Reality House Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Expands Facilities

by Charlie Finnerty

Reality House, Inc., a substance abuse and addiction treatment center in Astoria, are expanding their residential in-patient facility on Astoria Blvd. from 30 beds to 60 and opened a new outpatient office. Specializing in reintegration, Reality House takes a community-based approach to help individuals secure housing, employment and other essential needs to rebuild their life after struggling with addiction. Executive Director Michael Cannaday said he sees reintegration as providing the support needed to ensure the longer recovery process is successful.

“Reintegration is the next step after rehab, it’s not an alternative,” Cannaday said. “Some people go to rehab and they have support in place; they have family, they have support.”

Reality House provides substance use treatment, mental health counseling, housing and employment services for patients, according to Clinical Program Director Roland Smith. While most patients come from Queens, Smith said Reality House serves individuals across the city and offers virtual services for those who want to stay connected to the program remotely. The residential in-patient care program is typically 6 months.

“Because it’s a reintegration program it’s more of a step down from maybe a more intensive residential program,” Smith said. “It’s a lot less restricted. They can be back in their communities, visit their families and work.”

Established in Harlem in 1967, Reality House initially focused on offering culturally-appropriate substance abuse, HIV treatment and prevention, mental health treatment and PTSD recovery for veterans. While veterans are still a central part of their work, Smith said that their services have expanded to be open to all New Yorkers that need support. Expanding their residential facilities will help to better serve those individuals since Reality House regularly has a waiting list of at least 30 people, according to Smith.

Roland Smith at Reality House. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Like many staff and counselors involved with addiction and recovery treatment, Cannaday and Smith were both drawn to community-based work after their own personal experiences and struggles.

“The last time I was incarcerated, there was a correction officer who used to walk by everyday and he used to give me the newspaper, he’d give me coffee,” Cannaday said. “When I left I asked him, ‘Why’d you alway give me that stuff?’ and he said ‘I heard you speak before. You’re a smart dude, you’re a decent looking guy. I was invested in you because you have the potential to live next door to me and I wanna know who’s going to live next door to me.’ That sticks with me like a ton of bricks to this day.”

Cannaday said he hopes reintegration facilities like Reality House can become examples for an alternative path for the city and state to support people dealing with addiction, mental illness and poverty that isn’t dependent on criminalization. Particularly after seeing the city’s response to the ongoing asylum seeker crisis, Cannaday said he feels the failures to support those struggling with substances or homelessness is a lack of political will rather than a lack of available resources.

Reality House staff receive a presentation from the national guard. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

“It just gets so disparaging, when you see how much money we’re utilizing in the state and the city right now, because you know what it says? It says that we have the capability to do something, but we really choose not to do it. And that’s what makes people say, ‘Is this a setup?’” Cannaday said. “You say you want us to turn out better but you don’t want to invest in turning it out and you don’t even have the vision to see how far this impacts society. Most these people have mental health issues that are undiagnosed, especially people of color.”

Reality House can be reached at (212) 281-6004.

Queens Community Orgs Host Town Hall on Tenant Right to Counsel Bill

by Charlie Finnerty |

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Woodside on the Move, the Right to Counsel Coalition, Chhaya, Catholic Migration Services and other Queens-based community organizations hosted a tenant organizing town hall Feb. 21 at St. Sebastian Parish Center in Woodside. Organizers spoke to tenants about Right to Counsel for ALL (A1493 / S2721), a bill proposed in the state legislature that would establish a right to legal services in eviction proceedings for all tenants across New York. 

Attendees received presentations on what a right to counsel would mean for tenants and demonstrated how to provide feedback and testimony to elected officials. The bill is currently awaiting a new sponsor in the state assembly before it can move forward. District 30 Assemblymember Steven Raga and District 37 Assemblymember Juan Ardila also spoke at the event.

“The purpose and the goal of this event was really to just relaunch Right to Counsel’s legislative and budget campaign. That’s why we had the teach-in, but also it had the emphasis on statewide right to counsel and informing tenants about what that entails and providing testimony to support it and galvanize it,” Frances Hamed, policy & advocacy coordinator for Woodside on the Move, said.

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Tenants at the event spoke about their own experiences with housing court where many felt the judges were biased in favor of landlords who had access to legal representation.

“He has rights who dare to defend them,” one tenant said, speaking into a microphone at the front of the room. “We have to change how housing court judges are put on the bench in New York City. Housing court judges should be elected, not selected. Let them pay for a campaign and be elected.”

Another tenant spoke about how economic suppression of Latino communities adds an additional obstacle to housing burdens. His testimony was translated into English by event organizers.

“I’ve been in housing court fighting my case,” the tenant said. “It has been very traumatizing as a Latino person that we are people that do not have economic power.”

Yhamir Chabur, a housing and tenant organizer for Woodside on the Move, said he is inspired by advocacy and community organizing groups across Queens working together.

