Organizers Push Ardila to Resign With Sit-In

The organizers held a sit-in at Ardila’s office on Skillman Ave. in Sunnyside. Photo Credit: @hailieforqueens on Twitter

By Iryna 

Three community members held a sit-in for over ten hours in Assemblyman Juan Ardila’s Sunnyside office last week, in an effort to push him to resign. 

The individuals, including Hailie Kim, former city council candidate in district 26, and Thomas Muccioli, a campaign staffer for Congresswoman Alexdra Ocasio-Cortez, confronted Ardila with a sign that read “Resign Now!” in the office’s lobby. Adam Friedman, a former staffer for Ardila, also showed up and documented the interaction. 

“It was not a comfortable situation for anybody involved, I can say that,” said Kim, a Sunnyside resident, in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “We were there for over 10 hours, or at least 10 hours.” 

The assemblyman, who represents Maspeth, Ridgewood, Sunnyside and Long Island City, was first accused of sexually assaulting two women earlier this March, and since then, countless electeds across the city and state have called for his resignation. Despite the large push for him to step down, Ardila has maintained his innocence and says he will carry on serving his constituents. 

But other elected officials whose districts overlap with his say that a working relationship with him, both in the district and in Albany, has been difficult due to his outcast status. Kim also pointed out that the lack of collaboration has hurt nonprofits and constituents in the district. 

There is an issue of leadership in our district where there was no coordinated effort to distribute discretionary funds to nonprofits in our community and so there were nonprofits who do great work and were zeroed out,” wrote Kim on Twitter alongside images from the sit-in. “This is unacceptable.”

At one point during the day, Ardila says he spoke to the protestors for two hours. Photo credit: @hailieforqueens on Twitter

In May, the New York Post reported that Jeffrion Aubry handled $250,000 worth of discretionary funds from the state budget to support community based organization within Ardila’s district.

Kim also pointed out that during her lengthy stay in the office, only a handful of constituents stopped by the office on Skillman Ave for services.

“This office is not fully functional,” said Kim, who previously worked in the nonprofit sector. “All day, there were not many constituents at all. And especially in a district like ours, it is highly unusual that there are not constantly people there.”

“Three individuals came to my office, and I spoke with them for over two hours, explaining that the allegations were false and that I have never been under any type of criminal investigation,” Ardila said in a statement to the Queens Ledger. “They repeatedly stated that they did not care if I was guilty or innocent, but that I needed to resign regardless.” 

Ardila denied that there were few constituents who came by the office on July 19 when the sit-in was held. 

“No, we were serving many constituents. We had a couple of walk-ins, and a lot of phone calls,” said Ardila in a follow up interview. “I even had to get involved because we were getting a few folks that needed some support. So we were pretty busy throughout the day.”

Ardila confirmed that he spoke to them for “over two hours” while they remained in his office and when it came time to close the office, “they refused to leave.” Kim also said that the conversation “felt like forever” and upon closing, “Juan and his staff stepped over us to leave and we were told if the landlord called the police on us, it would not be their fault.”

In a video of the interaction shared by Ardila, Kim and Muccioli are seen planted in front of the office’s main door as Ardila and his staffer stepped around them to leave for the day. The landlord remained in the office for an unknown period of time after their exit. 

Both Kim and Muccioli also shared their personal experiences with sexual assault with the Assemblyman during the confrontation in an effort to encourage him to take a restorative justice approach to the accusations against him. This approach aims to have offenders take responsibility, admit harm caused and take the opportunity to redeem themselves. 

“We weren’t trying to center the allegations, specifically, we were trying to center the fact that there were things that Assemblymember ought to be able to do that were not being done as a result of these allegations,” clarified Kim. 

Kim previously ran for city council twice in district 26, which includes Sunnyside, against current Councilwoman Julie Won. But she says that this act of protest should not be viewed in an electoral light.

“I want a district where if someone holds an action like this to hold an elected official accountable, I don’t want it to be seen as an electoral choice,” said Kim. “We have the right to express discontent and just want better for our district. And not necessarily just with the intention of running for office.”

