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QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 2


C M CELEB OF QUEENS page 3 Y K Page 3 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

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WOMEN • Jenn Polish, college leader ......................................................... 5 • Tomieka Scotland, York volunteer ............................................. 5 • Ann Maggio, Ridgewood legend ................................................. 6 • Beverly McDermott, gardening specialist ................................. 6 • Kristy Schopper, gallery owner .................................................. 8 • Amy Fischetti-Boncardo, farm’s her gig .................................. 9 • Madhulika Khandelwal, Indian culturalist ................................. 10 • Gail Mellow, college president ................................................... 10 • Natasha Morales, victims’ advocate .........................................11 • Cheree Buggs, Civil Court judge ................................................11

Lloyd Carroll, Ronald Marzlock

• Phyllis Taiano, animal rescuer ................................................... 12


• Maria Thomson, Woodhaven’s own ......................................... 12

Nick Beneduce, Steve Malecki, PJ Smith

• Rev. Princess Thorbs, ministerial leader .................................. 14

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• Christine Cusati, feeds the poor ............................................... 14

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• Randy Seabrook, LIC principal.................................................. 17 • Paz Tanjuaquio, art dynamo ...................................................... 18 • Sheila Lewandowski, theater creator ..................................... 20 • Dorothy Lewandowski, kayaking pioneer................................ 21 • Barbara Toborg, environmentalist ............................................ 21 • Pat Dolan, a nonprofit leader .................................................... 22 • Faith Huckel, helps sex-trade survivors.................................... 22 • Chamique Holdsclaw, basketball star ..................................... 24 • Haran Lee, golf champion ......................................................... 25 • Ashley Chambers, young musician ......................................... 26 • Ashley Park, young violinist ...................................................... 26 SUPPLEMENT EDITOR: LIZ RHOADES; DESIGN: ELLA JIPESCU; EDITORIAL LAYOUT: TERRY NUSSPICKEL



ust who are the “wonder women” of Queens? They come in all colors, ages and sizes and hail from all over the borough. If there’s one unifying feature of our 27 choices, it’s their determination to make life better for themselves, their friends, their neighbors and our city. It was a difficult task to narrow the field for this year’s Celebration of Queens issues. Many of the borough’s best elected officials are women and lots more are in jobs that make them important. The women we selected are special because many of them are not well-known and yet have created important niches in the borough. Two of them — Sheila and Dorothy Lewandowski — share the same last name, yet are not related. Two others —Beverly McDermott and Phyllis Taiano — have multiple sclerosis, yet the disease has not stopped them from making Queens a better place to live.

We have tried to get a good cross-section of women from across the borough. One of the environmentalists, Dorothy Lewandowski, lives in Middle Village and her counterpart, Barbara Toborg lives in Broad Channel. Most are modest about their accomplishments like Ann Maggio, a 73-year-old grandmother who continues to give back to her community of Ridgewood, and Sister Christine Cusati, who runs a food pantry in Queens Village. There are plenty of shining examples of young people as well. Be sure to read about musicians Ashley Chambers and Ashley Park. And don’t overlook St. John’s University’s outstanding golfer, Harin Lee, who at 18 is already a champ. Then there are campus leaders Jen Polish of Queens College and Tomieka Scotland of York College. Two youngsters from Elmhurst, Valeria Mendez and Angelica Carlson, teach their fellow classmates to do good by helping others.

The arts are represented by Sheila Lewandowski, who founded the Chocolate Factory and is very involved with her community, Long Island City, and Paz Tanjuaquio, a onewoman art dynamo in Woodside, who created Topaz Arts. There are many others to read about in the fields of education, judicial, religion, nonprofits, museums, advocacy and civics. Don’t overlook any of them because they are all special. Because there are so many worthy candidates, we could put out a second edition. Maybe you have some ideas for future profiles. Let us know. We cannot publish a special section celebrating women without mentioning Susan Merzon, a single mother who founded the Chronicle almost 33 years ago. Although semiretired, Merzon still makes her presence felt in the office on a regular basis. We also salute her as our special Wonder Q Woman.


Volunteer puts women and children first

York senior and hospital aide Tomieka Scotland will be a nurse practitioner by Peter C. Mastrosimone Editor-in-Chief

t was an all-too-common situation. A young woman, a difficult home life, a boyfriend, an unplanned pregnancy. What might be less common is that when the troubled York College student walked into the school’s Women’s Center looking for advice last year, she met as positive a person as she possibly could to help her through the crisis: center volunteer Tomieka Scotland. Scotland, who had long before decided that above all she wanted to assist women with prenatal concerns, immediately struck up a rapport with the girl, who wasn’t even sure at first if she was pregnant. She was, and Scotland gave her a shoulder to lean on for the next nine months and more. “Tomieka took her under her wing and really put her at ease with her situation,” said Michele Hardy-Ridgeway, assistant to center coordinator Linda McKinzie-Daugherty. “She stuck with her throughout her pregnancy.” The young woman took some time off, had her baby and then returned to York, where she’s still a student today. “I get kind of emotional thinking about it because with her home life and uncertainty about the future with this baby, she was really in a state,” Hardy-Ridgeway said. “Now she’s a confident mom. Just for Tomieka being in her life, it made a big difference.” That’s the way Scotland is, always a positive influence, someone who lights up a room, a “sweetheart” and “lovable young lady” with an infectious laugh and lovely smile.


Watch out! Tomieka Scotland, left, may be a caring young woman who plans a career helping mothers get through their pregnancies, but she was also one of the many students who recently took a self-defense course called “Fight Like a Girl” at the York College Women’s Center, where she PHOTO BY MICHELE HARDY-RIDGEWAY/YORK COLLEGE volunteers. “She has a way of cutting through all the unnecessary things and getting right to whatever the problem is,” Hardy-Ridgeway added. “She really has a talent for that.” It’s no wonder then, that when she’s not in class or at the center, Scotland is at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where she’s been working for years as a personal information representative. There she helps patients, takes their data from doctors and nurses, enters lab requests into the computer system and notifies someone when an emergency code call has to be made over the loudspeaker. Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner, focusing on obstetrics and gynecology. She

was inspired to go into the field after her older sister lost her premature baby eight years ago. The medical staff did all they could to save the newborn, and though they couldn’t, they did teach her sister how to ensure her next pregnancy’s success. Now she has two children. “They gave hope to my sister,” Scotland said. “When I saw them so passionate, I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ like a calling. Before a baby becomes a child and a child becomes an adult, it has to come into this world first, and I want to be there to help.” A year from now, Scotland, 21, will become the first member of her immediate family to graduate college, with a major in psychology

and a minor in health education. She plans to earn a master’s in nursing and become a nurse practitioner — one step below the doctors she’ll work alongside. A 2007 Martin Van Buren High School alum, her academic drive was inspired by her late cousin Marvin, an accountant who urged her to be all she could be. Besides working at JHMC, she has interned at Queens Hospital Center and PS 156. Scotland lives in Jamaica with her mother, Paulette, and a cousin. In her free time she catches up with friends, checks out new restaurants or takes long walks, and she’s recently gotten into parkour — the noncompetitive sport of running, jumping and climbing around features of the urban landscape. McKinzie-Daugherty of the Women’s Center is “one of the biggest forces in my life aside from my mother and father,” Scotland said, adding, “I’m grateful for her.” Scotland represented the center at a national women’s conference last year, attending seminars and trading tips on how to break through the glass ceiling with other attendees. In the fall, she plans to run a workshop on the intricacies of college credits, helping other students ensure that what they’ve earned will count, especially if they’re transferring or going to graduate school. She will, of course, do it through the center, located in room 3C01 of York’s Academic Core Building. “The Women’s Center is like my second home,” she said. “Through my times of struggle, this was the place I felt most comfortable, where my questions were answered and where Q my best studying has been done.”

Page 5 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ca mp us Lea der s


Student activist seeks justice for all Jenn Polish helped organize STAND chapter at Queens College by Dana Taddeo Chroncle Contributor


Jenn Polish, a student activist who just graduated from Queens College, explains her work to end injustice around the world. PHOTO BY DANA TADDEO

the genocide there, and U.S. companies are complicit in this,” she said. “You can f ind these minerals in every phone, laptop, I-pod, and camera that you have.” Other issues that concern her include the “devastating effects of racism on immigrant communities across the country and empowering people to engage in peaceful, constructive dialogue about Israel and Palestine,” the school leader added. “I am an activist because of my fundamental belief that empowering connections between communities, uniting with nonviolent goals and strategies, is the only way to create sustainable peace,” Polish said. The activist has also worked with other organizations, such as Generation Citizen, which works to expand democratic participation among youth populations, Domestic Workers United, an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York and the CUNY Coalition for Social Justice. The history and biology major’s greatest satisfaction does not only come from the work that she has done, but from her fellow chapter members coming together “as a cohesive, thoughtful, knowledgeable, effective, empowered and empowering group now that I’ve graduated Queens College,” she said. Although her time at QC is done, she won’t stop her efforts. “I plan on staying very connected to STAND through Genocide Intervention Network where I hope to be interning in the fall in Washington, DC,” she said. “After that, I want to study peace studies at Notre Dame, if I can get in, to help me continue my work Q towards peace throughout my entire life.”


ost people hear the words “genocide,” or “Darfur” and think of faraway places that they could never possibly help. The first time Jenn Polish heard those words she decided to take action. “I read a book in high school about genocides throughout the 20th century,” she said “and then I saw a headline about some place called Darfur, and the atrocities there had been deemed ‘genocide.’” Since then, the Bayside resident has been working with activist organizations, in particular STAND, a student-led division of the Genocide Intervention Network, to help end injustice in the world.

“Something as horrific as genocide has followed humanity into the 21st century and it’s unacceptable to me,” Polish said. She is one of the students who helped start the STAND chapter at Queens College, which she graduated from last month. Polish thinks her story of leadership is not as important as those of her friends in places like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world, who are fighting for peace in their countries every day. “My own story is much less relevant than the rich history of the countries STAND works with,” she said. Some of the work that the humble 22-year-old does includes educating people about social justice issues around the world, as well as issues in the United States. “We address and empower people to take action about labor issues in the city,” Polish said, with other issues like “the fact that 42 percent of homeless youth in the city are LGBTQ.” Her mission as a member of STAND is to address the causes of genocide by eradicating economic injustice wherever it is seen. One way this is done is through events like STAND’s annual “REFUGEE CAMPus.” “We sleep out on our school quad for five days and four nights raising awareness and action,” she said. Polish and her fellow STANDers are also involved in a campaign to encourage CUNY to urge technology companies to invest in only nonviolently operated mines in the the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Violent competition over mineral resources fuels


QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 6


Helping with both her hands on the ladder

Beverly McDermott, civic leader, environmentalist and history buff by Elizabeth Daley Editor

hether protesting overdevelopment as president of the Kissena Park Civic Association or teaching children about her ancestors who happened to be some of the first settlers of Flushing, Beverly McDermott doesn’t let anything stand in her way — not even multiple sclerosis. If she thinks there is a brothel nearby, she will knock on the front door to investigate and if she wants to learn how to climb a tree to prune it, she will. McDermott is a civic leader, environmentalist and parks advocate. “I always tell kids, you should leave the park in a better condition than you found it,” she said during an interview in her kitchen in Flushing. Among her accomplishments, McDermott took a city course to learn how to trim trees so that she could help maintain the ones in her neighborhood. She was the oldest person in her class and the only woman. Everything was going well until, on one particularly hot day, McDermott had problems lifting her legs to climb the tree. Her instructor, who was known to be a tough guy, came over and asked her what was wrong. She didn’t want to tell him because she was afraid he would kick her out of the class. Eventually, she explained that her MS gets bad when it’s hot outside and he turned away and started to tear up. “My sister’s dying of MS,” he said. “If you’re determined to do this, then do it.” McDermott told him not to feel sorry for her and a few minutes later she was back in action up the tree with her handsaw. When she graduated from the course, several women who worked in the program’s offices congratulated her. “We bet money on you,” they said, claiming others said that because


