St. Mary’s hosts 16th annual Big Hearts Walk

St. Mary’s staff and kids enjoyed the activities following the 16th annual walk-a-thon.

Hundreds of New Yorkers came out to Crocheron Park in Bayside on Sunday, June 12, for the 16th annual Big Hearts Walk for St. Mary’s Kids. The annual walk-a-thon helped raise over $90,000 to help the dedicated professionals at St. Mary’s continue to provide high-quality care to New York’s most critically ill and injured children–regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

“We are so thankful to everyone who participated in this year’s Annual Big Hearts Walk, especially after two difficult years of being unable to gather due to the pandemic,” Dr. Edwin Simpser, president and CEO of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, said. “The money raised from this walk will be crucial in the lives of St. Mary’s children with special needs and life-limiting conditions.”

As the only provider of pediatric long-term and rehabilitative care in NYC, St. Mary’s provides vital programs and services to children with medically complex conditions through an in-patient hospital facility, as well as home care services and community programs.

This year’s event honored David Clarke, healthcare commercial banking and senior relationship manager of M&T Bank. Clarke was recognized as this year’s Big Hearts Walk Honoree for his incredible contributions to raising awareness and funding for critical programs for children with special healthcare needs.

St. Mary’s kids and families were able to stay after the walk for carnival games, face painting, raffles, arts & crafts, and a magician.

Mary’s kids get their faces painted during the festivities.

Solace House raises over $50K at annual walk

LIC nonprofit continues mission to tackle stigma of suicide

By Evan Triantafilidis

The 5:24 a.m. sunrise on the morning of Saturday, June 11 served as a symbolic light at the end of the tunnel for New Yorkers rallying to break the stigma of suicide.

More than 100 people in bright yellow t-shirts walked along the waterfront in Long Island City for the annual Solace Sunrise 5K Walk/Run last weekend. During the event, Solace House, a Queens-based nonprofit organziation that provides free counseling services for people who are in suicidal distress, raised over $50,000 for their cause.

Two years into a global pandemic that has called for residents to social distance and shelter in place, Danielle Gallagher, director of operations at Solace House, says the demand for mental health treatment continues to increase.

“There’s been an increase in clientele,” Gallagher explained. “Isolation and loneliness have always been triggers to mental health issues.”

Solace House 5k participants prepared early in the morning.

She says the nonprofit acts as a resource for people who are not yet ready for hospital care, but are still in need of someone to talk to. Mental health issues have only been exacerbated with stories of COVID-related losses and loss of employment, she adds.

First launched in 2006 in Dublin, Ireland by Irish politician Joan Freeman, the Pieta House has become an Irish household name with 20 locations and over 200 therapists across the European country.

In 2014, Freeman chose the New York Irish Center in Long Island City to house the United State’s first branch of the Pieta House, which has since evolved into the Solace House.

Following a one-year pilot program that saw the need for the nonprofit’s presence in the area, the Solace House has been offering bereavement counseling, family support, and workshops at its national headquarters in LIC and their other New York location in Yonkers.

From what started in 2015 with just one therapist and approximately 15 clients, Solace House now has six therapists who serve about 75 clients.

Several other Solace Sunrise Walks took place this year in the Catskills, the Bronx, Rockland County, as well as San Antonio, Texas and an upcoming walk in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

“Our goal would be to have a Solace House everywhere,” Gallagher said. “We would love to be in every city, because we provide a service that you go to when you’re having suicidal thoughts.”

For Queens resident Tara Mullaney, a bi-weekly bereavement group organized by the Solace House helps her cope with the loss of her husband, James, who took his life in January 2020.

Waking up before 4 a.m. on the morning of the Sunrise Walk/Run 5K, she remembered her husband—an Irishman who she was married to for nearly seven years, who had a passion for welding and World Rally Championship rally car racing.