Julie Won Secures Second Term 

Photo Credit: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

By Iryna 

In District 26, incumbent City Councilmember Julie Won secured a second term in office following a Democratic primary election victory on June 27. 

“I am incredibly humbled by my neighbors’ overwhelming support for my re-election to the City Council!” said Won in a press statement. “From the beginning, my campaign has always centered the needs of the working class, immigrants, and families across the district.”

Won secured 61 percent of the vote, with 99 percent currently reporting, according to unofficial results from the city’s Board of Elections. Her second time challenger to the left, Hallie Kim, received 38 percent of votes in the district that represents much of western Queens, including Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria and Maspeth.

While we did not get the result we wanted tonight, I am deeply grateful for the time everyone took to make their voices heard,” wrote Kim on Twitter the night of the election. “We made it clear that politicians who make promises on the campaign trail and break them in office will have to answer to their community and fight to maintain power.”

In her first term, Won spearheaded negotiations for Innovation QNS, a controversial $2 billion mixed-use development project that is expected to create 3,200 apartments – 45% of which will be designated affordable. She also worked to deliver free WiFi for NYCHA residents in her district and passed two language access bills to address disparities in access to public safety  information for immigrant communities. 

Won received significant criticism from her challenger for voting to pass last year’s city budget, which allocated more funding to the NYPD and while defunding schools by $370 million, according to Chalkbeat. Only six council members voted against the budget – a choice that Won said would have hurt her district. 

Despite criticism from her challenger and some community members, Won stood by her vote and insisted that issues from the budget can not be “cherry picked” and a vote against it would ultimately result in lost funding to her district. She would also point out that the budget is not set in stone, and has room for flexibility following its passage. 

In the two weekends leading up to election day, protests against Won and her “broken campaign pledges” were held in Sunnyside. Community members showed up to Lou Lodati Park on June 24 with signs that read “Julie Won Defunded My School” and “Julie Won Breaks Her Progressive Promises.”

“Our landslide victory demonstrated that a campaign rooted in positivity, real accomplishments, and genuine grassroots support will always triumph over one built on lies, personal attacks, and dirty tactics,” said the newly re-elected council member with reference to her challenger.

Kim, an educator and housing advocate, ran a progressive campaign that staunchly criticized Mayor Adam’s “austerity budget” and called restoring cuts to public education a “number one priority” on her website. 

In a much more crowded District 26 race in the 2021 election, Kim came out in eighth place amid fifteen total candidates and no incumbent. In this race, she was Won’s only challenger. 

The election occurred just two years into the term due to redistricting which responds to decennial census data. City law requires an off-cycle election every other redistricting cycle to address significant changes to boundaries. The newly drawn lines removed a section of Astoria, while adding a chunk of Maspeth. 

The fight for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. I am excited that we broadened the coalition in support of economic and racial justice while opposing austerity together,” wrote Kim who moved on to criticizing this year’s budget, which passed shortly after the election. 

This time around, twelve city council members voted no for a budget that included significant cuts to education and housing, while increasing funding for policing. Councilmember Tiffany Caban, who represents Astoria, Steinway-Ditmars and Jackson Heights, was the sole Queens elected to vote against it. 

“It has been the honor of my life to serve the people and places I love,” said Won. “Now, it’s time to get back to work!”

The citywide turnout, which has always been chronically low, was just 6.5 percent this election cycle. A total of 174,544 New Yorkers live in District 26, and only 5,850 votes were cast. 

In November, Won will be up against Republican Marvin Jeffcoat who unsuccessfully vied for the seat in 2017 and 2021. 

Kiwanis Club Celebrates Scholarship Recipients 

Maspeth’s Kiwanis Club celebrated its scholarship recipients at a luncheon. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

By Iryna 

Maspeth’s Kiwanis Club celebrated its annual scholarship recipients, alongside parents and community members, at a luncheon at Maspeth Town Hall on Thursday, June 22. 