McDermott was older and female, she wouldn’t be able to finish the physically demanding course. “It felt good to know that I had other women supporting me,” McDermott said. Still, she didn’t leave the written segment of the exam when she was done, but waited to see how the rest of the class did. She tutored two Spanish-speaking students for the test and to her delight, they passed as well. Since completing the course, which includes ladder carrying and climbing and using a chainsaw and a handsaw to cut off dead limbs, she has deployed her skills to do a variety of things, including rescue animals. She recently climbed a tree to save a wailing cat and disentangled an American robin who had become caught in kite string. Over the years McDermott and her family have saved numerous animals of all types from Kissena Park. Most recently, she rescued a Polish chicken whom she said was destined for the soup pot if she didn’t step in. “People go on vacation and they just dump their animals,” McDermott said. She became a volunteer at The Worthy Pause, a thrift store in Bayside that operates to raise money for animals in need. In addition to advocating for the park, the Kissena Park Civic Association has been active in the fight against development at Willets Point, an industrial area the city wants to redevelop. Though the land is likely to be developed, McDermott isn’t giving up in her fight to keep Flushing more as her ancestors found it. She and two friends created a garden at the entrance to Kissena Park in an area that was going to be paved over by the Parks Department. McDermott, who is the park steward and director of Friends of Kissena Park said the location is particularly important to elderly visitors who cannot walk long distances into the park. She has tried to grow plants that remind some of the area’s immigrants of their homelands,

Beverly McDermott, left, dressed in historical costume at the Bowne House during a Christmas open house in December. FILE PHOTO

however she has had to stop growing edible greenery because people come to the park and take it. Her latest campaign includes educating immigrants about the right ways to treat wildlife. “I will turn in my grandmother,” continued on page 27

Ridgewood woman dedicated to serving Former teacher Ann Maggio works to improve quality of life in Queens by Michael Cusenza Editor

he conversation is interrupted shortly after it begins by the familiar ring of a telephone in the dining room of a onefamily home on Suydam Street. Antoinette Zambrotta Maggio gently rises from her perch at the table, walks to the far left corner



and greets the caller, a woman who needs some information. Maggio is quick with the answer, but does not put down the receiver before asking about the well-being of the friend’s family. She returns to the table, apologizes and offers a smile and a small bottle of water from the kitchen prior to picking up the conversation.

Citizens for a Better Ridgewood President Ann Maggio presents 104th Precinct Community Affairs Det. Kevin Weber with a certificate of appreciation PHOTO BY MICHAEL CUSENZA at his retirement party earlier this year.

This is Ann Maggio, a resident of Ridgewood for the past 73 years who seems to handle neighborhood inquiries and civic action with the care of a doting grandmother. She is president of both the Suydam Street Block Association and Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, a longstanding member of Community Board 5, and the advisor y boards of the Peter Cardella Senior Citizens Center and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. Maggio, a former teacher at St. Aloysius, also is a consultant and language arts tutor at the Federation Italo-American of Brooklyn and Queens. “I got the sense that the children needed to be nurtured,” said Maggio in a clear, soft cadence. “It was that instinct — you were a teacher, but also a mother.” Maggio said she followed in her parents’ footsteps and became an activist, helping to start CBR after the Onderdonk Civic Organization disbanded in 1993, the same year her husband, Anthony, a Department of Sanitation superintendant, died. “We figured let’s do something for our constituents,” she recalled. “You’re living in the neighborhood

— if there are things going on, are you just going to let them go on? You’re not going to let things depreciate.” Maggio counts the clean-up and refurbishing of nearby Grover Cleveland Athletic Field as one of her most treasured community victories. In the early ’80s, she said the garbage-strewn, druginfested park “was a complete disaster,” and called on elected officials to do something about it. With the help of then-Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), whom Maggio taught in 5th grade at St. Aloysius, and CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, CBR was able to get the facility completely overhauled. After six years, the new field was complete. “So that is an accomplishment,” Maggio said with a laugh. She has received myriad awards for her accomplishments and volunteer work. But the petite mother of two and grandmother of one prefers to stay in the background. “I’m really not one for taking the limelight; I’d rather do what I have to do,” Maggio asserted. She later added she didn’t “feel

wor thy” of the Chronicle’s recognition. “I’m just doing what I feel I should do,” the modest Maggio said. She has a soft spot for cops (her son, Anthony, retired out of the 19th Precinct) and indicated she plans on working with Capt. Michael Cody, the 104th Precinct’s new commanding officer, on the scourge of prostitution on Starr Street, an issue Maggio has been battling for some 20 years. She is very proud of her family, including daughter, Jo-Ann, and daughter-in-law, Tracy, who are teachers. Maggio also is a touch nervous these days, as grandson, Andrew, will turn 20 next month and plans on skydiving to mark the occasion. Asked why, after decades of service, she continues to try to improve the quality of life for her neighbors, Maggio offered another smile and said it comes back to the voice on the other end of the telephone line. “The calls from citizens give you that incentive; I think they know you’re concerned,” she said with a slight shrug. “But I’m just Q a plain grandma.”

CELEB OF QUEENS page 7 Page 7 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

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Making The Space for her LIC artists

Kristy Schopper offers workspace to artists and ideas to developers by Elizabeth Daley Editor

or artists in Long Island City, Kristy Schopper is like a den mother. In addition to providing them with support and instruction, she provides them with a most crucial resource: space. Upon her arrival in LIC in 1998, Schopper saw many vacant buildings that could be used to make art and host gallery shows and she decided to do something. She approached property owners and was able to get them to agree to let artists use their space for free. Schopper credits Tom Finkelpearl, director of the Queens Museum of Art and former leader of PS1 for believing in her mission and putting her in touch with the right people. This May, Schopper celebrated the 10th anniversary of The Space, a project made up of a network of buildings in LIC where art reigns supreme. The gallery is located at 25-17 41 Ave. and an annex building on 2810 Queens Plaza South serves the needs of other artists who make work within. Movie screenings are held every Wednesday at a third building, located at 42-16 West St. and a rotating cast of additional locations complete the network. Schopper rents an apartment above the gallery and is largely uncompensated for her work with The Space. For her it is a


Kristy Schopper jams with two artists from The Space in Long Island City. labor of love. She earns money through the sale of her own paintings and through odd art jobs. “Individuals are having much more of a hard time than there were before,” Schopper said, remarking on the tough economic climate which makes The Space even more important for artists. “There aren’t the grants


and the residencies there used to be and we all got a little scrappy. I am glad I didn’t have to leave the neighborhood,” she said. Schopper sees her mission as twofold. First, she wants to ensure that artists stay in Long Island City and in New York City as a whole; second, she wants to work with business and economic developers to create

a plan for urban growth via artistic development. “As much as Manhattan is super awesome, Long Island City has really great potential to be a prototype area,” Schopper said of her vision. “If you wanted to try something new, you really could try it in Long Island City.” The neighborhood is experiencing a growth spurt, but thanks to community arts organizations like Schopper’s, it remains a hotbed of creativity. The Space participates in neighborhood-wide art initiatives including the recent LIC Arts Open and the annual LIC Armory Arts Week. Larger cultural institutions like PS1 MoMa, the Fischer Landau Center, the SculptureCenter and the nearby Museum of the Moving Image present a huge draw for the artistically inclined and Schopper wants developers to remember that art led people to move to LIC in the first place. Over the years, Schopper estimates that she has worked with well over 1,000 people through her work at The Space and the organization has likely brought upwards of 15,000 more to visit the neighborhood for its gallery openings and events. “There is a huge difference between an area that has art and an area that has artists,” Schopper said. “The living breathing artists add intrigue; there is something there that’s worth keeping.” continued on page 29 ©2011 M1P • WOOB-054570

QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 8





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Connecting the city to its agricultural past

Amy Fischetti-Boncardo oversees last working historical farm in NYC by Anna Gustafson Editor

s Queens County Farm Museum Executive Director Amy Fischetti-Boncardo leaned against a fence on the city’s only working historical farm, she pointed to two cows that stared at her from the shade in which they took refuge from the midday heat. “That’s Franny and Felicia,” she said. “They’re Brown Swiss cows. Aren’t they wonderful?” She paused, looking out toward the fields filled with beets, radishes and cucumbers and chuckled. “I have a different kind of job,” she said. “And I love it.” Fischetti-Boncardo, 56, certainly does not have a run of the mill job. A Mississippi native with a background in business, she began volunteering at the farm in Floral Park 23 years ago and quickly became enamored with the 47-acre parcel that is the longest continuously farmed site in New York state. The area can seem surreal — a rural refuge in the city, a place that seems worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of New York, with farmers from all over the country working in the fields that grow produce like blackberries, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and grapes for the wine they started selling last year. “The farm’s role is to connect people to its history and a rural lifestyle — farming, livestock, honey bees and an awareness of environmental concerns,” Fischetti-Boncardo said. “We want to show people there are ways of farming that don’t involve huge farms with factory farm practices. We’ve always been a sustainable agriculture farm.” Fischetti-Boncardo quickly worked her way up from volunteer, and she became executive director in 1994. “Since I started here, I’ve done literally every job at the farm, including farming,” she said. “I’ve loved all the jobs, especially selling the produce because I get to interact


Amy Fischetti-Boncardo has increased the annual number of visitors to the Queens County Farm Museum from about 20,000 to 500,000 since she became the executive director. PHOTO BY ANNA GUSTAFSON

with people and find out why they come here.” Under her leadership, the farm’s annual budget has grown from less than $300,000 in 1994 to about $2.7 million, which she attributes in part to a spike in the number of visitors. About 20,000 people came to the farm in 1994, and that number has jumped to around 500,000. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of school visits, grants, individual donors and people coming to events,” she said. Word of mouth tends to be the most powerful advertiser for the farm, according to the director, and they have gotten a boost in visitors thanks to the fact that they started participating in the Union Square farmer’s market every Friday. “It introduced us to a lot of people who didn’t even know we existed,” Fischetti-Boncardo said. The director has implemented a wide variety of educational programs that reach out to not only students but the general public and has overseen capital projects to restore the farm’s buildings, including a farmhouse from 1772. The farm plays host to numerous events throughout the year, including the Queens County Fair and “farm to table dinners,” at which residents can sample the farm’s bounty in a dinner whipped up by a chef. “It gives people the opportunity to have dinner with produce grown 20 feet from where they’re sitting,” Fischetti-Boncardo said. She also started the farm’s corn maze eight years ago, and it has since become “wildly popular.” The number of visitors should continue to increase, Fischetti-Boncardo expects, especially with the increased focus on local food. “Urbanites are really interested in knowing their farmers and their farmers’ philosophies,” she said. “People

Page 9 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mu se um s


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QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 10



The fight to maintain Queens’ middle class

LaGuardia CC’s president works to educate those who make boro run by Anna Gustafson Editor


or Gail Mellow, the path to becoming president of LaGuardia Community College began with one of the roughest times in

her life. Mellow, a native of Busti — a tiny place upstate that she described as having “more cows than people,” was ecstatic to become the first person in her family to go to college. But, during her first semester at the University of Michigan, her world turned upside down. “My father went bankrupt, so I had to come home to help my family,” she said. After finding a day job, Mellow began to take classes at night at the nearby Jamestown Community College, which she called a “lifesaver.” “If there hadn’t been a community college in Jamestown, I’d still be there,” she said. “I’d be working for Walmart. I’d be the best checkout person there is, but I’d still be there.” That experience forever shaped Mellow’s life, and she has dedicated much of the past 30 years to community colleges, having worked both as a teacher and as an administrator. Since 2000, she has been president of LaGuardia Community College in Long

Island City, which has more than 17,000 undergraduate students from 160 different countries. Many of these students go on to play crucial roles in Queens — opening small businesses and becoming nurses at the borough’s hospitals or teachers in area schools. “Without community colleges in the United States, we would not have a middle class,” said Mellow, author of “Minding the Dream: The Process and Practice of the American Community College.” “LaGuardia creates the nurses, the accountants, the people working retail, the cops. We educate the people who are going to make our community thrive — the middle class. We use education to let people change their lives.” With Mellow at the helm, LaGuardia has won a series of national and state awards, including being named one of the top three community colleges by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. Mellow has also worked hard to ensure her college landed grants for its educational programs that reach out to populations that are often diff icult to reach, including immigrants who speak little English and prison inmates. continued on page 30

LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow presents students Syed Hossain, left, and Kevin Magana with the Coca-Cola All-State Community College Academic Team Silver and Bronze Scholarships PHOTO COURTESY LAGUARDIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE last month.

