LaGuardia Holds Job and Interview Fair for New Spring Semester

by Sherica Daley

LGuardia Community College students meeting recruiters from private companies, city agencies’, retail and community outreach

At the start of the new Spring semester, LaGuardia Community College held its Job and Interview Job Fair on March 20, 2024. The jam-packed event held endless opportunities as was designed for every type of LaGuardia student: from current students to recent graduates, and alumni. This was created for employers can select from various skills and work experience. The fair catered to all the needs of the students helping them to meet the goal of graduation and being successful afterwards.

The fair brought in numerous recruiters from various private companies, retail companies, and city agencies to meet and greet with students of all majors. Students looking for a summer job or a part-time job with schedule flexibility with the school schedule. Retail pharmacy chain pharmacy Walgreens was meeting with students and giving resumes to store manager recruiter Tyler Huff. He and other managers from the company took resumes from students with no job experience looking for entry-level jobs. The popular retail chain was recruiting customer service associates and offered flexibility for students. Students who submitted resumes were also directed to fill out: applications. jobs.walgreens.com for the area they desired to work in.

Another opportunity for summer jobs in education is becoming a tutor with the Go Foundation. The Go AmeriCorp Fellows Program community tutoring program with an intense focus on student’s developmental needs. The program is a full-time opportunity to tutor students from K-12 predominantly ELA and math classes with weekend flexibility. This is a great opportunity for students looking to gain experience in education and working with children all before graduation. “We are looking for those who are interested in giving back to the community, mission-driven, and open to new challenges” explained campus recruiter Jeunet Fidelino. “ We are looking for someone who can commit to 10 months of full-time service from August 2024 to June 2025,” she explained. You can connect with Fidelino about the next session with the Go Foundation can be mailed to: jfidelino@gofellows.org 

If you like with children but want an adventure outdoors, positions for a camp counselor, come with room and board, with the Fresh Air Summer Camp in Sharpie Reservation in Fishkill, New York. The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit youth development organization for New York City’s underserved communities in New York. Other positions, recruiter Freddie Wade, was looking for were lifeguards, office associates, and driving staff for the upcoming Summer of 2024. Resumes for this position can be submitted at: camping@freshair.org.

If you are an expert on tech and social media, The Pursuit Fellowship can prepare you for a career in app development and computer coding. Past participants are now employed with companies like Twitter, Microsoft, and Uber. The goal of the Pursuit Fellowship is a rigorous program that trains adults from under-resourced communities. The Fellowship also provides career services to assist with job searching. Along with submitting resumes to a recruiter, students can fill out the online application at pursuit.org/fellowship.

LaGuardia students looking to fulfill their internship credits for graduation got to meet a representative from the District 30 New York State Assemblymember Steven Raga Summer 2024 Internship Program. The internship can be virtual or in-person at the district office located at 55-19 69th Street in Queens. District 30 served the communities of Woodside, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, Jackson Heights, and Astoria. The office is looking for interns interested in their local and citywide government, public policy, and knowledge of social media. They have three internship positions in Graphic Design, Communications, and Public Affairs.

The internships are a minimum of 12 hours per week part-time or full-time Monday-Friday. Interested candidates can mail to Victoria Leachy, at lachyv@nyassembly.gov

Students approaching graduation, have many opportunities to look forward to. Many city agencies and private companies came to speak to students about positions they are eligible for and start applying for, such as a new position with the New York Police Department as an NYPD Special Officer. This is a news position that works with the Administration for Children Services[ACS] to help the City’s vulnerable youth and families. Representatives gave information on the Civil Service Exam and the job benefits: Pension and Union Benefits, higher education opportunities, student loan forgiveness and raises after three years of service. Interested candidates, can get detailed information at the NYC Special Officer page.

If working New York City Youth and Justice system and making a difference in the community can look into a position as a Youth Development Specialist and or Child Protective Specialist.

The Youth Development Specialist is a position on a team with ACS and the Youth Protective Specialist is an entry-level position with the City of New York that starts at $55,000 yearly with raises after 18 months of services to $60,000.

For students interested in healthcare, companies like CityMD are hiring for non-clinical positions in Queens. “We are hiring for Patient Service Representatives and Office Supervisors all over Queens” explained recruiter Lexie Morales. “We are looking for on-site clinical X-Ray Techs, and LPNs,” explained Morales. “Anyone interested can mail their resumes at amorales5@summithealth.com or feel free to reach out with any questions,” she explained.

