By Anna Gustafson
The 19 women from southeast Queens honored at a Women’s History Month event last week are the unsung heroes who fight daily to better their community, whether it is by working with sickle cell patients or promoting economic efforts in the borough, City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said.
Comrie held his fourth-annual Women’s History Month celebration at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center at 172-17 Linden Blvd. in St. Albans Saturday, during which he feted the women he called the backbone of the borough.
“This is an important event to honor the women that truly contribute to the lifeline of our community,” Comrie said. “These are women who made a conscious effort to stay in southeast Queens and nurture other people. They’ve been a huge influence on me and so many others.”
The honorees said during the four-hour event that they fought hard for their neighborhoods with little thought of praise, which made the ceremony that much more poignant for those who have poured their all into their community.
“It’s very meaningful for me,” said St. Albans resident Gloria Rochester, the founder of the Queens Sickle Cell Advocacy Network. “We’ve tried very hard to empower those with sickle cell to take control of their health.”
Rochester’s 38-year-old daughter was diagnosed as a child with sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease that causes cells to clump and block blood flow, which frequently causes serious pain, infections and organ damage. The diagnosis inspired Rochester to advocate for education on the disease as well as funding to find a cure.
Springfield Gardens resident Natalie Williams and St. Albans resident Manoushka Nijman, both of whom have sickle cell, said the work Rochester has done to educate the general public about the disease has been extremely important. The two women stressed the need for the public to know the importance of donating blood, which is often needed for sickle cell patients.
“People need to know about this very serious disease,” Williams said. “It causes so much pain.”
Melva Miller, an honoree from Laurelton, said the award from Comrie has inspired her to do even more in southeast Queens.
“I want to work even harder,” said Miller, the director of economic development at Borough President Helen Marshall’s office and the first executive director for the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District in Jamaica.
Miller worked on several programs to revitalize the economy along Sutphin Boulevard and in 2007 joined Marshall’s office to serve as an adviser on small business issues in the borough. She also helped Marshall’s office develop a boroughwide workforce development initiative to support Queens’ economic development.
Kelli Singleton, of Cambria Heights, was recognized for working to ensure seniors receive health care benefits. As a manager at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Singleton oversees the Medicare operations of several multimillion-dollar drug contracts and works closely to ensure Medicare patients receive their benefits in a timely manner.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to receive this award,” Singleton said. “I’m so grateful. Today has inspired me to continue to serve the community in a more excellent way.”
For more information about the women who were honored at Saturday’s event, visit yournabe.com.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.