Prof devotes life to students, Queens Director of Asian-American Center focuses on oral history of borough by Benjamin Graham Chronicle Contributor

adhulika Khandelwal came to the United States as a young woman in 1984, planning to study American history for one or two years, earn her master’s degree and return back to her home in Delhi, India. Twenty-six years later, and without ever having returned to live in India, the Douglaston resident is director of the Asian American Center at Queens College and an avid advocate of all things Queens.



Madhulika Khandelwal in her office at the Asian-American PHOTO BY BENJAMIN GRAHAM Center at Queens College.

Khandelwal’s journey began as a history professor at the University of Delhi. “I was teaching a few American history classes at the university level using high school text books,” she said. “It was frustrating at times.” So after getting accepted into a graduate history program at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, she took a sabbatical from teaching and left India with plans of returning when her studies were over. “I wanted to go back to India even before I came to the United States,” she said. But once in Pittsburgh, Khandelwal became interested in the Indian immigrant to America. She began researching the Indian population in her area. “There was nothing. No literature. I was very unhappy with what was available on Indian immigration here,” she said. “But that’s when I realized I could do something about it.” Khandelwal devoted her graduate research to Indian Americans, which inevitably led her to New York City where there were more Indian residents. She remembers going into a New York Public Library in Midtown and searching Indian in the library catalog. “The machine kept crunching. I waited, waited, waited. There were 10,000 entries,” she said. But as Khandelwal began to scroll through the titles the library had in stock, she realized they were all about Native Americans, not Indians from India. “Back then the community was not very defined at all,” she said. “People were here, but they were not seen as an ethnic group.” Khandelwal permanently moved to the city in 1987, when she was recruited to be a scholar at the newly founded Asian American Center at Queens College. She began

to use oral history to record immigrants’ stories, meeting with Indians throughout the city and especially in Queens. “Since then, I haven’t gone back to history,” she said. Khandelwal has dedicated her life to understanding the cultural and community issues within the Indian diaspora, and by extension, all of Queens. Over the last two decades, Khandelwal has taught Asian-American Studies at numerous colleges and universities, including Columbia, Hunter, University of Massachusetts and the New School. In 1994, Cornell flew her to Ithaca twice a week to teach a class because she didn’t want to leave her students in Queens. Throughout this time, Khandelwal had become one of the go-to people on all issues that had to do with the Indian-American community in New York City. After a five-year absence from the city to write a book, Khandelwal returned to the borough to become director of the Asian-American Center at Queens College, and hasn’t looked back. “Since I’ve come back, my personal goal has been to understand the students here in Queens and figure out what higher education can do for them,” she said. Over the last two years, Khandelwal and the center have developed a new minor, Asian-American Studies, that will be available in the upcoming school year. It’s for Asian and non-Asian students, she said. “We want students to get rooted in the local history,” she said. “As Asian-American students grow up, there is a new interest in who they are.” Khandelwal is dedicated to her students, and doesn’t see herself leaving them, or Queens, anytime soon. “I have become an Asian American and a Queens perQ son,” she said.

CELEB OF QUEENS page 11 Ju di cia l

Judge Cheree Buggs doles out the justice

After two decades as an attorney, she was appointed to the bench in 2007 by AnnMarie Costella

Buggs replied, “Not at this time, but anything is possible. I’m just enjoying what I’m doing right now. If someone he very first time Civil Court Judge Cherree were to dangle a few million dollars in front of me — I’d Buggs put on her black robe, it was bittersweet. think about it, I guess.” She felt proud to be able to ensure that justice is Before becoming a judge, Buggs, 48, was an attorney for being served, but also sad that her parents had 20 years. She started her legal career at an insurance defense not lived to see her appointed to the bench. firm where she stayed for a year before leaving to work for Buggs was nervous because she inithe Human Resources Administration tially began in family court and had from 1988 to 1991. Cases there very little experience with family law. involved persons who were deemed to “You think to yourself, you have a be incompetent or incapacitated to the ’ve always been very lot of people’s lives in your hands and point where they could no longer you don’t have a clue,” she said. “So make decisions regarding their percommunity minded that was nerve racking for me and cersonal welfare or finances. tainly required some prayer before I Buggs served as a guardian because I’ve always left my chambers.” when appointed by the believed to whom But now, Buggs enters the courtcourt. She also served as room at the Queens Civil Court with a court evaluator, conmuch is given, much great confidence presiding over noducting research, interfault cases regarding car accidents, viewing the person who is expected.” small claims disputes and occasionally was said to need the — Judge Cheree Buggs consumer credit transaction trials. guardian and examinBuggs said the small claims cases ing medical issues to are very similar to those that are seen determine if such care on daytime court room television programs like “Judge was absolutely necessary, because that person Judy,” but there are some differences. in essence loses rights. “I think what you have sometimes are the TV judges Buggs then did similar work in private playing to the audience, and so they make it a little more practice. At the same time, she served as an dramatic than it needs to be,” Buggs said. “Although it can administrative law judge with the city’s Parkbe considered the best reality show going, because some of ing Violations Operations. She also served as it is comedy — just to see how the people react to one counsel for the city Health and Hospitals another and some of the things that people say.” Corp. and Jamaica Hospital, regarding cases When asked if she could see herself having a TV show, continued on page 30 Civil Court Judge Cheree Buggs loves her job. Assistant Editor



Page 11 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011



Advocate cares for Queens’ crime victims Takes the harmed and their families through the criminal justice process by Michael Cusenza Editor


he enduring example of her mother, Jacqueline Victor, coupled with the words of poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, have helped carry Natasha Morales to her position at the Queens District Attorney’s Office. “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love,” reads the Angelou quote that Morales has

other members of the district attorney’s staff, she visits several public schools in Far Rockaway from September through May as part of the Straight Talk About Risks Track anti-violence program. “We explain to them some of the cases that we see,” Morales said. “We want them to know they can make good decisions, and teach them that they can be advocates for someone else. With the kids, it’s more about shaping.” Morales related how incidents involving children, in particular, can exact an emotional toll on her and her staff, who are tasked with helping the family in the aftermath. “When you see a 6-year-old in a casket, you see an innocent bystander,” she said. “It kind of makes you feel saddened about the direction of our children and what’s going on with them.” Morales noted that most of the cases her office handles relate to violent crimes, including assault, rape, robbery, domestic disputes and homicide. She said she often becomes close with murder victims’ families — especially during sentencing and when they have the opportunity to deliver a victim impact statement to the court — sharing a bond that can last long after the system has run its course. “Every homicide victim’s family I have is near and dear to me,” Morales said. “I think I do this work especially because of them.” Whether it’s counseling a family, or organizing the DA’s annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week celebration, Morales speaks of her job as a calling, one she approaches daily with a palpable passion born of a strong upbringing and the advice of the trailblazers. “Any day has the potential of being emotional and stressful,” she said. “But knowing the help and support Q you’re giving, it kind of washes it all away.”


Natasha Morales is the director of Queens DA Richard Brown’s PHOTO BY MICHAEL CUSENZA Crime Victims Advocate Program.

memorized. “Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” Morales often looks to the advice and actions of dynamic female figures such as Angelou, and her mom, whom she described as “kind, loving — but also a fighter and a strong woman,” to aid her in the often emotionally draining process of guiding crime victims and their families through the criminal justice process. The Queens Village native has been the director of DA Richard Brown’s Crime Victims Advocate Program since 2006. Morales and her small staff help victims deal with the “concrete and psychological issues” that can surface in the wake of criminal acts, and prepares them to apply for monetary help from the state Office of Victim Services. The program also provides counseling, crisis intervention and group therapy for those in need. “Most aren’t aware that they can receive compensation for victimization,” Morales noted inside a fourth-floor conference room at the DA’s main office in Kew Gardens. “Sometimes the criminal justice process can be very overwhelming and intimidating. We go with them to court, explain everything. Our job is to help crime victims in any capacity we can.” The SUNY-Old Westbury and Adelphi University alum arrived at the CVAP in April, 2005 as a volunteer. Approximately a year later, she was asked by Brown to lead it. “I came to volunteer, and ended up with the opportunity of a lifetime,” asserted Morales, a licensed mental health counselor who originally had designs on practicing law for a living. “Sometimes we don’t know when opportunities are going to come.” The chance to volunteer with Brown’s office did not stop after Morales was appointed director. Along with


QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 12


The many hats of area leader Maria Thomson

Woodhaven activist fights for her community in numerous capacities by Anna Gustafson Editor


he items on Maria Thomson’s desk, a wooden behemoth of a structure in the corner of her Woodhaven office overlooking Jamaica Avenue, weave an intricate narrative of their owner. Without even talking to Thomson, it is easy to glean from these items — the statuette of a carousel horse, framed photos of herself with everyone from military veterans to politicians of all stripes, the Shop Jamaica Avenue signs — how invested the executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. is in the community where she has lived for more than 43 years. But the image one gets of Thomson from her desk, not to mention the walls filled with proclamations from basically every politician who has served Queens in the past three decades, is only a drop in the bucket compared to when she is asked about her neighborhood. “Oh I love Woodhaven, I love it,” said Thomson, who lives with her husband, Robert, in the Woodhaven home where her spouse grew up. “I love Forest Park, I love the carousel, I love the police, I love the business owners. I love it all.” The woman who has done everything from fight for the elevated tracks that carry the J-line to be repainted to supporting the mom and pop shops that line Jamaica Avenue began her life of community

activism about 37 years ago. “It all began because an arsonist completely destroyed my local library, the Forest Park Library,” Thomson said. “We lived very close by, and we were concerned about the library being renovated because it didn’t have insurance. I went to the block association for help, and the rest is history.” For six years, Thomson was president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, during which time she worked hard to report illegal conversions in the community and fight against establishments that were detrimental to the area, including stopping a bar that was the scene of two homicides from reopening. After being president of the WRBA, she became the executive director of the GWDC 22 years ago. In 1993, she helped to found the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, which covers 25 blocks in the neighborhood and 325 businesses; she has been a member of Community Board 9 for about 27 years; and she has been president of the 102nd Precinct Community Council for the past six years. “Ever since the BID was formed, the avenue has thrived,” Thomson said of Jamaica Avenue. “We’ve helped to clean streets, we do promotional events like holidays in Woodhaven and back to school and we support our businesses.” “I’ve come to know a lot of good people,” Thomson said. “But there has definitely

Maria Thomson works at her desk in the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation’s office on PHOTO BY ANNA GUSTAFSON Jamaica Avenue. been hard moments. One store owner was murdered, one was badly wounded by a gunshot and another was killed by a drunk driver. Then there are the good things, like the young people who have worked in this office and gone on to graduate from college and the business owners who have put so much effort into their places, like the new owner of Cordon Bleu, who has completely renovated the space and made it

look beautiful.” There is obviously much material for Thomson to choose from when saying what she is most proud of, but she said she has been especially pleased with finally convincing the city to repaint the J-line tracks that r un above Jamaica Avenue, as well as the part she played in renovating the Forest Park plaza. continued on page 27

Dog rescuer Taiano balances tasks She’s saved nearly 900 dogs and cats while working and fighting MS by Dana Taddeo Chronicle Contribuor

hyllis Taiano rescued her first dog, Snoopy, in 1998. Now, the number of dogs and cats she estimates to have saved is closer to 900, but she still keeps in touch with Snoopy and the family that adopted him 13 years ago.



Phyllis Taiano, who started a pet rescue organization in her Middle Village yard with her shih tzu Nicholas, an abandoned PHOTO BY DANA TADDEO dog now living with her.