Other private companies were hiring for healthcare positions at 61st Street Service Corporation.   That was recruiting for non-clinical positions in their Manhattan locations as a Certified Medical Assistant position and Billing and Coding and White Glove Community Care, recruiting nursing graduates of the LaGuardia’s Practical Nursing Program. White Glove offered paid training and experience with ICU-level patients. “We are excited to meet everyone and take resumes on the spot” explained Dianelis Negron, Talent Acquisition Specialist with White Glove. Resumes can be mailed to her at:

dn2533@cumc.columbia.edu.

As the fair started closed, recruiter Fidelino highlighted her favorite part of her visit to LaGuardia “My favorite part of the fair was interacting with LAGCC students, they were all engaged and intentional with their time and questions about our organization and my work.” she explained. “It was such a productive fair where I was almost talking the whole time and I even ran out of collateral!”

The Job and Internship Fair coming to an end

 

 

 

Queens College Hosts 2nd School of Business Breakfast

by Sherica Daley 

“My path was quite abnormal” explained Caitlin King. King, a 2018 graduate of Queens College, visited her alma mater to speak to students at Queens College’s School of Business 2nd #QCBusiness Breakfast in the Q-Side Lounge. King answers questions from current Queens College students about her career and her advice on being successful after graduation.

King, an Honors Economics major and Environmental Studies minor, has been growing a career in successfully improving product merchandising and helping with retail financial strategies to generate more sales and profit for major retail companies. Her career path started as a sustainability intern with an ITAC advisement firm and a manager in Idiel Showroom from 2013-2015. After graduation, she became a freelance Independent Consultant in 2019. She next moved on to being a Planning Analyst and Merchandiser for L Brands. Working with L Brands, she was in the licensing division for Victoria’s Secret Swim. In 2020, she became a Planner of LG Household & Health Care with Avon Cosmetic, next she moved on to be a merchandise planner for ANN .Inc., companies: Ann Taylor Loft and Ann Taylor Factory, Since March 2022, King has been Senior Strategy Analyst for Burlington Stores, Inc. Here, she won four Winner of Excellence Awards and a Spotlight Award in 2023. 

“I am passionate about fashion and product development, merchandising, and financial modeling” explained King. Her passion began as a professional model to get through college. She transitioned from being in front of the camera to joining the business team and becoming the mastermind in improving the development of the financial landscape against top competing retail brands. 

She came in bright and early to speak to current Queens College students and faculty, about what she learned and what current students can learn from her career, insights, and transition in careers. The Q&A portion was an engaging session with students and alumni getting King’s perspective on what she had observed and achieved in the retail environment. “ My favorite part of my job is seeing the impact it has on the firm,” said King. “ All the hard work that’s done has tangible outcomes on the success of the firms,” she said. During the Q&A students asked what advice would she give a current student looking for direction. “ I would recommend trying the traditional route of doing an internship that leads into a division they’re interested in getting proper training within that field. “ she explained to the students. 

The topic of resumes came up and students wanted to know what helps potential employers look for in the thousands of resumes that are submitted for a job opening. King advises that when she looks at resumes she looks for achieving metric results. “ On your resume, each bullet should be result-driven,” she explained. “I would be looking for growth in numbers, such as sales, or profit.” she explained “ This can say achieve growth in sales by 10% or achieve X dollars in sales.”

After the Q&A, King spoke one-on-one with students. King liked how engaging the students were and how they came up with great questions. She was next asked her goals for the upcoming year. “ I hope to lead a team this year” she explained. “ But, if someone wanted to follow in my footsteps they need to be resilient and driven” 

As the King enjoyed breakfast and met with staff and alumni, she networked with Queens College’s student clubs. She explains that student engagement and community outreach are important to keep students in school. King and her strategy team at Burlington volunteer at local food pantries distributing essential food. King is also continuing to learn  with  Google Career Certificates. 

King’s visit to the #QCBusiness Breakfast was rewarding, “ I’m honored to be able to share my journey and hope it gave insight into the retail space.” she replied. She ended the Breakfast with a piece of advice that any student can use in their journey at Queens College and life after graduation, “Don’t give up!” 

