By Naeisha Rose
At just 28 years old, Payal Aggarwal has dedicated most of her life to volunteer work and medicine.
Aggarwal, who grew up in Kew Gardens, earned her doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2015 and shortly after, began her residency at Brooklyn Hospital in pediatrics, where she plans to become a pediatric oncologist.
Aggarwal said she first wanted to become a doctor at the age of 6, when her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He was being treated at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering and that was where she was first introduced to the American Cancer Society.
“I began volunteering for ACS,” she said, “doing the breast cancer walk, fund-raising. When I was in eighth grade, I understood what ACS actually did for patients and their role and then I knew I would become an oncologist. I just didn’t know if I would work with adults or children.”
That changed when she began volunteering at Happy Days Summer Camp in South Carolina for children affected by cancer.
“It was just a wonderful experience,” she said. “Being able to interact with kids who were getting active chemotherapy or who had gotten it previously, I realized I liked working with kids.”
Her decision to become a pediatric oncologist was solidified during her clinical rotations in medical school when she would work in the pediatric surgery department.
“I realized I was best working with kids — I just knew,” she said.
In 2015, Aggarwal was the student body vice president at Touro College and with the help of fellow students, she led an initiative that recognized mental health issues in the medical profession called “OMS Day of Wellness.”
“We all agreed mental health awareness was lacking in the medical profession, especially with med students,” she said. “The task force’s mission was to raise mental health awareness and provide students with more information and coping strategies. As a resident it can sometimes feel like you’re in a pressure cooker, there is so much pressure because you’re technically at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s residents, senior residents, then at the top is attending physicians. It can be a lot to handle.”
The day was celebrated in 30 osteopathic medical schools throughout the country and gave students a forum to discuss their stressful experiences and learn coping strategies.
Aggarwal said she is interested in starting a wellness project on a national level to help residents, but in the meantime she is loving working with children and getting closer to her goal.
— Gina Martinez
Barbara Bell’s long and difficult road from addiction to healing can be measured in baby steps.
After years of pain and suffering, a strong, empowered woman has emerged, one who has found her calling: helping others beat addiction and find their way. The Far Rockaway resident has made a real difference in her community and beyond as a trained recovery coach.
A dark past shaped who this Queens Impact Awards honoree would become. Bell has embraced the valuable lessons she learned the hard way and moved on. As her demons faded, she found clarity, strength and a strong commitment to staying the course. These days, she remains positive and is keeping the faith.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Bell remembers a good, family-oriented childhood. Young Barbara was a churchgoer who went to dance school and belonged to a Brownie troop.
But in her teens, a life of partying led to an unexpected pregnancy. She dropped out of school and became a struggling single mom in the early ‘80s. A cocaine habit evolved into a crack addiction and eventually Bell found herself behind bars. Between crises, she was homeless.
After being released from prison in 2000, she knew it was time to turn her life around, so she entered various drug rehab programs. In 2001, during her fourth recovery program, she finally achieved her goal of sobriety, which she has since maintained.
In 2010, life threw her another curve when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Leaving her job as a recovery coach in 2013, Bell took time off to focus on her health before starting a new chapter.
She recently graduated from a city program that connects unemployed or underemployed New Yorkers in recovery to full-time positions as peer advocates with NYC Health + Hospitals facilities. SBS Certified Recovery Peer Advocate Training Program graduates can support, guide, and motivate those who are seeking or sustaining recovery from substance abuse.
Thanks to the program, Bell was able to reach out to others with shared experience and work toward the same goals. She credits the program with helping her become a better person and after four-plus years out of the workforce has accepted an offer for a position in an emergency department.
She sees this as an opportunity to follow her passion in a meaningful way.
“I am excited about this position and new journey as a CRPA, not as a counselor, but helping someone as a peer,” she said. “I know what it is to feel rejected and not loved and wanting to give up.”
Everyone has a cross to bear, but the trick is to keep moving forward and never look back.
— Tammy Scileppi
One year ago, Giselle Burgess, 33, became something of a national figure after she helped create Girl Scout Troop 6000, the first unit in the nation exclusively for homeless girls. As a community engagement specialist for the Girl Scouts of Greater New York and a single mother of five, Burgess and her family became homeless when the apartment they rented in Flushing was sold to make way for a condominium.
The family entered the homeless system and ended up living in a single room at the Sleep Inn Hotel in Long Island City, which had been converted into a shelter for nearly 100 families. Burgess began to think a Girl Scout troop could help build a feeling of community for the girls at the shelter. At the same time, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was having Thanksgiving dinner with the women of Pam’s Place, a shelter in nearby Dutch Kills. As dinner was served by a Girl Scout troop from Sunnyside, Van Bramer began to dream of a troop for homeless girls.
When the city Department of Homeless Services hosted a roundtable with Girl Scout leadership and the recreation directors from 10 shelters citywide, Burgess was put in charge of the effort at the Sleep Inn Hotel.
“The idea for a troop for homeless girls had never come up before, so it was a process and DHS has helped me in every possible way,” Burgess said. Last year, the de Blasio administration, noting the success of Troop 6000, invested more than $1 million to expand the program to other shelters citywide and he placed Burgess in charge of that effort. As of April, the expansion included 14 different shelters with nearly 300 girls as members.
“The older ones help the younger ones with motivation and courage. They start to feel like they are no longer alone and that’s empowering,” Burgess said. “But this program is also for the women of the shelter. It gives them a place to feel empowered through their otherwise stressful lives. Several mothers are training for leadership roles, including one that has a son. She doesn’t even have a daughter and she wanted to be a part of this. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Burgess, who was raised in Woodside, was able to move her family into a one-family home in Ozone Park last summer.
“The kids are over the moon because they each have their own spaces and there’s a backyard, too,” Burgess said. I’m totally blessed.”