“They tell me that they don’t know what they would do without him,” Taiano said, “and it makes you realize that doing this changes the lives of the animals and people.” In 2009, the Middle Village resident started Four Paws Sake, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and finding homes for stray, abused and neglected animals. Taiano decided to start the organization, which she runs from her home, so she could rescue dogs and cats citywide. “Usually, if I see a stray I take it in, but I’m careful. If I see an Akita, I don’t pick it up, I follow it and I call someone,” she said with a laugh. After she takes them in, Taiano and her volunteers, work with the often abandoned dogs to socialize them in a home environment, spay and neuter them and evaluate their behavior for two weeks to make sure they are ready to go back to their owners, or to a new home. “I don’t want to burden people,” she said. “That’s already why they are on the street.” The 44-year-old, who mostly takes in dogs because she is severely allergic to cats, also started the animal rescue group because she always had a love for dogs and still fondly remembers her first, Lucky. “She would always run away,” she said, and it was only after Taiano started her work with neglected dogs that she realized what Lucky’s problem was. She just wanted to be stimulated, walked and played with, according to Taiano. The Citigroup employee is now the caregiver to six dogs, three of which are her own, and the others are future adoptees. “Six is my max,” said Taiano, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often disabling disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system.

Although she gets tired at certain times of the day, she says balancing work, her health and her dogs are not the most challenging aspects. “The hardest part is the emotional side,” Taiano said. “I gravitate to the underdogs.” One “underdog” that sticks out in Taiano’s mind is Jake, a Maltese and Yorkie mix that she rescued last year. She found him through the city’s Animal Care and Control. The battered dog showed up at ACC in early June with acid burns. The shelter sent out a plea for someone to take it in. She responded and Jake has been in a loving home ever since. Jake is a stand-out case, but Taiano is proud of all the dogs she has rescued. There is Rosey and Maya, who were both emaciated and neglected before they were found. There is Nicholas, a shih tzu who was abandoned at a house in Babylon, LI and was unable to open his mouth when he was rescued. He is now one of the six dogs that live with Taiano. “He’s very attached,” she says of Nicholas, who doesn’t let anyone but his rescuer walk him. Taiano’s next rescue project is an abused dog that she also found through ACC. The newest addition to her list of animals saved is a shih tzu with only two and a half legs. The nine-pound dog is a victim of abuse, ranging from beatings, neglect and evidence that she is missing legs because she was repeatedly dragged on a concrete surface. “I don’t understand how someone passed that dog every day and didn’t try to help it.” The animal lover has a lifetime return policy on the pups that she finds homes for. “As long as I'm here, this is what Q I'll do,” she said “even if I do it one at a time.”

C M CELEB OF QUEENS page 13 Y K Page 13 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

Queens Center in association with Borough President Helen Marshall Presents

assessment and recruitment

Queens Center I Level 2 I JCPenney Wing I Across from Guest Services 90-15 Queens Blvd. I Elmhurst, NY 11373 Thursday, June 23rd I 10am - 7pm Registration I 10am - 12pm & 4pm - 6pm Employment Assessment and Interviews I 10am - 7pm Workshops will be offered I 10:30am - 5:30pm The event will provide eligible job seekers with the opportunity to be pre-screened and interviewed for local and city-wide job opportunities. There will also be workshops and agency services on hand to assist immigrant workers regardless of their status. All participants must register. Please bring photo ID and multiple copies of your resume. Applicant must be in proper interview attire.

— Workshop Schedule — 10:30AM and 2PM Interviewing Skills (English) 11:00AM and 4PM Resume Writing (English) 11:30AM and 4:30PM Resume Writing (Spanish) 12:30PM and 2:30PM Interviewing Skills (Spanish) 1:00PM and 5PM Career Planning Seminar 1:30PM Starting a Small Business 3:00PM Employment Rights 5:30PM Introduction to Queens Workforce1

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QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 14


Rev. Thorbs carries on her mother’s ministry

Giving food and school supplies to needy, ministering to prison inmates by AnnMarie Costella Assistant Editor

hen the Rev. C. Princess Thorbs stepped up to the pulpit at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Jamaica on Mother’s Day, it was a surreal moment. It was the f irst time she had preached since her mother, the Rev. Carlene Thorbs, a longtime religious pillar of the community, had died.


The Rev. C. Princess Thorbs reads a passage from her mother’s PHOTO BY ANNMARIE COSTELLA Bible.

“It was difficult, because I am accustomed to having her there and having her critique,” Thorbs said choking back tears, “but it was rewarding because I was able to do it and that’s what she would expect.” The moment also marked a turning point in Thorb’s life, allowing her to move past her enormous grief and continue on with her mother’s religious work. She is assisted by her brother James, and husband of 10 years John McGee, who are also ministers. “It does now feel like a huge responsibility, because when she was here, you were helping. Now it’s literally on your shoulders,” said Thorbs, who became a minister in 2001. “I just asked God for wisdom to do what he wanted me to do, not what people want me to do.” Thorbs’ family took part in the founding of New Jerusalem Baptist Church under the Rev. James Kelly, and they have been members there for 18 years. But Thorbs has expanded her work into various parts of the community and partners with other churches. She works with Tabernacle of Praise International Ministries to distribute food to those in need, whether that means stopping by area post offices or beauty parlors. “Because of the economic times and because of what’s been going on, people have a need,” Thorbs said. “So when we get all the fresh food, we make it our business to pack it up and literally take it from door to door or we take it to a person who then distributes it to a whole other group of people.” Thorbs also works with Pastor Milton Rochford of Hemptstead, LI who oversees a prison chaplain program, helping both male and female inmates, after they are released, go back to school, come to grips with moving back into society and re-establishing themselves with their family.

Thorbs has been a member of Community Board 12 for three years, and was one of the founders of the Ozone Park East Civic Association. Every year for the past three or four years, the group has held a back to school bash, a party with free barbecued food, where school supplies are distributed. The life-long South Ozone Park resident is a member of the Ecclesiastical Holy Convocation of the Queens-Great Lake Diocese of the Holy Communion of Churches, a group of religious leaders who meet to discuss and try to address the various issues affecting their respective communities. Thorbs is a full-time minister, but she also helps run a maintenance business with her husband called Me and Mom’s Services. However, she said, as with all things, her faith leaves it’s mark on that too. Thorbs said many times when they go into peoples’ homes, the clients open up to them about personal problems even though they usually don’t tell them they are ministers. “They say there’s something about you that’s different or you listen too well, and we’ve been told some extremely mind blowing things,” she said. For example, one elderly woman, who called them to clean her carpets, revealed a history of sexual abuse that had taken place when she had been a child. “I asked her if she could forgive the person, could she allow herself to forgive them and realize that it was not her fault,” Thorbs recalled. “She eventually came around to the point where she was ready to let that go because it was holding her hostage.” Dressed casually in jeans and a black blouse, Thorbs, a retired police officer, reflected on her time in law enforcement. She said her mother reminded her to always be a Christian first and she said having a mother in ministry helped her be compassionate toward the people she encountered in the street. continued on page 28

Nun helps feed the poor in Queens Village Sister Christine Cusati oversees the outreach center at Our Lady of Lourdes by AnnMarie Costella Assistant Editor

ister Christine Cusati helps more than 100 people each week as the director of the Our Lady of Lourdes Outreach Center in Queens Village tending to their religious and personal needs. She finds it a rewarding process and one that motivates her to continue her charitable work. The Outreach Center has been in existence for about 25 years and distributes food through its pantry program, offers bereavement counseling, holds blood drives and offers several services for the homebound including bringing them food and communion. Although she witnesses much hardship, she tries to maintain a sense of humor and her motto is “keep it light.” In line with her philosophy Cusati contributes to the weekly church bulletin, in a section called “On the Light Side,” which features a quote by a notable person, picked by the nun. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, dancing, traveling and gardening. “I feel you have to really enjoy life to the fullest,” said Cusati who has been the director of the center for the last six years, “but God has



to be part of it.” Cusati, who is originally from Brooklyn, became a nun in 1970 at the age of 28, taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. “You pray, and you have a feeling that this is what you want to do and that God is calling you,” she said. “It’s not in black and white. I dated, but it just wasn’t satisfying to me. I was looking for more.” She joined the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, which is based in Philadelphia. There she learned social work, religious education and parish ministry — all aimed at preparing her to begin work in a designated community. She also has a degree in social work from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. Cusati has been situated in several different states since she began her career including Mississippi, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She said the most difficult part of being a nun is living with a religious family rather than a traditional one. Even though they are bound together by the same mission, they still have their disagreements. “I wouldn’t say it’s a piece of cake, but I’m happy,” Cusati said. She also noted that fewer women

are joining the convent and the average nun she encounters these days is in her 50s. Fewer men are joining the priesthood too, and the majority of new members are coming from South America, according to Cusati. “There are more opportunities today to serve God’s people other than joining a religious community,” Cusati said. “But there are a lot of people out there that are being called, but they’re just not responding or they’re not listening. And I think religious life may take a different form in the future.” Every Wednesday, anywhere between 120 and 150 people, make their way down a narrow flight of stairs into the basement office of the Outreach Center to receive much needed supplies from its food pantry. “Sometimes they are waiting on line, down the block,” Cusati said. The shelves of the modest pantry are stocked with a variety of items including canned vegetables, meats and fish, boxes of dry pasta, bottles of juice and milk. Occasionally, frozen meats and vegetables are available. During Thanksgiving, clients are given frozen turkeys, sweet potatoes,

Sister Christine Cusati shows off the variety of different foods available at PHOTO BY ANNMARIE COSTELLA the Our Lady of Lourdes pantry. cranberry sauce and stuffing. “Our parish has been extremely generous, even though they are having problems with the economic crisis themselves,” Cusati said. “They are just wonderful people, and they give what they can. We have containers at the entrances of the church, on the inside, and they just drop a bag of food in there.” The pantry also receives assistance from the Food Bank of New York and the federally and

state-funded Emergency Food Assistance Program. Each client gets an allotted amount of food from the following categories based on the amount of people in their family: milk; meat and protein; vegetables; starch, including breads, pastas and cereals; and sauces. Although visitors are not required to provide proof of need, they must fill out a form upon their continued on page 28

Page 15 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011




Ed uc at io n

QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 16


Young philanthropists learn charity early

Two girls launch fundraisers and inspire their classmates to do good by Benjamin Graham Chronicle Contributor

wo significant moments occurred nearly 10 years ago for eighth graders Angelica Carlson of Jackson Heights and Valeria Mendez of Elmhurst. On the first day of school that year at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Jackson Heights, the girls met each other and became friends. Several days later, the twin towers fell. Today the girls are becoming young philanthropists and have already successfully run three fundraising campaigns, two for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and one for victims of the Japanese tsunami. They attribute their charitable work to their friendship and to the feelings they had in the aftermath of 9/11. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help in the middle of all that tragedy,” Angelica said. “Now that we’re older, we’ve taken it on ourselves to help when we can.” And the two have become very effective at helping. They first teamed up last spring to make gift packages for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “A group of our friends came over and we made an assembly line in my house to stuff the packages,” Angelica said. Funds for the packages were raised mostly at school, where the administration has been very helpful and encouraging from the start. On dress down Tuesdays, students at Joan of Arc are permitted to wear their gym uniforms rather than their regular uniforms if they pay $1. The girls were able to collect this money and use it to buy goodies for the soldiers. “We packed boxes with beef jerky, magazines, mixed CDs and thank-you notes written by students,” Valeria said. Assistant Principal Michael Donavan was quick to note that all the magazines and music were rated G. He was also quick to comment on the girls’ character.


