Recognizing 50 Years on Community Board 5


Paul Kerzner discussing landmark designation at the most recent CB5 meeting on March 8.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

For over 50 years, Paul Kerzner has devoted his life to taking care of Ridgewood and surrounding neighborhoods.

In the community, he’s known for being the force behind the planting of close to 30,000 trees on blocks since 1983. He is also substantially responsible for District 5 being one of the tenth largest historic districts in the country, following an eight year effort to secure federal, state and city landmark designation status for 2,982 buildings. 

This month marks his 50 year anniversary on Queens Community Board 5, which oversees Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth, Fresh Pond, and Liberty Park. Kerzner first got involved in community advocacy as a volunteer for the Office of Neighborhood Services. Before the Community Board existed, it was called a Community Planning Council with half the members it has today and only one committee — land use. 

“We began this work in 1983 when I was 23 and now I’m 72, and we’re not finished yet,” said Kerzner at the most recent CB5 meeting on March 8.

The meeting is held at Christ The King High School in Middle Village, the same building where Kerzner says his love of housing was born. A visit from Rosemary R. Gunning, one of the first female Assembly members, to the political science club Kerzner was a member of in high school, sparked his lifelong passion for housing and tenant protection. 

Decades later, Kerzner encouraged attendees to write to their representatives to help secure landmark status in Districts 2 and 11, which do not yet have city designation. The protection of a landmark designation guarantees that the architecture integrity and uniformity of buildings will not disappear in the hands of new land developers. 

“My whole life has been revolving around protecting neighborhoods, improving neighborhoods, turning neighborhoods around,” said Kerzner in a phone interview. At 72- years-old he still lives on the same block in Ridgewood that he grew up on.

What is now being called one of the “coolest neighborhoods in the world” by Time Out magazine was once a place where residents fled in droves to the suburbs, according to Kerzner. 

“At that time, the deterioration of Bushwick was staring us in the face,” said Kerzner.

In 1968, he got involved with the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association and later went on to form the Ridgewood Local Development Corporation with Theodore Renz, who is the third most long standing member of the board at 47 years. Today, their landmarking work continues to secure landmark status for commercial districts on Myrtle Ave and Fresh Pond Rd.

“I knew right from the get go, that he was very dedicated to the community and wanted to do whatever we could do to improve the community,” said Renz, who has worked closely with Kerzner since they met at a civic association meeting close to five decades ago.

Ridgewood has always been a multiethnic home for immigrants. During Kerzner’s youth, the neighborhood was strongly German, a bit Italian and Irish, and now home to many Polish and Latinx immigrants.

“Now the hipsters are moving in,” said Kerzner, who is concerned about gentrification pricing out long-time residents. While he encourages tenants to buy instead of rent, the rising cost of home ownership is inaccessible for many. In February 2023, the median price for a home in Ridgewood was $925K, up 45.1% compared to last year. 

The Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation is planning to unveil an initiative later this year that will co-op hundreds of six family homes in the neighborhood to make them more affordable for current residents. If they are located in the historic district like planned, the facade will have to be well maintained to meet the landmark guidelines. 

“I want to make sure that we can protect our tenants now,” said Kerzner who says the committee will work with the National Cooperative Bank to pay owners of the properties full market value while giving residents an affordable housing option. “We want to give the tenants an opportunity to own where they live so that nobody can throw them around anymore.”

“He cares about his community, and he is willing to do something about it, not just, you know, say that he cares about the community, he’s willing to put the effort forward to do something to make his community better,” Angela Miralbe, Executive Director at Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation.

Like Kerzner, two businesses in Ridgewood remain anchored in place. Rudy’s Pastry Shop on Seneca Ave, opened in 1934 and Morscher’s Pork Store, open since 1959 and still regularly visited by CB5 members today. 

“If you walk up and down the streets and Ridgewood, you could see the fruits of his efforts,” said Mirabile, who has worked with Kerzner for 41 years. 

Queens Native Climbs the Alvin Ailey Ladder


Patrick Gamble, first year member at Ailey ll. Photo by Nir Arieli.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

At five years old Patrick Gamble put on his first pair of ballet shoes, and has since danced his way into a first year member spot at the critically acclaimed Ailey ll. 

It’s rare for a professional dancer to have started as young as Gamble did. It’s even rarer to begin their professional career at the same company that they took their first dance lesson. Artistic Director, Francesca Harper, refers to this uniqueness as an “Ailey baby,” which she candidly used to describe Gamble and herself during a phone interview.

Gamble’s first glimpse inside an Ailey dance studio was on the sidelines as he watched his older sister and brother take lessons. Looking back at his early years, he recalls his grandmother dancing around the kitchen of the Cambria Heights home he still lives in. He credits those moments for waking up the dancer inside. 

