve interborough connections. We continue to receive feedback from Queens bus customers on the Proposed Final Plan, which will be critical in crafting a bus network that delivers on those priorities.”

Members of the public asked the MTA questions about the bus route changes from 5:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.

Carol Wilkins of Ravenswood asked about the bus stop on 36th Ave. and 21st St. on both sides. She said, “I think they need to put the bus stop back. There’s nothing on 35th Ave. [and] nothing on 36th. That’s where all the stores [are] that everyone wants to go to [and] shop at before they go home from work. Now, they have to walk back a block [or] two blocks.”

Andrew Gallin of Astoria mentioned the Q69, which he took from his neighborhood to Queensbridge. He said, “The Q69 is really slow because it has so many stops, especially right before the transfer to the subway. There’s two stops on the same block, which I never understood.”

Residents from Manhattan also attended the open house. Louis Moore attended the event due to his interest in urban planning. Khyber Sen said, “I’m excited for a faster bus route. I often don’t take the bus because walking is just faster.” David Kupferburg said that he lived in Manhattan, but worked in Long Island City. He did not want the MTA to discontinue the Q100 bus route. He said, “I don’t take the Q100 per se, but I know how this neighborhood depends on it.” 

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, New York State Assembly member for District 34, attended the event. She said, “As a state-elected official, one of my biggest platform issues has been public transportation. I used to be on the New York City Transit Riders Council and was appointed Rider Advocate, so public transit is a kind of passion of mine.” When asked about specific bus routes in District 34, Gonzalez-Rojas said, “I am looking very closely at the Q66 line. Most concerns I’ve heard from community members have been the removal of certain stops.”

Residents left comments about the MTA on comment cards. They received pamphlets about OMNY, the Open Stroller Pilot Program, the Fair Fares NYC initiative, and the MTA Reduced Fare Program.

Boards stationed around the room shared the MTA’s priorities, introduced the new bus network, and discussed the NYC DOT Better Buses program. 

The MTA hoped to provide Queens residents with reliable service and improved intra- and inter-borough transfers. The agency hoped to create more connections to ADA-accessible subway stations as well.

The board about the new bus network talked about increased bus stop spacing to make the bus service faster and make the bus network more reliable. 

Two other boards displayed the Proposed Local Bus Network map and the Proposed Network Frequency map.

Queens elected officials and the Long Island City partnership petitioned the MTA for a local bus route between Long Island City and Hunters Point through the Queens Midtown Tunnel as part of the Queens Bus Network Redesign. New York State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, New York City Council Member Julie Won, and Laura Rothrock, President of the Long Island City Partnership, wrote letters of support. 

In her letter, Senator Gonalez wrote, “This route will benefit seniors, people with disabilities and parents with strollers unable to navigate the stairs at Vernon/Jackson station. We understand the MTA has plans to make ADA improvements to the Queensboro Plaza and Broadway subway stations. While these future improvements are welcomed, we cannot leave those with disabilities and accessibility needs without access to Manhattan until they are completed.”

Congresswoman Velázquez wrote in her letter that “Hunters Point is among the fastest growing neighborhoods in New York City, yet inadequately served by one subway station – Vernon/Jackson Boulevard on the 7-line – a station that lacks ADA accessibility and a train that is often crowded and experiences frequent delays. Providing an alternative to Manhattan that is accessible, especially with the implementation of New York City congestion pricing is needed now and more important than ever.”

NYC Council Member Won wrote in her letter, “My constituents have consistently called for increased public transportation options from our district in Western Queens to Manhattan, especially with the introduction of congestion pricing. We must have safe, fast, and reliable public transportation options that will allow our seniors, people with disabilities, and parents with strollers to commute to and from the city.” 

Rothrock wrote in her letter “I’m writing on behalf of the small business community of Long Island City, specifically Hunters Point, one of the New York City’s fastest growing neighborhoods; home to numerous restaurants & bars, retail shops, service businesses and cultural institutions. Reliable, accessible and safe public transit is essential for small businesses & cultural institutions to thrive. Hunters Point is served by just one small non-ADA accessible subway station (Vernon/Jackson 7 line). When 7 trains are delayed or shut down, the neighborhood is cut off from the center of Manhattan.”

Long Island City resident Beverly Brown started an organization called LICBUS in 2022 to advocate for the Hunters Point/LIC-Midtown Tunnel bus line. 

The Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign will come after Queens with the release of its Final Plan.

CUNY Faculty Disrupt Board of Trustees Meeting Demanding New Contract

Union members flooded the Board of Trustees meeting. After disrupting the meeting, the protesters were escorted out of the auditorium. Credit: Jean Brannum

By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

Professors, CUNY staff, and students disrupted a Board of Trustees meeting demanding a new union contract, better job security, and liveable wages at Bronx Community College on May 20. 

“We are upset because CUNY management has come to the table with an economic offer that fails to keep pace with the rate of inflation and the increased cost of living in New York City,” Davis said. “Many of our members cannot afford to live where we work”

Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents CUNY professors, waited outside the board meeting at 4 pm to protest drastic budget cuts and changes that would make adjunct faculty’s jobs less secure. At 6 pm, the protesters flooded the empty auditorium. Members of the public were allowed to sit in on the meeting, but not permitted to make public comments. General board meeting rules state that disrupters will be given a proper warning and, if they continue, asked to leave, and subject to disciplinary action or sanctions.

