Queens Community House hosted its Strengthening Neighborhoods Inspiring Change Gala for hundreds of guests recently at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
The event proved successful raising nearly half a million dollars with proceeds supporting QCH’s mission of providing individuals and families with the tools to enrich their lives and build healthy, inclusive communities.
The Forest Hills-based nonprofit annually offers 25,000 Queens residents a much-needed support system at every stage of life. This year’s gala honored Rick Blatstein — founder and CEO of OTG, the company that has redesigned the dining experience at JFK and LaGuardia airport — and Jamila Michner, PHD, Professor of Government at Cornell University and author of Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism, and Unequal Politics.
Tony Vero, the deputy general manager at JFK Airport, introduced Blatstein, saying, “Rick oversees a company that initially formed with just over a dozen locations in 1996. In 2018, the New York area airports, served more than 130 million customers, many of whom purchased at an OTG concession. In addition to his industry leadership and expertise, Rick is an engaged and active member of his community.”
Blatstein expressed gratitude during his opening remarks.
“It is an honor to be recognized by Queens Community House, an organization rooted in bettering and building a community OTG is proud to be a part of,” he said. “I am incredibly humbled to be honored by an organization with a vision I hold such admiration for.”
QCH Associate Executive Director of Young Adult Services Ivonne Torres introduced Michener to the crowd.
“Jamila grew up in Queens and is the daughter of immigrants, like so many of our program participants. In my role, I see first-hand how much it means to our youth to see people they identify with in positions of leadership and prestige,” Torres said. “It means so much to all of us at Queens Community House that Jamila has not only succeeded, but is conducting important research on how economically and racially marginalized groups engage in the political process, and the work we all need to do to strengthen the foundations of democracy.”
Michener explained how Queens Community House’s mission is the same as hers.
“I have dedicated my life to understanding how to leverage policy and power to make this country a more inclusive and equitable place, a place where all kinds of people can live good lives, regardless of race or class or difference,” Michener said. “My life’s work is about protecting and ensuring the dignity of people at the margins of our society. Queens Community House does that very work in real communities every single day.”
QCH Executive Director Ben Thomases told the crowd that the organization will be able to upgrade and modernize the Forest Hills Community House over the next several years. Then, QCH Board President Michael Stellman addressed the gathering.
“Without the support of our two honorees and all those who donated to and attended this Gala, we wouldn’t be able to do all the great things we love to do,” Stellman said. “The generosity of others and the dedication of QCH staff is what makes Queens Community House special and what keeps us providing great services to all those who call Queens home.”