Fifteen recent high school graduates, who reside in Maspeth, but attend schools across Queens received a check for $2,000 to assist with any educational expenses before they head off to college in the fall. 

“It’s harder and harder every year to pay for college,” said Michelle Masone, the scholarship program chairman. “This is a little thing that we can do to help them, and support them, in furthering their education.”

The annual scholarship program started in 1947, and has since awarded over $500,000 to local students. The club acknowledged the financial contributions on behalf of the late Susan Scott, a teacher “who held the scholarship program near and dear to her heart” in their program. Now in its 69th year, the fund is supported by donations from community organizations, including the Kiwanis Club and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. 

Some past scholarship recipients also attended the in person celebration – a comeback following a two year pandemic hiatus. 

Toya Brown, an Executive Assistant to the CEO at Maspeth Federal Savings, was a scholarship recipient in 2014. After spending one year at Johnson & Wales, Brown transferred to Brooklyn College to complete her degree in film production. She says that she was grateful for the scholarship in helping cover costly tuition. 

Toya Brown was a recipient in 2014. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

“It’s great to see that they’re still doing it, and recognizing that the Kiwanis Club is important,” said Brown, who attended the luncheon with other staff members from Maspeth Federal. “It’s a great way, not just to build your portfolio, but to give back and really be a part of the community.”

As part of her role at the bank, she also visits schools to teach college and high school students about financial literacy, including budgeting skills and even how to balance a checkbook. 

Approximately 30-40 students apply to the scholarship each year, and at least fourteen are selected based on merit. Most students said that they heard about the scholarship through their guidance or college counselor, who encouraged them to apply. As part of the application, students submitted an essay outlining their contributions to their school and community, as well as their extracurricular activities and academic achievements. 

“I was very surprised,” said Emma Bogdan, who learned that she was selected at her graduation ceremony at St. Francis Preparatory School. In the fall she is heading to Marist College and to complete a dual Bachelors and Masters program in special education. 

Emma Bogdan will attend Marist College in the fall. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

After a hot lunch, the recipients were called up individually by Maspeth Kiwanis Club President, Jim Regan, to receive their checks. 

Lisa and Mike Terry, two club members in attendance, extended their congratulations to the recipients and shared that their son won the scholarship fifteen years ago. 

In 1971, Michael Falco received the scholarship after graduating from Christ The King High School. He says that the scholarship helped him pay for his textbooks as a student at Queens College, back when college tuition was significantly more affordable than it is today.

Today, he is a practicing lawyer based out of Maspeth and a Kiwanis Club member. He attended the luncheon to celebrate this year’s recipients. 

“And we hope eventually they come back to this community and they join Kiwanis to help us with our service projects,” said Masone, acknowledging that many past recipients already have.  

CB2 Demands Response from Ardila

By Iryna Shkurhan |

Western Queens pols and Community Board 2 members pressed Assemblyman Juan Ardila to acknowledge sweeping calls to resign at their recent Zoom meeting on May 4. 

Allegations that the Assemblyman sexually assaulted two women in 2015 first emerged in March. Initially, he issued a “no comment” response but later asserted a “commitment to accountability” and chose to hire a personal lawyer to conduct an investigation into the allegations. Since then, a slew of city and state officials have called for his resignation. Most notably, Governor Kathy Hochul and the Working Families Party that endorsed him. 

“You cannot ignore the call for resignation from the victim and then not saying anything, you have to explain why you’re refusing to resign,” said Council Member Julie Won during the meeting.

The councilwoman accused Ardila of intimidating his accusers through his personal lawyer. She also mentioned that he reached out to one of the victim’s father’s to inform him of the allegations his daughter brought forward. 

“It’s not okay for you to expose their names and intimidate them and call their father telling him that their daughter was sexually assaulted by you or are alleging that you did that,” said Won. “That is not okay.”