“Queens is getting closer to unifying itself,” Chabur said. “We have to keep the momentum going, because all of us experience this. It’s not fair that you have the landlord class and they’re easily able to have access to lawyers to represent them. This system supposedly says that it’s democratic because it’s capitalist, but yet it favors those that have access to capital.”

Raga, who was formerly executive director for Woodside on the Move before being elected to the State Assembly, spoke in support of the bill at the event, saying he feels hopeful there is support for it in Albany.

“It’s a broad coalition of folks that know that this is a moral issue,” Raga said. “Whether or not you have constituents in your district that are fighting for it, no matter what you should know that this is about right or wrong.”

Assembly Member Steven Raga speaks at the town hall. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Hamed said Woodside on the Move and their partner organizations fighting for Right to Counsel are focused on gaining more support for the bill in the state legislature.

“In terms of next steps, I feel it’s very important to garner the support of all the legislators who haven’t signed on,” Hamed said. “I feel confident that Right to Counsel will be something that we see implemented statewide, given all the testimonies we heard from the electeds and the tenants.”

Subway-Inspired Cannabis Dispensary Opens on Vernon Blvd.

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

By Charlie Finnerty |

Tucked away on the corner of Vernon Blvd. and 44th Dr., NYC Bud celebrated its grand opening Friday. Customers flooded through the sliding glass doors into the storefront, modeled after an MTA subway station complete with classic MTA signage, subway cars, MetroCard ticket machine-styled ATMs and even a rat mascot posing for photos.

Owner Jon Paul Pezzo said the theme of the shop was an homage to New York City graffiti culture and a reflection of his time spent riding the subway across the city’s boroughs growing up in Bayside.

“We’re Queens kids, this is our vibe,” Pezzo said. “I was fifteen years old riding the 7 line. My mother thought I was right around the block when I was in downtown Manhattan buying fat caps to go do graffiti on the weekends. We hung out in parks, we drank, we smoked and this is our culture, you know? I feel like kids have lost community with video games and technology. What was once connecting us is disconnecting us now. We wanted to bring the essence of old New York.”

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Pezzo said he wants his business to serve every community in surrounding Queens neighborhoods of LIC, Astoria and beyond, with plans to eventually open locations throughout the city.

“Everyone, everyone, everyone,” Pezzo said. “We’re really excited because we feel we’ve built something very different. We want to open stores in every borough. We’re an NYC brand.”

Pezzo said the lengthy licensing process and the challenges of navigating an emerging legal cannabis industry made the opening process especially drawn out and difficult. Competition with black market smoke shops — which do not follow the specific regulations of the legal industry and have proliferated under the state’s bumpy rollout of legalized cannabis — makes opening legal dispensaries especially difficult and costly, according to Pezzo.

“After a long long nightmare of a journey, we’re finally here,” Pezzo said. “Going through the licensing process, waiting, doing all the paperwork — struggling, really. Doing everything the right way while these illegal businesses are opening left and right. They shut them down and they open right up again. For what they put us through to open a business, to have that as an added thing is not really fair. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Zion Foss is a founding member of Zizzle, a Queens-based cannabis cultivation and lifestyle brand and a featured brand at NYC Bud’s new storefront. Foss grew up in Flushing and founded Zizzle as one of the first legal New York City cannabis brands in the earliest days of legalization.

Foss said he would like to see the state and city support the legal industry by streamlining the licensing process and providing grants or other incentives to promote legal entrepreneurship.

“We need to simplify the process, not so much red tape and regulation,” Foss said. “We’re subject to all this compliance and rigorous testing. It’s overwhelming and capital intensive.”

Jeff North, an LIC native and longtime member of the cannabis horticultural community, said he is excited to see the industry being legalized and businesses taking off.

“I think in general, it’s a great thing to have new business avenues open in New York. We’ve always been a city striving for commerce, so why not take advantage of the commerce of this industry and move it more towards a legal market?”

Jeff North at NYC Bud. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

As an experienced grower and educator in cannabis horticulture, North raised concerns about the growing industry inflating prices artificially for a product he knows is not particularly costly to produce.

“The entire concept that marijuana should cost this much money is absolutely ridiculous,” North said.

Foss said he is excited to see more legal and locally owned storefronts like NYC Bud opening in the city.

“It’s a special grand opening, it’s a special time in cannabis, it’s a special time for all New Yorkers.” Foss said. “We’re providing safe cannabis and I’m proud to be behind that.”

Credit: Charlie Finnerty


Break-in at Everyone Comics and Collectibles

Dimitrios Fragiskatos at Everyone Comics and Collectibles

By Charlie Finnerty |

Everyone Comics and Collectibles at 41-26 27 Street was broken into in the early hours of Jan. 24, according to the shop’s owner Dimitrios Fragiskatos. The culprit smashed the glass door to the shop with a rock and stole cash out of the register as well as a laptop. Fragiskatos said he was alerted by a neighbor in the morning with a picture of broken glass and rushed into the shop from his home in Brooklyn. All in all, Fragiskatos estimates the combined value of the cash and the laptop stolen was roughly $500, but the damage to the store, replacing lost items and the loss of business will cost Everyone Comics around $3,500. 

