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Candidates attend unveiling of new Variety Boys & Girls Club building

Candidates for citywide office and City Council District 22 will attend an open house at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens on Thursday for the unveiling of the new redevelopment plans of the Astoria club.

The candidates will view plans for a state of the art five story building, take a tour of the existing facilities and meet with kids attending after school programs. These after school programs are an essential part of how the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens serves its community members, teaching children how to swim, developing technical skills, and inspiring creativity.

The unveiling of plans marks the completion of another step in modernizing the Astoria club. The redevelopment will include 100% affordable housing, a green design, the first planetarium in Queens, an Olympic-sized pool and 1000 seat arena among other amenities.

The new facility will draw children and families from all over Queens, increasing the number of children served from 4,000 to an estimated 15,000. And while the Astoria club is evolving to meet the changing needs of Queens, its mission is still the same: to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.

Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial vandalized

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park was vandalized sometime between Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
Graffiti vandals spray-painted “Baby Killers” and swastikas, among other things, in the shadow of several wreaths that were placed there last Thursday morning during a Memorial Day ceremony.
The memorial was dedicated on December 26, 2019. It culminated a decade-long push for the $2.85 million monument, which features a curved bench flanked by two semi-closed granite walls.
One wall bears the names of 371 men from Queens who fought and died in the Vietnam War. The second features a timeline of the war and a map of key locations.
An additional plaque honors the lives of veterans who died from illnesses related to their service in Vietnam. It includes the name of Pat Toro, a former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 who began the push for a memorial in 2008.
He passed away in 2014 due to complications from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in service.

Maspeth Federal Savings partners with Banzai

Maspeth Federal Savings (MFS) and Loan Association stepped up to make partial or full remote learning in the wake of COVID-19 easier with their new partnership with Banzai, an award-winning online financial literacy program with content library of articles, calculators, and personalizable coaches.

Maspeth Federal Savings is proud to partner with Banzai to promote financial literacy programs in local schools,” said Jill Nicolois, Assistant Vice and Marketing Manager. “We firmly believe in supporting teachers and families in teaching children the value of money. We offer Young Savers accounts, especially designed to encourage children to save while also introducing the concept of earning interest.” 

With their sponsorship, over 2,300 students and teachers at 12 schools in Queens and Nassau County will have free access to Banzai. Some of the local schools participating are Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, Francis Lewis High School, Maspeth High School, St. Francis Preparatory School, and many more. All of these resources are available to students at home or in the classroom via any device that can access the internet. 

“Banzai is a web-based financial literacy program. Kids get their own accounts, and they work through assignments that are based on real life,” says Morgan Vandagriff, co-founder of Banzai. With this partnership, local schools have the opportunity to do this for free

“More than ever, it’s important that kids develop sound financial skills to prepare them for the real world, and Maspeth Federal Savings and Loan Association realizes that and they’re doing something about it.” 

Banzai content builds a foundation of practical knowledge and gives students the tools to create a sound financial future. While students learn, teachers can easily monitor and grade their progress remotely. The Banzai resources are available at  