Valeria Mendez, left, and Angelica Carlson demonstrate the PHOTO BY BENJAMIN GRAHAM proper way to prepare a gift package. “I was their sixth grade teacher,” Donovan said. “They showed an extra caring for their classmates back then, and they showed leadership.” Valeria and Angelica brought their first fundraising idea to the administration more than a year ago. “We were very excited,” Donavan said. “We were thrilled to see children living up to the values we try to instill.” In total, the girls sent 25 packages for males, 25 packages for females and three large community packages to soldiers. The duo decided to do it again last Christmas, sending

packages filled with holiday-themed gifts to troops stationed abroad. Afterwards two soldiers, one from the Army and one from the Marines, came to visit the school and deliver personal thank yous to a crowded auditorium full of students. “It was fun to see the kids’ reactions and how they interacted with the soldiers,” Valeria said. When the girls decided they needed a name to operate under, they chose Children of the Heights. “We’re children and we’re from Jackson Heights,” Valeria said of the name. But Children of the Heights is much more than just Angelica and Valeria now. For their most recent project, which took place in May, the two raised $1,000 for Japan’s earthquake and tsunami relief and presented it to the top Japanese ambassador in New York, Consul General Shigeyuki Hiroki. Along the way, they were able to get more and more of their classmates to participate in raising money. Next fall the duo will attend St. John’s Preparatory School in Astoria for ninth grade. They hope to continue their charity work in high school, but they’d also like to pass it on to some of the younger students at St. Joan of Arc. “There are some fifth, sixth and seventh graders ready to take over,” Angelica said. Their plan is to start a used-eyeglass drive and then pass it on to the next class of leaders. “This project will be a good starter for the kids taking over. They won’t have to fundraise,” Angelica said. When asked how they felt about accomplishing so much at such a young age, the girls were speechless. “For me, knowing we’ve been able to do something this big, that actually helps people...I can’t put it into words,” Q Valeria said.



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Seabrook: A life dedicated to pupils

PS 111 principal gives her all to improve education in her school by Bud Taylor Chronicle Contributor

andy Seabrook, 55, the principal of PS 111, doesn’t have any retirement plans. She would retire only when her students reach a place of greater confidence in their ability to succeed academically. “We’re not there yet,” she says. “But I don’t want to be old and decrepit either.” She gives a hearty laugh. When Seabrook became principal in 2005, the District 30 Long Island City school was in a state she describes as “chaotic.” It had some of the worst test scores in the city and major discipline issues. But Seabrook, who has devoted her entire life to education, is helping change the school into a success story. Seabrook, born to West Indian parents, grew up across the street from the Brooklyn Museum. She attended public school and then strict all-girls Catholic schools. Seabrook graduated high school early — at the age of 16 — and started Brooklyn College, where she obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood education. Seabrook, an avid reader, decided to be an educator when as a child she began voraciously reading books about black history and important figures in African American progress. She was struck most by Mary McLeod Bethune and her courage to open a school in the South at a time when the region was opposed to the idea of black


Principal Randy Seabrook, back right, with students of PS 111 in the school’s library. PHOTO BY BUD TAYLOR

people becoming educated. After Brooklyn College, she taught social studies at IS 320 in Crown Heights for 16 years. In 1987, she married Robert Seabrook, a corrections officer now retired, with whom she had two children, both who recently graduated college. After a master’s in administration and supervision at Bank Street College, in many ways forced upon her by colleagues, Seabrook switched from teacher to administrator,

working as assistant principal of PS 42 and then PS 44 in Far Rockaway. She also worked with America’s Choice on a school redesign project as a cluster leader for 10 schools in Far Rockaway, helping them work on performance standards and redesign the schools to improve literacy. In 2005, she put her leadership and administrative skills to work at PS 111. She worked to unify teachers and administrators — ending the lack of communication and distrust

that had contributed to the school’s poor performance — to enforce a discipline system and evaluation standards. In a short time, Seabrook was able to set the school and its 450 students on a path towards a brighter future. “The Jacob Blackwell School [PS 111] is a school on the rise,” states a 2008 Department of Education Quality Review Report. “All celebrate the stability and direction provided by the principal since 2005 and evidence of progress of the lower third of students is clear.” This past February, Seabrook received a City Council proclamation honoring her leadership from Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) at the district’s first Black History Awards ceremony at the Jacob Riis Settlement House. “I've walked the hallways and seen the wonderful experience that the young people are having at PS 111 and the respect that Principal Seabrook commands in that school,” said Van Bramer at the event. Seabrook’s proud that student achievements have increased on her watch. She’s proud of diverse new programs like robotics, dance, Rosetta Stone foreign language classes and instruction for writing blogs and creating iMovies. Seabrook is also proud of her staff. “This is the best staff in the whole city,” she said. “They do whatever is required in order to Q help the children succeed.”

Page 17 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

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QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 18


Paz Tanjuaquio combines the arts with business and the environment by Mark Lord Chronicle Contributor

he dances. She choreographs. She’s a businesswoman, a wife and an environmentalist. But what does Paz Tanjuaquio do in her spare time? The question may sound like a punch line, but “whenever I can, I watch the sun set from my balcony,” she said. Such moments of tranquility are apparently rare for this native of the Philippines who moved to this country as a child. Along with her husband, Todd Richmond, a composer and fellow visual artist, she established Topaz Arts, Inc., a nonprofit multidisciplinary arts organization in Woodside that fosters new works and supports the creative process, primarily of dancers. That was back in 2000, the same year she and Richmond tied the knot. “Dancers don’t make money,” Tanjuaquio said. “It’s important for them to have space.” Establishing a place for dancers and other artists to work “was a dream of ours,” she said. “We looked all over and found Queens to be affordable and accessible. We liked the feel of the area. It felt like the right place.” The spot they selected is a 2,500-square- foot converted warehouse on 39th Avenue, smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Great care was taken in designing the new facility, placing it among 16 national finalists for the 2010 LINC MetLife Foundation Innovative Space Award, which honors successful spaces that demonstrate cultural diversity, innovation, affordability, sustainability and positive community impact. Tanjuaquio attended grade school in Illinois, then moved to California with her family, and finally settled in New


Paz Tanjuaquio sits in the gallery of her Woodside arts organization, Topaz Arts. The space is used by painters as well as dancers and PHOTO BY ED GLAZAR other artists.


York in 1990. She received her bachelor's degree in visual arts from the University of California at San Diego and her master’s from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has been creating dances in New York since her arrival here. Her work has been seen on stages in such venues as the 92nd St. Y, La MaMa ETC, Symphony Spaceand at the Danspace Project. Her multiple awards for choreography have come from prestigious organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Queens Council on the Arts. She has been an artist-in-residence everywhere from Martha’s Vineyard to Florida to Japan. Since it was created, Topaz Arts has assisted hundreds of artists in developing and presenting their works. The dance studio, which can be easily converted into a 50-seat theater for performances, is energy efficient. High-efficiency appliances are used throughout the building and the theater’s curtains, shelving, tables, chairs and other furnishings are, for the most part, recycled. “Paz provides a creative, inspiring space for the community,” said Dina Denis, whose dance company, Dance Into Light, has been working out of the facility for several years. Besides affordable rehearsal space, the center also houses Topaz Arts Dance Productions, which explores collaborations between Tanjuaquio and Richmond and integrates dance, new music, film, visual arts and technology. In addition, Topaz Arts presents four visual arts exhibitions each year, exposing audiences to works by emerging and established artists. And its Partnerships in Dance program provides opportunities for artists and audiences to experience contemporary dance. One recent exhibition consisted of sketchbooks, pastel continued on page 28



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Theater founder finds life fulfilling

Sheila Lewandowski established Chocolate Factory in Long Island City by Mark Lord Chronicle Contributor

o describe a typical day in the life of Sheila Lewandowski, the executive director of Long Island City’s Chocolate Factory Theater, is no easy feat. In fact, it’s impossible. “There is no typical day,” she said. “That’s foreign to me.” One thing becomes clear after speaking with Lewandowski; hers is a busy life. Whether it’s meeting with artists or the theater’s program funders, planning with other local business women, attending a City Council event, applying for grant money, participating in a meeting with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, or even helping to organize an annual Halloween parade for the neighborhood kids, she’s on an almost constant whirlwind. But as a co-founder of one of the community’s mainstay live theaters, she naturally finds time to attend performances at her own theater and at other venues. The seed for the Chocolate Factory, known for productions that emphasize collaboration, combining dance, music, video and text in a total intermingling of disciplines, was planted as far back as 1997. At the time, Lewandowski and her husband, Brian Rogers, who serves as the organization’s artistic director, began producing shows throughout the city. From 1999 to 2004, the organization took on the name “theater et al” and focused primarily on the creation of original works, which remains the primary programming activity of the Chocolate Factory. One big difference from the early years is that the group now has an official home. “The Chocolate Factory Theater was founded (in 2004) by my husband and me as a place to develop and present


Sheila Lewandowski, who founded the Chocolate Factory theater in Long Island City, keeps on track with business while volunPHOTO BY ED GLAZAR teering at the recent Taste of LIC event. our own new work for and in the community we call home,” Lewandowski said. They took up permanent residence at 5-49 49 Ave. in a renovated commercial garage in 2005, with a long lease in tow. “We have been engaged in the theater and dance communities for decades. New and experimental work

seemed to be exclusive to Manhattan and Brooklyn,” she said. “Other very important goals included offering a place for other artists whose work was not represented in Queens a place for development and public presentation.” The theater provides residencies to create new work to be shown to the public. The 5,000-square-foot facility, which houses approximately 100 performances annually, has received recognition from the Village Voice, the same organization behind the off-Broadway Obie Awards. In addition to providing financial support to visiting artists in the form of creative residencies, the Chocolate Factory, named after a confectionary company that had once occupied a common building, offers rehearsal, performance and exhibition space to independent artists. Since the fall of 2005, which marked the first season of the Visiting Artist program, some 400 artists have benefitted from their involvement with the theater. A graduate of Bennington College, Lewandowski has also attended Baruch College, pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. She is also a former managing director at Queens Council on the Arts. For the past 13 years, she and her husband have resided in Long Island City, an area that has been undergoing a tremendous rebirth. “There is a lot of great stuff coming,” Lewandowski said. “I’m glad I can be involved to fight for parking and small businesses,” which she hopes will remain in the area. Lewandowski seems to live by the words of one of her favorite quotations, “Public service is a noble calling.” She noted that the term is a catch-phrase for many things. “If you are engaged in your community with the goal of improving the community selflessly, then you are a continued on page 28

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She blazes the way for kayaks in city

Queens Parks Commissioner Lewandowski creates water trails by Liz Rhoades


Managing Editor

ueens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski enjoys kayaking and now more residents can participate through her efforts to create water trails throughout the city. “I knew we were building bike lanes and I mentioned to Commissioner [Adrian] Benepe in 2007 that we needed more than the 13 locations in the city to launch kayaks,” Lewandowski said. “He put me in charge of creating NYC water trails and there are now 47 locations.” Several of the locations are in Queens, including the Rockaways, Little Bay Park in Bayside, Idlewild Park in Rosedale and Francis Lewis Park in Whitestone. Lewandowski’s leadership was also apparent last fall following the freak tornadoes that touched down in Queens, toppling 2,000 trees and damaging 6,000 more. Streets in Middle Village, Flushing, Forest Hills, Bayside and elsewhere were strewn with trees, making driving impassable in many locations. Working with Con Edison, the Port Authority, Sanitation and crews from Nassau County and private

contractors, Lewandowski led the campaign to clear the downed street trees. She accomplished this in five days. “Removing the trees and having them chipped at Cunningham Park and at the grounds of the future police academy in College Point was the biggest operation I’ve ever seen,” Lewandowski said. Since the September storm, she said most of the street trees have been replaced, including the 200 lost in Queens parks. Lewandowski, a native of Glendale, has led Queens Parks since 2004, but she admits that when she started it was a highly male-dominated city agency. Her career began in 1979 when she saw an ad for the first class of city park rangers. She was told all 50 positions were filled, but persevered and asked for an interview. The agency reluctantly agreed to hold an early Sunday morning interview. She went and was hired. Also in that f irst group of rangers was Benepe, who has been one of her supporters ever since. She went on to work at Prospect Park and moved into operations by directing the

rangers program and then served as director of urban grants at Crotona Park in the Bronx. “People saw I could manage,” Lewandowski said. “Well, my mother died when I was 11 and my father gave me money to buy the groceries, so I learned to budget the food money.” She also worked in Orchard Beach and ran the swimming pools in the Bronx, and later served as Bronx chief of operations. In 2004, the Parks Department honored her with the commissioner of the year award because “for over 25 years, Dorothy Lewandowski has been promoting, preserving, and managing our city’s park spaces.” The commendation added: “This year’s Commissioner’s Award winner represents a textbook example of a stellar Parks and Recreation career.” In Queens, she oversees 7,000 acres of parkland and believes part of her job is to serve as an ambassador by greeting people at parks on weekends and attending night meetings. She also reads the 3,500 letters sent to her agency every year. “People are surprised when I call them to respond,” Lewandowski said.