In January, Burgess was spotlighted for her work on TV’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” where she was given a check for $50,000 to help with the expansion. The check was presented by two of her daughters, who remain members of Troop 6000, which sold more than 32,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in just six days.
With the girls living in shelters it was too difficult to work out delivery logistics so they set up a shop at a Kellogg’s cafe in Union Square
“That was something they wanted to do since the moment we formed last year,” Burgess said. “Well, they got their chance and they totally owned it. They were like little cookie bosses.”
— Bill Parry
Ridgewood native Carmin Caterina has been a champion of empowering young women in the borough for years, working with girls in the school system through her organization, Lessons for my Daughters.
Caterina, a speech language pathologist, has worked with inner-city children in the public school system and was inspired to start the organization after spending a year home-schooling her two daughters.
“I had a conversation with a friend of mine, who asked ‘Why don’t you make some videos about the lessons you would leave your own daughters?’ and really in that conversation, Lesson for my Daughters was born,” Caterina said. “I didn’t make any videos, but I started writing about all the things I had learned up until that point and the things that had taken me so long to learn — really just powerful, universal truths about life. We spend so much money on self-development, but why isn’t this part of the regular curriculum in addition to the academics? The part about just being human and being happy, having empathy and compassion.”
Caterina teaches the girls in her program mental habits for keeping a positive mindset and has been running Lessons for my Daughters since 2015. The organization is gaining traction with elected officials who have been supportive.
She recently started a partnership with Ridgewood Savings Bank with the ultimate goal of bringing the benefits of her program to the community she grew up in, particularly Grover Cleveland High School.
Ridgewood Savings has been an active supporter of Lessons for my Daughters, helping it remain a free service for schools that lack funding to pay for empowerment programs.
“Across the board, all the girls have the same sort of needs that are universal and also needs that are new because of social media,” Caterina said. “So the program really focuses on self-confidence and self-esteem, but also a lot about mindset and giving girls the tools they need to live a happy life: positive decision-making, self-care, things that we don’t really talk about.”
Caterina’s program is unlike any other, she said, because it teaches girls to think for themselves and give them concrete tools to navigate their adolescence and the anxieties that go along with it.
Students keep a work log as they go through the program, which Caterina encourages them to refer back to in times of duress.
“There’s a lot of research on how social/emotional learning is tied to so many other things besides just happiness, but also academics and whether or not they’ll graduate or turn to drugs or engage in self-harm,” Caterina said.
While the program mostly operates out of Grover Cleveland, Caterina is working with other schools to expand Lessons for my Daughters.
— Mark Hallum
Brianna Ferranti is being honored for the difference the toy drives she organizes have made for underprivileged children in her Howard Beach community.
The 25-year-old pre-K teacher set the gears in motion to collect toys for distribution at food pantries and hospitals after seeing news stories about the struggles of low-income families and enlisted the help of her neighbors to bring joy to the borough’s youth during the winter holiday season and Easter.
Ferranti explained how a simple idea snowballed into a much bigger initiative with widespread support.
“I started getting the kids from the neighborhood to help me and saw the positive reaction I was getting. It was making the kids happy and families were getting involved. It just started becoming a community-wide effort,” Ferranti said.
Ferranti does not act alone. She enlists the help of family and friends in her endeavor and works out of her home. During her November “Acts of Kindness” toy drive, Ferranti collected up to 300 toys for Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside, which were distributed by hospital staff to children in the hospital.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, Ferranti collected 160 baskets with toys, especially clothes, stuffed animals, Easter candy and plastic eggs, which were wrapped and distributed throughout the Howard Beach area at food pantries like the River Fund in Ozone Park.
“I try to stay in the Queens area. I want to help the community, but eventually I will branch out,” Ferranti said.
Ferranti issues her own newsletter to parents at the school where she works to drive engagement with families in the area and started a Facebook page for “Acts of Kindness.”
Ferranti is currently going to school for a degree in speech pathology at Queens College, but between her classes and her full-time job as a teacher at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, she plans to keep the momentum going to bring smiles to children in her community and eventually across the city.
“I plan to make this into a big non-profit organization,” Ferranti said. “I can’t imagine getting any bigger right now, because I’m so young and I’m doing it by myself, but the plan is to get more people involved and on my side.”
— Mark Hallum
Henry Foster, a retired home-care contract manager for the city of New York, is a lifelong tenant and community organizer.
For 30 years, the St. Albans resident used his spare time to give back to his community and to help those in Long Island City, the Bronx and Coney Island do the same for theirs.
In Queens, he has been a major force at Kiwanis International, the 198th Street Block Association, the Hollis Avenue Merchants Association and the Hollis Local Development Corporation, to name a few.
As a member of the East Elmhurst branch of Kiwanis, an international service club, Foster helped provide Christmas baskets for families in the shelter system there.
His family includes Claudette Foster, his wife of 32 years, six children 14 grand kids and one great-grandchild.
Over the years he has involved his family in community service.
“I want them to learn to contribute back [to the community],” said Foster.
When it came to guiding kids outside his family to participate in community service, Foster looked to the work of former state Sen. (1975-1982) and U.S. Rep Major Owens (D-Brooklyn) as an example.
“How he organized things and his foresight in developing programs to educate young people was an inspiration,” said Foster. “He always saw young people as assets to the community.”
One of Foster’s ways of helping youth was his work with the 198th Street Block Association, where the 69-year-old sponsored Little League baseball teams in Cambria Heights and St. Albans.
The 198th Street Block Association also sponsored the Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby, an event which Foster has been the director of for 17 years. Throughout the years, the local race has sent representatives to the national youth car-racing event.
As a member of the Hollis Local Development Corp., he has helped send several students to colleges with the group’s scholarship program.
