“Science in a Box” kits delivered to District 29

Sun Works kits given to students from three elementary schools

A P.S. 54. student receives her supplies (Photo: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

By Alicia Venter

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600 STEM Hydroponic Kits, also known as “science in a box” kits, were distributed to three elementary schools in Southeast Queens on Friday, Jan. 13.

The schools that received the kits include PS 54, The Hillside School; PS 99, The Kew Gardens School; and PS 144, The Col. Jeromus Remsen School in Forest Hills.

The hydroponic kits were provided by NY Sun Works — a non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools — in partnership with local council member Lynn Schulman.

The kits came equipped with a 10-lesson climate and science curriculum meant to enable students, with a teacher’s guidance, to grow, study and run investigations with plants.

They are designed to expose students to hydroponic farming technology on a miniature, hands-on level.

“Our kids only get one chance at a good education. That is why I am thrilled to partner with New York Sun Works to deliver 600 hydroponic STEM kits to local schools throughout Council District 29,” said Schulman in a press release. “These kits will be paired with a 10-lesson curriculum that teaches students the importance of sustainability and urban agriculture while enhancing their  observation and data collection skills. I look forward to seeing the final results from this unique and vital life lesson program.”

The schools also received the Discovering Sustainability Science curriculum, and teachers are provided the tools to tailor the curriculum to address the needs of the students.

The program will reach more than 1000 elementary-age students at the three schools, all located in the 29th Council District that Schulman represents.

“We are excited to engage young learners in plant biology by delivering hundreds of interactive and innovative STEM kits in Queens with Council Member Lynn Schulman,” said Manuela Zamora, NY Sun Works Executive Director in a press release. “We are fully committed to fostering the love for science to every New York City public school student and these kits are an incredible introduction to hydroponic farming that teach climate and the science of sustainability.”

NY Sun Works first introduced the ‘Science in a Box’ Hydroponic Kit program in September 2020. More than 5,000 kits were distributed last year, for both classroom and at-home learning.

In a 2021 study conducted by social science research organization Knology, the kits and curriculum “embody innovation, flexibility, hands-on learning, and critical thinking.

For more information on NY Sun Works, visit nysunworks.org/.

Queens Botanical Garden receives historic donation

$8 million provided for outreach and educational programming

By Alicia Venter

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The Queens Botanical Garden is receiving a historic $8 million donation to fund their programming and outreach efforts in the coming years.

Jamaica-based non-profit Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation donated the $8 million, an amount that Queens Botanical Garden Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos believes to be one of the largest donations given to any cultural organization in Queens.

With this donation, the Queens Botanical Garden plans to strategize the programming and educational services that will be provided to a variety of different Queens residents.

“One of the things that I’ve observed and I believe in is how much potential this garden has,” Hantzopoulos said. “It’s already considered such an important resource and space for the community here in Flushing and in Queens. Through this very generous gift that we are going to receive, it’s going to open up a bunch of opportunities for us to serve.”

The Queens Botanical Garden is set to receive an upgrade in the next few years, as the city is funding a new educational building to replace its current outdated center. This donation will allow there to be no time wasted once these doors are opened, as the donation will primarily serve to fund this location’s programming.

Though they are currently “at the mercy of the city” for its completion, Hantzopoulos shared that the new education center, which will be named after the Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation, is set to be completed two years after its groundbreaking. The date of the groundbreaking is currently unconfirmed, but construction is anticipated to begin in early 2024.

“We will be able to expand our capacity to serve New York City school children through tours, through workshops and through educational programs. We will be able to do some adult education as well,” Hantzopoulos said. “I think what’s really wonderful is that not only do we have this new building but we will also be able to staff and operate it. From day one that the building opens, we will be able to serve all the guests who come.”

The garden does currently have an education building, though outdated, and they will be developing and piloting new programming with the funding while the construction of the new building is underway.

