Community is Therapy at Venture House

Members Sarah, Dave, Richard and Janet outside of the clubhouse.

By Iryna Shkurhan |

Venture House stands unassuming on Hillside Ave in Jamaica, Queens with its yellow brick exterior and arched windows. 

To a passerby, there’s not enough to guess that a vibrant community, known as a clubhouse, dedicated to helping people with serious mental illness (SMI) find their place in society exists on the other side of the lofty teal door. 

Unlike other mental health service providers structured around a hierarchical model that puts psychiatrists at the top and patients all the way on the bottom, Venture House aims to give its members autonomy without skimping on support and resources. Members are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the clubhouse, while also countering the isolation that can come with their diagnosis through friendship.

“We are not in the business of turning people away,” said David Plotka, the Program Director at the Queens location. Anyone over the age of eighteen diagnosed with a SMI — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression — living in the five boroughs is welcome to become a member for life. 

Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a mental health agenda that plans to invest $20 million in the expansion of mental health services such as overdose prevention and serious mental illness support. One key proponent of his plan is to expand clubhouse capacity across five boroughs. Currently there are 14 locations across the city and four in Queens. Venture House also has a second location in Staten Island.

The clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation first sprouted in 1943 by a group of New Yorkers who were discharged from a psychiatric facility but wanted to sustain the mutual support they found in each other. In 1948, the first clubhouse, Fountain House, was opened in Manhattan and is still supporting members today. There are 320 clubhouses around the world in 30 countries that are accredited by Clubhouse International. 

One study found that eighty percent of people with mental illness are unemployed, despite around sixty percent wanting to work, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Employment rates also decrease with an increase in the severity of the mental illness. 

Since day one, Venture House’s employment strategy has focused on transitional employment — a part-time temporary work placement that lasts approximately six to nine months. For those with a checkered employment history or blank resume due to their psychiatric history, completing a temporary placement evokes a sense of accomplishment, without the pressure of holding it down forever. 

“It’s a little bit of a reframe, if you will. It’s not that you left a job, or maybe you couldn’t sustain the job after a year or nine months, it’s more like, congratulations, you finished the placement and that’s reason to celebrate,” said Plotka. “We want people to feel a sense of success and then maybe they’re looking for more permanent employment.”

Members attended a work readiness group where they discussed how to deal with issues that arise in the workplace.

Members are currently employed at UBS Arena, Citi Field, West End Tennis Club at Forest Hills, and Turn the Page bookstore in Bayside, among others. Earlier this month, Venture House also partnered with RDS, a courier service based in Long Island City, for more transitional employment positions for their members. 

“I had extensive work history and education. However, when you have a gap of ten years, it’s intimidating, and it’s embarrassing, there’s a lot of shame,” said Janet Perisa. “And Venture has helped me to not be ashamed.”

Natellie Philip, a St. Albans resident, and clubhouse member since 2015 completed a six month placement at Turn the Page bookstore in Bayside. Through a scholarship she learned about at the clubhouse, she also became certified as a Clinical Medical Assistant following a 6-month course at York College. 

But before members pursue employment in the real world, they are encouraged to participate in the clubhouse’s work-ordered day, which runs parallel to typical nine to five working hours. Members can choose to prepare lunch in the kitchen or answer phones at the front desk. Some give visitors tours of the facility and process intake data while others ensure its cleanliness. 

A healthy daily lunch is available for just a dollar. And at the member run coffee shop on the first floor, a cup of coffee goes for an affordable 35 cents. 

Staff at Venture House describe the clubhouse as “purposely understaffed” as part of the clubhouse model. While daily attendance averages at 80 members, there are only 18 paid staff members, many of whom are visually indistinguishable from members. This is part of the effort to make carrying out clubhouse responsibilities impossible without member involvement. 

“You’re hearing voices. That’s okay. We don’t care. You can slice a tomato. We’re making a salad,” said Juliet Douglas, Venture House CEO for the past six years.

Douglas, who has thirty years of experience in almost every corner of the mental health field, says that the freedom and lack of structure at Venture House can be startling for some newcomers. If individuals have a history of being institutionalized at psychiatric facilities, where restrictive structures are in place, it can be startling to be asked, “What do you want to do?” 