Won, who represents Sunnyside in Ardila’s district, also said that she has received “angry text messages” from constituents who are “incredibly upset” that he has not resigned, nor provided an explanation why. 

“This is certainly an issue that should interest our entire district,” said Council Member Kristen Gonzalez, who was one of the critical voices of city to state officials who called on Ardila to resign. 

After Ardila initially spoke at the meeting to discuss his involvement in the state budget that recently passed in Albany, Gonzalez stepped in to discredit his role in budget negotiations. Ardila was the only freshman Democrat to not receive an assigned budget committee, per the elected officials at the meeting.

“For example, All-Electric Buildings was carried by Assemblymember Gallagher who has also called for him to resign. He mentioned the Build Public Renewables Act, something that was worked on by the Democratic Socialists of America. Again, all DSA electeds overlapping have called on him to resign. He mentioned Good Cause Eviction, a bill carried by Senator Salazar, another woman and survivor who has called on him to resign,” reinforced Gonzalez. 

Despite Ardila’s continuous dismissal of the allegations as a “personal matter” during the call, CB2 Chairperson, Danielle Brecker, and other members of the board reinforced that they see it as a “community issue” instead. 

“To hear you say it’s personal, doesn’t take into account that this is societal. And that none of us deserve to experience that,” said CB2 member Sheila Lewandowski who shared that she is a survivor of multiple incidents of sexual assault, some of which fit the description of Ardila’s victims. 

Ardila stated several times that he plans to address the issue, but did not offer a specific timeline during the meeting.

“It’s disappointing because there’s things that are being said that haven’t come from me, haven’t come from my circle. And like I said, I will address it. You are going to hear from me,” Ardila replied during the meeting. “But I do not believe that our community board is the space to do so on personal issues like that.”

Ardila’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

“What you’re doing is harming our community. And that is not a private matter. You have not made it a personal matter, because now it is affecting my constituents and your constituents and Kristen Gonzalez’s constituents and our neighbors,” reinforced Won. 

Senior Job Fair Returns to Kew Gardens

By Iryna Shkurhan |

Clad in professional attire with a surplus of printed resumes on hand, over a hundred older adults arrived at the senior job fair in Kew Gardens on May 5 in search of their next opportunity. 

After a pandemic hiatus, the yearly job fair for adults 55 and older hosted by State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. since 2011 is back in person. Close to a dozen companies, including New York Life Insurance, Council for Airport Opportunity and Personal Touch Home Care, were present looking to fill vacant roles for a range of positions that they believe seniors are especially suited for.

“Seniors are a valuable part of our population, and we need to ensure that they have the necessary tools to find the work they need in order to sustain independent and healthy lives,” said Addabbo, who represents much of central Queens.

One in four U.S. workers will be 55 or older by 2030, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. The trend has seen steady growth in the past two decades, due to an increase in life expectancy and a decrease in fertility rates in younger generations. 

Wilda Collado spent 34 years in a travel-heavy role managing accounts in the jewelry business before the pandemic turned the industry upside down. In 2022, she was able to secure a job as a Health and Wellness Coach at Jenny Craig, but her entire team was laid off without notice earlier this month. 

“It’s been really tough,” said Collado, a 55-year-old longtime Jackson Heights resident. “Every time you click on a job on Indeed, it’s like 500 people applied for this job already, or even 1000.”

Adapting to the job hunt in the digital world can be difficult for seniors who first entered the workforce when searching through the classified section of a newspaper was commonplace. Now, there are a slew of job boards online that often require digital savviness to navigate, which many seniors feel they lack. 

At Queens Community Center, which has five older adult care centers across the borough, computer literacy classes are in high demand. A weekly class is held at the Kew Gardens location where seniors have learned how to copy and paste, send emails or search for something on their cell phone, according to the staff. 

“I think it’s crucial to show older adults that we know that they still have things to contribute, and experiences from which they have crucial knowledge,” said Anne Foerg, Associate Executive Director of Older Adult Services at Queens Community House. “Someone who’s an older adult, with experience, can still offer a lot in 20 hours a week. It gives them an opportunity to stay engaged and to stay connected.”