The next #QCBusiness Breakfasts will be on Tuesday, April 16th and Tuesday, May 7th. The School of Business is also excited to offer summer courses to CUNY and non-CUNY visiting students. Those wishing to enrich their careers are encouraged to contact Queens College Admissions.

On The Record: Christos Terzidis, Emmy Award Winning TV Producer and Collaborator from the Greek American Community

Christos Terzidis is one of the most prominent professionals in the TV and Event Production World. He has participated in major international TV Productions such as the Olympic Games and Soccer World Cups. He has, so far, 3 Emmy Nominations of which he was awarded with 2 Emmy Awards. He is also a creative artistic manager with decades of experience in that field.

“I was honored to be part of 7 Olympic Games as a member of TV Production and more specifically working with OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Company), the company that produces the initial TV material of Olympic Games that is distributed to the rights holders and the main shareholder the IOC (International Olympic Committee). My journey started back in 2004 in the Olympic Games of Athens where I was part of the Production team for the Opening and Closing Ceremony and Athletics. Since then I have worked in Winter Olympics in Torino (2006), Olympic Games of Beijing (2008), Olympic Games of Rio de Janeiro (2016) and Winter Olympic Games of Pyeong Chang (2018). My last project, with this company, was the Olympic Games of Tokyo where I was running the Production of the Golf Course and Paralympic Games.

“I have collaborated as well with FS1 (Fox Sports) for the Production of their Remote Studios Shows on the Soccer World Cups of Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) and the Women’s Soccer World Cup in France (2019).


“My main role in those productions was administration, logistical support and Technical Supervision. Of course, my creative experience helped me with those productions because it made me aware of the final product we delivered.
My collaboration with the art department of those productions is important due to the fact that I have an excellent sense of art, hence I can support and fulfill their needs.
TV Production is a teamwork sport and every member of the Production crew has to have a basic knowledge of all aspects of TV.

“I was nominated 3 times for the Productions I delivered with FS1 in Moscow, Paris and Doha for the Soccer World Cups – both Men and Women – and I have received the highest honor of being an Emmy Award Winner for Paris (2019) and Doha (2022).
“It is the dream of any professional to be on the league of those who have received this honor. It was the highest point in my professional life, so far. I hope that, in the near future, I will make a higher leap in the industry.

“It was significant for me, the collaboration that I had with the Times Square Alliance on events like the New Year’s Eve Drop Ball Event and the Summer Solstice/International Yoga Day. Apart from the numerous corporate events and business forums, it is very important to me the times I collaborate with organizations connected to Greek American community. I have helped and supported the community to organize important events that a lot of times serve charity purposes. Amongst the numerous events, like premieres and screenings at The Museum of Moving Images, I choose as the most special, the event that I had planned and organized to Honor the NBA Mega Star Yiannis “Greek Freak” Antetokoumpo.

“Even though this period is dominated by the turbulence of the recent strikes from SAG-AFTRA and Hollywood screenwriters, I intend to be an optimist. AI’s implementation on these industries and regulations of streaming royalties are matters that’s good to be right on the surface, so they can be sorted out by common decisions and open the path for a more prosperous time both for corporations and creators/artists.”

Councilman Proposes Rich Pay More For Parking Tickets

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

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. 

Remaining Outdoor Dining Sheds ‘Eyesore’ to Some Residents

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

What started off as a lifeline for restaurants during the pandemic is now becoming a nuisance for residents and businesses alike. 

Under the Open Restaurants program, 12,000 outdoor dining permits were issued by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) which allowed restaurants to construct and place structures on the streets, given they follow some guidelines.  

Even the simple sheds, generally constructed with plywood and nails, cost several thousand dollars and required even more in maintenance costs, according to restaurant owners that spoke with the Queens Ledger. The more extravagant structures, built with sturdy materials and decorated to the nines could climb over tens of thousands of dollars. 

Some community members complain that sheds are falling apart after not being utilized or maintained, creating eyesores for the neighborhood. But the steep cost involved in maintaining these structures, combined with overall rising costs of food and other necessities, is posing a challenge for businesses. 

The DOT says that “The City is committed to retaining the temporary program until the permanent program is in place,” according to their website that was updated in March. No further timeline on a permanent open restaurants plan that is currently “in development” has been unveiled. 