The International Standards for Clubhouse Programs states that “There are no agreements, contracts, schedules, or rules intended to enforce participation of members.”

“People can come just to socialize, because socialization in itself is a goal. So no one is forced to do anything, but we try to help them to understand that we need them to participate,” said Douglas.

Growing up in Flushing, Janet Perisa, 44, first began displaying signs of serious mental illness at age ten. After struggling to attend school regularly like her peers and running away from home, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for two months at 15 years old. 

Despite her struggles, she was able to obtain her GED and start attending CUNY City Tech to study fashion marketing at 22. Perisa thrived while pursuing her passion and is proud to say she made it on the Dean’s list. She went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in creative writing at The New School, where she wrote the fashion column for her school’s paper, all while holding down several jobs.

When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, Perisa says her dreams crashed alongside the stock market. Like many others who graduated into the recession, she struggled to find a job after college. This triggered her severe mental illness symptoms and she found herself in a partial hospitalization program. She describes the next decade as a hamster wheel of hospitalizations at psychiatric hospitals and stints at out-patient programs that were too rigid and induced a sense of loneliness.

Then someone told her about Venture House. 

Janet Perisa, a longterm member and new peer specialist at the Brooklyn location.

“We have freedom of choice to lead self directed lives,” said Perisa. “When you’re in the system, you’re oftentimes invalidated by the place.”

Initially she sought friendship from the clubhouse, but as she found her footing she discovered a sense of purpose in helping out other members by utilizing her strengths and experience. Eventually she was appointed to the Board of Directors in 2016, on which she served for seven years. 

This past February, Perisa was hired as a Peer Specialist at Venture House’s young adult supportive housing program in Brooklyn. She is the only member that has been hired on Venture House’s staff. 

While Venture House connects its members with psychiatrists and therapists, there are no clinical mental health treatments offered inside the clubhouse. 

“Our therapy is in creating community,” said Perisa. “We’re like this beautiful bouquet of personalities and we are all instrumental in making the clubhouse work.”

Little Free Library creates international trail

Residents giving the gift of reading

By Michael Perlman

The Little Free Diverse Library at FHHS, Ribbon-cutting ceremony, May 2021, Courtesy of FHHS Librarian Lindsay Klemas

“Between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be,” reads a stenciled slogan on the side of a decorative Little Free Library book-sharing box on a Colonial rowhouse lawn at 100-21 67th Drive.

The concept of taking a book and giving a book is going strong, not only in Forest Hills, but internationally.

Founded in 2009, Little Free Library is a non-profit in St. Paul, Minnesota that partners with an extensive coalition of stewards who embrace giving the gift of reading, rather than discarding unwanted books.

There are 16 staff members, who work diligently to support greater than 150,000 Little Free Libraries in 115 countries.

Last year, an app was launched, enabling the public to locate those libraries in close proximity or on the other side of the world:

“Through Little Free Library book exchanges, millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds,” said Margret Aldrich, Little Free Library’s director of communications.

Originating a Little Free Library is a wonderful way to build community, inspire readers and improve book access, according to Aldrich. She also views it as a meaningful project for families, schools and many community organizations to bring an outdoor library to life.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that books in the hands of children have a meaningful impact on improving literacy. The more books in or near the home, the more likely a child will learn and love to read,” Aldrich said.

In the U.S., two out of three children living in poverty have no books to call their own. Additionally, there are over 30 million adults nationwide who are unable to read or write above a third-grade level.

In areas where books are scarce, the book-sharing boxes especially play an essential role by providing 24/7 access to books and fostering a passion for reading.

Little Free Library seeks to fill “book deserts” and grant libraries to underserved communities through its Impact Library Program, among other initiatives. By 2025, they have a goal of funding and sustaining 2,500 Little Free Library boxes in underserved communities across the U.S.

Social media is an essential resource for supporting Little Free Library initiatives. After this columnist posted on Facebook for a volunteer to deliver a donation of 100 books from Middle Village Troop 106 to Little Free Libraries in Forest Hills, a resident of that community and his girlfriend came forward.

Wishing to remain anonymous, he said, “On Sunday, we filled three library stands at Parker Towers and a few people even thanked us. Then we dropped off the rest at Commonpoint Queens Central Y. It was fulfilling and we are more than happy to help anytime.”