“It helps to know that there are people who are struggling with the same thing,” Mullaney said. “You always think there’s something you could have done. But when you hear other people tell their story, and they’re like ‘I should have done something,’ and you as an outsider are like ‘no, obviously you couldn’t have done something,’ that really helps you with your own processing… realizing you couldn’t have done something for the person who you’ve lost.”

Tommy DiMisa, founder of Philanthropy in Phocus, a radio and podcast show, was on hand to walk from darkness to light on Sunday morning, while also shining a light on the nonprofit sector. He walked in last year’s Sunrise Walk/Run and continues to advocate for nonprofits in New York City.

“We need to end the stigma,” DiMisa said. “We need to find compassion and love for each other. We all go through dark times.”

DiMisa, who had been up since 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, says his passion is to amplify the messages of the 36,000 nonprofits in New York City that do special work like the Solace House.

“If we think in terms of how we just have to look out for somebody, and that everybody needs a little support, versus, how much stuff can I gather or how much money can I get… I think the world’s a better place if we do the former versus the latter.”

First ‘Art Walk’ comes to Metro

A little rain did not stop the Forest Hills and surrounding communities from coming out to support local artists over the weekend.

Metro Village Forest Hills, a small business alliance founded by Rachel Kellner of Aigner Chocolates, and Eileen Arabian of DEE’S Wood Fired Pizza + Kitchen, put together the first-ever Metropolitan Avenue of Art event.

AnnaMarie Prono showed her “100 Days of Birds” art series.

At the event, members of the community could go on a free, self-guided tour down Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, and visit the 11 businesses who housed different artists’ work.

Joana Chu, a real estate salesperson at Home Court Real Estate, helped coordinate the event with Kellner and Arabian, along with Teri Basile of Art World Custom Framing.

“We kind of brainstorm different ideas and ways to drive traffic to the avenue, and that is how this event became an offshoot of one of our meetings,” Chu said. “So the four of us were interested in really hunkering down and actually putting the event together.”

Chu added that Metro Village’s main goals for the event were to familiarize the community with local businesses, as well as provide an outlet for artists.

“I think it’s really difficult for local artists to have venues and free opportunities to show their art and to sell their art,” she said. “So we thought this would be a nice way to support them, and to kind of connect with the community and have them become aware of both the artists and the businesses.”

Alan Cory Kaufman, a Forest Hills resident, displayed his artwork inside Aigner Chocolates.

His work consisted of acrylic paintings of various animals, primarily fish, that were executed in a playful, almost childlike manner.

Kaufman said that he started painting to keep himself busy while rehabilitating himself after he had undergone brain surgeries and spent a lot of time at home.

Alan Cory Kaufman displayed his artwork at Aigner Chocolates.

“I’m not really a trained artist, but acrylic paints are fun. They’re easy, and they’re simple to get,” Kaufman said. “I spent a couple of hours each day painting and they accumulated, and my wife Susan led me up to participate in this event when we ran out of space on our wall.”

Axel Checa, an architect with the Department of Buildings whose work was displayed at Dylan’s Restaurant, also does art for therapeutic reasons.

Checa, who is Native American and identifies as two-spirit, said that her artwork is a way for her to express and discover herself during the darkest of times.

“This piece is from five years ago, when I was in college, and just starting art. I made it to be secure and to comfort me, because at that time, I had no idea I was trans,” Checa said in reference to a self portrait.

“It’s funny because there’s two people in the portrait: the hood version of me and the spiritual version of me,” she continued. “It’s kind of a dark piece. I used it to get through some feelings of discomfort and not knowing who I am or what I’m doing.”

Other artists, like Debra Mintz, use art as a way to relocate their inner child.

Mintz is a graduate of Yale School of Art, and a retired teacher from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she taught for over 20 years.

“These are abstract, and I quote my father when it comes to these. He said if you are yourself then you will always be original,” she said. “Even though I’m highly educated,

I’ve always tried to think deep down inside and find out who I am and relocate the child in me. And that’s how I found all these shapes.”