To support the merchants in the nearby town of Hollis, Foster created the Hollis Merchants Association and has sponsored clean-up programs along the Hollis Avenue corridor.
Foster has also has had an impact on schools in the borough.
At Vaughn College in East Elmhurst, he collaborated with the higher institution and shared his administrative skills with the school to develop a STEM program he also sponsored.
Foster is also a highly respected officer at the Antioch Baptist Church in Flushing and conducts the Bible School program in the summer and the after-school tutorial programs, too.
“Community service is very important to me,” Foster said. “Practically my whole life I have been involved in community service. It helps to build up the community and galvanize the young people and makes sure that they too give back.”
— Naeisha Rose
Titan Theatre co-founders Lenny Banovez and Laura Frye have had another busy, exciting season of dynamic performances at Queens Theatre.
Their award-winning company in residence returned in October with “Richard III,” followed by “A Christmas Carol” in December and “Medea” in February. In April, they took on Shakespeare’s spirited, sparring duo in “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Aside from enriching the borough’s cultural landscape with amazing plays, Titan has been giving back to local communities in other ways, such as teaching drama at public schools and Queens Library branches.
The husband-and-wife team’s favorite part is knowing that they’re bringing a high level of theater to Queens and letting residents know they don’t need to travel to Manhattan or Brooklyn and spend a fortune to enjoy high-quality work. They have a theater company right in their backyard that has chosen to make Queens their No. 1 priority.
“We started here nine years ago, and as we look at our 10th anniversary season for Titan Theatre Company… we have no plans to leave. We believe in our community and love our home. We have always said, ‘We have to support our community, because we expect them to support us.’ So that is exactly what we have done,” said Banovez.
He ticked off a list: Four Main Stage shows, a free reading series in partnership with Queens Library and working closely with City Council and Assembly members to bring programming to neighborhoods.
“It may be 10 years, but we feel we are just getting started,” Banovez said. The team finds great rewards in facing down the challenges of funding, audience growth and operating in the world’s most competitive theater city.
“It’s the challenges that make it worth the while for us,” he said.
The couple met in grad school in Ohio. After they made the move to New York City, they settled first in Astoria, then Jackson Heights and now Sunnyside. They both love co-parenting their dog Malcolm, “who is very much our child or fur baby,” according to Banovez.
Titan’s artistic director, who says his wife is “an absolute Disney fanatic” and yearly Disney Marathon runner, admits to being “a total workaholic.”
The couple revealed that they are very low key at home in Sunnyside because life in the theater can be so hectic.
“Being in theater you meet so many people. We feel like we have three families: Our home family, our theater family and our community family. We love all of them dearly, and we co-mingle all together as much as possible,” said Banovez.
“Sunnyside truly feels like a ‘small town in a big city.’ One of our favorite things to do is walk down Skillman and stop in and say hello to everyone from Aubergine, to Skillman Pets, to our friends at Cool Down Juice, and beyond,” he said. “It’s like one big extended family.”
— Tammy Scileppi
For Tom Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, putting the borough on the map and demonstrating that “Queens has arrived” are his main objective.
With new initiatives driving membership growth and promoting commerce by showcasing the talent of businesses in Queens, the chamber under Grech’s leadership is paving the way toward making Queens the place to be in years to come.
The chamber recently held its second annual Queens Day at the state capitol in Albany.
“It was a real home run and a great opportunity for Queens to shine,” Grech said. “I know for sure the electeds really like the event because we bring up restaurants from their districts and it’s a chance for them to show off Queens. The reception, was a cross-section of Democrats and Republicans from throughout the state who came to enjoy the food and drink of 47 different food providers.”
Grech took the helm of the chamber in the wake of the untimely death of Jack Friedman in 2015 and hit the ground running to bring sweeping changes to business in the borough.
He spent 25 years working in the print and publishing industry before spending five years at Castleton Commodities International Energy, a Long Island-based provider. It was there he became involved in the chamber as a member representing CCI’s Queens market.
Grech eventually founded an energy summit sponsored by the Queens Chamber in February, which led to the establishment of an energy committee.
“I think more and more the digital world will encroach upon the chamber like it has everything else,” Grech said. “While we embrace the digital technology via our communications, via our newspapers, we’re also going to redouble our efforts to stay relevant to our members and add a very nice human experience to the whole mix, making sure that we connect the dots with our members and also the education, advocacy and networking we have done since 1911.”
Grech also served as adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at SUNY-Farmingdale. He said in a 2015 interview with TimesLedger that he had an interest in inspiring young people and immigrants to launch their own business ventures, which he hoped would secure a strong economic future for Queens communities.
In the three years Grech has been at the helm of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, membership of 975 members representing about 50,000 employees has increased to about 1,125 organizations and more than 90,000 employees.
– Mark Hallum
While many kids spend their free time playing hours of video games, Gabriel Gonzalez of Middle Village spends some of his doing stuff that most 10-year-olds wouldn’t choose to do.
Back in January, the compassionate PS/IS 87 fourth-grader organized a local coat drive for the second straight year with his mother Mati Gonzalez. The “Team Life Changers” duo were surprised with the outcome. They collected a total of 143 coats (they received 223 the first year) at two drop-off locations: his school and Ultimate Champions Tae Kwon Do in Maspeth. Several bags were brought to New York Cares, which holds an annual coat drive.
So many New Yorkers in need enjoyed a warmer winter thanks to the team’s efforts. It was a teaching moment for Mati Gonzalez’s son, who has discovered firsthand what giving back really feels like.
The youngster said it all started when he asked his mom to buy a coat for a 4-year-old boy and girl. “My baby brother was 4, so I wanted to give to 4-year-olds. I asked my grandparents and my mom to ask some friends to give coats, and my mom told me that what I was looking to do was a coat drive. I just wanted to help people in need. After a very cold winter day… thinking that people, especially children, didn’t have coats made me sad and I wanted to help.”