“Some of the sheds that are out there now are ugly and just an eyesore,” said Theodore Renz, a Queens Community Board 5 member. “I hope that the criteria that they come up with is something that is aesthetically pleasing to the community, and at the same time is cost effective for the restaurant.” 

Some restaurants said that given the opportunity, they will keep their dining sheds up permanently. Especially for businesses with limited indoor space, an outdoor area can be crucial for servicing more customers and providing them with other options. 

“It really, really, really helped our business. I don’t know if we could have survived without it,” said Jackie Gorzelnik, the owner of Plein Air cafe in Ridgewood on the impact of outdoor dining when her business opened during the pandemic.

“It’s not fancy. It’s very utility. And to maintain it, it’s just like a coat of paint here and there,” said Gorzelnik, who reported that the outdoor structure cost a couple thousand dollars to build, and another couple thousand for a rebuild. 

While she says that issues such as graffiti and rodents entering the space occasionally arise, the benefits of having more space outweigh the negatives. 

The owners of While in Kathmandu, a Nepali restaurant in Ridgewood, dealt with the same issues when they had their shed up. They also struggled to deal with noncustomers who would congregate in the shed and utilize free electricity. Loiterers did not leave the space better than they found it. 

Bikash Kharel, the manager and co-owner, says they took down their outdoor dining hut on the sidewalk two months ago because they felt it was no longer necessary, especially since they have a backyard. But they said that the removal process was just as difficult, and costly, as the installation. 

“I did start noticing that it was falling apart in some ways because it was not utilized every single day. It was not taken care of in the best possible way,” said Kharel.

During a DOT inspection, the department inquired about whether the structure was still being utilized and offered to remove it within a week if it wasn’t being used anymore. After Kharel agreed, his team began to dismantle the shed and removed the roof and lights in preparation. But four weeks later, the DOT still had not arrived to complete the removal. 

“I finally got to speak with somebody and they told me that we are on the line to be processed for it but it’s not going to be anytime soon. Maybe two or three months,” recalled Kharel. “So that left us in a limbo. Do we wait for the city to come to do it or do we experience a hazardous situation where something might happen.”

With the aesthetic of the restaurant in mind and a half broken shed out front, they decided to proceed and dispose of the entire structure themselves. With the cost of labor and rental equipment combined, the total price of removal exceeded a thousand dollars. 

“But this is all about the socio-economics of the restaurant,” said Kharel. “The more upscale places have been able to maintain really nice beautiful looking locations versus restaurants that are not in the same demographic. They’re making that kind of money to spend that kind of money.”

One Ridgewood business owner with an outdoor structure, who wants to retain anonymity, says that their neighbor’s hut is an eyesore for the block. They complained that a lack of maintenance and adherence to code is spilling over into their hut, that is meticulously maintained and invested in. 

They also complained that the neighboring business owners do not discourage non paying  individuals from using the space to sit and smoke, which is not allowed under DOT guidelines. 

“By participating in the program, you are taking responsibility for maintaining the cleanliness of the roadway curb space in front of your business,” reads the DOT guidelines. “Smoking and electronic cigarette use is not allowed in outdoor dining areas.”

According to the DOT, inspectors will make both proactive and complaint-driven visits to restaurants part of the program. Typically they do not require interaction with the business owner. 

“I would say it is a responsibility of the business owner to maintain the structures and make them clean and rodent proof,” said Gorzelnik. “That’s our responsibility. That’s not on the city.”

Without significant snowfall this past winter, many sheds remained outside for longer than ever. The wear and tear is showing on many, especially when graffiti is also present. 

 

Eats in Queens Restaurant Month Tackles Food Insecurity

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

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, Nneji 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. 

 

Pol Position: State lawmakers to decide on Mayoral Control

The debate over mayoral control of New York City public schools remains a hot-button issue in Albany, as the Adams administration continues its push for a four-year extension. Adams has had a lot on his plate–in addition to his efforts to revive New York City following two years of the COVID-19, efforts to increase public safety amid a surge of gun violence nationwide, and efforts to construct affordable housing amid a homelessness crisis, he also found himself confronted with criticism from parents, students, and teachers regarding the mask mandates and COVID vaccination requirements.

But not all was lost. During his tenure, Adams helped restore funding for Gifted & Talented programming, introduced Asian American history into school curriculums, and helped usher a deal with Albany lawmakers to turn on speed cameras 24/7.