A recruiter for New York Life Insurance Company was seeking sales agents for a hybrid commission based role that includes full-benefits and hefty training. At another table, a representative for New York State Agencies informed attendees about the Emergency Limited Placement (HELP) program which removes the civil service exam requirement for various direct care, health and safety jobs. Various roles are available at the NYS Office of Addiction, as well as a slew of Departments of Health across the city and SUNY schools. 

“We want people who are hard workers, and it’s always a positive, I think I have a wealth of experience, especially in an industry that has a lot of customer service,” said Aaron Miner, a recruiter for the Council for Airport Opportunity, who was seeking applicants for security and customer service roles at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.

Some recruiters also had nontraditional roles available for jobseekers. A recruiter for Jzanus Home Care Inc. informed attendees of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) which pays individuals to take care of an elderly family member or friend. They also offered people interested in working in the homecare industry the chance to complete paid training and get certified as a home health aide. 

“It would be nice if something comes around, and I can get into it, either at home, or go someplace else to do it, like part time or even full time, whatever it works out to be,” said Chuck, a Fresh Meadows resident, who attended the job fair curious about the options for him as a 74-year old retiree. 

Previously, he worked for Verizon as a switch technician for 46 years until he retired two years ago. Now, he spends most of his time running a cat sanctuary out of his house, while also attending various events and classes at the center.

Melinda Katz: The Outside-Insider

By Matthew

It was precisely what she was criticized for in her first run for Queens District Attorney, that Melinda Katz believes has been one of her strongest assets: not being a career prosecutor or in law enforcement. 

The former City councilwoman, assemblywoman and Queens borough president believes her work in politics and being a manager made her suited for the role of being the top prosecutor in Queens. 

“I was never a career prosecutor. So when I came in, the whole world changed, I knew the law. I knew I was a good lawyer. And I knew I was a good manager. And so we had to figure out how to think outside the box,” District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a recent sit-down interview with the Queens Ledger. 

Katz said that while the world shut down in her third month in office, she prepared her staff by getting hundreds of computers and prepared her staff to go all virtual.

She said that one of the biggest challenges facing the borough are guns on the street. On her first day in office, she created the Violent Crime Enterprise Bureau by combining the Narcotics Investigations and Gang Violence Bureaus in order to tackle the issue.

“We couldn’t stop. We just had no opportunity to stop. People still had their rights,” said Katz.

The issue of guns has gotten more difficult with the recent proliferation of “ghost guns” — which are untraceable firearms.

“They’re happening in every neighborhood, in every community, all across the borough of Queens County —happening in people’s basements and in their apartments,” she said.

In early April of this year, her office indicted a St. Albans man on over 600 felonies in the state’s first prosecution of an international ghost gun trafficking operation.

Katz said that the proliferation of illegal smoke shops takes time, as investigations by undercover agents have to secure over a pound in order to produce a felony charge, while the Sheriff’s office has more direct authority on the issue.

“We take it, we spend the resources and we do it,” said Katz.

Katz believes one of her strongest assets is knowing the communities she is prosecuting. She has made her Assistant District Attorneys participate in community activities so that they can know the community.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that to be a good prosecutor, you need to know the community.  And that has been priceless, to be honest about it,” Katz said.

“It was a priceless knowledge to know the neighborhoods and know the community, and be able to work in the community, and by the way, have the faith of the community,” she continued.

Katz is currently facing primary challenges from Judge George Grasso, a former NYPD cop turned lawyer who is running on a tough-on-crime approach. Katz is also facing a challenge for Debian Daniels, a public defender.

The primary for the Queens District Attorney Race will occur on June 27 and the general election will occur on November 7.

Councilman Proposes Rich Pay More For Parking Tickets

By Iryna Shkurhan |

What if your income determined how much you would pay for a parking ticket in NYC?