Gabriel described his brother as “very funny” and “the best gift I’ve ever been given,” and added, “My mommy gives good advice and makes good points. She has taught me to be a better person and is always teaching me positive things. And my dad teaches me about what I like, specifically Marvel. He’s taught me to love and appreciate comic books. We have a lot of fun playing Star Wars with our light sabers.”
During this second year of the coat drive, the team also collected money for One Warm Coat, which gives two coats for every dollar donated, so they were able to raise $750, which means that 1,500 people got warm coats.
“So, in two years, we’ve been able to help almost 2,000 people. That’s almost 2,000 lives changed,” said Gabriel. “As long as people have coats to donate, there will be a third coat drive.” More coats have already been collected.
Neighbors find Gabriel’s work very inspiring, according to the youngster. “My friends think it’s cool that they know someone that’s been in a newspaper and they think is famous. I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to help. They help by donating coats also.”
He says his neighborhood is “special” because so many people have supported the coat drive.
You may have guessed that this special kid is a good student, as well.
“I enjoy being in class and learning,” said Gabriel, whose favorite subjects are math and science. In his free time, he likes playing golf and practices Tae Kwon Do at the Ultimate Champions Tae Kwon Do in Maspeth. “I’m part of the student staff in my school and like helping the younger kids. I also like to draw Marvel characters and animals.”
— Tammy Scileppi
After graduating from Harvard University, Jukay Hsu served in the U.S. Army, where he commanded a rifle platoon in Iraq, earning a Bronze Star. He led an economic development and governance initiative in Tikrit and founded the first private provincial radio station with Iraqi reporters.
After his military service, Hsu returned to Queens, where he was born and raised in Flushing, and founded C4Q, formerly known as Coalition for Queens, a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization based in Long Island City. C4Q seeks to increase economic opportunity and transform western Queens into a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, fostering the burgeoning tech community.
“C4Q offers computer programming training that opens career opportunities in tech and entrepreneurship to our talented students, bringing them from poverty to middle class in the process,” Hsu said.
C4Q’s signature program, Access Code, has become nationally known for teaching coding and professional skills to students from diverse and low-income backgrounds. The 10-month program prepares individuals for software engineering jobs at companies such as Google, Facebook, Kickstarter, Capital One and IBM. The program lists nearly 500 graduates in the last five years, of whom 60 percent are black or Latino and 40 percent are immigrants. The students enter earning an average of $18,000 a year, but upon graduation and employment in software engineering, they make an average of $85,000.
“Right now there are tens of thousands of tech jobs unfilled,” Hsu said. “Tech is already the No. 2 industry in the city with 70,000 high-paying jobs that start at $95,000 a year, all available for people with the proper skill set. We want Queens residents to not only get these jobs, but we encourage them to start their own companies right here in Queens.”
C4Q established a “jobs-outcome bond” allowing students to attend Access Code for free when they commit to paying a percentage of their post-graduate salary back to the program, generally 12 percent of their salary for three years.
“Jukay is an innovator within the Queens community who works every day to help his neighbors acquire the skills they need to thrive,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said. “I’ve watched firsthand as Jukay has turned his vision for C4Q into a reality. His years of hard work and dedication has led to the creation of one of our borough’s most impactful organizations. I deeply admire Jukay’s vision for our city and I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
— Bill Parry
When Amna Javid came to this country from Pakistan in 1997 with a 9-month-old daughter, she did not intend to become a community advocate for children’s safety in the water.
But when she lost a child to a drowning incident, she became a proponent for change.
The Little Neck resident was on a camping trip with her three little girls when her youngest, Fajr, gave up her life vest to another child and drowned in a nearby body of water.
The Fajr Memorial Foundation was born at that moment and since then the 2010 tragedy has focused on tackling the issue of drowning, one of the leading causes of childhood deaths, according to the CDC, by teaching youngsters, especially those with a Muslim background, to swim.
“It was quite a difficult time in our lives and we all decided we needed to do something positive for society and the community,” Javid said. “So I started this foundation in memory of my daughter and I started teaching children and students water safety and drowning prevention education.”
For the last seven years, the Fajr Foundation has been renting a swimming pool from the Boys Club in Flushing and teaches these skills using paid teachers as well as volunteers to educate the people of Queens on the dangers water poses to children.
“I am Muslim and when my girls were younger, I never found a swimming program appropriate for them, because everywhere they had to wear a bikini or there was a dress code that was not appropriate for a Muslim girl,” Javid said. “After losing her, I realized there were more religions where dress code is an issue. We started this and it’s open for all religions — males and females.”
Javid, who migrated to the United States to reunite her family with her husband — an NPYD sergeant — said she would like to expand her program, but finds obstacles because many swimming pools have dress code requirements that go against Islam’s practices. This is a problem felt in some Jewish communities as well, and Javid said the two religions at times come together in the foundation’s program.
The Fajr Foundation has grown significantly over the years, with about 200 to 300 children going through the program annually. Each session has about 25 to 30 children and offers a scholarship opportunity for low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford other programs.
“[Fajr] took off her life vest and gave it to a younger girl and told her, ‘You need it more than me,’” Javid said. “Every time I think about her and my goals, it serves the community because they need this more than me.”
Javid said the nationwide issue of childhood drowning is not well-known, despite being the top cause of death for children under the age of 4, according to the CDC.
She said it is difficult to draw the public’s attention to this issue and her attempts to reach out to elected officials for support have been fruitless.
– Mark Hallum.
There are defining moments in life when it seems as if the universe is testing you.
Kindell Keyes, an assistant manager at Goodwill’s Long Island City thrift store, at 4747 Van Dam St., may have experienced such a moment last summer when she found a donated purse filled with over $39,000.