Hantzopoulos told the Leader-Observer that the funding will directly benefit

underrepresented areas in Queens — specifically Jamaica and the Rockaways as requested by the donors.

“The Bluestone family… wanted to give something back to those communities as well. Through this gift, we will be doing some extra special outreach to those communities.”

The Queens Botanical Garden will work with the community within public schools, Hantzopoulos shared, in order to promote sustainability and present the opportunities they provide. They are looking at the engagement of communities who haven’t been coming to the garden as much as others, Hantzopoulos said.

The goal, with this funding, is simple to Hantzopoulos.

“Our hope is that we are going to reach more people,” she said.

The garden, she explained, is on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable practices. They are completely organic, with strategies to not waste water and composting on site, continually working to manage their resources and reduce their carbon footprint. They were the first publicly funded LEED platinum certified building in New York City in 2007, and had the first publicly accessible green roof in the city, Hantzopoulos explained.

“This is the way our city needs to go in order to become more energy efficient, manage our resources better and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Hantzopoulos said. “In addition to bringing more people to the  garden… we also want to continue leading the way in terms of environmental sustainability as we face the existential crisis of climate change.”

The Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation was formed in 2022 to foster the education of disadvantaged children and young adults in New York City. Joan was a longtime volunteer and donor at the Queens Botanical Garden, serving on its Board of Directors for many years, and she died in 2020.

Norman was a founding member of The Bluestone Organization, a Queens-based real estate company — he died in 2011.

The Queens Botanical Garden is located on 39 acres of city land at the northeast corner of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Six weekends of 7 line closures into Queensboro Plaza

7 line suspended between 34th St.-Hudson Yards and Queensboro Plaza on select weekends beginning in February

By Alicia Venter

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Queensboro Plaza South Side Rendering. Photo: MTA

Seven train line service will be suspended between 34th St.-Hudson Yards and Queensboro Plaza for six weeks, with the first of these closures beginning Saturday, Feb. 4.

During these weekends, the MTA will be constructing two elevators at Queensboro Plaza in an effort to make the station fully accessible.

The service change for the first weekend is scheduled to be in effect from 12:15 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4 until 5:00 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 6.

The following weekends will have service changes beginning at 3:45 a.m. on Saturday to 10:00 p.m. on Sunday:

  • Feb. 11 – Feb. 12
  • Feb. 25 – Feb. 26
  • Mar. 11 – Mar. 12
  • Mar. 25 – Mar. 26
  • Apr. 22 – Apr. 23

Free shuttle buses will be provided between Queensboro Plaza and Vernon Blvd – Jackson Av, as well as between Times Square and 34 St-Hudson Yards.

Construction at Queensboro Plaza includes an elevator at the southern entrance of the station and an elevator between the mezzanine and the two platforms.

The mezzanine is expected to receive new lighting and be expanded by approximately 50 square feet. There will also be updates to the pedestrian bridge.

To make the station fully accessible, the project will consist of new boarding areas compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with new platform edges and upgrades to existing street and station stairs to current ADA standards.

“The improvements coming to Queensboro Plaza will greatly benefit tens of thousands of riders,” said NYC Transit President Richard Davey in a statement. “Accessibility is such an integral part of mass transit, especially for a city like New York where mass transit is essential for many. When complete, the project will provide critical accessibility upgrades, security updates, and customer experience improvements throughout the station.”

The MTA describes the planned work on Queensboro Plaza as a “complex construction project” in a press release due to the rapidly growing, densely populated neighborhood.

According to the MTA, Queensboro Plaza served approximately 70,000 rides on average every weekday in November 2022, and work will be required over the 11-lane wide approach to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, including two bike lanes.

“Building in dense urban environments, with infrastructure that dates back more than 100 years, is complex and challenging,” said MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer in the press release. “But making our system accessible is essential and so we are finding creative ways to meet that challenge. Queensboro Plaza is a perfect example, taking advantage of private investment to maximize the benefit for riders while minimizing cost to the MTA.”