South Brooklyn City Councilman Justin Brannan (D), introduced a bill last week that would implement a sliding scale pay structure for civil infractions such as double parking. Low-income New Yorkers would not be obligated to pay the same price as their high-income neighbors under a “day fines” structure.

Currently there is over $2 billion in unpaid tickets that the city is owed, according to the Independent Budget Office (IBO). This includes parking tickets, as well as camera generated violations for speeding, driving in a bus lane and running a red light. Close to a billion of the sum is made up of penalties. 

According to the IBO, the percentage of unpaid tickets has almost tripled in the past five years. In 2017, only ten percent of fines went unpaid. But last year, 29 percent of tickets were unpaid, indicating that the accumulated balance is growing faster than fines per year since the pandemic.

“Why should the guy who double parked his 1988 Toyota pay the same as the guy with the 2024 Bentley?” Brannan told the Daily News. “Fines should be high enough to discourage people from breaking laws that endanger or inconvenience our neighbors but low enough that they don’t arbitrarily upend anyone’s life.”

Brannan’s legislation encourages the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings to develop and release a pilot program that implements the sliding scale. He did not specify what types of fines should be considered, except for his mention of double parking which currently costs violators $115 per incident. 

While flat-rates are normal in the United States, in several European countries including Germany and Switzerland, much heftier fines are handed out to the wealthy for violations such as speeding or drunk driving.

In 1991, the Bureau of Justice Assistance funded four day fine pilot projects that determined the penalty based on the offenders’ daily income in Arizona, Iowa, Oregon and Connecticut. According to their report, day fines impose fewer system costs and reduce recidivism while also achieving equity in sentencing. 

A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams said that their office will review the bill. Ultimately, the Mayor’s support is needed for the pilot program to launch and generate findings for elected officials. 

“Hitchhiking” Lanternfly Makes Early Appearance This Spring

Spotted lanternfly sitting on a purple sandcherry. Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Magi Kern

By Iryna 

The invasive spotted lanternfly is back for the season. 

In past years the species emerged from their egg masses in May, but this year the State’s Department of Agriculture received reports of sightings in the city in the middle of April. Officials followed up on sighting reports across all boroughs and confirmed their presence in person. 

According to iNaturalist, a website where naturalists can record their observations, there have been several sightings of lanternflies — in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Queensbridge Park — this past April.

Despite efforts to eradicate them with a public campaign that encouraged residents to kill them on sight, experts anticipate that their population will only continue to grow this year. Lanternflies have been seen at high rates across the boroughs and wider state, but most noticeably in Staten Island where they were first spotted in the state in July 2020. 

“The public in their ability to recognize spotted lanternfly, and in their willingness to report it to us, has really been crucial in our ability to keep track of where this is,” said Chris Logue, Markets Director for the Plant Industry at the New York State Department of Agriculture in a Zoom address to media on April 26. 

In a destructive nature, the species feeds on over 70 species of plants, including crops that are critical to New York’s agricultural economy, such as grapevine, apple trees and hops. New York State is ranked third place for grape production in the country and second in apple production, according to USDA Statistics.

“There’s still a lot that we don’t know about spotted lanternfly,” said Logue. “We don’t want to be caught by surprise in the future if it begins to cause issues on other crops, or natural resources that are important to us.”

Vacuuming the insects into a plastic bag has proved to be the most successful method of reducing the population size so far, according to officials. 

“That has worked really well for us,” said Logue, who mentioned that lanternflies die naturally if they do not feed on something for several hours. 

The state is encouraging homeowners to use cordless vacuums to suck up the pests if they have the desire to take action in their own backyard. At this time, they are not recommending a specific pesticide for use on private property. But officials encouraged residents to inquire with their local Cornell Cooperative to get a list of pesticides that are safe to use. 

Lanternflies tend to follow both commerce and recreational trade routes. In an effort to slow the spread, the state is inspecting shipments of goods for both egg masses and later stage flies.  

“They tend to be very good hitchhikers,” said Logue. “And they can move around in really all of their life stages, which is a challenge.”