“It’s the one time that my mind goes quiet, because the choreography is in my body. And the music is connected to my body,” said Gamble during a phone interview. “So my music and my body are working as one and my mind has nothing to really do besides watch my fellow dancers.”

Today, Gamble is preparing for a two-week season at Ailey Citigroup Theatre after spending the past several months on tour. On March 22, New Yorkers will be able to see two programs, Poetic Motion and Empowered, composed of 14 performances crafted by an array of choreographers. He is currently in his first season with Ailey ll since earning his degree from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program with a double major in Art History

“As much time and care as I put into it, I want to be able to reflect on stage,” said Gamble. “We are ensuring that every show is going to be a great show.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is widely known for popularizing modern dance around the world after it was founded by Alvin Ailey in 1958. Displaying the African-American experience through modern dance was a cornerstone of his vision. Ailey ll was developed later in 1974 to serve as a bridge between the classroom and professional stage for young dancers. 

“At the moment, he’s with the Ailey company and I think, for historical reasons, for representation reasons, I get a tremendous amount of pride from that,” said Paul Gamble, Patrick’s father, who has lived in Queens for most of his life after immigrating from Panama at a young age. 

“It took him a moment to believe in himself fully,” said Harper, who went from being Gamble’s teacher during his undergraduate studies to directing his professional debut. “But now he’s really starting to kind of open up and be more expansive, and unapologetic in his dancing.” 

Gamble has also appeared on the television shows Saturday Night Live and Gossip Girl as a dancer. But in his appearance on HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness, he got to try his hand at acting, something Gamble hopes to pursue in the future.

He doesn’t shy away from bragging about his Queens roots and love for the borough he grew up in.

“I can go outside and see people that look like me,” said Gamble. “And then I can go to the next town or the next neighborhood over and see people that look nothing like you.” 

In terms of his favorite spot, he says he frequents Brooklyn Wing House on Linden Boulevard “a little too much” for their Buffalo lemon pepper wings. 

“Queens is definitely for the long run,” said Gamble when asked if he would live anywhere else. 

Townsend Student Codes App for Good Posture

Congresswoman Grace Meng invited winners of the Congressional App Contest to her office in Flushing.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

What started off as nudges from his mother to sit up straight, turned into a congressional contest win for Vincent Yip who coded a web app that encourages good posture.

The contest, presented by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D) as part of the national Congressional App Challenge, encouraged middle and high school students in Queens to submit original apps demos. Three winners were invited to Meng’s office and received certificates of congressional recognition.

Yip’s app “Sit Straight!”, which won first place, is designed to be downloaded as a chrome extension on computers. By utilizing the webcam camera it alerts users if they are slouching by blurring their screens and sending out a notification reminding them to fix their posture.

In April, Yip will head to Capitol Hill to present his creation to members of Congress alongside other winners in congressional districts across the country. The winning apps will also be featured on the House of Representatives website.

“I’m excited to see what everyone else made and learn from their projects and see what avenues I can explore further,” said Yip who wants to study engineering and computer science in college and pursue other app inventions in the future.

Yip, a lifelong Bayside resident and junior at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing heard about the contest from a fellow student who entered last year. He worked on the code every weekend for almost two months while juggling classes and playing on the varsity tennis team. He also dedicates his time to the Science Olympiad team and is part of the Chinese Culture club.

“The process of creating the app was more exciting than the winning itself,” said Yip. He coded the app using a combination of HTML, CSS, React, TypeScript after being inspired by other online tools that utilize face tracking technology.

“This idea that I had seemed to be original and interesting,” said Yip, who says his reminders to fix his posture served as inspiration. “So I decided to pursue it.”

The contest started in 2015 with the goal of encouraging students to learn how to code and stir inspiration in computer science across the nation. This year set the record for the most participants with 2,707 fully functioning apps entered by students across the nation.

“Proper posture is critical to people’s health and wellbeing, and I commend Vincent for creating this practical and useful app to help people maintain it,” said Congresswoman Meng. “I congratulate him for winning my competition, and look forward to his app representing Queens in the U.S. Capitol and on the House of Representatives’ website.”

In second place came Evan Cedeno, a high school junior in Rego Park, who developed an app that assists people in generating original artwork. Third place went to Isaac Wong, a sophomore from Bayside, who created an app that helps students calculate their grade point average.

Vincent’s mother, Jean Yip, laughed when she first heard Vincent’s proposal for the app and suggested that it might be too difficult to execute. But when Vincent reassured her that it was possible with some extra learning and dedication, she encouraged him to push through.