“There was glass all over the inside of the store,” Fragiskatos said. “He left everything undisturbed that wasn’t the cash. We have a $2,000 Magic box of older [Magic: The Gathering] cards, we have comic books that are valued at $100 or more, and yet he did not do anything with those.”

From CCTV footage outside the store, Fragiskatos said he was able to estimate that the whole break-in took about 10 minutes.

“It started at 2:40 a.m. and all ended at 2:50,” Fragiskatos said. “And he just walked away casually with the laptop and the bag of cash.”

After surveying the damage and consulting with a repair service for the glass replacement, Fragiskatos launched an online GoFundMe fundraiser which surpassed its goal in less than a week.

“I was resistant to doing the GoFundMe at first. But we’re new, we opened up about two years ago. It’s still been month to month,” Fragiskatos said. “Our goal was 3,500 bucks. It was to just basically make rent, replace everything and we surpassed it.”

Calvin KG, a Ridgewood resident and regular customer at Everyone Comics, said his cash was likely in the register when it was robbed.

Everyone Comics and Collectibles

“This place is friendlier and happier than most comic stores,” KG said. “Moral of the story, don’t break into peoples stores. Why would you? Unless you’re desperate.”

Fragiskatos, who co-founded the store with his business partner Alex Ray two years ago, said that support from the broader comic book community was just as important as local support from people in LIC.

“There are people who contributed to the GoFundMe from outside the neighborhood,” Fragiskatos said. “I would actually say far more people contributed from the comic book community than from Queens proper, but we did have a lot of people contributing from Queens. Customers of course, but also people who I’m not familiar with.”

GoFundMe was not the only fundraising option initially considered, according to Fragiskatos.

“I thought maybe we could resell the rock [used to break the glass] as a collectible to make up our money back, but the police were like, ‘No, we have to take it for evidence,” Fragiskatos said.

Loyal customers were quick to offer their help and support after word about the break-in spread through the LIC community.

“I’d say it’s been more positive than negative,” Fragiskatos said. “Customers came in to show their support throughout the course of the day. Some of them helped me tape up the broken door with cardboard.”

Fragiskatos said that while the overwhelming support from the Queens and comic book communities has been encouraging, he hopes that support can help establish Everyone Comics as a community center in LIC.

“It’s gratifying to know that people care about a comic book store existing. It’ll keep us going for sure, but I also want to be more than a charity case for Long Island City. I want to be a place where people want to hang out,” Fragiskatos said. “It’s really up to Long Island City and the rest of Queens to decide whether we should be here. They’ve made a decision through the GoFundMe that they do want to see us here.”

Ridgewood’s Iconic Morscher’s Pork Store to Close

“it’s nothing to smile about.” Herb Morscher at Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

By Charlie Finnerty |

The ownership of Morscher’s Pork Store announced the beloved butcher shop will close its doors February 3 after nearly 70 years serving Ridgewood. Co-owner Herb Morscher said the decision to close is a result of his business partner Siegfried Strahl, who owns the building, raising the rent nearly four times over when their current lease expires in March. Morscher has worked at the shop since 1981 when he was 15 years old.

“We’ve supplied people with the flavor that reminded them of back home, no matter where they came from. Whether they’re from Europe or South America, there’s something here that somebody would know back home,” Morscher said.

Herb’s father’s cousin founded Morscher’s in 1955 and the shop has been at the current location on Catalpa Avenue since 1957.

“I just feel bad for my staff, I have some great people working here,” Herb said. “In order to do this work, you have to have a passion. You have to put your time in.”

Herb said he always feared the shop’s future could be uncertain under control of Strahl and was hesitant to bring his son into the business for that reason.
“I really wanted to have my son come in, but having a senior partner like that I didn’t want to break my son’s heart,” Herb said. “I just had something in me saying it’s not a good idea and I was right. I thank god that everything worked out for my kids. My daughter’s a nurse practitioner and my son is a New York City fireman and it’s all good. It’s all good.”

Although his son never formally entered the business, Herb said his family filling in when help was needed at the shop has been crucial to Morscher’s daily operation.

“I thank my family. How many times my wife came here to help. She works full time and she would come here after work and we’d work late with my daughter and my son. They all helped,” Herb said. “I’m blessed with a great family.”

Herb Morscher at Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

While Herb speaks about the difficult decision to close the business, the phone rings. He picks up the receiver, his gloved hand covered in pork grease, and his face begins to show disdain. 

“Oh, you’re a vulture,” Herb says into the phone. “No vultures here. Take it easy.”