Page 21 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

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Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski heads out on the water at the opening of the kayak launch at Idlewild Park in Rosedale in 2007. PHOTO BY DANIEL AVILA/NYC

“She indicated her goals are to better the workplace for Parks employees, to build bridges with constituents to see what’s needed, get funding and to use it equitably throughout the borough. “I consider myself a public servant, not a civil servant,”

Lewandowski said. “I work hard and try to do the right thing.” A graduate of SUNY Farmingdale and Baruch College, she has been married to Walter Lewandowski for 30 years. The couple has a son, David, who is Q starting medical school.

Coastal pioneer watches over shore Broad Channel’s Barbara Toborg became beach-savvy in 1980s by Liz Rhoades Managing Editor

orking with a PTA to stop expansion of a polluting factory near her children’s school in Elmhurst got Barbara Toborg interested in cleaning up the environment.



in getting the New York State bottle bill passed and organizing a coastal cleanup for the state,” Riepe said. “I hated to lose her, but she still helps out when needed.” The ALS beach cleanups are held every fall and have grown from 100 to 10,000 volunteers. One of the group’s projects is to determine what types of things are litttering the beach. The largest numbers are cigarette butts, but more visible are beverage containers. “The ones that were littering the beach were those without 5-cent deposits,” Toborg said. “We fought in Albany for adding a deposit to non-carbonated drinks and now at least it’s on water bottles.” A coal-miner’s daughter from Pennsylvania, Toborg is a graduate of Duquesne University and has had several careers. She started out as a social worker, moved to New York and got a job writing and editing reading tests. She stopped working to raise her son and daughter and got involved with the PTA at PS 102 that was fighting the factory expansion. “We were sucessful and won,” she said. “That was my first environmental issue, although I’ve always been interested in the environment.” She later worked for then-Councilman Joseph Lisa of Corona and eventually moved to Broad Channel. Although now retired, Toborg has not slowed down. She is chairwoman of the Broad Channel Historical Society, travels and helps on the ALS’s sunset boat rides on Jamaica Bay. Among her accomplishments, she is the most proud of her involvement in pushing for passage of the bottle bill, getting people involved in the littoral society and putting out the newsletter. “This is our planet,” she said. “We must reach out to the younger generation to get them involved to preserve Q what we’ve got.”


Environmentalist Barbara Toborg at a beach cleanup at the Norton Basin in Edgemere in the Rockaways in 2006.

Now, she can count many other successes in bringing an awareness to Queens residents about improving the natural world. “People are more involved today, but sometimes I feel disappointed that the environment is left out in legislation,” said the Broad Channel resident. At the age of 71, she can look back at accomplishments that make her a pioneer in coastal awareness for Queens. Living right off Jamaica Bay doesn’t hurt either. For almost 30 years Toborg edited the American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter newsletter, which she named Littorally Speaking. It comes out three times a year and the number of pages has expanded greatly over that time. “I retired from doing the newsletter last year because it was time for the younger generation to take over,” she said. In 2002, she retired from her job as secretary from the nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. But she remains active in environmental issues. Toborg regularly volunteers for beach cleanups with the society as well as other groups and has been fighting plans to expand a Kennedy International Airport runway into Jamaica Bay. “It would create more flights and would hurt the bay, which is struggling now,” Toborg said, who is optimistic the plan will not be carried out. “Airport officials saw there was opposition and they do have other options rather than filling in the bay.” The ALS is an environmental organization that deals with coastal issues. The Northeast Chapter is headquartered in Broad Channel and consists of 2,000 members from New York, New England and Canada. It is headed by Don Riepe, who asked Toborg to write the newsletter in the 1980s and act as office manager. He never regretted the decision. “Barbara is an excellent writer and was instrumental

s fit ro np No

QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 22

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Faith gives hope to sex trafficking victims

Founder of Restore NYC opens first house for survivors in Queens by Elizabeth Daley Editor

aith Huckel wanted to change the world. In 2010, at an undisclosed location in Queens, her organization, Restore NYC, opened the first and only safehouse in the city for victims of sex trafficking. Huckel said she became interested in the issue after reading an article in the New York Times. “It just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that there could be something like this going on in a city like New York. I think I just became obsessed.” Her obsession turned into a Columbia University master’s thesis in social work and her Master’s thesis turned into a call for action. “I had an idea for my life that was not this,” Huckel said of her current position as founder and executive director of Restore NYC, “but I think when I had this realization that the world wasn’t what I thought it was, I got to a point where I realized I knew too much and I could not walk away.” In the summer of 2004, she and two friends who are lawyers sat around a kitchen table to devise a plan to help victims.


“I was doing my master’s thesis on trafficking, and the one thing I kept asking everyone I spoke with was: If New York City had one service specif ic to this issue what would it be?” Huckel said. Each person told her that victims were desperately in need of safe housing where they could recover from the trauma of repeated abuse. Trafficking victims often do not have enough money to afford housing on their own and do not know people outside the sex trade with whom they can stay. Finding housing is also made difficult due to language barriers and a lack of previous renting history. Now, six women now have a safe place to rest their heads after being forced into the sex trade under false pretenses. In addition to providing housing, Restore counsels many more women who have been arrested for prostitution, 92 percent of whom come to the organization through the Queens criminal court system. Many are arrested in either Jamaica or in Corona. Restore NYC also advocates for legislation or programing that may assist victims of sex trafficking. Huckel praised Queens Criminal

Court Judge Toko Serita, who was instrumental in devising an incarceration alternative program for women arrested for prostitution in Queens. In an effort to help women leave sex work, the program allows those arrested to seek counseling and learn English through organizations like Restore. If the women are not re-arrested for six months after leaving the program, their record is erased and they have the chance to f ind employment and have a normal life. Though she has compassion for women forced into the sex trade, Huckel said Restore NYC believes prostitution should remain illegal. “We see it as not legitimate work and abusive of women,” Huckel said. Usually, the women Restore NYC encounters were promised employment in America, and arrive only to be forced into sex work to pay off alleged debts incurred in their travel to America. Not knowing anyone and fearing deportation and abuse, the women are forced into prostitution, rarely seeing any profit from their sexual slavery. “Most people see it as a choice,” Huckel said of prostitution, “yet when you look at the statistics and

Faith Huckel, founder and executive director of Restore NYC joins state Sen. Jose Peralta and cab company owner Felix Suero to advocate for legislation which would educate taxi drivers about sex trafficking. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH DALEY you hear the stories you realize that it’s never a choice.” She said factors surrounding sex work often include poverty and childhood abuse. “The average entry age into prostitution is 12 years old and how can someone 12 years old really

make that decision? And what happens after their 18th birthday? Do they go from being a victim to being a criminal?” Huckel asked. Because Restore NYC attempts to help women who are often continued on page 28

‘Unsung hero’ Dolan heads the civics Serves as president of Queens Civic Congress; expert on zoning by Victor Mimoni Chronicle Contributor

f all the civic leaders in Queens, few have been more influential — and less recognized — than Patricia “Pat” Dolan, a long-time member and current president of the Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella group of more than 110 community and neighborhood-based organizations. Dubbed “one of the unsung heroes,” by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who called Dolan “probably the longest-working of civic workers in the borough,” a hard-to-match rave from someone with a pretty impressive record herself for longtime public service. “Most of it has been pro bono,” Shulman continued, adding, “She’s been at it as long as I’ve known her, and that’s a long, long time.” Born in Brooklyn, Dolan came to Queens with her parents as a toddler and still lives in her childhood home in Kew Gardens Hills. She recalled first getting involved about 25 years ago, joining the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association — where she is currently the organization’s president. “It was the end of the 1980s and there was severe property over-development in Kew Gardens Hills, especially the illegal apartments” Dolan recalled. “We still see it today, all over the city … everywhere. We’re just building more of them,” she added.



Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association President Pat Dolan, third from left, is shown recently with elected city and library officials at the Kew Gardens Hills Library. Dolan’s group donated $4,000 PHOTO BY JIM JAFFE for book purchases at the branch. As if championing the cause of her own neighborhood and the “outer boroughs” wasn’t enough, Dolan also fought to preserve and improve Flushing Meadows Park, a green space that was the site of two World’s Fairs and the second-largest park in the city. Along with Shulman and several others, Dolan is one of the founding members of

the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy. “What got me going was when (then Borough President) Donald Manes got the idea to have Grand Prix auto racing around Meadow Lake in the park,” she said. “That would have destroyed a large portion of the park and made the area unavailable to the community for months at a time.”

Richard Hellenbrecht is another conservancy charter member and former chairman of Community Board 13, covering the eastern reaches of central and south Queens. He admits to being awestruck by Dolan’s capabilities. “She’s an incredible worker; extremely bright, persistent and knowledgeable,” Hellenbrecht said. “We worked on some complicated issues, including a major rezoning,” he recalled, noting that Dolan also worked on a concurrent major rezoning with community leaders in Brooklyn. “I had access to computers and could barely keep up with it, but Pat worked it out on her kitchen table,” he said, calling her knowledge of zoning issues “encyclopedic.” Deborah Markell Kleinert, district manager of Community Board 2, covering Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City called Dolan “iconic in terms of land use and zoning.” While she admits that the problem is not as extreme in her area, “illegal apartments are a hazard and a detriment to the public and Pat Dolan has been in the forefront of calling for action,” Kleinert said. In fact, Dolan has served on the Queens Borough President’s Task Force on Illegal Conversions, under both Borough Presidents Shulman and Helen Marshall. “Pat Dolan cares deeply about her entire community and is a great advocate, continued on page 28

CELEB OF QUEENS page 23 Page 23 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011


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Basketball pro follows grandma’s example

Former Christ the King great Chamique Holdsclaw gives back by Michael Cusenza Editor

une Holdsclaw passed away from a heart attack in 2002, but her legacy lives on in her granddaughter, Chamique. The former Christ the King Regional High School standout and Womens National Basketball Association star told the Chronicle that she carries herself, on and off the court, with grandma in mind. “It starts with my family — everyone loved my grandmother,” Holdsclaw, 33, said from her home in Atlanta, where she has lived for the last four years. “I grew up around a lot of structure, and giving back and helping people. This is about her and keeping her memory alive.” Holdsclaw said she and her younger brother, Davon, moved from Jamaica to their grandmother’s apartment in the Astoria Houses when she was 11, because their “parents had issues.” The matriarchal discipline Holdsclaw speaks of put her on the right path. “I had to go to church every Sunday, and finish my homework before I could go play basketball,” she recalled with a hearty laugh. June allowed Chamique to shoot hoops on the middle court at the Astoria Houses, mainly because she could keep a watchful eye on her granddaughter from her apartment window. Holdsclaw noted that it was through the sport that she made friends shortly after moving to western Queens. “I just fell in love with it,” she said of basketball.


Holdsclaw decided to attend Christ the King and immediately made an impact on the girls’ program. “It’s funny — my grandmother was so against it because it was so far [from home],” she said of the Middle Village school. “It was the best decision we ever made. Just being on that stage in high school was really great.” Holdsclaw led the Lady Royals to four straight state championships. Soon, all the top colleges came calling, inundating her grandmother’s apartment with letters. While attending a basketball camp, a friend said to Holdsclaw, “I’ve never seen a female player recruited like this.” With June’s blessing, she chose the University of Tennessee, because Holdsclaw didn’t want to stay too close to home — “I wanted to figure out life on my own,” she has family in the South and the academic performance of Coach Pat Summitt’s players is renowned. Holdsclaw recalled how Summitt convinced her grandmother she would take good care of Chamique. “‘Miss Holdsclaw, we promise your granddaughter will graduate,’” she recited, giggling at the memory. And she did complete college, but not before becoming one of the most celebrated amateur female athletes in history. Holdsclaw was twice named Naismith Player of the Year, powering the Lady Volunteers to three consecutive national championships, including 1998, when the team finished undefeated. “It was an unbelievable feeling,” she said. Holdsclaw was drafted No. 1 overall by the

Washington Mystics in 1999. Naturally, the sixtime WNBA All-Star celebrated with her grandmother in tow. “Wow, your dream comes true: to have the opportunity to do what you love for a living,” Holdsclaw remembered thinking that night. The following year, she helped lead the Olympic team to the gold medal at the Sydney games. Throughout her career, Holdsclaw has donated time and funding to several charities and causes to which she feels a connection, including the Boys and Girls Club of America and the American Heart Association, in honor of her grandmother. “It’s great to be able to give back,” she asserted. “I appreciate everything basketball has given me.” Holdsclaw, who still is working on a return to basketball from a torn Achilles tendon, said she misses the city tremendously, and tries “to get back home any chance that I get.” She keeps up with the borough through social media. “I get a ton of Facebook messages from people from Queens,” Holdsclaw reported. “When people tell you stories [of how you inspired them] you just appreciate it more, like, ‘Hey, I did something right.’” And June Holdsclaw, by one bright athlete’s account and example, did right by her grandchildren, something that is never lost on Chamique. “It’s been all a blessing,” Holdsclaw said. “People look up to you and want to be like Q you, not just as a player, but a person.”