Anonymous Middle Village resident visits Parker Towers libraries

After local residents discovered that the power lies in their hands to design outdoor libraries with any theme and shape imaginable, they began to exchange ideas.

An anonymous 99th Street homeowner said, “There’s a lot of foot traffic past my house, and if it gets people to look up from their phones, I would be contributing to our quality of life.”

They envision designing one around an admired Jorge Luis Borges quote: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” which can be spotted near a Cupertino, CA library entrance.

Books would be separated by language and age range. Additionally, nearby supers would be consulted to see if residents discarded books.

Forest Hills resident Carly Tribble visualizes a Little Free Library modeled after a house, and feels that an ideal location would be in front of rowhouses on Clyde Street near Forest Hills Stadium.

“It is challenging to cycle out old books when libraries sometimes do not take donations, so having a space to slowly donate them to our community, while protecting them from the elements, seems useful,” she said.

Local stewards spoke highly of their existing Little Free Libraries.

Forest Hills Little Free Library on 67th Dr near Austin St, Photo by Michael Perlman

“I am a Literacy professor and love books, and believe access to books is so important. This library stocks children and adult books. Come experience the joys of reading,” read a 67th Drive library description on the world app.

Forest Hills High School librarian, Lindsay Klemas, founded the “Little Free Diverse Library,” and feels it is an achievement that enables her school to celebrate a love of literature and diverse voices within the community.

“Books can help us learn to live in a world where everyone is able to be themselves and may be different from us. Reading allows us to build empathy for one another,” she said.

In fall 2020, NYC schools could apply for a grant, and upon its reality, Klemas’ students were excited.

“We had Library Google Meets daily to remain connected. My students were able to see each other in person for the first time to celebrate with an official ribbon-cutting in May 2021. It was a great way for us to come back and celebrate the love of reading diverse books.”

Now as the school roof is being restored, workers erected netting around the library stand, permitting access.

“It was so thoughtful and I felt like it was a symbol of how librarians are fighting to get books into the hands of readers,” she continued.

Judy Vladimir, Commonpoint Queens VP of Development, questioned, “What’s the good in books sitting in bookshelves in homes collecting dust?”

In summer 2020, an outdoor library at the Commonpoint Queens Central Y came to fruition.

She explained, “We have five book clubs between our staff and our Cultural Arts programs, so we decided we wanted to open that idea to the public. We shared our books outside our food pantry, where we always have foot traffic between neighbors, volunteers and even young families dropping off and picking up their little ones from our Early Childhood Center. As a community organization that provides educational opportunities for neighbors of all ages and abilities, books are one of our greatest allies in the quest for knowledge.”

In front of American Legion Continental Post #1424 at 107-15 Metropolitan Avenue is a library stand designed by Forest Hills resident, John Evanchik, of Boy Scout Troop 96.

His mother, Monica Evanchik, said, “John conducted lots of research and wanted to create a library stand, despite not having building experience. Richmond Hill residents Bill and Aleena Knight have been involved with the troop and became his mentors. Home Depot donated supplies. The whole troop got behind him to complete his project, which is a big part of what scouting is about.”

It was completed on Halloween in 2021, and he achieved his eagle scout rank in January 2022.

“The library is used by many residents daily, and it adds to the character of the front, doubling as a planter,” added American Legion Vice Commander Pat Conley.

American Legion Continental Post #1424 Little Free Library, Courtesy of Pat Conley

People are increasingly on the lookout for Little Free Libraries, based on the most unique design ideas and during their travels.

Former Queens resident Gregory Smith is a painter, home improvement contractor and builder of the library stand on Crescent Street in Northampton, Massachusetts. Completed in May 2019, it is a replica of the 1874 Victorian/Italianate Second Empire house behind it, which is owned by Maureen Flannery.

Smith explained, “It was her idea to represent her house and we need our historical sites. I took photos from all different angles. The library’s roof has slates that I incorporated from the house. It’s not only a book exchange, but a focal point that brings the community together in a town of poets and painters. I live five houses away and frequently come across people who ask about it.”

Marilyn Shurka Silk of Delray Beach, Florida, a former Rego Park resident, shared a hybrid concept.