The caller is trying to buy the store’s equipment for a discounted rate after hearing about the closure. Herb laughs while he hangs up the phone.

“I’m old school, man. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t change who I am,” Herb picks up his cleaver and turns back to the large pork shoulder he has been slicing. “These guys come in after you and they pick at you. Get the f— outta here.”

It is not the only time Herb is interrupted while speaking about the shop’s history. A constant stream of lifelong dedicated customers make their way in the door from the snow outside, many of them middle-aged Eastern European women who have called Ridgewood their home for decades. Each one greets Herb warmly and asks about his family, switching between German, Polish and English. Voices crack and eyes begin to water when the conversation inevitably turns to the store’s limited days left.

Heidi Belay at Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Heidi Belay grew up going to Morscher’s with her parents to buy all the family’s meats. Her father was close friends with the founder Joseph “Pepi” Morscher.

“It’s going to be a big loss,” Belay said. “It’s going to be a part of history that’s ended. Very sad… Oh, I’m gonna cry.”

Belay remembers the workers behind the counter giving her a piece of meat to eat while her mother shopped at Morscher’s when she was a child. As she makes her way out of the store, she asks the woman behind the counter for a small piece of meat to take with her.

Greta Jaklitsch moved to Ridgewood from Austria in 1959 and would accompany her mother to Morscher’s. She has been a lifelong customer ever since. As she makes her way to the counter her eyes wander, taking in every detail of the store.

“Even when I moved to Flushing, I would come into Ridgewood every other weekend to get stuff for my mother because she wanted certain things here,” Jaklitsch said. “She was already losing her memory but she remembered Morscher’s. They all came from the same area of Austria.”

Greta Jaklitsch and Herb Morscher at Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Jaklitsch has been a close friend of the Morscher family since her childhood in Ridgewood.

“I knew [Herb’s] father. I saw his father at his mother’s funeral and he was already not fully functioning,” Jaklitsch said. “I said to him, ‘Hi Herbie, how are you?’ and he looked at me and he said, ‘Did we ever dance at Polka?’ I said ‘Yes we danced many Polkas.’ He died three weeks later.”

Jaklitsch turns to Herb at the end of the counter, “I’veI  danced with this guy too, but I loved his father.”

She poses for a photo with Herb and they speak together in hushed tones at the back of the shop away from the busy counter. Jaklitsch begins to cry.

“It’s nothing to smile about,” Herb says.

Jaklitsch gathers her bag of pork and makes her way to the door.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Jaklitsch says with tears in her eyes and begins to chuckle. “What am I going to eat in two weeks?”

Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Morscher’s Pork Store. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Amazon Workers Protest at Maspeth DBK4 Facility

Photos courtesy of Luigi Morris (@luigiwmorris) and Amazonians United

By Charlie Finnerty |

Workers and contractors at Amazon warehouse DBK4 at 55-15 Grand Ave in Maspeth staged a demonstration Saturday asserting their right to unionize and alleging that illegal union-busting tactics had been used at the facility. Workers led a picket line outside and delivered signed petitions to management which declared their intent to establish a union and detailed the allegations of unfair labor practices. Among these allegations is the claim that 40-year-old delivery driver Carl Hooks was unlawfully fired for attempting to organize a union at the facility. Hooks was a delivery associate for Champion Logistics CMLG, one of several third-party delivery service partners (DSPs) which facilitate deliveries for Amazon at DBK4. The site is the largest Amazon facility in New York City.

After initially being placed on suspension, Hooks said he was informed of his termination around 10 p.m. the evening before the protest was planned. According to Hooks, he had been collecting signatures for a unionization petition shortly before being fired. He said management cited an incident in which he was smoking a cigarette in his delivery truck over a month earlier as cause for termination.

“I’ve worked warehouse work for 13 years of my life, ” Hooks said. “I’m 40 years old, I’ve been working for a very long time. But I like delivering, I like driving, I like being by myself. I’m not so much of a loner, I’ve got a big family, but I don’t want nobody over my back pointing their finger at me.”

Hooks said he was motivated to join the efforts to organize the Amazon facility by workplace conditions he felt were becoming unacceptable, including warehouse workers being placed in small crowded spaces and what he described as disrespectful treatment from management.

“It’s dehumanizing, it’s horrible,” Hooks said. “I don’t know what a sweatshop factory is like in China, but it’s not too far from it. The work conditions are horrible.”

Photos courtesy of Luigi Morris (@luigiwmorris) and Amazonians United

Hooks lives in the Bronx with his wife and four kids but said he took a job at the DBK4 facility to be closer to his grandmother who lived nearby and passed away this fall.

“I went to the station in Queens because it was closer to my grandmother and I wanted to spend some more time with her before she passed,” Hooks said. “When I go to work, I work. I don’t go to work and play around and do nonsense, I’m 40 years old. I got four kids and a wife and I didn’t understand why they were doing this to me now.”