The Far Rockaway resident made headlines last year because of her reaction. After opening the black handbag and finding an envelope with an address on it, which had a small stash of $1 and $5 bills, she dug deeper and discovered the rest of the money. Once she got over her initial shock, Keyes quickly told her manager about her unusual find.
In a situation such as that, anyone might feel momentary temptation, but not Keyes.
“It felt weird, because I honestly thought it was probably a prank,” she recalled. “But as I continued to look through the purse I realized the money was real. I was so happy that I found it and excited that the money was returned to the rightful owner. I never for once thought about keeping it. I have an awesome conscience.”
Another Goodwill employee, Maria Torres, was able to trace the item back to a neighborhood in Queens from the address on the envelope. It came from the former home of an almost 102-year-old grandmother of two California brothers, who had donated the purse after cleaning out her belongings when she died.
Keyes was awarded $3,900 for her kindness, goodwill and honesty. One could say the gods had smiled upon her.
Katy Gaul-Stigge, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, called the do-gooder a hero, adding that “good behavior is recognized,” DNAinfo reported last year.
A spiritual person, Keyes grew up in a family of seven brothers and sisters in a single parent household.
The Impact Award honoree believes her neighborhood is special because “even though we are part of New York City, it’s not that busy out here. It’s quiet,” she says. “I can take a walk on the boardwalk, admire the ocean and there is a calmness to the neighborhood that makes it so peaceful to live out here.”
Her favorite pastime is writing screenplays. At the moment, she’s working on a television pilot called “Burden of Sin,” and says it’s a drama series about a mother raising her daughters in a time when things aren’t always fair for women.
She also likes to film friends, family members, and co-workers, and has a two-part video called “The Kenny Challenge” available on YouTube. “We have an awesome staff of hard workers at Van Dam. So, at times, I like to do challenges with them. It’s a dance that one of the staff members created.
“Our staff at Van Dam believes that it’s not always about work but that you should have fun at your job. So, the challenges are a great way of keeping the staff happy and have made it easy to talk to our management team, and it’s a great way to get to know the people you work with.” Keyes says.
— Tammy Scileppi
Dr. Junho Lee has spent his professional life helping patients in his Flushing community and across the world.
He has had his offices in Flushing for over 30 years. He was born in Korea and came to the United States in 1980. Together with his wife, Dr. Insook Lee, they have helped hundreds of patients in Flushing who lack medical insurance or knowledge with issues like hepatitis and AIDS.
Lee said his Christianity is one of the motivating forces behind his work, which is mostly mission-based. He and his wife attend the Korean Church of Queens in Elmhurst and through the church, he has gone on dozens of medical missions.
“It’s simple for me,” he said “The Bible says we have to love one another, help each other. Jesus treated so many different groups of people: lepers, the blind. At our church we have a mission and it’s to help those in need.”
On top of their local work, Lee and his wife travel the world to countries like Kenya, Costa Rica and Haiti at least three times a year to give out free vaccines and provide medical treatment to those in need.
Junho Lee serves on the board of the Global Medical Missions Alliance and works with top cardiologist Dr. Peter Chong to take med students from Hofstra and Cornell universities around the world on missions and teach them how to deal with sick children. The two doctors cover all expenses.
He said his work with Chong is especially important, because he gets to help train a new generation of doctors.
“Dr. Chong has a vision for young professionals in the United States,” he said. “We take them to different countries and their vision is more clear. Once they go to the missions and we are able to work and pray together, we become one. Afterwards, their life vision and motivation is more clear and they are able to know whether they want to continue helping others.”
On top of his humanitarian medical work, Lee also helped a Queens woman to open up a museum showing local work of young people struggling to rebuild their lives through artwork.
Lee said his favorite part of being a doctor is traveling to different parts of the globe with a new generation of doctors.
“Being a part of the missions is so great,” he said. “These young doctors are the future and I get a chance to teach them.”
— Gina Martinez
The Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation was established in 1978 to remove barriers to economic growth, stimulate the local economy and create jobs and it has a program manager who did all three at once, while helping more than 150 unemployed construction workers find jobs on his own.
Nick Master, 58, joined the RDRC in 2015 and soon noticed that many Far Rockaway residents are vocationally trained and educated but yearly remain unemployed or underemployed for lack of career opportunity.
“Opportunities to work on construction projects in the community were denied by hires coming from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware,” Master said. “Developers would say to me, ‘There is no talent on the Rockaways. There is no one qualified to hire.’ I knew the sentiment of developers was rooted in years of wrongly handed down information. What was needed was a strategy to prove this viewpoint was invalid and absurd.”
As a new project to build a 100-unit residential building in Far Rockaway was just getting started, Master reached an agreement with the developer to handle recruitment for employment himself.
“To ensure applicants were hired from the community, I conducted background checks on several hundred applicants,” Master said. “This included documents, vocational and education verification. Applicants not meeting this strict verification process were referred to locations that would help legitimize them. No one left without a plan to secure their identification and work history. Once all documents were acquired or refreshed, applicants were asked to return and re-apply.”
The result of Master’s recruitment effort was 100 percent verification of an applicant’s address, training and education and work history. Verified applicants had skill sets from concrete, sheet rock, roofing, electrical and plumbing.
“All from Far Rockaway,” Masters said. “The sentiment, ‘There is no talent on the Rockaways. There is no one qualified to hire,’ was full and measurably dismissed by this recruitment.”
When Master began the process, 263 applicants from Far Rockaway applied for the building project and 151 were successfully vetted and deemed qualified to work, 40 were employed on the project and another 36 got work at other construction sites in the neighborhood.
“The impact on the newly hired employees was not only financial but also psychological and emotional,” Master said. “On my weekly visits to the project site, workers would come down from their work station to shake my hand. They would tell me they cannot put in words what I had done advocating and standing in the gap for them.”