“I live simply and know there are so many people with less,” she said. “Many people make birdhouses, so they can create book houses, and by having a section for non-perishable food, it’s equally important.”

Little Free Library was created by Wisconsinite Todd Herbert Bol in 2009, who then went on to found the organization.

He passed away in 2018, leaving behind a legacy for people across the country to engage with the wholesome concept and embrace the beauty of reading.

Ridgewood’s Panther Solidarity Organization; Group devotes itself to serving the people

By Jessica Meditz

Zine designed by Rashid Johnson, founding member of RIBPP and its minister of defense, who is currently incarcerated.

Dedicated to serving the community through empowering people, Ridgewood’s Panther Solidarity Organization (PSO) chapter seeks to further expand their mission and engage local residents.

The PSO essentially formed in 2020 as a result of a split in the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP), when it was discovered that two members were counterrevolutionary, and did not align with the group’s mission. The United Panther Movement (UPM) served as their principal mass organization.

The NABPP reconstituted as the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP), as did the UPM to PSO.

Tea Bee, a Ridgewood resident who co-founded the PSO Ridgewood chapter in 2021, explained that the organization’s origins are in Newark, New Jersey, where the first PSO chapter was formed in 2020.

Bee said that one of the group’s primary initiatives is their Serve the People program, which is their vehicle to connect with the people, get to know them and build relationships with the community of Ridgewood.

PSO Ridgewood holds this event every weekend at Rosemary’s Playground, where members distribute free COVID tests, snacks and informational materials as well as have meaningful discussions with those who stop by. They hope to expand the program in a similar model to Newark’s.

“We have really been looking for our niche, what it is exactly that we want to do with our Serve the People program, because we want to do more,” Bee said.

“In Newark right now, they have a free breakfast program every Saturday. They also have a dinner program every week in one of the housing projects there. That’s what we’re building toward, having a set program.”

PSO Ridgewood’s table at their Serve the People Program in Rosemary’s Playground.

As a former abortion nurse and currently transitioning into working in outpatient care, Bee understands firsthand how essential it is for people to take control of their health, and encorporated that into PSO Ridgewood’s course of action.

PSO has worked on developing the People’s Health Education Program, which is a collaboration with New York City Socialist Rifle Association.

“It started off with just first aid training, but then I got involved and said, ‘What if we build beyond this and make it more holistic, more comprehensive, really teach the people and empower people with the skills, knowledge and resources they need — not just to take better care of themselves, but also each other, the community,’” they said.

“It’s especially important in these times of constant crisis and constant trauma, somewhat to the point where we’re all so desensitized,” Bee continued. “How do we better take care of ourselves and each other?”

Through that program, PSO Ridgewood was able to obtain free COVID tests in bulk from the city.

This Saturday, Oct. 29, the People’s Health Education Program will host a free first aid class from 1:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Mayday Space, located at 176 St. Nicholas Avenue in Bushwick.

Guests will have the opportunity to learn CPR, how to stop severe bleeding, how to give narcan and more.

Free COVID tests, masks, first aid supplies, food and drink, childcare and political education and discussion will be offered, as well as a raffle and Halloween party with a DJ.

Bee also strives to share their knowledge and experience from working in reproductive healthcare, as well as spread mental health awareness.

Nat Winn, a social worker and member of PSO Ridgewood, advocated that the community learn how to deal with mental health crises without getting the police involved.

“The goal is to provide these skills so we don’t have to involve the police, and crisis doesn’t lead to imprisonment, because so many people in the prison system have mental health diagnoses or death,” he said.

“People were explaining to me recently that in some poor neighborhoods, there aren’t any clinics anymore. There are hospitals, but most hospitals are bordered along wealthier neighborhoods,” he explained. “This is a way that we, as the community, can address some of those glitches and some of the malfunctioning of the system. As healthcare workers, we feel we can provide these basic skills.”

Another issue PSO seeks to address through their activism is the mistreatment and neglect of Rashid Johnson, one of the founding members RIBPP and its minister of defense, who is currently incarcerated at Sussex 1 State Prison in Virginia.

Johnson was convicted of murder in 1990 and sentenced to life in prison, but maintains his innocence.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July 2022, and was not provided with cancer treatment, or even visits to a radiologist for some time.