A three-year Amazon driver, Hooks said he has been awarded numerous times for his performance at Amazon. After losing his job, Hooks started a GoFundMe page to help provide for his family while he is interviewing for new jobs.

“It was just upsetting, man. Truthfully, I would like to have my job because I love my job. If didn’t, I wouldn’t have been doing it for three years,” Hooks said. “But I probably won’t ever want to work for Champion Logistics again because I don’t think they deserve a Carl. They don’t deserve a person like me who works for them everyday and busts their butt.”

Dylan Maraj, a worker at DBK4 and organizer for Amazonians United, said the goals of the demonstration were to demand higher pay, safer working conditions and an end to the alleged illegal attempts to undermine unionization.

“This is a struggle that every worker is going through. We are not treated correctly, we are treated like replaceable pawns to them,” Maraj said. “We do not make enough to sustain ourselves, do not make enough benefits to sustain ourselves, we wreck our bodies constantly.”

Photos courtesy of Luigi Morris (@luigiwmorris) and Amazonians United

In a written statement, Amazon Spokesperson Eileen Hards said, “Despite a small demonstration, the activities had no impact on our operations or ability to deliver for customers.”

Amazon declined to comment on Hooks’ termination since he was employed by Champion Logistics, a DSP, and not directly employed by Amazon. There is no contact information for Champion Logistics CMLG available online. The individual whose name appears on the Department of State website’s listing for Champion Logistics CMLG did not respond to comment when messaged via LinkedIn. Previous reporting from other outlets incorrectly referred to a separate business with a similar name which has no affiliation with Amazon and does not have any offices or facilities in New York.

Photos courtesy of Luigi Morris (@luigiwmorris) and Amazonians United

TikTok account @au_nyc (AmazoniansUnitedNYC) posted several videos of the demonstration. In one video, workers and organizers proclaiming their right to form a union and advocate for better working conditions are told by an unidentified manager: “We can give you a job. We can give you money. We can give you Dunkin Donuts.” Several boxes of donuts from Dunkin’ can be seen on a table behind him. In another video, workers attempting to hand a signed petition to a manager are told the petition cannot be accepted. Outside the facility, Hooks can be seen leading chants and marches with a bullhorn in hand.

Maraj said for the most part, there has been a positive response from workers across the facility and roughly 70 workers joined the picket line throughout the afternoon.

“We’ll always have detractors in the warehouse from people who don’t understand or are not fully bought in to the whole unionizing effort,” Maraj said. “But I think people understand that this job does not have a good structure to it, that we get mistreated constantly.”

The picket line prevented deliveries from being made at the facility for roughly an hour in the morning, according to Maraj, but was temporarily lifted when it became clear that drivers were being forced to bear the costs of lost business.

“They were retaliating, not against us on the picket, but the delivery drivers who were showing up to work, and that has to be explained,” Maraj said. “A lot of the drivers were raising their firsts in solidarity from the roof and honking at us in solidarity as they passed by.”

According to Maraj, unionization efforts at DBK4 began almost as soon as the site opened in August 2022 and he joined the organizing effort less than two months later. He said Saturday was the largest single action staged in that time.

“Management to this point is very resistant to come to the table or even accept anything from us because that would open up bargaining. They’re continuously doing this stuff to try to dampen the organizing or just kill it,”Maraj said. “But we’re not going to stop fighting until we win those rights for not just us, but for all the workers in there that are struggling.”

In addition to broader demands for safety and compensation, Maraj also said that the bonuses workers relied on in the past during peak season, like the winter holidays, have been absent this year. As the holiday season approaches, Maraj said he wanted to remind people of the strain that increased delivery traffic puts on Amazon warehouse workers and drivers.

“People need to see that two day Prime shipping comes with a cost,” Maraj said. “The workers are overworked to insane amounts and not compensated correctly. We get you want your packages, but you need to know, in this economic climate, we need to be treated correctly. We need to know that we are receiving what we are worth. We make millions and millions of dollars nightly for this warehouse, we cannot just keep going home with pennies on the dollar.”

Despite losing his job at Amazon and Champion Logistics, Hooks said he does not regret taking action to organize his fellow workers at the facility.

“I’m not the only one with a problem, I’m just the first one that stood up and said I’m not taking it no more,” Hooks said. “I don’t want anybody to go down for this but it’s not right, so I’m gonna take the L for the whole team.”

Hooks said he hopes the organizing effort at DBK4 can inspire other workers to fight for their right to be treated well by their employer.

“For those that are scared to fight, you can’t be scared,” Hooks said. “If you don’t stand for something you’re gonna never stand. You’re gonna never stand. No one should live on their knees.”