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College golfer Lee aims high for sport

St. John’s University student is named Big East Freshman of Year Managing Editor

ou may not have heard of her yet, but Bayside’s Harin Lee may be the next Annika Sorenstam of golf. That would be just f ine for Lee,18, whose favorite golfer is Swedish-American Sorenstam, who retired in 2008 as one of the most successful golfers in history. Lee, who was born in Korea and moved here with her family at the age of 4, just completed her freshman year at St. John’s University, where she set the school record for the lowest round at 68. In addition, she was named Big East Freshman of the Year and won the Big East Championship tournament that was held last month in Florida. Not surprisingly, St. John’s gave her the golf MVP award. “I started playing golf at the age of 10,” Lee said, “because of my Dad, who used to play. I went from practicing three times a week to everyday.” She now practices five hours a day, usually at the Douglaston Golf Course. “I also go to the driving range on Northern

in the off-season. She credits her coaches at St. John’s for making sure her swing is right, “but otherwise, I’m on my own,” Lee indicated. While in high school she won the city high school championship in 2006 and the state championship in 2007 and 2008. Although she has not declared a major yet, she is leaning toward sports management. “I want to turn pro when I graduate,” Lee said, “if I play consistentely good golf.” Lee’s coach, Ambry Bishop, called her a very talented player with a strong work ethic. “She definitely is on track to turn pro when she graduates,” Bishop said. “She has the ability and skills.” Harin said audiences at matches can add pressure to players, but she tries to tune them out. “My best score was four under par 68 and the best I played was seven under par for two days,” Lee said. Harin believes the sport teaches good life lessons. “Golf reminds you of life,” she said. “It has its ups and downs.” The athlete indicated that the most important aspect of playing


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Boulevard for an hour in the morning,” Lee said. She credits her Dad with helping her with technique. “He’s critical and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be at this point,” the young golfer said. “He’s very proud of me.” Her mother, who didn’t used to be interested in the sport, has recently become a convert and enjoys watching her daughter compete in tournaments. While a student at Bayside High School, Harin served as captain of the golf team and recommends the sport as a good one for girls to get involved in. “It teaches you discipline and honesty, because you can’t cheat in golf,” she said. “And there’s no discrimination in the sport.” She also believes golf is good for women “because it’s not hard core and can help you get f it through walking.” In addition to practicing daily, Harin lifts weight for strength at St. John’s Jamaica campus. She watches her diet and also does cardio exercises. The college golf season is held in the spring and fall, so there is plenty of time for her to work out

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Page 25 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011

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QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 26



A musical master is in the making

Ashley Chambers plays classical piano and jazz saxophone works by Bud Taylor Chronicle Contributor

hen Ashley Chambers isn’t wielding nunchucks on the practice floor of Zen Masters Martial Arts Academy in St. Albans, she’s in a back room giving piano lessons to children. That’s because the 18-yearold tae kwon do black belt is also a dedicated pianist and alto saxophonist with a passion for performance, teaching and community involvement. Ashley grew up in Cambria Heights with her sister Brittany, 21, and brother Kyle, 12. She was raised by her Jamaican-born father, Dennis, and Harlem-native mother, Sharon. Her music-loving parents, who together run Zen Masters, exposed her to martial arts training and music at a young age. Ashley’s first foray into music — organ followed by piano lessons around the age of 8 — was not by choice. “My mother forced me to play,” said Ashley with a laugh, “until I actually really enjoyed playing.” As her piano skills developed, her desire to play and her ear for classical music gradually did too. She grew to love the “romantic” sound of Chopin, especially his “Fantaisie Impromptu.” She’s also a fan of Mozart. One of her favorites is his 12 playfully intricate variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” “I really enjoy playing that because people are familiar with it, but they also get very surprised to hear all the different ways it can be interpreted,” Ashley said. She started teaching piano lessons six years ago. Her mom inspired her to start the business, which she now calls “Keiko Studios” and operates out of the martial arts academy. Keiko is her middle name. As for alto saxophone, Ashley adopted the woodwind at


IS 25 in Flushing when she wanted to join the band and playing piano was not an option. She was reluctant to play sax at first, but her father encouraged her. In high school, she began to embrace the instrument much as she did piano. Ashley attended the Academy of Music at Bayside High School, playing in the concert and jazz bands. In her third year, she became lead alto in both bands and received the school’s Juniors Oscar Award for highest scores in music class. As a senior, she was president of the Chamber Music Club. Ashley’s jazz study and performance extended beyond Bayside. She was awarded the Sean Cheesewright Queens College Jazz Scholarship to study at the Lawrence Eisman Center for Preparatory Studies in Music. For three years, she also performed extensively with the York College Blue Notes, a jazz big band of high school musicians. She loves music’s ability to transcend language barriers and touch people. “To be able to share something with people that don’t even speak the same language as you. I think it’s very powerful,” she said. Ashley recently started playing sax for the band at Mt. Moriah AME Church in Cambria Heights. “Whenever … we start improvising in Ashley Chambers performs during an April piano recital at the Illinois the church, everyone starts praising and you can Jacquet Performance Space at the Chapel of the Sisters in Jamaica. really tell they get into the music,” she said. COURTESY PHOTO Ashley got another glimpse of how her music touches others when she played sax June 12 at the Broad dad that way,” she said. Ashley starts her second year at the New School for Jazz Street Ballroom for a Real Dads Network-hosted event celebrating fathers. To her surprise, after she dedicated a and Contemporary Music in Manhattan in the fall. She song to her father, who was in the audience, it brought plans to keep performing and to become a musical advocate. “I want to go to schools and show children how they him to tears. Q “It really made me happy that I was able to affect my can express themselves through music,” she said.

A musical prodigy who keeps her balance Ashley Park, 14, will play next year with the Queens Symphony Orchestra by Peter C. Mastrosimone Editor-in-Chief

shley Park wanted to play the violin, but her parents thought she was too young. She had to wait another two years before she got her hands on her instrument of choice, they insisted — she had to wait until she was 5. But once she started playing, it became clear that Ashley, now 14, was a virtuoso. When she was 6, she got to play with the Elan International Music Festival



Orchestra, performing in Vermont for an audience that included the surviving members of the Von Trapp family — the real people behind “The Sound of Music” musical and movie. She did it again when she was 7. She was also 7 when she first won the New York Music Competition, held at the Flushing YWCA, and as a prize got to perform at Carnegie Hall. She won the competition four years in a row — every year she entered it. In many ways Ashley is the

Ashley Park is a violinist who also paints, swims and has a black belt in tae PHOTO BY PJ SMITH kwon do.

definition of the musical prodigy. She was born with perfect pitch, “a gift from God,” said her mother, Linda. In addition to violin, she plays piano and flute — and just recently picked up her brother Andrew’s trumpet and started playing. But, her mother added, Ashley doesn’t play all day to the exclusion of all else in life. “She’s analytical, she thinks,” Linda Park said. “She has much more diverse interests, and I think that diversity plays into her music and keeps her life very balanced.” It was, in fact, the surviving Von Trapps, now in their 90s, who told Park and her husband, Richard, to “protect Ashley’s childhood” by not limiting her to music alone — advice they took to heart. While allowing Ashley wide latitude in making decisions for herself, they made sure that academics, athletics and just plain fun didn’t fall by the wayside. “She didn’t want to be considered out of the norm, and we wanted her to have a normal childhood,” Linda Park said. For one, the Fresh Meadows native earned a black belt in tae kwon do. “It just feels good to know that I have a sense of protection if I

ever have to go somewhere scary,” Ashley said. She’s on the varsity swim team at the elite Brearley School in Manhattan, where she just finished ninth grade. She also paints, inspired by the view from the academy’s windows overlooking the East River. “Just as painting is a visual art, with many colors and layers and depth, music has many colors and depth too,” Linda Park said. When her daughter plays 19th-century French music, for example, and paints in the styles of 19th-century French artists, “you can see the connection,” she explained. Of course Ashley excels academically, being especially intrigued by science, and biology in particular, though as her mother said, “She’s interested in all areas.” “Ashley is a remarkable student and has been a wonderful addition to our community,” said Brearley teacher and administrator Matt Plunkett, who credited her with “a quick, dry sense of humor and a laid-back style” even as “academically, she demonstrates a strong work ethic and a desire to seek new challenges.” One of those challenges came last March, when she played the first movement of Henryk Wieniawski’s

Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Opus 14 at a competition held by the Queens Symphony Orchestra, performing so well she’ll get to play with the group at a show next season. “She plays very musically, and has an emotional connection to the music that is beyond her years,” QSO Music Director Constantine Kitsopoulos said. “When she plays, you feel like you’re listening to someone who’s much more mature emotionally. ... She’s a very poised young lady and really quite mature for her age.” On getting to play with the QSO, Ashley said, “It’s really cool because it’s the first competition I did that involves a really wellknown orchestra, and because it’s an opportunity to work with other people as well.” Ashley also has put her gifts to use at fundraising concerts for church missions and shows for the residents of nursing homes. After classes, she travels to the famed Juilliard School for its precollege program, where her professors are the renowned Hyo Kang and I-Hao Lee, also artistic director of the Amadeus Music Center in Flushing. In all Ashley Park does, Q the very best is the norm.


continued from page 6

McDermott said, indicating her feelings regarding the abuse of public property. So what’s next for McDermott? “I want to take the Citizen’s Academy course with the FBI and I would like to see the Bowne House reopened,” she said. The historic house has remained closed since 2000 and is undergoing renovations. McDermott visited the house as a child in 1949 and said the experience of being in close contact with her family history had a profound impact on her. She volunteered there as an educator for many years.

Page 27 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011



However, McDermott’s illness has made it more difficult to do the things she once enjoyed. “I don’t drive. It’s hard to use the phone. I sometimes can’t follow a conversation and I find myself searching for words. I used to be very good at communicating, now I can see the word in my head, but I just can’t say it,” McDermott said, adding that the experience was extremely frustrating. However, she still manages to use the many skills she does have to help make the lives of her neighbors better. “Find something you feel comfortable with and don’t be afraid to get your hands dir ty,” McDer mott advised future community advocates, “there’s Q no two ways about it.”

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&2%%3!&%490!#+!'% While she hasn’t sung professionally for years, Thomson — an avid fan of Frank Sinatra and all things doo-wop — has been known to serenade others during a round of karaoke, including at the GWDC’s most recent annual spring dinner dance, at which her organization honored area business owners and civic leaders. Life never seems to slow down for Thomson, and her most recent battles include protesting the mayor’s proposal to shutter 20 fire companies in the city, including Engine Co. 294 in Richmond Hill, which serves Woodhaven. “I’ll always fight for what my community needs,” Thomson said. “I hope that years from now, it can be said that I Q made a difference.”

continued from page 12

Thomson was born in Manhattan and raised in the South Bronx. After getting married, she moved with her husband to his childhood home in Woodhaven. The couple has one daughter, Alena Maria, who lives upstate. Growing up, Thomson never thought she would become a leading civic activist. “I always liked to write, and I was in all the honors English classes, so I thought I might have done something with that,” she said. “I also used to sing, and I sang professionally, so I thought I may become a singer or dancer.”

