David Rosasco: Translator cleans Woodside streets with kids

By Bill Parry

The founder of the Woodside Neighborhood Association spent 12 years in Japan studying language to become the professional translator he is today. It was when David Rosasco returned home in 2005 that he realized his hometown needed a drastic makeover.

“In all my time in Japan, I never saw a public garbage can because you don’t need them because everything is perfectly clean,” Rosasco said. “When I came home, I couldn’t believe the filth that was under the No. 7 subway around 61st Street and Roosevelt Avenue. It made my skin crawl, so I grabbed a broom and started sweeping.”

He never stopped and his neighbors began to notice. Then they started joining him.

“We started out with a core I call the Dirty Dozen,” Rosasco said. “It turned into something much bigger. Community and religious groups began to join us, then came the kids. High school kids, college kids, immigrant and minority kids. They kept coming back.”

The group became so effective sweeping the streets, removing graffiti, painting over other eyesores, and planting trees – nearly 200 of them – that in 2013 Rosasco was awarded the Golden Trowel Award from the Partnership for Parks for superb park activism.

“The thing of it is I felt awkward accepting the Golden Trowel, and this Queens Impact award as well, because some of these kids put in 250 hours a year, all on their free time,” Rosasco said. “Yeah, there are a lot of adults involved, like Theresa and Joe McGowan, but it’s the kids that come out on their weekends and do the really hard work to clean up their neighborhood. Think of the last two winters we had, they were brutal, and we never canceled a project. These kids were always there. In Japan they say ‘endure an unendurable situation’ and that’s what these kids did, week after week.”

The Woodside Neighborhood Association has become so effective that it has run out of certain jobs.

“We’ve got the graffiti down to zero,” Rosasco said. “The 108th Precinct called and said they wanted to work with us. Now we have to go find something for them to clean.”

But there is one aspect of community activism at which the group fails.

“We’re terrible at fund-raising, we’re too busy,” he said. “That’s where local businesses step up to the plate.”

Rosasco named three who have been the most dependable over the years. “Gleason’s Paint has been there with all of our paint needs, Sean Og’s Pub and Sign Media International are always opening up their wallets,” Rosasco said.

During his time abroad he learned that the Japanese are not talkers, they’re doers. Rosasco discovered he’s much the same after an unsuccessful bid for a City Council seat in 2009.

“That didn’t work out the way I thought it would,” he said, “but I realized that I get a lot more satisfaction doing things than talking about it.”

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