Photos courtesy of Luigi Morris (@luigiwmorris) and Amazonians United

John Bowne High School Agricultural Program Receives $5M in Funding

By Charlie Finnerty |


Aniyah Findlay Thomas speaks alongside Council Member Gennaro, Credit: Charlie Finnerty

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Member James F. Gennaro announced a $5 million allocation of capital funds to John Bowne High School’s agricultural program in a press conference at the Flushing school on Monday, November 20. 

The agricultural program dates back to 1917 when young New Yorkers were recruited to fill positions on farms upstate when workers were recruited to fight in World War I. Since then, the program has grown into a nationally recognized hub for agricultural education on the school’s campus in the heart of Queens with over 500 current students and eight teachers managing four acres of poultry, livestock, animal laboratories, greenhouses, orchards and field crops.

Assistant Principal of Agriculture Patrycja Zbrzezny said the financial support from city council will fuel the agricultural program for years to come.

“It is with great pleasure and heartfelt appreciation that I extend our deepest thanks to Councilmember Gennaro, and Speaker Adams for the extraordinary generosity of donating the $5 million in our historic school farm,” Zbrzezny said. “The impact of this donation extends beyond the fences of our farm. With this significant support. We can now envision a future where innovation and sustainability flourish in our agriculture education program.”

Senior Melissa Pratt said the unique position of John Bowne’s program in New York City provides unique opportunities for students to learn about hydroponics and micro farming operations that might not be seen in the typical agricultural programs in more rural parts of the country. Pratt pointed out that, as the agricultural industry in the United States changes, the techniques and tools for small-scale farming taught at John Bowne are increasingly important.

“The [agriculture] program has helped us build on urban agriculture,” Pratt said. “There’s a big difference with people from Texas or from Florida or even in New York outside of the city. Agriculture is much different with us compared to them. We have a much smaller area but we still get to do all that hands-on learning to understand and have a better idea of how the future might look for us as a whole with a lot of farmland being cut down.”

Student Melissa Pratt speaks at John Bowne High School. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Senior Aniyah Findlay Thomas said her work with animals and farming at John Bowne has given her a sense of purpose and direction since starting high school.

“Growing up, I very much didn’t know what I wanted to do. You know, you want to be a doctor, a scientist, an astronaut,” Findlay Thomas said. “I feel like I really didn’t discover what I wanted to be until I reached high school. This program has done wonders for me.”

Zoe Valencia said her time at the agricultural program has inspired her to pursue a career as a veterinarian.

“I didn’t know I wanted to be doing something in agriculture in the future until I got here at Bowne,” Valencia said. “It helps us develop traits that help us in certain careers. For example, I want to be a veterinarian in the future, and being in [the Veterinary Science Club] I’ve been able to learn about procedures and terms that are actually used in the veterinary world.”

John Bowne agricultural program students in their FFA jackets. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Sophomore Maria Rivera said in addition to the skills learned through the agricultural program, she has found working with the animals to be a therapeutic outlet.

“Just being out here working with the smaller animals or the barn animals, it’s a lot but it’s honestly very therapeutic. It brings comfort to me,” Rivera said. “Just being in this school, it has kinda opened new doors for me.”

The students also emphasized that the program teaches a wide array of skills beyond farming, from math and sciences to law to photography and more.

“Being here has helped us broaden our horizons. It’s not just farming,” Pratt said. “There’s a whole bunch of different aspects. There’s aquaculture hydroponics, there’s different law parts to it, there’s reporters, photographers, different stuff like that which has just opened everybody’s eyes. There’s much bigger things than just working with animals.”

Farming equipment at John Bowne High School. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Queens Museum Hosts Panel on Night Markets

By Charlie Finnerty |


Photo credit to Cindy Trinh

The Queens Museum hosted panelists from the Queens Night Market, Think!Chinatown, Citizens Bank and Epicenter-NYC the evening of Nov. 9 to discuss a recent study on the impact of local night markets in the economy of surrounding communities. 

According to the study, the top reasons businesses said they participated in the night markets were to launch a new business, seek community and share family recipes or culture. The study also found that 77 percent of customers said they would like to continue to shop with the night market vendors outside of the market and 62 percent of newly-established Queens Night Market businesses were already making plans to expand their footprint. Nearly half of night market businesses surveyed said they always tried to hire staff from their neighborhoods and communities they serve. 84 percent of customers surveyed also said that the night markets were the first setting where they made purchases from the specific vendors that drew them there.

John Wang, founder of Queens Night Market, and Amy Chin, board member at Think!Chinatown, spoke alongside Citizen Bank’s business banking sales head, Mike MacIntyre, about the unique ability of night markets to launch community-based food businesses on a smaller scale with less overhead cost to vendors. 

During the panel, the group discussed the unique ability of hyper-local venues like the night markets and community-level banks like Citizen to provide bespoke and individualized solutions to business owners issues, rather than trying to apply broad mandates to solve wide-scale problems that might not always be one-size-fits-all. The smaller scale, they said, also requires less overhead of emerging entrepreneurs. 