The project for building an accessible entrance on the south side of Queensboro Plaza is expected to be completed by mid-2024, and is budgeted for $74 million. There will also be upgrades made to the fire alarm system, installation of a new security camera system, a new public address system and digital information screens.

The north side’s entrance is also set to become an accessible entrance, done so through the Zoning for Accessibility (ZFA) program. This entrance is anticipated to be completed by 2025, and will be financed by the developer of 25-01 Queens Plaza North under the ZFA transit improvement bonus program. This is expected to save the MTA millions of dollars in construction and maintenance costs.

ZFA enables developers, in exchange for an increase in their building’s density, to improve access to public transit in the busiest areas of the city.  To learn more about the program, visit https://new.mta.info/accessibility/zoning-for-accessibility.

The MTA also announced that there will be weekend service changes on the N line in May.

Additional weekend service changes are expected throughout the year and in 2024.

AAFE Hosts Three Kings Day Celebration

By Alicia Venter

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Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) took advantage of Three Kings Day — a holiday predominately celebrated by children — to provide Jackson Heights children a day of entertainment and inform their parents of services in their community.

The nonprofit held their Three Kings Day celebration on Jan. 5 at Blessed Sacrament Church. From 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., children were welcome to get their faces painted, to participate in different crafts, free churros and different gifts.

Three Kings Day is a Christian holiday celebrated on Jan. 6 that celebrates the day in which the three wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. It is also known as the Feast of Epiphany, and in many European and Latin American countries, parents will buy their children gifts on this day.

At any point, the area was packed with locals partaking in holiday festivities. Approximately 75 people could be seen enjoying the free activities or learning about the different Queens services.

Among the organizations distributing information and various gifts included Elmhurst Hospital, Communities Resist, Commonpoint Queens and the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

Council member Shekar Khrishnan, State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly member Catalina Cruz could be seen towards the beginning of the festivities distributing at home Covid-19 tests and greeting their constituents. Speaking primarily in Spanish, each wished the attendees to have a happy holiday and to take advantage of the services provided that day.

Husband charged with hitting wife with SUV, stabbing her​​

By Alicia Venter

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Stephen Giraldo, 36, has been charged for allegedly hitting his wife with his SUV — with their three children sitting in the car — and then stabbing her with a knife, according to the Office of the Queens District Attorney. The incident took place outside of her Flushing residence.

Sophia Giraldo, the defendant’s 41-year-old wife, has been left with severe neurological damage, broken bones in her leg and a stab wound that punctured her liver.

Giraldo, of 144th Street in Jamaica, was arraigned on charges of attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first and second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.

According to the charges, Giraldo entered the driver’s seat of a white Ford Explorer parked near the intersection of Parsons Boulevard and Sanford Avenue in Flushing at approximately 5:20 a.m.

The three children, ages 11, 9 and 6, were seated in the car.

The victim walked in front of the vehicle, and the defendant allegedly told the children to “keep your seatbelt on” before accelerating, striking the victim.

After the collision, the car turned onto its side; the defendant allegedly crawled out of the passenger side window of the vehicle and stabbed his wife with a knife.

The defendant was on the scene when police arrived.

“The brutality of the attack, and the fact that it was committed in full view of the victim’s three young children, stirs heartbreak and outrage in all of us,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz in a statement. “My thoughts are with the children.”

Giraldo has been ordered to return to court on Jan. 12. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

Carrol has been formally charged with the crime, but he has not been found guilty of committing the crime.

End-of-year legislation signed by Hochul

Understand the legislation set to go into effect in 2023

By Alicia Venter

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January 1, 2023 – Albany, NY – Governor Kathy Hochul takes the oath of office and delivers an inaugural address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

As the year came to a close, Governor Kathy Hochul had a busy two weeks. She became the first woman to be sworn into a full term as governor of New York on Jan. 1, and in the month prior, she signed numerous pending state legislation into law.