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Rev. Thorbs

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continued from page 14

continued from page 14

continued from page 20

“You have to remember, I’m seeing them at their worst. I’m seeing them in need,” Thorbs said. “So, by no means could I be judgmental. On the spot you have to be a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a judge and even a friend, a confidant and a counsellor.” In her spare time, Thorbs like to read and go shopping. She admits having a mania for gadgets and frequently perusing the Home Shopping Network for good buys. She also enjoys cooking and traveling and would like to do more of Q both in the future.

initial visit. Records are kept of how much clients are given and the number of times per month that they visit. “Sometimes I have to rely on my gut feeling and ask the right questions,” Cusati said of determining who truly requires help.“But we usually give everybody something.” Some clients visit every week, while others stop by every other week. It depends on their circumstances. The pantry is open on the first four Wednesdays of the month from 1 to 4 p.m. It has about 35 volunteers Q and over 300 families are registered.


in hand.” She and Richmond, who live in the same area where their studio is located, have been collaborating on arts projects since 1993. Tanjuaquio, whose art has taken her to places far and wide, returns every couple of years to her native country, where she still has family and where she recently completed a residency program. But she would like to be able to travel more, “to new places that I haven’t been to, anywhere from Iceland to Costa Rica.” Being selected as one of the borough’s women who are making a difference is “great recognition. It’s validating — that what I do makes a difference. Sometimes it’s hard to know,” she said. Q

continued from page 18

drawings and photographs by 15 artists with developmental disabilities. Other recent events included an informal showing with Korean choreographer Yang Sook Cho, following a three-week residency at Topaz Arts, and an open rehearsal with choreographer John Jasperse, which included a discussion with the audience. With all the hats she wears, Tanjuaquio considers herself first and foremost an artist. “Dance is the form I use most,” she said, “but I incorporate different mediums — drawings, sketches, video. I consider everything goes hand

★ ★★

public servant,” Lewandowski said. “This does not mean you cannot benefit from your engagement because if you are successful in achieving your goals, you will benefit as a member of that community.” In addition to the arts, she is a staunch supporter of mar riage equality and responsible development. “I consider the arts to be an underdog, which is one of the reasons I advocate so vociferously,” she said. “The loss of arts programs could be devastating to community and cultural identity.” Speaking of her theater, she said, “We

Pat Dolan continued from page 22

especially for libraries,” Marshall said. “She has her hand on the pulse of every major issue of concern to her community. We can use a lot more Pat Dolans.” Dolan recently testified before the City Council on the subject of illegal apartments, but makes no bones about the fact that she is less than pleased with the city’s strategy for combating illegal construction, and the problem of gaining access to inspect residential buildings. “The mayor proposes creating a task force,” she said, noting, “They want to have firemen do inspections of residential buildings.” Then Dolan drops the other shoe. “But the mayor wants to close 20 fire-

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houses — I think as a prelude to layingoff firefighters — so who will do the inspections?” she said, adding “Illegal apartments lead to deaths when there is a fire.” The indomitable Dolan has been a familiar figure at municipal hearings for a long time. “I remember when we were fighting to preserve power for the boroughs during the (1989) Charter Revision Commission hearings,” Shulman recalled. “Even though the meetings were all the way downtown, Pat was there every day.” Dolan spends many of her days working professionally in community service, but is close-lipped about her work. “Let’s just say I work for a social services agency in Queens, period. End of story,” Q she said.

Helping sex workers escape continued from page 22


evolve continuously.” And that means eventually, Lewandowski may bring the Chocolate Factory to an end. “Whatever business you are in, you’re not being honest if you don’t consider that an option,” she said. For now, though, the Chocolate Factory is thriving, closing out its current season with a sold-out run engagement. “It’s great to close a season on a high note,” Lewandowski said. In what little spare time she has, Lewandowski putters in her garden, practices yoga and writes, mainly narraQ tive prose for herself.

deemed unacceptable by society, Huckel said she faced challenges when trying to get the organization off the ground. “People generally don’t see these women as victims, they see them as problems,” Huckel said. “It’s really hard to convince them of something that they don’t even know is even happening.” Despite initial challenges, Restore NYC is here to stay. Huckel has taken her lifelong passion for social justice and created the organization. Though the two friends who dreamed up Restore with her are only involved peripherally, a full-time staff of four assists Huckel in Restore NYC’s activities. “More clients are being served daily and I am really thankful to be living the life that I am living and doing the work that I am doing,” said Huckel who grew up in a working-class Philadelphia family and worked since she was 13 putting herself through college and graduate school. “You read articles and you have this big idea of things, but when you start doing the hands-on work it’s more empowering,” Huckel said. “These women are survivors. They have been through hell and back and they have the persistence to want to keep going. I am inspired by their courage.” Restore NYC helps trafficked women apply for visas and find work. Through a program called Nest, the woman are payed a living wage to make beaded jewelry as they wait for their cases to be processed.

Huckel said most of the traff icked women Restore works with do not want to return to their home countries because there is not much for them to go back to. They set out for America to find a better life and even after suffering trauma, they persist in that goal. “In many ways the women just need to be able to have space to go through the process of their healing,” Huckel said, emphasizing the importance of the safe house. “We have had a few clients who ran away to escape sex trafficking and risked their lives doing it. In many cases our clients have seen their friends or others working in brothels with them raped or hurt or in some cases, shot and killed in front of them. All of our clients have at one time wanted to die. Suicidal thoughts are one thing most of them have in common.” Much of the benefit women receive at Restore NYC’s safe house comes from the opportunity to talk about their experiences with others who have been through the same trauma. “Women who have been empowered need to keep empowering other women,” said Huckel. Ascending to her own leadership position has been difficult as well. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe it, and a lot of times women who are outspoken are considered to be unfeminine or obnoxious,” Huckel said. But regardless of what other people think, her advice to women who want to make a change is simple: “Keep Q fighting.”


Through her years at The Space, Schopper has inadvertently convinced artists from other boroughs to move to the area and worked with visiting creatives from all over the world. “That’s been the best part of it — getting to work side by side with them and then they move on and it’s quite satisfying in that regard,” she said. Growing up in a military family, Schopper had no idea art was even an option until she went to college. However, once she discovered painting, her upbringing led her to think in a semi-militaristic way about preserving artistic growth in the nation. Schopper is convinced that if New

Boncardo continued from page 9

come here and they don’t just stay to see the animals. They go around to talk to farmers and ask much more in-depth questions than they used to.” Fischetti-Boncardo is looking forward to helping the farm continue to grow, including overseeing the implementation of the two-year master plan they recently finished that calls for a visitor’s center to be built, expand the planting fields and bring more educational kiosks to the area. “I want to expand the sustainable agriculture education and offer information

in sustainable agriculture and nutrition to families,” she said. Originally from Meridian, Miss., Fischetti-Boncardo lived in Bayside for about 25 years. She now lives in Westchester with her husband, Nicholas Boncardo. She has two children, Michael, 31 and Teresa, 29, and two grandchildren. When she is not working, which is not often, Fischetti-Boncardo said she loves to golf, read and spend time with her grandchildren. While she enjoys her free time, the director said she loves working on the farm. “I tr uly am so lucky,” FischettiBoncardo said. “I have my second Q family here.”

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Yorkers develop a model to sustain creative work in the long term, it could be replicated and used elsewhere. “If you figure it out here, you could easily do it in all of Oklahoma,” she said. “Art is a really good way to turn red-tape knots into bows.” Though many galleries have been priced out of LIC in recent years or have had to change their curatorial missions, Schopper is convinced that development doesn’t have to be bad for artists. She attends numerous community meetings and anytime anyone is doing policy research in the area, The Space turns in tons of feedback. “This area could be a solution so that gentrification didn’t have to be a bad word,” she said. “The voice of an artist can become part of our civilization.” Q

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Mellow noted LaGuardia’s students pursue baccalaureate education at more than twice the national average. “I attribute that to our extraordinary faculty,” Mellow said. “When you go to LaGuardia, you’re not taught by a graduate student. You’re taught by a professor, and those faculty make sure the education you get is solid.” While Mellow said she is consistently inspired by her students’ success stories, she is also fighting an uphill battle to secure enough funding for a college that has seen record numbers of students applying to it in recent years. There are so many students seeking to attend LaGuardia, in fact, that the college will, for the first time ever, have to close registration by early August. “Usually we work to take in all students who want to come, but we just can’t do that anymore,” Mellow said. LaGuardia has lost 21 percent of its state funding over the past three years, and Mayor Bloomberg has proposed carving $45.2 million from the city’s six community colleges in next year’s budget. “That’s an enormous, enormous cut for us,” Mellow said. The college president also noted it has been particularly upsetting to see for-profit universities suck up much of the federal financial aid she believes should be going to places like community colleges. “Of the top 10 colleges in the United



QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, June 23, 2011 Page 30

C M CELEB OF QUEENS page 30 Y K States that receive federal aid, seven are for-prof it colleges,” she said. “That money doesn’t go into the education of students, it goes to really, really rich million-dollar salaries for the people who are running these corporations.” Prior to her tenure at LaGuardia, Mellow was president of Gloucester County College in Sewell, New Jersey; senior administrator for curriculum and pedagogy at LaGuardia; provost and vice president for academic affairs at Rockland Community College in Suffer n, NY; and acting president at Quinebaug Valley Community Technical College in Danielson, Connecticut, among other positions. The college president was also the director of the Women’s Center at the University of Connecticut in the late 1980s. “We did a lot of work with rape crisis and sexual harassment, as well as getting women into science and technology.,” Mellow said. “I loved it, but I missed community college students, so I went back.” Mellow has held leadership positions at a number of national higher education associations and has served on the boards of the American Association for Higher Education, the National Commission for Cooperative Education and the Community College Research Center. She received a deg ree from Jamestown Community College, a bachelor’s of arts from SUNY Albany and her Master’s and PhD from George Q Washington University.

Judge Buggs continued from page 11

pertaining to the mental hygiene law and involving patients in mental hospitals who were deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. In most instances the hospital was looking for continued retention of the patient, because it believed the person needed greater care. In other cases, a person was not taking anti-psychotic medication and the hospital wanted to have a court order to force medication through injection. In the early 2000’s, Buggs became an administrative law judge with the Environmental Control Board and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She was elected as a court judge in 2007 and began serving in January 2008, spending one year in family court, because of the shortage of judges there, presiding over cases regarding custody, visitation and orders of protection, before sitting on the bench in Civil Court. In her spare time, Buggs, a resident of Queens Village, enjoys cooking, traveling, listening to music, taking in a Broadway show and spending time with friends and her dog, a yellow labrador retriever named Sir Maxwell. She also likes to read and just finished “Bossy Pants,” by Tina Fey, which she enjoyed. Buggs is a lay speaker with St. Paul United Methodist Church and occasionally gives sermons and assists the pastor with communion and various other tasks. She was the founder of an organization called Genesis, which is a group of

church members who aim to inspire leadership in young people and give them a reason to come to church. “I’ve always been very community minded, because I’ve always believed to whom much is given, much is expected,” Buggs said. “I don’t think we can rightly achieve without helping to lift others up.” As a judge, she is limited in the kind of community service she can perform, but she will be speaking at two elementary school graduations this year. Buggs is not the only person in her family to achieve great things. Her older brother is radio personality Fred “Bugsy” Buggs. Shortly after being admitted to the bar she remembers seeing him emcee a show at the Apollo Theater. “I remember saying to myself that I want to be as good at what I do as he is at what he does,” Buggs recalled. “He is a consummate professional, and I admire and respect him for his many years in the radio industry.” Buggs is a cousin of the Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and head of the National Action Network. Sharpton’s father and Buggs’ late maternal grandmother were siblings. She has seen him through the years and said that he is proud of her accomplishments and even attended her induction ceremony. Buggs said the toughest part about being a judge “is just making the right decision at times.” “As judges we are subject to being appealed, which is someone’s right if someone thinks something is not correct,” she said. “And, of course, you want to make the right decision, not just based Q on the facts, but based on the law.”



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