Forest Hills honors those who gave all

A group of nearly 100 people gathered at the Remsen Family Cemetery in Forest Hills on Sunday for a Memorial Day Ceremony honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country.
The annual parade that usually precedes the ceremony was cancelled for a second year due to COVID.
“Today is a moment of remembrance, reflection, and reverence to all those who sacrificed their lives for god and country,” said Michael Arcati, commander of America Legion Post 1424, which helped organize the event. “We are also here today to salute the first responders, doctors, nurses, EMT, police, and community volunteers who carried us through the dark days of the COVID pandemic when we could not leave our homes and death surrounded us.”
The National Anthem was sung by Abby Payne before Captain Joseph Cappelmann took the podium as the first honoree of the day, receiving the Law and Order award for his service to the community. Cappelmann has been the 112th Precinct’s commanding officer since February of 2020.
“We are here to honor all the servicemen and servicewoman who gave their lives to defend our nation and our freedom,” he said. “Despite all the challenges that our nation has faced lately, the American dream is still alive, and we must honor those who gave everything to defend it.”
Fellow honoree Bob Simpson is an adjunct of Post 1424, as well a three-time Purple Heart recipient.
“Someone once said death is not final until you are forgotten,” he told the crowd. “While I breathe, all of you will live on and your sacrifices for our freedom will be remembered. I salute all those brothers and sisters who fought for us and didn’t come back.”
The end of the ceremony was marked by the laying of wreaths and a formal recognition of Post 1424 members that passed during the last year.
Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, served as grand marshal with Teresa Amato of LIJ Forest Hills Hospital. Chain talked about the value of sacrifice and paid special homage to her father, a veteran of WWII.
“Memorial Day and every holiday has changed in how we are able to participate because of COVID, but despite that the message in our heart has not changed,” Chain said before quoting former president Barack Obama. “Our nation has set aside this day to pay solemn tribute to the patriots who gave their last full measure of devotion to this country that we love.”

City Council candidates speak in Park Slope

The seven candidates running for the Democratic nomination for an open Park Slope City Council seat spoke at a forum in J.J. Byrne Playground on May 23.
Sitting before the historic Old Stone House, the hopefuls discussed issues pertinent to a diverse district that encompasses parts of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, and Kensington.
The event was organized by the Park Slope Civil Council in partnership with Community Board 6 and the 5th Avenue Business Improvement District. Proceedings began with comments from the district’s current representative, Councilmember Brad Lander.
“I could not be more optimistic about this set of candidates,” said Lander. “They are working their butts off right now. They have a month to go and it is really hard to be a candidate.”
Lander is currently a candidate for city comptroller in a busy race that pits him against Speaker Corey Johnson and others.
The candidates present at the forum event were Justin Krebs (nonprofit theater owner and political organizer), Mamnun Haq (cab driver, labor organizer, and public health advocate), Briget Rein (teacher, labor organizer, and member of Community Board 6), Shahana Hanif (activist and the current director of Community Engagement for Brad Lander), Brandon West (voting rights activist and City Hall budget staffer), Jessica Simmons (school principal), and Doug Schneider (civil rights attorney and Democratic district leader).
Topics discussed included school reopenings post-pandemic, small business recovery, affordable housing, and the controversial Gowanus rezoning. Lander supports the rezoning and multiple candidates directly addressed their disagreement with the current council member during the event.
This year will mark the first time ranked-choice voting will be used for New York City elections, including for primaries. Voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference. The Park Slope Civic Council shared information about ranked choice voting at the end of Sunday’s event.
The democratic primary is scheduled for June 22.

VITAL brings rock climbing (and more!) to Greenpoint

There’s now an entirely new way to work out in North Brooklyn. Earlier this month, bouldering and fitness gym VITAL opened at 221 North 14th Street, offering classes, rental space, and other programs to active Brooklynites.
“This area is a great spot for us,” said VITAL co-founder David Sacher. “The neighborhood is just so alive with people out looking to enjoy their lives and their city. We create a place for people to come where they can meet their neighbors and spend time while learning something new.
“Climbing is an incredible way to get to know people because it allows you to take on and overcome challenges together,” he added.
With other locations in California and Washington, VITAL aims to make both experienced and novice climbers feel welcome. The Brooklyn site is currently operating at 50 percent capacity (375 people) due to the pandemic, but is open to members 24/7.
Non-members can sign up for classes and day passes.
“It really becomes a second home to people,” Sacher explained, “especially since we have work space, showers, a fire pit, and a restaurant. People never want to leave.”
Memberships at VITAL is $125 a month and include unlimited climbing, yoga, cycling, aerial fitness, and access to classes. Sacher is confident that the gym will attract Brooklynites who have never tried rock climbing before.
“We are bouldering only, which means you don’t need a climbing partner or a harness or knowledge about how to tie knots,” he said. “You can just show up in your street clothes, throw on some rental shoes, and immediately start climbing.
“It’s such a fun vibe that I’ve heard from quite a few folks already who have gotten a membership just because they like hanging out there so much,” he added.
Sacher is also hopeful that the convenient location near the G and L trains and stunning views of Manhattan will attract even more visitors.
“We have a huge rooftop climbing garden with great views of the city,” he explained. “We’re still putting the finishing touches on this space, and I think it would be fun to throw a mid-summer party there next month once all the details are dialed in.”