If you see a spotted lantern fly, you can report it via an online reporting tool found at NYS Department of Environmental Conservation or email the location and images of the insect, egg masses or infestation signs to

The state is encouraging reporting of any sighting, even if you are unsure that it is a spotted lanternfly. They also recommend featuring an object for scale, such as a coin or ruler, in submitted images. 

Artists Use NYCHA Scaffolding as Canvas

Tipu Alam, The Astoria Project, located at 4-03 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria Houses, Queens. Photo by Paul Katcher.

By Iryna Shkurhan | 

A city-wide art program that gave artists the opportunity to transform scaffolding at public housing sites into community-specific murals came to an end last week.

ArtBridge’s City Artists Corps: Bridging the Divide program was started ten months ago in partnership with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) as the city recovered from the height of the pandemic. Selected artists had a paid opportunity to create an outdoor public facing installation while also engaging and cultivating inspiration from community members in the process. 

Since 2009, the ArtBridge program has given artists across the five boroughs an opportunity to install large street-level art installations in unutilized construction fencing. According to their website, artists have installed 60,000 square feet of street art since.  

The completion of the Bridging the Divide program was celebrated on April 19 at Manhattan’s Taft Houses. The event honored the artistic contribution of 59 artists to NYCHA sites across the city, as well as the stories and of the public housing residents that were represented in the art. 

“Bridging the Divide shows what’s possible when our artists and residents are empowered to collaborate and create toward a shared vision,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Laurie Cumbo, who attended the celebration. “It also shows how innovative use of our public spaces can turn something like a drab green construction shed into a canvas for artist-led collective creation, and a platform to engage and inspire New Yorkers.”

Prior to designing their murals, artists led workshops on site where they engaged with the community to include them in the process. For two Queens artists, the art created by children who attended their workshops was incorporated directly in their murals. Each mural was unique to the site, with the community it represents in mind. 

“Each NYCHA site is like a little neighborhood. It’s so different so everyone’s artwork came out differently,” said Kiki Bencosme, an artist who transformed scaffolding at the Pomonok Houses in Flushing. “But at the same time, there was a strong sense of joy and community in all of the artwork.” 

During the pandemic, Bencosme was searching online for an outlet for her art when she came across the program and applied for the residency. She chose the Pomonok Houses, just blocks from where she grew up in Briarwood, as the site of her nature-inspired mural. 

Over the course of several months, she attended workshops that discussed the art of mural making — a first time artistic endeavor for Bencosme. Eventually she led her own workshops at the site where she gave children the space and opportunity to create their own artwork. 

“My goal as an artist is to use my art as a form of social justice and community engagement,” said Bencosme in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “I just wanted the artwork to exist there. And if it could change one person’s day, then I did my job.”

Kiki Bencosme, Dimelo Cantando, previously located at 70-30 Parsons Boulevard & 154-05 71st Avenue, Pomonok Houses, Queens. Photo by Paul Katcher.

The title of her piece, Dimelo Cantando, which translates to “tell it to me singing” was inspired by her Dominican roots. It is a common greeting phrase of endearment that Bencosme would often hear elders use while growing up.

“It was important for me to have that title in Spanish to kind of be like, this is representing us, you know, we are not living with everybody else,” said Bencosme. “We are here every single day fighting adversity.”

Close to 90 percent of NYCHA’s 400,000 residents are Black or Hispanic, according to city data. And communities of color in NYC were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. 

Bencosme’s mural, printed and laid over scaffolding, contains an array of florals against a blue background which she designed on Adobe Illustrator. Several of the flowers were lifted from art that children who attended her workshop created.

The mural was taken down this past March, after being up in the Pomonok Houses since July, 2022. She said that installation was a pivotal moment for her as she recounted childhood memories just blocks away from her installation. And although she never resided in NYCHA housing, she would often visit close friends and family who did. 

“My inner child was just radiating,” said Bencosme when she first saw her work installed in person. “And I was able to connect with kids growing up in the area who grew up like me. So it was just a full circle moment.”