Notably, she signed a bill that prohibits discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status and immigration status is illegal in New York.

This law will expand the protections from the NYS Division of Human Rights, which currently investigates cases in which individuals have been potentially discriminated against due to their immigration status.

State Senator John Liu and State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz came together with activists on Dec. 29 in front of Flushing Library to applaud the signing of this bill (S6586A/A6328A).

​​“We appreciate Governor Hochul for signing this legislation in recognition that our state is made greater by the vast contributions of talented and aspiring people from everywhere in the world who adopt New York as their new home,” Liu said in a statement. “Unfortunately, even as they pursue the American Dream, they are stymied by obsolete federal laws and byzantine bureaucracies that prolong their path to citizenship and subject them to bias and discrimination. This bill will help provide equal opportunity in employment, housing, and other needs that all New Yorkers should have access to.”

The first state program in the nation allowing individuals to be reimbursed for the costs of kidney and liver donations came from the governor’s office this week.

The legislation (S.1594/A.146A) amends the public health, tax and social services laws to enact the “New York State Living Donor Support Act,” which will establish a program to cover the extra costs that come with organ donation for New York residents who donate to a fellow New Yorker. The law comes in an effort to eliminate financial barriers to organ donation and, as a result, reduce wait times for organ transplants and address the organ shortage in New York.

As of publication, there are over 8,000 people on transplant wait lists, most of whom are awaiting a kidney, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

A legislative package (S.3897/A.8936-A) supporting pedestrians, bikers and transit riders included increased funding for “Complete Street” projects.

A Complete Street is a roadway designed for all roadway users — not just drivers.

This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders as well as motorists. It also makes an effort to focus on children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

With this legislation, the state’s contribution to the non-federally funded portion of the project increases to 87.5 percent.

New legislation (S.3959-B/A.7822-C) will require the non-voting transit dependent representative be moved into a voting position on transportation authorities’ boards. In short, this new legislation will provide a vote — and a voice — to riders who permanently rely on transit services including bikeshares, buses and paratransit.

To protect existing labor laws on behalf of workers, Hochul signed legislation (S.5994C/A.1338C) that establishes a registration system for contractors and subcontractors engaged in public work and covered private projects. This law will require contractors and subcontractors to provide a series of disclosures about their businesses every two years with the Department of Labor.

The department will determine whether a contractor or subcontractor is fit to registers based on previous labor law and workers compensation law violations, including prevailing wage requirements. This law will create a publicly available database.

Furthermore, notable previously signed laws that are set to go into effect in 2023 include the establishment of a task force and annual report to examine social media and violent extremism.

The Electric Vehicle Rights Act, which prevents a homeowners association from adopting or enforcing any rules or regulations that would effectively prohibit, or impose unreasonable limitations on the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station, is set to go into effect on Jan. 21.

In this year, student-athletes will be able to receive endorsement compensation, and New York schools will be prohibited from taking away the scholarships or eligibility of any athlete making money from such endorsements.

Elmhurst father indicted in death of 3-year-old son

Allegedly killed his son at Pan American Hotel

By Alicia Venter

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The Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst. Photo: Google Maps.

An Elmhurst man has been indicted for murder, endangering the welfare of a child and other crimes in connection with the death of his three-year-old son, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

He has also been charged with physical abuse to a second child in an Elmhurst shelter last month.

Shaquan Butler, 26, is from Elmhurst.

According to the charges, Butler was in his apartment at the Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst  at approximately 7:40 p.m. on Nov. 13 when he struck his three-year-old son numerous times.

The son suffered lacerations to his liver and internal bleeding.

According to the charges, the child’s mother and his two younger siblings were in the apartment at the time of the alleged assault.

Responding to a 911 call, the New York Fire Department found the victim unconscious on the floor with visible bruises to the head, body and extremities.

The child was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival, and the medical examiner determined that the child died from blunt force trauma to the torso.