One key measure highlighted on the panel was Citizen subsidizing vendor fees, effectively cutting them in half in order to maintain Queens Night Market signature low price point for customers even as inflation adds more overhead cost for businesses.

“Affordability is foundational,” Wang said.

The event also included a vendor panel discussion in which Roseangela Arnold of Brazilicious, Wanda Chiu of Hong Kong Street Food, Hana Saber Tehra of Persian Eats NYC, Lenin Costas of Don Ceviche and Joey Batista of Joey Bats Cafe spoke about their experience as part of the night markets. According to Wang, nearly 400 businesses have seen their first transaction at the Queens Night Market, making it an overwhelming success as a breeding ground for local businesses.

In the study survey, vendors and customers both overwhelmingly said the night markets were important not only for commercial dining opportunities, but also the engagement and preservation of the cultures and cuisines involved.

“Celebrating diversity is one of the chief goals of the Queens Night Market,” Wang said in a statement before the event. “We want to make sure what you’re selling is something that you grew up eating, and has personal significance to you, your family, and your cultural heritage. So far, we’ve represented about 95 countries through our vendors and their food at the Queens Night Market.”

Chin drew attention to the aftermath of Covid leaving its mark on Asian food businesses in the form of market xenophobia, an outgrowth of the spikes in anti-Asian sentiment that emerged in the earliest days of the pandemic. She said that events like the night markets are crucial to bridge cultural gaps and expose broader consumer markets to the vast array of dishes in Asian cuisine.

Looking to the future of Queens Night Market, Wang said his vision remains local. While many other states and over a dozen countries have reached out to him asking for help launching similar programming in their own cities, Wang said his focus is on integrating the Queens Night Market into the infrastructure of the borough with more permanent installations rather than setting up and tearing down the entire market each week it’s put on.

“Queens Night Market was a love letter to New York City,” he said.

Rat Day of Action Bolsters Ridgewood’s War on Rodents

By Charlie Finnerty | Ridgewood community members, business owners and city service workers from various city agencies held an event Oct. 26 to provide information and instructions on best practices to control the neighborhood’s rat population and educate about the city’s anti-rodent initiatives under the Adams administration. City employees demonstrated rat baiting methods and green space management techniques to prevent burrows from forming. The Horticultural Society of New York educated residents and community gardeners on which crops attract and repel rats.

The NYC Rat Czar speaks in Ridgewood. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Rat Czar Kathleen Corradi, who oversees and coordinates the city’s cross-agency rat control efforts in her newly-created position, said local-level involvement is crucial to ensure the city’s aggressive new approach to rat management is successful. “They are hand in glove to me. We’re changing policies at the top level with the goal to take away rats’ access to food, water and shelter, but the acute response in these community partnerships are of the same importance to me because this is the impact New Yorkers are feeling. Building that trust with community, to me, is paramount” Corradi said. “We want to meet people where they live to make sure we’re doing that direct engagement.” Ricky Simeone, Director of Pest Control for the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, said he is hopeful that the Adams administration’s approach to pest control can make a serious difference in the city’s long history of rampant rat populations. Simeone said the city’s requirement that trash be placed in sealed containers starting next year, rather than left on the sidewalk in bags, will be a critical step to eliminate rat access to food scraps and other waste. The same requirements will soon follow for residential properties as well. “This administration gets it because its number one concern is to address the garbage and the plastic bags out on the street,” Simeone said. Caroline Bragdon, Director of Neighborhood Interventions for the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, said the Health Department has a dual role of not only enforcing health codes but also educating property owners on how to meet their requirements. Bragdon and Corradi both said mitigation starts with waste management and caring for green spaces where rodents can create burrows and nests. “What we say at the health department is everyone has a role in pest control,” Bragdon said. “We’re here to show property owners the best and safest things you can do to keep rats off your property. We don’t want people to use a lot of harmful chemicals or pesticides. We want people to take proactive steps to prevent rats.” Bragdon pointed to the city’s rat academy, a free training for property, business owners and community gardeners offered online and in person, and the rat information portal website at as examples of resources offered by the city to educate and inform residents on mitigation strategies. “We want communities to be engaged, to be involved, to visit our website and to come to our trainings to help us find a rat-free Queens and a rat-free New York,” Bragdon said. Executive Director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District Theodore Renz, said his organization was ecstatic to work with the various city agencies to combat rat issues in Ridgewood. Renz has been working with the city since the summer to strategize Ridgewood’s rat mitigation efforts. “Right now we are exploring possible locations off-site where we can set our bins to get rid of our bags,” Renz said. “We will still have the problem of illegal dumping, but we’re on board to strategize and come up with a reasonable comprehensive plan that’s fair to all stakeholders.”

