Volunteer group keeps Forest Hills clean
Forest Hills & Rego Park Graffiti Cleanup Initiative helps businesses
By Times Staff
A grassroots community group took to the streets of Forest Hills last week to restore the curb appeal of various local businesses.
The Forest Hills & Rego Park Graffiti Cleanup Initiative was founded in 2020 by Michael Perlman, a columnist for this newspaper, and Michael Conigliaro, the Republican candidate for the upcoming State Assembly District 28 election.
The group’s formation was inspired in part by the suspension of the Graffiti-Free NYC program by former
Mayor Bill de Blasio, combined with an increasing number of local establishments tagged by vandals.
“Our community group’s mission is to restore and enhance commercial and residential properties by eliminating graffiti to foster civic pride,” Perlman said. “It’s our community, so we have the power in our hearts and fingertips to take it into our hands when we see a problem that needs to be addressed, rather than thinking that someone else will always pursue it.”
The initiative is powered solely by volunteers, and their work involves painting, scrubbing or power-washing properties that have been graffitied.
Group members conduct outreach to local businesses who may need help cleaning up and by posting about their efforts to social media.
These interactions have led to the recruitment of additional volunteers as well as donations from local businesses, including Ggny Painting Plus, AZ Painting & Refinishing and J&B Paint & Wallpaper.
Businesses that would like the Forest Hills & Rego Park Graffiti Cleanup Initiative to remove graffiti must first sign a consent form, and many are grateful for the positive impact the group has left in the community.
“If graffiti and other quality of life issues are not addressed in a timely manner, it often multiplies, but we are committed. As a case in point, it is a shame that some properties are tagged again, but it’s a matter of us to come forward and emphasize our commitment by maintaining them routinely,” Perlman said.
“I remember how the owners of YouTube 99 Cents on Queens Blvd in Forest Hills would thank me with a warm smile for volunteering, whenever I patronized their shop. We will soon be repainting their three gates.”
In addition to helping local neighborhoods and businesses on a larger scale, the initiative sets out to foster civic pride, teamwork and friendships.
“Volunteering has helped me understand my community, its history and I’ve met some great people from all walks of life throughout the process,” Kevin Sanichara, a Forest Hills resident and volunteer, said. “An area not being maintained leads to others not caring, which causes crime to go up and with the recent uptick in crime across New York City, it’s best we do our part as a community to keep the neighborhood pure and clean.”
Last Thursday, the group covered up eyesores tagged on numerous properties, including Andre’s Hungarian Bakery, Tu Casa Restaurant, Empire Liquors and NY Hot Bagels & Bialys in Forest Hills.
This Thursday evening, they plan to get together again and assist more businesses with graffiti removal.
Some group members feel it is their calling to volunteer.
“By working together in our community, we can bring lots of positive change. It could be graffiti cleaning, it could be preservation, it could be helping other neighbors who are in need. Our actions have a positive impact,” Naima Sultana, a volunteer and Forest Hills resident, said. “We all should have a purpose in our lives. My purpose is to help others,” she continued. “When I see my work bring a smile and joy in people’s lives, that is the greatest satisfaction of my life.”
The Forest Hills & Rego Park Graffiti Cleanup Initiative is proud to recruit new volunteers.
Those interested in participating can join the Facebook group “Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – ‘Our Communities’” and contact Michael Perlman.