A medical examination of a second child, age 2, revealed physical injuries consistent with child abuse.

Butler was arraigned Dec. 20 on a eleven-count indictment, charging him with murder in the second degree, two counts of manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree, assault in the second degree and six counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

Butler has been ordered to return to court on Jan. 31. He faces up to 40 years to life in prison if convicted.

“As alleged, this parent failed his primary duty as a protector, killing one of his own children by callous force and allegedly injured another,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz in a statement. “We will not forget this child. The defendant will be held fully accountable for his actions.”

Recycle your Christmas trees at Mulchfest

By Alicia Venter

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Trees recycled at Hunters Point Park. Photo: NYC Parks / Daniel Avila

For those who do not know what to do with their Christmas Tree after the holiday season, the New York City Parks’ Department, in partnership with DSNY, may have a solution: Mulchfest.

The Mulchfest tree chipping celebration is an annual event held by the NYC Parks’ Department to allow New Yorkers the opportunity to have their tree turned into mulch.

At the drop-off only locations, people simply leave their trees at the park.

During the final weekend of the event, “Chipping Weekend,” New Yorkers can actively mulch their holiday trees at the chipping locations.

Residents will bring their trees to a chipping site, watch their tree get “recycled” and bring a bag of mulch home with them.

Drop-offs have begun at 73 parks citywide as of Dec. 26, and will continue through Jan. 8.

However, only 34 are chipping sites. The following are nearby Mulchfest locations:

– Juniper Valley Park (chipping)

– Forest Park (chipping)

– Cunningham Park (chipping)

– Queens County Farm Museum (drop-off only)

– Roy Wilkins Park (drop-off only)

For a full list of Mulchfest locations, visit  www.nyc.gov/mulchfest.

Weather permitting, DSNY will collect and compost trees left at curbs from Jan. 6 through Jan. 14.

The mulch gained from Mulchfest — which has been held for over 20 years — will be used to nourish city trees and plants throughout the city.

New York bans selling of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores

By Alicia Venter

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Gov. Kathy Hochul signed Bill S1130 into law on Dec. 15, in an attempt to bring an end to the sale of animals by commercial breeders, a business often accused of keeping the animals in inhumane conditions. (Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

By the end of next year, New Yorkers will be unable to purchase dogs, cats and rabbits in retail pet stores.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed Bill S1130 into law on Thursday, Dec. 15, in an attempt to bring an end to the sale of animals by commercial breeders, a business often accused of keeping the animals in inhumane conditions.

Introduced by Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, the legislation states that a retail pet shop “shall not sell, lease, offer to lease, offer to sell, barter, auction or otherwise transfer ownership of any dog, cat or rabbit.”

The bill passed both the state Senate and Assembly last spring, and is an attempt to bring an end to inhumane breeding conditions.

“Today is a great day for our four-legged friends and a big step forward in our fight against abusive and inhumane puppy mills,” Gianaris said in a statement. “My thanks to Governor Hochul for standing up for the voiceless loving animals who are members of our families and deserve the respect we’ve shown them today.”

A retail pet shop is defined in the legislation as any for-profit location that offers to sell animals to be kept as household pets, pet food or supplies. There are approximately 80 pet stores registered in New York State, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The law does not prohibit a retail pet shop from collaborating with certain entities to showcase such animals for the purpose of adoption: societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, humane societies and animal protective or rescue tax-exempt associations. Pet stores will be allowed to charge shelters rent to use their spaces for adoption.

New York joins California, Maryland, Illinois and other states who have also passed retail pet sale bans.

The New York Times reported in July that pet stores fiercely objected to the legislation, stating the bill would put them out of business and could potentially lead to an underground market of pet sales as it became more difficult for people to obtain a pet in the state.

People are still permitted to buy animals directly from breeders, but the legislation encourages people to adopt pets from shelters and rescue organizations.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, puppy mills often lead to an array of painful and life-shortening veterinary problems due to unsanitary conditions and the lack of proper oversight.