Bee has also been informed that Johnson does not have access to any of his personal property, including hygiene supplies, his radio and TV.

PSO encourages all supporters to get involved and take action to help assist Johnson, such as by joining the Kevin Rashid Johnson Defense Committee, making phone calls to the prison in his defense and sharing his story on social media and through word of mouth.

Zine artwork designed by Rashid Johnson.

Johnson is the writer of RIBPP’s Ten Point Program, which are essentially the beliefs one should align with if they plan to get involved in the organization.

“Since the time [he was convicted], he’s turned his life around. Rashid has dedicated his life to the things that he has talked about: serving the people and creating a better world,” Winn said.

“The Ten Point Program talks about healthcare for everyone, decent housing for everyone and the right to not be hungry for everyone,” he continued. “Not only for Black people, but for everyone. And that’s what Rashid has dedicated his life to.”

Bee emphasized that PSO is a voluntary organization, and those who join do not have to be a far leftist to join, but they should be in unity with the Ten Point Program.

“Ultimately, we’re here to do life-affirming work, and to uplift life and to cherish life,” they said.

“Obviously, we focus on the lives that have been historically marginalized and discriminated against violently, but we’re here to uplift life. That’s our mission.”

For more information, visit @psoridgewood on Instagram, @pso_ridgewood on Twitter or email with any inquiries.

Jim Regan inducted as Maspeth Kiwanis president

“We’re going to continue to move forward,” he said

By Jessica Meditz

Regan (L) being inducted as president by Lt. Gov. Rodriguez.

Local Kiwanians gathered for an afternoon of celebration at O’Neill’s in Maspeth to welcome a brand new president.

James “Jim” Regan has stepped up to lead the Kiwanis Club of Maspeth — and as the executive director of Martin Luther School, he’s no stranger to leadership.

He will fill the role of Glenn Rudzewick, immediate past president of the club.

Every term, the acting president runs that Kiwanis club for one year. If they don’t renew, another member must take the reins.

“Kiwanis is all about helping children and our communities,” said Victor Rodriguez, lieutenant governor of the Queens West Division. “Changing leadership kind of encourages people to do different things and share different ideas.”

Also an eventful part of the ceremony was the installation of the Board of Directors: Jim O’Kane, Maryanna Zero, Glenn Rudzewick, Tom Rudzewick, Joan Sammon, Michelle Masone, Geri Hughes-Crowe and Barbara Pryor.

The club’s Board of Directors were installed.

Each member promised to serve their community and live up to the Kiwanis motto, “Serving the Children of the World.”

Upon his induction, Regan reflected on the milestones the Maspeth Kiwanis and other local clubs have achieved for their neighborhoods, and expressed his willingness and gratitude for taking on the role of president.

He emphasized how Martin Luther School’s values are based in reaching out and creating opportunities for leadership service to the community, and he plans to set the same example.

“I have to say Kiwanis is all about community and the people we serve in this community. Being a proud member of this community for many years, I’ve been the executive director of Martin Luther for about seven years now, but I’ve been a member of the staff for 42 With that being said, being a resident here and also being in the community, I understand the importance of a group like Kiwanis and how it has an impact on what we do and who we support,” Regan said.

“Maspeth has certainly been generous in that case, and we’re going to continue to move forward,” he continued. “I also want to thank Glenn Rudzewick, who stepped in last year and has held this leadership role several times. Through his mentorship, I’m much looking forward to what he can do in terms of assisting myself and in my position here.”

On Nov. 13, the Kiwanis Club of Maspeth will host their annual Pancake Breakfast, which will be held at Martin Luther School from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

All funds raised will go toward benefitting local children, seniors and the community in general — from medical and sports programs for young people, to anti-graffiti programs to beautify the neighborhood.

Kweller Prep: An educational center with a unique mission

By Michael Perlman

Kweller Prep at the Midway.

Kweller Prep has not only been a major draw for tutoring and educational services, but a beacon in the name of the humanitarian spirit.

With a local center situated above the Midway Theatre at 108-22 Queens Boulevard on the second floor, owner and founder Frances Kweller of Forest Hills and general manager Ben Z. Davidov of Kew Gardens have tirelessly been making a difference for younger generations.

