By Anna Gustafson
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) secured funds to clean up a heavily trafficked and highly commercial portion of Rego Park using a worker from The Doe Fund, an organization that helps to employ formerly homeless or incarcerated men find housing and work as part of an effort to reintegrate them into society, the lawmaker said last week.
The more than $30,000 Koslowitz gave to The Doe Fund ensures that there will be an individual from the group performing general upkeep five days a week for the next year on Queens Boulevard from 63rd Drive to 64th Road and from Queens Boulevard to Wetherole Street on 63rd Drive. The clean-up effort officially began last week.
“It’s a wonderful program that helps the community,” Koslowitz said. “It makes a community look vibrant, which is especially important in the business district. They get a lot of people in that area, and it will be nice to know it will be clean.”
The Doe Fund works with hundreds of men in the city who have been homeless, incarcerated or both and helps them to gain employment in their Ready, Willing & Able program. The project in Rego Park will serve as a stepping stone to more permanent, full-time employment, Doe Fund officials said.
The group is “thrilled to help Council member Koslowitz achieve her goal of making Rego Park a cleaner and more inviting place,” Doe Fund founder and President George T. McDonald said. “At the same time, we are providing an opportunity for formerly homeless individuals to build better futures for themselves and for their children.”
The Doe worker will clean up the area lined with businesses, which includes the nearby Rego Center, by sweeping the sidewalks and part of the street, taking care of overflowing trash cans and doing general maintenance, according to Ray Damm, director of The Doe Fund’s community improvement project. The group also cleans areas of Briarwood, Jackson Heights, Corona, Far Rockaway and Forest Hills. Workers clean about 150 miles of streets a day in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, said Lee Alman, director of public affairs at The Doe Fund.
The program helps men learn how to once again have a full-time job — and for some a full-time job for the first time — as well as frequently deal with histories of substance abuse.
“Transitional work allows them to get sober and stay sober,” Alman said. “It rebuilds self-respect by building self-sufficiency.”
Alman noted that there have been a countless number of success stories at Doe, with many of the men going on to secure full-time jobs and leading completely self-sufficient lives.
Leslie Perez, for example, is now a senior staff member at The Doe Fund’s Pest@Rest, the group’s pest management business, after having gone through an extremely hard life in which his mother died when the Harlem native was 15.
Perez, now 39, said his father started drinking heavily and essentially left his children to fend for themselves, and Perez began selling drugs. At the age of 22, he was arrested and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. He served eight years, during which he received his GED and completed two years of college. He participated in Ready, Willing & Able, which allowed him to save up for his first apartment, and now said he dreams of having his own pest control company.
“But The Doe Fund will always be in my heart,” Perez said. “I took it upon myself to make these things happen, but Ready, Willing & Able provided the opportunities and training. No one ever gave me a helping hand before.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.