— Bill Parry
Sister Kathleen McKinney has dedicated her life to education.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, McKinney always knew she wanted to study science as soon as she took her first chemistry course and when she made the decision to become a sister, her focus turned to becoming an educator.
“It was always science,” she said. “Once I was in school, I wanted to do something with chemistry. I started college before I decided to become a sister, and once I made the decision to be a sister, I minored in secondary education. So I entered the community, which is a teaching community, and that’s how I made the transition into an educator.”
McKinney said she never imagined becoming a sister, but when she got the call, she could not ignore it.
“It’s interesting. I was in school and had a lot of friends, but there was something inside me,” she said. “ I went to Catholic school and I found religious life was something I could relate to. There was something in me that told me I had to try this.”
McKinney began teaching as soon as she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Joseph’s College. In 1971, she worked as a chemistry teacher at The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates.
She taught chemistry at the school for 17 years. While teaching, she attended Adelphi University for graduate school, where she received a master’s degree in chemistry and a certificate in computer education. She continued her studies, earning a doctorate degree in educational administration and supervision.
She would then go on to become assistant principal at Font Bonne Hall Academy in Brooklyn in 1988 for nine years before returning to Mary Louis Academy, where she has been head principal for the last 17 years.
McKinney has spent the majority of her life in service of others, whether it be God or students. She said she has always been about connecting with people.
“I always wanted to be in a field where I was in contact with people,” she said. “I guess I love helping people, having a job where there would be a mutuality of sharing and watching people grow.”
She said her greatest privilege has been watching young women reach their full potential.
“ I have loved being a principal,” she said. “Being able to make things happen and give other people the opportunity to find their gifts, do things they didn’t even dream they have the gift for. I get to watch these young women grow, they come in unsure of themselves and eventually blossom through the years. I just love it.”
— Gina Martinez
Khaair Morrison was born to be an activist.
While at Francis Lewis High School, the Jamaica native was one of the many youth leaders who took on lawmakers and the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 2010 and 2011 when the state decided it was no longer going to fund free student MetroCards.
This would have left over 600,000 kids without an affordable way to get to school, according to Morrison.
“The MTA was saying that if the state is not going to fund them, we are not going to fund them,” said Morrison, who is now attending Howard University. “Me and a group of students activists got together and protested, did walkouts, met with the chairman of the MTA and met with state legislators, City Council and we got those MetroCards to stay.”
In 2014, the Jamaica native sat on the board of the Center for Court Innovation’s Police-Youth Dialogue Project. As a member of the youth justice board for the civil rights and social action organization, he oversaw the making of comic books geared to students to explain the juvenile justice system to them.
His enthusiasm and his drive to fight for his fellow students caught the attention of then-City Councilman Leroy Comrie (St. Albans), who was campaigning to become a state senator, and led to Morrison becoming the candidate’s community liaison in 2015. Morrison also went on to work on state Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman’s (D-Springfield Gardens) campaign for her current seat.
In 2015, Morrison and his two sisters, Tariqua and Tunisia, founded the non-profit The Voice of Youth Changes Everything, an organization meant to uplift young people through the arts, entrepreneurship, technology and education. The organization had its third pop-up art show in Jamaica in January and also held a business workshop to help individuals in need of guidance who want to become entrepreneurs themselves.
As Morrison gets ready to graduate May 12 from Howard University’s Law School, he will also end his tenure as the editor-in-chief of the Howard Human & Civil Rights Law Review.
In the summer he will return to New York full-time in order to take the bar and commit more to his non-profit in Queens by using his skills from law school. Morrison also has a job lined up at the Times Square-based law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate & Meagher & Flom LLP for September.
“I’m changing my non-profit focus into legal activism and how to take these new skills that I’ve learned while I was in law school to expand them to do something different,” said Morrison.
— Naeisha Rose
Astoria-based Veterans Rebuilding Life may be one of the smallest non-profits in the nation, but it is has been formally recognized by Great Nonprofits as among the best in for serving those who have served.
“We’re honored to be placed among the nation’s highest-rated organizations,” Veterans Rebuilding Life Director Dre Popow said.
Popow, a child of Chilean immigrants, was born at Jamaica Hospital and grew up to be a children’s book illustrator. Following the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There were a lot of us who joined the service after 9/11,” Popow said. “We didn’t come from military families, it was just a New York thing.”
He came through his tours unscathed and returned to “the best borough,” settling in Maspeth. As others began coming home to New York City from the wars, they found it difficult to re-enter society.
“There is no military community here in New York City. Here it’s like the wars never happened and veterans keep a low profile and don’t self-identify,” Popow said. “If you’re going home to the South, you have that culture all around and help is easy to find. Not here.”
So Popow and two veteran friends, Christian Zamora from Maspeth and Mary Kay Satryano from Jackson Heights, sat down in his kitchen and began to plan. Popow used his GI Bill to go back to school to learn how to run a non-governmental organization in 2010 and, by 2011, they had opened Veterans Rebuilding Life in Astoria.
The organization is comprised of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as social workers, firefighters and first responders. Services include military benefit registration, school enrollment, employment, legal representation, but Veterans Rebuilding Life has become a national model in the fight against veteran suicide, an epidemic that claims 20 lives a day.
“When some of the people we served with started taking their own lives, we knew we had to do something,” Popow said.
Through individual counseling, veterans help veterans with peer mentorship, skill development, education and employment, and community service.
“We took the veterans with advanced PTSD, impacted by a child’s death overseas, and put them to work on our humanitarian missions.” Popow said. “We’ve worked with many doctors who no longer work in the war zones because of the threat of kidnapping. They say bring the child to us and we’ll do the surgeries for free.”
Veterans Rebuilding Life performs the fund-raising for each mission and works closely with the U.S. Department of Defense and Homeland Security to bring the wounded children to the United States.