The team at VITAL offers free tours of their new location. More information about the gym can also be found at Follow @vitalbrooklyn on Instagram for more pictures of the new site.

Greenpoint ferry stop suddenly closes

The India Street ferry stop in Greenpoint suddenly closed on May 23 and will remain closed until further notice. The announcement was made via a message on Twitter that attributed the service change to a “mechanical issue.”
Since the closure, the MTA has set up a free shuttle bus between Greenpoint and Hunters Point South. The bus runs every 40 minutes in both directions.
The NYC Ferry service is operated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) rather than the MTA, and has been in operation since 2017.
The expansive transportation system spans 60 nautical miles and stops at 21 landing sites. However, three of those stops – South Williamsburg, DUMBO, and now Greenpoint – are currently closed.
“On Sunday evening, service was suspended to the Greenpoint landing after a captain noticed an issue with one of the pier piles,” read a statement from NYCEDC. Yesterday, the landing and piles were removed from the site to be inspected. At this time, the Greenpoint landing remains out of service in both directions.
“Lendlease [the real estate company that owns the landing] is currently performing an examination of the pier’s infrastructure and we anticipate they will share a timeline for repairs next week,” the statement continued. “As always, safety remains NYC Ferry’s top priority.”
“We expect to have a clearer picture of the extent of the needed repairs, and a timeline for restoring ferry service next week,” stated a spokesperson from Lendlease. “We are dedicated to restoring the ferry as quickly and safely as possible.”
The NYC Ferry recently made headlines when a ship crashed into a docking barge at Brooklyn Bridge Park on May 13. The incident shattered multiple windows on the vessel, but luckily none of the 27 passengers onboard were injured.
Service alerts, schedules, and other updates for every line of the NYC Ferry system can be found on or the NYC Ferry app.

Brooklyn DA, clergy work to stop gun violence

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez last week announced a new partnership with local clergy to help limit gun violence. The announcement comes as New York City gun violence rises to the highest rates in more than a decade.
Over 500 people have already been shot in 2021, a figure that will likely rise as the warmer summer months approach.
“Trusted community members can do a lot to stem violence,” Gonzalez said during a press conference in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “With the right training and support, community members can effectively intervene in disputes and conflicts.”
The DA’s partnership with local clergy is meant to prevent shootings before they happen by bringing new programs of support to various communities. They will work with NYPD officials to provide counseling to at-risk children and organize paid internships to get kids working and off the streets.
The new program will be piloted at the 67th Precinct in East Flatbush, the 69th Precinct in Canarsie, the 70th Precinct in Flatbush, the 79th Precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick.
Gonzales emphasized the importance of community-based solutions, and expressed his hope that the partnership with the clergy would open the doorway to other innovative programs.
“Finding community-based solutions to violence must be a priority in our fight against gun violence,” said Gonzalez. “I believe our faith leaders have an important role to play and can help us turn these crime upticks around because they have the experience, credibility and the resources to support victims of crime and to reach vulnerable youth and set them on a better path.
“Law enforcement has to take a step back,” he added. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
The new program builds upon the preexisting GodSquad that Pastor Gilford T. Monrose, president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council. operates out of the precinct.
GodSquad has worked in collaboration with the NYPD and other community groups for over ten years to reduce gun violence in East Flatbush.
“Clergy councils have long served as a liaison between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” said Monrose. “By building on this collection of clergy leaders, this partnership will embody a holistic, multi-pronged approach with the help of our very diverse Brooklyn clergy.”
DA Gonzales’s announcement comes at a time when New York City’s gun violence has spiked to the highest levels in over a decade.

