Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined Costa Constantinides, CEO of the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, for the Junior Home Run Derby at Elmjack Little League baseball field to announce the allocation of $5 million for the club’s redevelopment project on Sunday, June 13.
Constantinides, who served as Astoria’s City Councilman for more than seven years and left the office in April to become the club’s CEO, was excited that the redevelopment will include the first planetarium in Queens, an Olympic size swimming pool, science and art labs, a 1,000-seat arena and a brand-new theater.
“We provide opportunities for kids to find their spark and give the kids an opportunity to find who they are,” Constantinides told the parents and young people who were excited to dig it out on the baseball fields.
The redevelopment of the 65-year-old Queens facility of the national Variety Boys & Girls Club, currently located at located at 21-12 30th Rd. in Astoria, is slated to break ground in two years, and is projected to be finished by 2026 with an approximate price tag of $200 million. It also includes 200 affordable housing units.
Constantinides called the project, which will replace the current building with a state-of-the-art facility, “a lighthouse and a beacon for the young people of Queens.” He then shared that he would have dropped out of high school had it not been for sports.
“I would go to school because I wanted to play basketball with my friends. But that kept me going to be able to go to college and to get my law degree and be able to stand here before you,” Constantinides said. “Without that opportunity, without that spark, I wouldn’t have stayed in school.”
Richards said that his story was similar to Constantinides’ and told the crowd that he, too, might have dropped out of high school if it weren’t for his love of basketball, which required him to keep his grades up, as well as mentoring programs.
“We may not listen right away — and this goes to parents as well — we may not listen right away, but we do hear you,” Richards said. “It’s important that we instill those values into our young people and continue to encourage them, even through their challenges.”
He announced that his office “hit a home run” by securing $5 million to build out Constantinides’ dream and vision, which drew cheers from the crowd.
“Our children deserve quality facilities. Your ZIP code and your socioeconomic status should not determine what your access looks like,” Richards said.
Variety Boys & Girls Club is the largest youth development organization in western Queens, serving more than 4,000 young people each year. Nearly 60 percent of club members hail from the nearby Ravenswood, Queensbridge and Astoria Houses communities.
“Our families are excited about the new club and all the amazing new programs that we will have available to the community,” said Andy Rodriguez, executive director of the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens. “With our new site, we plan on serving many more families than we serve today so we look forward to sharing our bigger and better space when the new facility is completed.”
Richards, who’s running for re-election and was endorsed by Constantinides prior to his departure from office, shared that he was also able to bring in $70 million in capital for the “World’s Borough” that will go to organizations like the Variety Boys & Girls Club.
“Because we have to not just rebuild back to normal, but we’re looking at a new normal for Queens,” said Richards, before heading off to open the baseball derby with a batting competition with Constantinides.