“It has a therapeutic effect on the traumatized veteran,” Popow said. “You save the child, you save the veteran and once they’re on track we ask them to help the next veteran coming through the door.”
— Bill Parry
Leslie Ramos works hard as executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, which operates the Jackson Heights Business Improvement District and covers Elmhurst.
She does her best in a challenging role to make a positive impact on these vibrant, multicultural communities, home to a large, diverse population of immigrants.
Ramos came to the organization in 2014 with extensive experience in government, having served as executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Industrial & Manufacturing Businesses under Michael Bloomberg and in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Each day, she strives to make a difference in residents’ lives by working with small businesses, teaming up with city agencies and connecting with locals, shoppers, street vendors, and community leaders to address their needs and concerns while promoting the neighborhood’s economy. She’s very good at it, according to the Queens EDC’s public relations director, Rob MacKay, who nominated her for the Queens Impact Award.
“Jackson Heights’ and Elmhurst’s beauty is not just their diversity. It’s how immigrants have maintained the area as a hub for entrepreneurship, the arts, and culture exchange,” Ramos said. “Immigrants lead businesses at all levels, from professional services (medical, legal, etc.) to dance schools. These communities are an example of how nourishing immigrants’ skills can create healthy communities.”
Ramos, who is fluent in Spanish, was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and raised in Puerto Rico in a poor, working class family. But the determined young woman has come a long way.
“Our community was formed during the era of mass migration from PR’s countryside to the city, due to a dying agriculture industry. For many, it was their ‘last chance,’ as some called the community, before leaving the island to start a new life in New York City,” she said.
While her childhood neighborhood formed her passion for community development, Ramos said it was her move to the States that solidified her “commitment to build communities where leaving is not an accomplishment,” adding that “no one should live in communities that they want to escape.”
In Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, she has been a strong advocate for the small businesses she represents, many of which are owned by immigrants. She has created educational programs to ensure business owners gain the skills necessary to grow their business in a highly competitive market.
She has also worked to create a platform for minority artists and vibrant spaces in the community. Additionally, Ramos has found ways to meet other community needs. One example is the recently launched Get Fit Program, a partnership with NYC Health+Hospitals/Elmhurst, which seeks to help residents find healthy food options at local restaurants.
— Tammy Scileppi
Whitestone resident Maureen Regan has tapped into her passion for environmentalism to help seniors and young people in Queens.
Regan is the founder of Green Earth Urban Gardens, a Queens non-profit looking to promote environmental solutions through urban farming and therapeutic gardening. The nonprofit helps people with special needs, underprivileged youth, and seniors in the community.
Regan founded Green Earth in 2010 to provide seniors and young people with outdoor and indoor gardening access and to expand access to healthy local food.
She was motivated by the belief that people living in a big city like New York could still learn about farming and its benefits. Urban Gardens also serves as an employment and community service hub for high school students.
Regan had been successful as a business executive in the apparel industry. She decided to dedicate her time to beautifying the city through gardening.
She currently serves as the president of Queensboro Hill Neighborhood Association and is a board member of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and the Voelker Orth Museum.
Regan said her time in the fashion industry had her burned out, working all four season and traveling the world. But she said it was in her travels that she saw how much the environment had suffered and came up with the idea for Green Earth.
“I saw so much damage to the environment and what happens to seniors when they get old,” she said. “People who are on the fringes, like the disabled, and I decided to take a break from the fashion world and start this non-profit and address issues locally. If there is some way this organization can get seniors out into nature and can help them become less home-bound, less dependent on government and medical care, they’ll be healthier.”
She went back to school to learn what resources her organization could provide for children with disabilities like autism. She said it has been amazing for her to see kids in nature and how it can offer them a safe space while at the same time giving their caretakers respite.
“It opens up a new world to them so they can be more independent,” she said. “They’re able to learn in nature and find a stability that they can’t find in their everyday world.”
She said the programs get seniors and young people out into local parks to garden, volunteer and care for their environment.
“I saw, especially with the seniors that if you give them something to care for, it gives them a purpose,” she said.
Regan said she saw the same thing with the younger participants.
She has been running Green Earth for seven years now and loves being able to give back to her community. She said she returned to the fashion industry after a short hiatus but learned now how to balance both and is looking forward to expanding the program and touching as many people as possible.
— Gina Martinez
Flushing-born and raised James Regan is being honored for his work in the community as an educator at Martin Luther School in Maspeth, his alma mater, where he has taught physical education, coached wrestling and now serves as principal.
Regan began his career at Martin Luther after studying at St. John’s University, Columbia University and Adelphi University, returning to the school that shaped him in 1981 just a few years after completing his high school degree.
“As an educator and administrator, I find our school continues to challenge our students’ both mind and body. Because of who we are, it helps shape Christian character that allows them to be successful,” Regan said. “I’ve had a tremendous experience here at Martin Luther and been blessed by the students, the staff, the administration.”
But before Regan began his teaching career at Martin Luther, he began coaching the wrestling team in 1979 until a few years ago when he moved into new roles as both principal and the executive director of the school.
“It was time for a change and in those years I’ve had an opportunity to be a coach, I’ve had a lot of fantastic experiences on the mat and in my involvement in the interscholastic wrestling world and community,” he said.
In 2017, Regan was entered into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., based on all the years he had contributed to high school, college and amateur leagues of the sport.
Over the 15 years, Regan has helped organize a walk-a-thon and raise about $250,000 for projects at Martin Luther, such as refurbishing the gymnasium and purchasing new equipment for the science department as well as arranging transportation for athletic teams involved in after-school programs.
As part of his contribution to the New York State High School Wrestling Association, the Mayor’s Cup Committee designated the “Jim Regan Award” in his honor.