Advocates rally for reforms to parole system

Families with incarcerated loved ones and formerly incarcerated individuals rallied in MacDonald Park in Forest Hills last week demanding state lawmakers pass the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice platform.
The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice is a statewide, grassroots campaign pushing for parole reform in New York State by calling on lawmakers in Albany to pass two pieces of legislation.
The first bill would allow the state Board of Parole to provide an evaluation for potential parole release for incarcerated people aged 55 and older who have already served 15 or more years.
The second piece of legislation would provide more meaningful parole reviews for incarcerated people who are already parole eligible.
“We are facing a crisis of mass incarceration and must enact change to foster a culture of rehabilitation over punishment,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi of Forest Hills. “These bills would promote racial justice and ensure that older adults serving long sentences have an opportunity to demonstrate their transformation, safely return to their communities, and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars that could be reinvested to meet critical community needs.”
The rally was joined by other organizations like Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) where
Roslyn McLeod of the group Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) lost her husband while he was still behind bars.
“My husband was supposed to come home May 6, but somehow something happened and he wasn’t released,” said McLeod. “So they sent me his torn up clothes and today I have his death certificate. It is undetermined, I still don’t know why he died.”
Jamell Henderson of New York Communities of Change said bills do not guarantee parole, but rather guarantees opportunities for parole for everyone eligible.
“Someone is crying behind bars because they were before the parole board not the fifth time,or sixth time, some cases not even the tenth time, and were denied parole,” said Henderson. “They were told that they need to continue on the path of punishment rather than the path of progress and redemption.”
“The thing about The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice is that we are fighting for something that should already exist: a fair, timely, and just parole process,” added Sandrea Mandell of One Queens Indivisible. “We all believe in redemption, rehabilitation, second chances, and helping families and communities heal.”

Brooklyn Diocese asks for more police protection

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn recently requested the NYPD increase patrols near churches in Brooklyn and Queens. The response comes after a series of recent incidents on Church properties throughout the city.
“It is disheartening to see acts of religious intolerance against the Catholic Church, most recently at St. Athanasius and our Diocesan offices,” said diocese deputy press secretary John Quaglione.
The two incidents Quaglione referenced happened within a week of each other. In the early morning hours of May 14, a crucifix was toppled and damaged and an American Flag burned at St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church in Bensonhurst.
The damaged crucifix was discovered by Monsignor David Cassato around 8 a.m. on his walk from the rectory to the academy to greet the students. The crucifix was installed as a tribute to the monsignor’s late mother.
On May 17, a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus was found vandalized near the diocese’s administrative office in Windsor Terrace. Jesus’s head was removed. Diocese officials are working towards repairing the statue to its original form.
The incidents come after a year in which New York’s places of worship have been either closed or seen their capacity greatly limited.
“Many people are now just getting comfortable returning to church after more than a year of hesitation and fear stemming from the coronavirus pandemic,” explained Quaglione. “We have now reopened our churches at 100 percent capacity and the last thing we want is our faithful to feel unsafe attending Mass.”
Despite the incidents, Quaglione is confident that the diocese can thrive and be of service as the pandemic slowly comes to a close.
“As we continue to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be people who are experiencing anger and frustration over the loss of a loved one, employment, or income,” said Quaglione. “Our message to them is to let the Church help you through the mental health services offered through Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens.”
The diocese is not the only religious community experiencing a surge in hate crimes. On May 13, worshipers at the Tayba Islamic Center in Sheepshead Bay were shocked to find anti-Palestine phrases scrawled on the side of the building.
On May 22, a group of Jewish worshipers were verbally assaulted outside of a Borough Park Temple. Both episodes occurred while tensions between Israel and Palestine remained extremely high.

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