Mayoral control gives Adams the authority to hire and fire the Schools’ Chancellor along with nine of the 15 members on the Panel for Education Policy. It is a policy that has been around for the last twenty years, and yet despite support from Gov. Hochul, state lawmakers have indicated they may look to reduce the extension to a single year.

According to Chalkbeat, last month, Adams joined Chancellor David Banks for a rally on the steps of City Hall to plead his case with state legislators to continue and grant the administration the authority to oversee the city’s school system.

“The chancellor and I have laid out a bold new vision for our children and for the families that attend our public school system,” Adams said. “This is the first time in history where we have two men who grew up in the public school system with two different experiences — one dealing with a learning disability, another dealing with the Gifted and Talented program.” State Senator John Liu also told Pix11 News that while Adams will likely keep mayoral control, he expects changes to strengthen the ability of parents to give input and could even allow lawmakers to hold Adams accountable over his performance.

“The likely outcome will be a system in which the mayor still has control, and therefore, we can hold him accountable for school success or failure, but a system that also provides a meaningful mechanism to bolster parental input,” Liu, who chairs the Senate’s committee on New York City education, told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “That is the main issue — that parents feel they have no way to engage, that their suggestions and complaints aren’t even heard.”

Although it seems likely that state lawmakers will approve the revised extension, there are a number of issues facing the nation’s largest school system that still need to be addressed.

One key concern is chronic absenteeism in schools. Thanks largely to the pandemic, the rate of absenteeism over the past year has reached its highest level in over twenty years. Student enrollment is down, class participation is down, and keeping teachers in the City school system has been a struggle.

Another major concern is parent involvement. Several parents are in favor of returning control of city schools to the state in light of recent decisions by the Department of Education Chancellor Banks. The recent dismissal of District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto and District 24 Superintendent Madelene Chan had parents in a frenzy over Adams-controlled DOE, which they feel did not consider the input of parents before making such a major decision. DOE officials have since stated that they plan to allow the Superintendents to reapply for their jobs, despite the likelihood that they will be replaced.

However, some say that the effort of the Adams administration to be more inclusive has been an improvement from years past.
With mayoral control set to expire, New York State lawmakers have until the end of session to decide on Mayoral Control.

One Percent for Parks

Pols, advocates call for historic investments in parks

By Evan Triantafilidis

evant@queensledger.com

Elected officials and parks advocates joined forces in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Monday to call for historic investments into the city’s parks.

New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan unveiled his five-point plan to bring new public green spaces to NYC, which includes funding the Parks Department with $1 billion in annual maintenance, the creation of a Parks Construction Authority and to upgrade playgrounds in every zip code.

Krishnan, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Rec, said that areas in Queens have some of the least amount of green space in the city. The councilman’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, for example, ranks second-to-last in the city when it comes to park space per capita.

“The issue of parks in our city is a social justice issue,” Krishnan said. “It is a public health issue.”

Krishnan and other lawmakers from Queens urged the Mayor to allocate one percent – or $1 billion – of the city’s near $100 billion budget for the upkeep of the city’s parks. Despite signaling his support for a “percent for parks” plan during his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams has only allocated a half-percent, or just short of $500 million, to the department in his first preliminary budget last month.

“This is the one-percent plan that advocates from across our city have been fighting for for so long,” Krishnan said. “We cannot afford any less for our parks.”

Krishnan’s plan also aims to repair a “fundamentally broken capital process” with the creation of a Parks Construction Authority. He compared the concept to the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988 to take over control of capital projects from the city’s Board of Education.

“We had a school built for the School Construction Authority at a rapid pace with P.S. 398,” Krishnan said. “Whereas Travers Park with the Parks Department took 10 years to build. The difference is clear. We need a capital process that funds our parks that allows building efficiently and makes sure that we can quickly get more green space in our city.”

Krishnan also cited the cost of bathrooms at Marcus Garvey Park in Elmhurst reaching about $4 million, and still aren’t fully accessible.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called Krishnan’s vision, which includes planting 1 million more trees by 2030 and to provide waterfront access for all, an “ambitious” plan.

“This is a borough of parks, from Flushing Meadows, to Alley Pond, Cunningham Park, to Roy Wilkins and beyond,” Richards said. “But for entire communities in Queens, especially in Councilman Krishnan’s district, and in my former district in Southeast Queens, having extensive green space is a dream not a reality.”