Regan’s two daughters also graduated from Martin Luther and he attributes their success to the foundations WHAT KIND OF FOUNDATIONS? they established at the school.
As executive director, a post to which he was appointed in 2017, Regan oversees the education and business dealings at Martin Luther School.
— Mark Hallum
Queens College President Félix Matos Rodríguez has dedicated his life to education and the public sector.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1962, Rodríguez moved to America to pursue an education. He studied Latin American culture and history at Yale, where he graduated cum laude. He then earned his doctorate in history at Columbia.
Rodríguez said his inspiration has always been family. The oldest of three brothers, he describes his life in San Juan as that of a traditional middle-class family. His father was an engineer who spent most of his career working for a large flour and feed mill processing plant, eventually becoming the plant’s COO. His mother was going to be a Spanish teacher before he was born and then chose to dedicate her life to raising her family. He said his parents were hyper-involved and always engaged in volunteer work and community service.
Rodriguez studied Latin American culture in college. He said he was drawn to Latin American history while he was still in high school after meeting Puerto Rico’s most prolific and influential historian, a Jesuit priest named Fernando Picó.
“He became a mentor of sorts, a model of what an intellectual could be,” he said.
Rodríguez came to Yale in 1980 and studied under leading Caribbean anthropologist, Irving Rouse, who helped him assimilate to the United States. At Columbia he went on to study pre-20th century Caribbean women’s history.
Prior to being president at Queens College, Rodriguez served as president of CUNY’s Hostos Community College from 2009- 2014. Under his leadership the retention rate went up about 10 percent in five years, the highest percentage increase of any CUNY community college in those five years.
“Good things don’t happen because the president is good,” he said. “They happen because the president has a very good leadership team and dedicated faculty and staff on campus.”
Rodriguez said he chose to come to Queens College because of its extraordinary diversity.
“Our campus is a microcosm of the borough in which we are located, which is the most ethnically diverse in the nation,” he said. “Our students trace their ancestry to over 150 countries. They learn about other cultures and, in turn, share stories of their own heritage. They emerge from college better prepared to function in our global society and economy.”
Rodriguez is continuing his advocacy for Latino students. He currently serves as board chairman of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, representing more than 470 colleges and universities. HACU is committed to Hispanic higher education success in the United States, Puerto Rico, Latin America, and Spain.
— Gina MartinezAdolescents and young adults living with HIV should feel lucky to know there is a special doctor out there working hard to make their lives better.
If anyone deserves recognition as an Impact Awards honoree, it is David W. Rosenthal, Ph.D. He is a quiet hero who has dedicated his time and energy to helping local youth get the care and education they deserve.
In 2003, he began work at Northwell Health in Great Neck as medical director for the Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV and started shaking things up at the popular health system.
In addition to focusing on delivering comprehensive health care, Rosenthal has been an advocate for HIV prevention and LGBTQ cultural competency in health care. His programs are funded for providing Pre-exposure Prophylaxis services in Queens and Long Island. PrEP is a preventive medication for use by HIV-negative people who have a high risk for infection.
In an effort to help everyone in need, regardless of their orientation, he launched the Center for Transgender Care for Northwell Health in July 2016 and is also working with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Northwell to develop a LGBT curriculum.
The busy doctor barely finds time to relax.
Under his leadership, and thanks to a five-year, $1 million grant from the state Department of Health, Northwell Health’s HIV-prevention clinic opened its doors in Jackson Heights to local adolescents and young adults. Located at 37-03 92nd St., the clinic provides HIV testing, resources and services, including PrEP.
“By reaching into Queens, we’re providing resources that Northwell Health has never been able to provide regarding HIV prevention in that area which gives patients access to the top-of-the-line services that we offer,” Rosenthal said.
As a medical professional who has made a definite impact on many people living here in Queens and beyond, he truly deserves recognition for championing the rights of HIV or HIV/AIDS at-risk youth and remains committed to treating this vulnerable group with the utmost respect and dignity, while maintaining the highest levels of compassion and privacy.
— Tammy ScileppiNadezhda Williams is a history buff through and through, and her work as the executive director at King Manor Museum in Jamaica has given her the opportunity to not only honor the legacy of the institution’s famous owner, Rufus King, but also to bring the southeast Queens community together.
“Our house was the home of Rufus King,” said Williams. “He was one of the framers of the Constitution and an early voice in the early anti-slavery movement.”
As the executive director of the museum, located at 150-03 Jamaica Ave., she oversees programs that bring in more than 10,000 visitors a year.
“Everyone talks about tourists, but tourists come and go,” said Williams. “Your neighborhood is who you should be serving.”
Nearly half of the guests of King Manor Museum are students from Queens.
“We want people to come in, learn the history and feel a part of it,” said the director. “I have one of the children read Rufus’ (1820 anti-slavery) speech where he declares that slavery is contrary to the law of nature,’ and he is one of the first people to put it that bluntly.”
Growing up, Williams bounced around the country because her father was in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1988, but after she pursued a degree in Historic Preservation in Virginia at Mary Washington College (1995), she followed up her education by getting her master’s in Museum Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology (2001) in Manhattan.
She worked as a park ranger at Ellis Island, and as a part of her studies, she interned at King Manor in Jamaica and instantly fell in love with Queens.
Since coming to New York, she has lived in Astoria, Sunnyside and now currently resides in Woodside.
“I lived in Queens for 22 years, which is pretty much my whole adult life,” said Williams. “I love living here because it has a very neighborhood feel and it has a small town feel. I walk down the street and say hello to people I know and that is one of the things I like about Queens.”
Outside of tours, King Manor Museum has concerts and festivals, including Williams’ favorite, the Traditions Festival, which will fall this year on May 19-20.
“We have this two-day festival with six people doing early American traditional crafts and another six representing the other immigrant cultures in Queens,” said Williams. “This year we have things like trad