“Dogs, cats and rabbits across New York deserve loving homes and humane treatment,” Hochul said in a statement. “I’m proud to sign this legislation, which will make meaningful steps to cut down on harsh treatment and protect the welfare of animals across the state.”

The legislation will take effect in December 2024.

First-of-its-kind Pediatric Ophthalmology Center opens at Jamaica Hospital

By Alicia Venter

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Maspeth Federal Savings donated $1 million to the hospital for the opening of the center. Thomas Rudzewick, President & CEO at Maspeth Federal Savings (center) stands with Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech (right) and David Daraio, Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at Maspeth Federal Savings (left) for the plaque unveiling in the center.

Jamaica Hospital Medical Center unveiled its pediatric ophthalmology center on Thursday, Dec. 8, a state-of-the-art facility unlike any others in Queens.

Located on the second floor of the Axel Building, the new facility will provide daily vision services to children who previously may have had limited access to comprehensive ophthalmologic care.

Though there are other pediatric ophthalmology in Queens, there was not a center of excellence that combined all the services Jamaica Hospital Medical Center now has into one place. Such services would require Queens residents to travel to Long Island or Manhattan.

Maspeth Federal Savings donated $1 million to complete the center, following years of planning by Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. The organization is the sole donor to the pediatric ophthalmology center, the hospital shared.

It is this donation that propelled the completion of the project, said Dr. Julia Shulman, Chairperson of the Department of Ophthalmology and pediatric retina specialist.

“There is a big shortage of high-level pediatric ophthalmology expertise in Queens, and we see that in our current eye center because we take care of pediatric patients,” she shared in an interview. “We wanted to be able to create a dedicated space where all the necessary technology and expertise could come together.“

In the past, services could not be provided every day of the week because of space limitations, and children would be serviced in the same center as adults.

However, there are certain space requirements for examining children that are different from adults. The rooms must be 12 feet, for example. Every type of diagnostic equipment that could be needed to examine a child’s eye can now be found in the center, Shulman explained.

“It’s essentially a one-stop shop depending on what the issue is that we can help them with,” she said.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four preschool-aged children have an undiagnosed or untreated vision problem. They recommend that children get regular eye exams to keep their eyes healthy. Common vision problems in children include refractive errors, amblyopia (or ‘lazy eye’) and strabismus (crossed eyes). Any of these issues, as well as simply getting a vision screening for a quick evaluation of a child’s eyes, can be addressed at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.

Vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 and older, the CDC states, and one of the most prevalent conditions among children. Approximately 6.8 percent of children younger than 18 in the United States have a diagnosed eye and vision condition, and nearly three percent of children of that age are blind or visually impaired.

“If their children are having any trouble with their eyes, or if they just want to have their children’s eyes checked, now there is going to be tremendous availability,” Shulman said. “If, heaven forbid, their children do end up having a problem, we will be able to diagnose it and treat it at a very high level.”

Thomas Rudzewick, President, and CEO of Maspeth Federal Savings, was in attendance at the ribbon-cutting, as well as other members of the Maspeth Federal team.

Bruce J. Flanz , Dr. Julia Shulman, and Thomas Rudzewick cut the ribbon for the new center.

“Maspeth Federal Savings has been working with Jamaica Hospital throughout the pandemic and has provided mission-critical equipment and supporting donations,” Rudzewick said in a statement. “As a community bank, it’s incredibly important to us that the people and facilities in our community have the resources they need to do what they do best, in this case, providing care that our children desperately need.”

Rudzewick was praised for the contributions the bank made to ensure the completion of the project.

“Think about the impact of this donation,” said Tom Grech, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, at the ribbon-cutting. “We are grateful as New Yorkers and as people in Queens. We are thankful to all the Rudzewicks.”

According to their website, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center serves a population greater than 1.2 million in Queens and Eastern Brooklyn.

For more information about the center, visit https://jamaicahospital.org.

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