“I hope he can help others a little bit by using this app,” said Jean, who recalls her own parents correcting her posture. ”It actually saved me a lot of trouble when he had that on, so I said okay, I don’t need to look at you all the time or I don’t need to yell at you.”

In many cultures, good posture is encouraged for its physical and mental health benefits. Some studies found that those who make maintaining good posture a habit are less likely to experience neck and back pain.

While the app is not readily available to the public just yet, Yip hopes to roll it out in the future after he resolves some bugs in the code.

“He’s very driven,” said Jean. “I see him grow and overcome obstacles in school and by developing this app.”

Eats in Queens Restaurant Month Tackles Food Insecurity

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

Jonathan Forgash, far right, works with volunteers to deliver food to local residents.

This March, Eats In Queens Restaurant Month partnered with over 200 diverse eateries across the borough — and raised thousands for local food relief.  

Unlike NYC Restaurant Week, a twice-yearly event that offers discounted pre-set menus at restaurants across the city, the organizers of EIQ wanted to do more than help restaurants gain business during the slow season. Their goal was generating funds for food relief through restaurant promotion and partnership. 

The event was formulated by Jonathan Forgash, Executive Director of Queens Together, along with volunteers who share a passion for the multinational Queens restaurant scene. They set out to address food insecurity in their neighborhoods that affects Queen’s most vulnerable residents — Black, Latino and Asian New Yorkers, as well as recent or undocumented immigrants, older adults and those with children.

So far, Queens Together, the nonprofit organization behind the event, raised $30,000 to address food insecurity through individual donations. Their model provides patrons with a discount at  all participating restaurants with a minimum of a $25 donation to the organization. 

“It wasn’t just about promoting the restaurants. I saw it as an opportunity to encourage people to donate for food relief,” Forgash said in a phone interview. He says that the main goal of Queens Together is “creating a powerful voice to fight for our needs” by cultivating the resources necessary to be impactful in the community.

Forgash, a longtime Astoria resident with over 30 years of experience in the food and restaurant industry, started providing food relief to Queens residents during the early days of the pandemic. He and other volunteers raised money through social media to pay restaurants to prepare meals for local hospitals. They pivoted to feeding neighbors who were sick at home or out of work, all with the help of restaurants who lost all their dine-in business overnight and were grateful to generate income while supporting their neighbors.

“Everyone came together during COVID to help the people who needed it most. And it was really beautiful to see,” said Forgash, who estimates that they fed 300,000 neighbors in need over the course of three years. 

In March 2020, Beatrice Ajaero was days away from opening the doors of her West African restaurant, Nneji, in Astoria. The focus immediately shifted to providing food relief to her neighbors, some of whom lived in districts hit hardest by high COVID rates, Queensbridge and Astoria. 

“It was really difficult, I think, to separate that reality from our opening,” said Ajaero, who worked with Forgash to distribute groceries and hot meals to residents in western Queens throughout the pandemic.  

Since then, the goals of her restaurant are inseparable from the goals of feeding the community in a way that is culturally in tune. She believes that the most effective way to provide food relief in an immigrant haven like Queens is through aligning food aid with the recipient’s culture or restrictions. This can be achieved by partnering with community and faith organizations that know the needs of the group they represent the best.

“For someone who’s come through many, many, many, miles, the added stress of having to try to nourish themselves with food that doesn’t speak to them, that is not from their cultural background, it’s very, very difficult and sort of poses an added layer of challenge and distance,” said Ajaero.

Today, Neeji is one of the restaurants part of EIQ Restaurant Month and is offering patrons a ten percent discount. She says that the restaurant’s participation in the event has already brought more diners through her doors.

Ralph Trionfo, 53, is a longtime Jackson Heights resident and part time Queens Together volunteer. In his full time role he works as a liquor representative for Empire Merchants based in Astoria. But his proximity to the restaurant industry in his daily work gave him the opportunity to solicit restaurants.

“When we were in the pandemic, my biggest joy or source of happiness came from working with Jonathan and Queens Together, providing food relief for my neighbors,” Trionfo said. “Now they know that the organization has legs, and it’s not going anywhere, we’re gonna keep moving forward. Meaning they can count on us.”

Spanish speaking volunteers with Queens Together worked to recruit Hispanic restaurants in Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights to participate. And Gordon Yu, a Queens native fluent in Chinese, went door to door in Flushing where he could relay the mission of the event more effectively. His efforts resulted in 17 partnerships with restaurants in Flushing. 

“Addressing the food access issue is really top of mind because when we can empower families with nutritious ancestral meals prepared by local restaurants who have local suppliers who often have local employees, the recirculation benefits are really powerful,” said Ajaero. 


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