Discovery Mental Health Offers Resources for People in the Immigration Process

By Charlie Finnerty

Denise Valentin started Discovery Mental Health in Bushwick in 2018 after seeing a need for women and families seeking mental health and social evaluations as part of the immigration process at an affordable price. These evaluations are used as part of an immigration application to demonstrate an applicant would suffer damages or harm above and beyond the average person if they were unable to stay in the country and verify their stories. After going remote in the height of the pandemic, Valentin and Discovery Mental Health reopened in a new location on the edge of Ridgewood and Middle Village this past May.

“They’ve gone through so much to get here. Their dream is to come here, to have their family here. To be a good contribution to this country,” Valentin said.

Valentin said her goal is to provide a more long-term approach to mental healthcare for these patients going through the immigration process in contrast to an industry that conventionally prioritizes processing cases as quickly as possible.

“They would have this big story that they would share and then it would be like, ‘Alright, thanks, go home,’ and there wouldn’t be any followup,” Valentin said. “You just opened up your heart, what happens next? Do you need connections to services? Do you need food for your family? Let’s connect you to another place.”

On the wall behind Valentin as she speaks is a piece of artwork that reads “There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you’re the one that will change theirs.” The sign hung in the original office and Valentin says it has been a point of inspiration since the early days of the practice.

“That’s the philosophy that I have and that we have,” Valentin said. “It’s inextricably connected. The work that I do with my patient, they change me. They do things for me. I learn about the universe, I learn about myself, I learn about where I’m lacking and I’m hopeful that in that exchange, that they are also learning. So my clinicians, they hold that and they work with that.”

Valentin said the strength of the center comes from the diversity of its staff being able to offer a clinician who each patient can feel comfortable with.

“We have a priest who is also a licensed therapist and he works with families, we have a lot of women and people of color, we have people that are from the LGBTQ community. We are so open and wanting to serve and we welcome everybody in. For me, that’s what makes it special, that’s what makes it beautiful.,” Valentin said. “You may want to connect with someone who looks like you, who sounds like, who is even maybe from your age.”

Members of Discovery Mental Health Staff. Denise Valentine, Kevin Salloon, Eunice Santiago and Maggie Rodriguez

Discovery’s role as a bilingual counseling center plays a key role in the immigration process as clients are able to convey their story in their own words without the obstacles of trying to translate to an English-speaking lawyer.

“I have so many people that come here and tell me their story and we submit it and the lawyer goes, ‘I’m sorry, what happened to this person? They did not tell me that.’ And I say yeah they couldn’t express that to you or maybe they didn’t feel comfortable,” Valentin said. “The language opens up people’s hearts, being able to connect.”

Cultural barriers can also add additional burdens for clients trying to seek help, according to Valentin, where mental health is often stigmatized particularly in older generations in the Latino community. Most client referrals at Discovery come from immigration lawyers and recommendations from previous clients.

“What I love about the practice is that a lot of the people that we see refer each other, they help each other,” Valentin said. “They send each other and I love that about the practice. That they feel like they were not just another number, but they were seen as a full human being.”

Given the nature of working with clients navigating the difficulties and often unpredictable nature of immigrating, Valentin said the extra care and sustained attention her clinicians give to clients can be crucial.

“My clinicians will call patients, ‘Where are you? What’s going on?’ Or they’ll call me to say they can’t find someone and we’ll say ‘Alright let’s find them, let’s see what’s going on,’” Valentin said.

The current staff at Discovery consists of 17 clinicians and seven interns, in addition to Valentin. Valentin said she keeps clinicians at the center to 35 clients or less in contrast to other facilities that may have up to 100 clients or more for some clinicians. This ensures that the work is manageable for her staff and the quality of care offered remains individualized to each person that walks through the door, Valentin said.

“At 100 people — even if I wanted to care for them the way I would like to — you can’t. So my rule is once you hit 35, you don’t get anybody else, that’s it,” Valentin said. “Having a slow pace allows us to take our time with patients. Even if we got full, I believe in my heart that even if everybody had a full caseload, because it’s not 100 people for each person, that we could still maintain the same vibe in the facility.”

Eunice Santiago is one of the longest-serving clinicians at Discovery. Santiago said after working in clinical settings in hospitals under corporate leadership, Valentin’s emphasis on a small and intimate space makes Discovery a special clinic.

“When we come here to work with her, it’s a pleasure because she really does care for us. She really cares for our family, she really cares for the environment. She does the best to make sure that we’re okay and our mental health is okay and we’re not burnt out so we’re able to provide our services to the community,” Santiago said. “She’s really with the community and that’s what I like about her.”

Maggie Rodriguez handles much of the administrative and marketing side of Discovery. Rodriguez has worked in several clinics in the US and Canada but said that Valentin has created a truly special environment.

“She is what you see, that is who she is with everybody. I think the clients immediately when they encounter her, they feel like, ‘Okay, you know what, things are bad but they’re not that bad. These people are going to hold us,’” Rodriguez said. “She’s like light.”

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