After waiting for the meeting to resume around 6:45 pm, Union President James Davis stood up and read a letter from the union. After Chairperson William Thompson Jr. told Davis numerous times to be quiet and tried to carry on with the meeting, he ordered that the room be cleared. 

“We are fed up with the pace of the contract negotiation. We need real raises. We need job security, and we need a contract,” Davis said to the board. 

Barbara Bowen, a CUNY professor, leads a chant. PSC Members gathered outside the entrance to Bronx Community College and waited until the Board of Trustees allowed the public inside. Credit: Jean Brannum

Davis said that since the union has negotiated contracts in a formal manner numerous times, he now wants to show the board what union members need in a “visceral” way. 

The protesters chanted as campus security escorted them out of the building and gathered just outside to continue chanting. Eventually, campus security told the protesters to leave saying they were disturbing students who were preparing for final exams. The protesters left campus around 7 pm. 

One of the main pillars of the protest was CUNY’s proposal to change the job security rules for adjunct professors. As part of a pilot program that expires at the end of the 2024 academic year, an adjunct can receive a three-year contract after teaching a course for five years. Now CUNY wants to extend the time to get a contract to twelve years for a two-year contract. Davis said that 3000 members have been able to have health insurance and consistent income due to the current program. 

Elizabeth Hovey, an adjunct from John Jay College, expressed her anger at the CUNY administration for the significant budget cuts and discussed how they have affected the students. Hovey said that the John Jay Administration was forced to cut $10 million overall, which resulted in the cutting of 400 class sections. 

The board meeting was originally scheduled to be at the CUNY central campus in Murray Hill in Manhattan, but the board announced that the meeting would instead take place in the Bronx at the end of the day on Friday. Union members believe that the board was hoping to avoid a confrontation with the union after moving the location. 

PSC Members gathered outside the entrance to Bronx Community College and waited until the Board of Trustees allowed the public inside. Credit: Jean Brannum

The union has previously accused the board of moving meetings to dodge discussion about the contract. On May 9, CUNY alerted everyone that the board hearing scheduled for May 13 would be remote instead of in person. David Gerwin, a professor at Queens College, wrote a testimony for the board saying the Zoom format violated New York State’s Open Meetings Law. He also condemned the format because speakers are in the “waiting room” until it is their time to speak and cannot watch the rest of the hearing. 

“We are out here to send a strong message to the Board of Trustees. They can run, but they can’t hide,” one of the protesters said. 

A CUNY spokesperson sent the Queens Ledger a statement saying that the board meeting was moved to increase capacity for spectators. The conference room at the central office, the original meeting location, had a smaller capacity.

Some of the faculty and students, including members of the CUNY International Club, protested against the police response to the Pro-Palestinian protests. While not condemning the protesters, union Communications Director Fran Clark said that it was not the purpose of the union’s protest today and that they do not speak for the union. 

Union staff have worked without a contract for at least fifteen months. Davis said that the union will continue to discuss the contract with the CUNY administration. 


Chamber Announces New Foundation For Tech in LIC

Frank Casale and Tom Grech discuss the need for tech innovation in Queens. Credit: Jean Brannum

By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

The Queens Chamber of Commerce announced a new foundation on May 14 to raise $40 million to support tech startups in Queens. 

At the Shi restaurant in Long Island City, the Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Grech spoke with technology entrepreneurs about the plan to make Queens a diverse technology hub. 

Grech highlighted the Chamber’s accomplishment of adding six incubators to the borough. Queens only had two, one at Queens College and another at Laguardia Community College. He gave a shout-out to Greater Nexus, the first accessible shared workspace in Jamaica. There will be fifteen tenants in total. Grech mentioned that 70 percent of the businesses are minority-women owned. 

Grech said that he wants people to establish startups in the borough, especially college graduates who usually leave to start a tech company elsewhere. 

Deputy Queensborough President discusses the need to make Queens a tech hub. Credit: Jean Brannum

Also in attendance, was Deputy Borough President Ebony Young, who spoke about the borough president’s office platform for tech innovation. Young said that after hearing from a report that black and brown people were 100-150 years behind in the tech innovation sector, the borough president’s office wanted to close the gap in Queens. 

“Part of that solving is making sure that you create an ecosystem that fits the diverse spectrum of individuals that live in Queens,” Young said. 

Recently, Young and other members of the Borough President’s office traveled to Lagos Nigeria to learn more about creating a diverse tech hub. Young wanted to connect with black-owned tech companies and decided to travel to what is commonly referred to as Africa’s “Silicon Valley.”

Technology can be integrated into every industry, Young said, and AI is the newest technology everyone can use in their business. 

AI expert Frank Casale gave a short statement on the widespread use of AI and how people can use it to help their business like building websites. Casale said his overall goal is to make Queens a global tech hub, which he has already seen happening. 

 “I will tell you, there are people now in the Czech Republic, talking about Queens based on these discussions,” Casale said. “There are people now in South Africa, talking about Queens people in Medellin, Colombia, talking about Queens.”

A Startup Genome report from  June 2023 put New York City in the second spot in the global ecosystem ranking. Second to Silicon Valley.

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