“Show us the money. We want $1 billion in this budget now,” he said.

Both Krishnan and Richards spoke to the point on how the pandemic pushed people to outdoor public spaces, calling the green spaces crucial for public health and recreation.

“It’s easy to socially distance in a massive park like Flushing Meadows or Alley Pond Park, but families in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst did not have that luxury,” Richards said. “Not only did they not have anywhere to go with their kids pre-pandemic, they didn’t have safe options to go to during the pandemic. And that’s not only unacceptable, it is insulting.”

Council Members Robert Holden, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Mercedes Narcisse and Lincoln Restler all spoke in favor of the five-point plan.

Restler said that a $1 billion investment into the city’s park is exactly what is needed, offering his support for the Parks Construction Authority.

“We need to make sure that our money is going to be well spent, because typically now if you give some money to the Parks Department four years later, for $4 million, you might get one bathroom,” Restler said. “It’s preposterous. The Park Construction Authority is the way to go, modeling on the great work that the School Construction Authority does to actually see our resources delivered for our communities.”

Queens native runs NYC Marathon for a good cause

When the first New York City Marathon took place in 1970, a six-year-old Ceil Witherspoon watched runners cross the Queensboro Bridge from her window in Queensbridge Houses.
In awe of the runners’ dedication, stamina and tenacity, the marathon is something that’s fascinated Witherspoon for her entire life. But at the same time it felt unattainable due to her asthma, limited athletic experience and discouraging comments from others.
This year, Witherspoon went against all odds and achieved her lifelong dream of running in the New York City Marathon.
For some, the normalization of mask wearing during COVID-19 is a hassle, but for Witherspoon it was a blessing in disguise that inspired her to enter.
“Keeping my mask on helped with my asthma because I wasn’t inhaling any of the pollen, dirt or leaves,” she said. “This year, my lungs are completely protected and I got the breathing under control.
“A lot of people don’t know how to properly use a mask and breathe, so I found myself showing them,” she added. “I haven’t had a major asthma attack, I haven’t had to go to the hospital and I’m in perfect shape to do this.”
In addition to teaching people how to breathe again, Witherspoon actively shares her knowledge about food through her work with City Harvest, the city’s largest food rescue organization.
She was one of 75 City Harvest volunteers who ran the marathon with a goal of raising $250,000 to continue the organization’s effort of providing New Yorkers with nutritious food.
Witherspoon works at City Harvest’s Mobile Markets, in which she helps distribute fresh produce and participates in cooking demonstrations to educate visitors about how to utilize the ingredients in beneficial ways.
“One thing I like about City Harvest is that I get to pass on what I know to people,” she said. “Oftentimes when we’re giving away food, people don’t know what to do with it, they’ve never seen it or tried it before. I love telling people how to cook spaghetti squash or yams, plantains or potatoes.
“I’ve always liked to help people, but I’ve never had the outlet to do it,” Witherspoon added. “City Harvest lets me do it.”
Self-described as having zero athletic training in her early years, Witherspoon truly began to build her endurance in 1990 after she was hit by a city cab.
To bounce back from her injury, she walked to her job on 83rd Street in Manhattan from her Long Island City residence every day.
Eventually, she realized she could bike the 3.5-mile distance (where she still works today), which was what sparked her passion for bike riding. Witherspoon combined these two skills to train for the marathon
“I get up at five in the morning, walk the dogs, walk around my neighborhood for a mile or two and repeat it,” she said. “According to how you figure out the mileage, I’ve been biking 10k in a day and walking about 5k in the mornings, so I think I’m pretty good.
“I know I’ve got this,” she added.
And she was right. As one of the last runners of the day, Witherspoon crossed the finish line after 11 hours.
She attributes her achievement to her daily routine , along with the help of a bottle of water, three Life Savers and two Tylenol.
Witherspoon said that she’s had to deal with people underestimating her abilities, suggesting that her knees or body type might prevent her from completing the marathon.
“I’m not the skinniest person in the world, but I have a lot of stamina,” she said. “They don’t see that.
“If someone thinks they can’t do something and has people telling them they can’t, thank them for their opinion, but don’t believe them,” Witherspoon added. “The worst that could happen is you fail.”

You can donate to Witherspoon’s cause here.

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