Remarkably, Kweller Prep teaches and mentors an average of over 1,500 students per year, which adds up to over 10,000 students in the past 15 years.

Kweller explained, “Kweller Prep has a very intentional, dedicated mission to help immigrant and minority children advance to higher education, including placement in highly competitive environments that build their careers. We are a targeted program that hires tutors who reflect the students we serve, placing them on track for success.”

As of July 2022, Kweller Prep was recognized by New York Family as among “The 7 best kids afterschool programs in Queens.”

Kweller is an attorney who came from an immigrant family, and graduated from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education and Hofstra University School of Law.

She is regarded as an education news expert, and is a regular when it comes to interviews on national TV.

Davidov, a native of Israel, achieved a BBA in entrepreneurial management from Baruch College in 2019. Backtracking, at Forest Hills High School, he pursued advanced courses, enabling him to complete the high school curriculum at the end of the 11th grade, and take AP and college classes as a 12th grader.

Among his leadership roles, he was president of Hillel at Baruch and also achieved the Henry Wollman Prizes award for outstanding contributions to student life.

Kweller originated a very successful organization as a result of her frustration with the school system.

Throughout high school and college, she felt that the system did not offer her enough beneficial information or guidance.

Davidov said, “Frances launched Kweller Prep to be a community resource and provide insight into the application and testing process, along with teaching students test-taking skills that they would need for their academic careers.”

He proudly joined the Kweller Prep team in 2014 after experiencing the same frustrations.

Part of Kweller Prep team with Frances Kweller, third from left & Ben Davidov, fifth from left.

“Being an immigrant, I had a hard time navigating the NYC Department of Education system, and I learned as much as possible from my mentor, Frances Kweller, so I could also serve as a resource to our community,” he said.

Today, they are both members of the National Association for College Counseling.

In 2015, Kweller Prep was government certified as a 100 percent Women-owned Business Enterprise in NYC and NYS.

Throughout many years, Kweller Prep established community partnerships with Place NYC and the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, in addition to building relationships with diverse educational institutions.

They include Stuyvesant High School and its PTA, Townsend Harris High School and its PTA, Forest Hills High School and its PTA, Brooklyn Tech High School, Bronx High School of Science, York High School, Richmond Hill High School, Arts and Business High School, Academy of Finance and Enterprise, and the First in Family Fund, which is Kweller Prep’s non-profit.

The Kweller Prep approach varies from alternate supplemental educational programs, as it specializes in preparations for competitive junior high schools, high schools, colleges and graduate schools.

Classes are limited to 10 students and are offered in person and via Zoom.

Besides focusing on minority students, Davidov explained, “We resort to customizing groups and ensure that each student leaves our center more prepared for the exam. Our strategy is to over-prepare and offer a bunch of resources, so there are no surprises, come the day of the exam.”

Kweller continued, “We meet with most of our families before the start of a course, to understand the needs of every single student.”

Kweller, Davidov and their colleagues are recognized for their ability to identify early talent and focus on holistic learning approaches.

“Families seek us with hopes that their child will one day attend a top tier school or an Ivy League school. We offer support from the 3rd to 12th grade to assist students every step of the way. We guide students through what is needed each year, in order for them to achieve the results that they envisioned,” Kweller said.

Davidov added, “Families begin planning for Ivy Leagues as early as the 6th grade, and often have meetings with management to create a great college application. At the start of 12th grade, Kweller Prep offers a college application service that assists from A-Z in preparing applications for universities nationwide.”

One may wonder about a typical day at Kweller Prep, which is not so typical after all.

After a full-time security guard opens, 80 students per session attend their daily or weekly class.

“Students come to their assigned classroom, where they generally receive 4 hours of instruction. They are provided with an abundance of resources relating to their exam and the steps that follow, after completing our program,” Davidov said.

“Students receive our tests, homework packets, textbooks, and related materials, as well as snacks to keep them engaged. We order breakfast, lunch, and dinner depending on the session, and order all food from local small businesses to support our surrounding community.”

Students take exams at Kweller Prep every four weeks during the school year, which pertain to weekend fall and spring classes, and each Monday during summer camp classes.

“Once their session is complete, they are escorted by staff and security, and staff meet with parents to let them know about their child’s progress, which is followed by emailing progress reports,” said Kweller.