Kiki Bencosme leading an art workshop with children living in the Pomonok Houses. Photo by Destiny Mata.

She says that it was bittersweet when the piece came down. 

Tipu Alam, another resident artist, installed an layered mural at the Astoria Houses last July. His work, which is still standing, features children photographed during his community workshop holding up letters that spell out Astoria with neighborhood spots collaged in the background.

Another side of the scaffolding shows the children photographed wearing various masks, and standing alongside themselves with their mask in hand. He says that the inspiration for the masks came during the Halloween season, when he led the workshop, as well as cultures around the world that hold masks to a high regard. 

“It was amazing actually,” said Alam about the reaction that the children had when they saw themselves in his mural. “They were very happy.”

Tipu Alam, The Astoria Project, located at 4-03 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria Houses, Queens. Photo by Paul Katcher.

Alam, an immigrant from Bangladesh, chose Astoria as his site after living in the neighborhood for four years and having his work displayed in a local art gallery for two years. He is no stranger to the art of mural painting and has dotted various restaurants across Queens and The Bronx with their own extensive murals. 

Both artists say that the program was also a big financial help during the pandemic, and believe that they were fairly compensated for their work. They pointed out that fair compensation is rare in their line of work. 

“Everybody walked away, just feeling appreciated as an artist,” said Bencosme. “But also fulfilled that they were able to give back to their own communities.”

A Free Tree on Earth Day

A family in attendance picked out a tree to plant at home. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

By Iryna 

For Earth Day on April 22, Queens locals lined up at the Queens Botanical Garden parking lot in Flushing to secure a small tree to take home. 

The Tree Giveaway event was sponsored by the New York Restoration Program, a nonprofit  organization working to promote urban agriculture, restore parks and renovate gardens. It was one of dozens of tree giveaways spread across all five boroughs from April to May annually. 

All eight tree species up for grabs are native to the New York region and include Sycamore, Willow Oak, and Honey Locust trees. The Eastern Redbud variety was first to go, with attendees expressing a strong desire for its delicate pink blossoms in the spring season. Plum trees and Black Cherry trees, which produce harvestable fruits, were also in high demand. 

A volunteer at the event warned takers that planting one of the trees outside of the region could be disruptive to the ecosystem and become invasive. With each tree volunteers handed off, they made sure to ask when and where it would be planted to ensure the tree would thrive in its new home.

“It’s nice because it brings people together,” said Kimberly Guaman while holding a Flowering Dogwood tree in a two-gallon container. “Especially on Earth Day.”

Kimberly Guaman plans to plant the tree she reserved at the Sunnyside church she volunteers at. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

Guaman says that she will plant the tree she picked up outside of the Queen of Angels Church on Skillman Ave. in Sunnyside where she volunteers in her spare time.

Many of the attendees reserved one of 200 available trees online weeks before the event. Others who were unable to secure the reservation expressed disappointment at how fast the reservations filled up. But they still showed up in hopes of securing an unclaimed tree.

According to volunteers, the remaining trees were first-come first-serve until all were distributed. The second hour of the event was reserved for those who missed the chance to register in advance. 

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, who represents eastern Queens, co-sponsored the event with the Queens Botanical Garden. She could not attend the giveaway due to observance of Shabbat, according a representative from her office. 

Two professors from Queensborough Community College, Joan Petersen and Mercedes Franco, signed up to volunteer at the event in an effort to get more involved in environmental initiatives in the community. Peterson also recruited students in her biology research program to volunteer at the event. 

Eight tree species were up for grabs. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

Maha Almaflehi, a first year Queensborough student said this is her first time ever volunteering. She plans to plant the Dogwood tree she reserved in the backyard of her Flushing home. 

“If we don’t do something to help the environment, nothing else is going to matter,” said Petersen, who teaches Environmental Science and Ecology. “If we don’t have a good healthy environment to live in, nobody’s gonna survive.”

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