Mintz uses any art material known to man to create her works, and the drawings she displayed featured various abstract shapes and bright, eye-catching colors.

Many community members came out to support the artists, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilman James Gennaro. A lot of the featured artists said they made quite a few sales during the art walk.

“There’s just a sense of a small town when you walk down Metropolitan Avenue. It has a different feel, and we really want to foster that,” Chu said.

“The fact that the small business owners are getting to know each other, and we’re all neighbors, many of them live above their businesses and many of them have been there for 20 years,” she continued. “So I think it’s really important to kind of make sure that we stay connected, and we support each other and each other’s businesses, so we can all thrive.”

Celebrity Walk, A Forest Hills Mystery Partially Solved

Since 2015, a dedicated group of preservationists have been searching for long-vanished cement slabs featuring the handprints, footprints, and autographs of tennis and music stars that were once part of Celebrity Walk.
Celebrity Walk was located in front of Forest Hills Inn in Station Square. Before being converted to a co-op, the inn was the center of a classy social life, and Celebrity Walk was the local version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When searches of the tunnel-like Forest Hills Inn basement turned up no results and with no known photos, some people assumed it was just an urban legend.
But rumors circulated that a sidewalk reconstruction led to their relocation. Some people recalled seeing them placed in the inn’s basement in a potentially concealed tunnel for safekeeping, possibly in the late 1970’s.
After intense networking, over a year ago this columnist discovered five Celebrity Walk slabs in a garage at a home near Puritan Avenue and Greenway North. The slabs were left behind by a previous homeowner.
Last Friday, Forest Hills Stadium concert manager Mike Luba and Mitch Cohen, president of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, arrived at the home with a crew. They took the fragile concrete slabs to Forest Hills Stadium, where they will be restored and displayed.
The rescued slabs feature comedian Buddy Hackett, trumpeter Herb Alpert, actor Trini Lopez, director, Woody Allen, and Australian tennis player John Newcombe.
There are more slabs to be discovered, and the goal is to find the full collection. A few years ago, another homeowner donated a slab to the West Side Tennis Club featuring the signatures and handprints of tennis players Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert, and Manolo Santana.
“It’s a work in progress and I want to be part of it,” said crew member Wilson Brito. “We’ll get there. We’ll bring all the history back to where it belongs, and once we maintain that we can pass it on to the next generation and let them take care of it.”
Celebrity Walk originated in the mid-1960s and was the brainchild of Mark Fleischman, owner of the famed Studio 54 nightclub. From May 1965 to 1968, he also co-owned the 300-room Forest Hills Inn and adjoining apartments
“I loved coming up with press-generating ideas, including the creation of Celebrity Walk in front of the hotel’s sidewalk cafe,” he said. “Marketing seemed to come easily to me.”
At the time, the inn included cocktail lounges, a formal dining room known as the Windsor Room, sidewalk cafe, the Tea Garden, and four social rooms accommodating 400 guests.
“The Inn was a venerable hotel that looked like an English country manor,” said Fleischman. “It was a real coup when we got Frank Sinatra to put his handprints into a block of wet cement when he headlined the Forest Hills Music Festival at the nearby tennis stadium.
“As soon as other celebrities heard about Sinatra’s handprints and signature, they agreed to be included in our Celebrity Walk when they performed,” he added.
“The Forest Hills Inn has Frank Sinatra’s and Barbra Streisand’s handprints imbedded on their sidewalk pavement, but it had to get them the hard way,” read an article from 1965 in the Long Island Star-Journal. “Both stars agreed to make the imprint, but refused to do it at the sidewalk. So wet cement was sent to both stars, the imprints made, and the hardened blocks were then inserted in the pavement.”
West Side Tennis Club is always looking for items from the club’s long and storied history.
“These past few years, some wonderful items have been donated to the club, both solicited and unsolicited,” read a statement from the club.

If you have historic WSTC/Forest Hills items, email

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