The management and administrative staff hold daily meetings with parents and families to customize courses, devoted to each student’s needs.

For Kweller and Davidov, running Kweller Prep is a gift.

In a joint statement, they explained that the benefit includes having 10 students or less per class, providing uniforms, materials, syllabi and a safe space to work.

Kweller Prep staff appreciation event.

“We collect some of the brightest minds in NYC who aspire to bigger and better achievements. The friendships created among staff lead to the creation of study groups, new business ventures and access to major-specific opportunities outside of working at the center. We mentor all staff members and help them pursue other opportunities outside Kweller Prep, as we are firm believers in supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship.”

Kweller explained their goals: “Our short-term goal is to help every student that comes to our center achieve their academic goal. Our long-term goals are in the works, and we hope to be sharing good news soon. We foresee in the future that we will be working towards creating a school for students to get ahead of the NYC DOE curriculum, and be able to years ahead upon entering high school and college.”

In the spring, not long after the community’s beloved Chinese food delivery worker and longtime Forest Hills personality Zhiwen Yan was killed, Kweller leaped forward.

She launched a GoFundMe via her First in Family Fund, Inc. non-profit, to support his three children.

Miraculously, over $100,000 was raised within a 24-hour period, which increased to $154,160. It attracted a total of 2,600+ donors.

Exhibiting a good heart for students, parents, staff and the community at large makes Kweller and Davidov true humanitarians, and a mobilizing force in the name of innovative education.

Community Board 5 to meet virtually on Wednesday

Community Board 5 will hold a virtual meeting on November 10 at 7:30 p.m. Members of the public can view the meeting on YouTube.
The meeting will include the review of applications to the Department of City Planning to allow development at 1718 Decatur Street and 1112 Wyckoff Avenue, both of which are located in a M1-4D district.
The agenda will also include the chairperson’s report, district manager’s report, committee reports, and the review of applications for liquor licenses and building demolitions.
Anyone wishing to speak during the Public Forum portion of the meeting is asked to submit a typed statement at no later than 2 p.m. on November 10 so that it can be read into the record.

Queens resident shares the joy of reading through community library

“No child should be without a book” believes Kay Menashe, who has been making a difference for people of all ages with a donation-based library service.
The 44-year-old Howard Beach resident and former EMT owns and operates the Free Community Library of Ozone Park.
“During the height of the pandemic when all libraries were shut down, my goal was to make sure every child had a book to read,” said Menashe. “My free library originated when I placed a few of my own books out, and the community began taking them.
“Then we were asked by other community members if they could leave their books as well,” she added. “All of our books come from a different home with a tale to tell.”
The library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, weather permitting, since the library operates outdoors at locations announced on social media. The books come from community donations.
“We accept all books, as the Queens public libraries no longer take donated books since the pandemic,” Menashe said. “The only supplies we need are books, which we know most of you have at home just sitting around collecting dust.”
Menashe was recently named runner-up of the second annual Sparkling Ice’s “Cheers to Heroes” contest to honor America’s everyday heroes.
The contest received 1,000 nominations from 905 American cities with three finalists. Menashe received $7,500.
“We received such support from the community and from the parties and events we ran,” she said. “We won because the community voted for us and since our library makes a difference.”
Menashe hope to further develop her initiative, hoping the Queens community can help her find a small permanent space in an office or retail establishment.
“The books need to be displayed and stored and stay dry when it rains,” she explained. “We would also like to see a mom-and-pop coffeehouse go into business with us. My vision is to see my community members sitting down with coffee and maybe a slice of pie while reading free books they can take home.”
Menashe believes reading a physical copy is the best way to enjoy a book.
“I feel that e-reading takes away from the magic, including the new book smell,” she said. “As you hold books, it lets you relax. An e-reader is just a computer screen where you feel nothing.”
With titles spanning every genre in the community library, every day becomes a journey filled with surprises. She explained her personal inspiration is not just one person.
“The kids are why I do this mostly,” Menashe said. “Books are expensive for families to buy when you walk into a store, but when you walk into our café, that would never be an issue as your son or daughter would always leave with a free book.”

To donate books or to help the library secure a space, email To keep up with the library, follow @communityozpl on Instagram.

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