There are no ads matching your search criteria.

Charges dropped against Prakash Churaman

DA decides not to move forward with case

Prakash Churaman walked out of Queens Criminal Court on the afternoon of Monday, June 6 for what he says will be the last time in his life.

Prakash Churaman walks out of Queens Criminal Court a free man on Monday, June 6.

Churaman, now 22, had all charges against him dropped by the Queens District Attorney’s office. As a 15-year-old kid of Guyanese descent from Queens, Churaman says he was forced to confess to a crime he had nothing to do with.

Initially convicted of the home invasion and murder of Taquane Clark, Churaman has maintained his innocence, even despite being sentenced to nine years to life, before having the Appellate Division court overturn the conviction in June 2020.

When the conviction was overturned, he was offered and later refused a plea deal to plead guilty to assault and be released in a matter of weeks. Instead, Churaman opted to fight for his freedom.

“It took a long time, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Churaman said outside Queens Criminal Court.

Churaman was incarcerated for six years, one month, and 10 days before being bailed out and serving an additional 16 months in home confinement.

“I just want to utilize this time to heal,” Churaman said. “All of this is internally and externally traumatizing. I want to spend time with my son, my family. I just want to live my life.”

In a letter signed by a group of elected officials and advocates of Churaman, the decision to drop all charges levied against him was met with overdue relief. The letter was signed by Councilwoman Shahana Hanif, Councilman Shekar Krishnan, Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, former Council candidate Felicia Singh, and Democratic District Leader Mufazzal Hossain.

“Prakash is a Guyanase immigrant who spent over half a decade of his life behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of murder,” the letter reads. “This decision speaks to the power of his community and the movement he built.”

Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar said the case is a victory for Queens and for the entire Indo-Caribbean community.

In a statement, she said she would be conducting an inquiry into what led to Churaman being coerced into a false statement. Rajkumar is the Chair of the State Assembly Subcommittee on Diversity in Law.

“As a civil rights attorney, I have seen firsthand how the justice system can fail defendants and deny them their right to due process,” Rajkumar said in a statement. “I have spent my career fighting to change this, bringing the voices of the vulnerable and disenfranchised into courts of law. Mr. Churaman’s victory was a victory for that cause. Thank you also to District Attorney Melinda Katz for doing the right thing and dropping the charges, showing that the hand of justice is fair in Queens.”

The District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond for comment.

Shootings down, major crime up, cops say

Mayor Eric Adams credited the anti-gun crime unit he brought back earlier this year for a downturn in gun crime at a press conference in Brooklyn on Monday.

Recent NYPD stats show that shootings across the city were down 6.5 percent compared to this time last year. However, NYPD data also shows that major crimes—a category that includes seven different kinds of felonies including rape and grand larceny—-were up a whopping 38 percent from last year. Murder was the only individual major crime category that showed a citywide decrease of nine percent.

The anti-gun crime unit, dubbed the “Neighborhood Safety Team”, is a revamped version of the city’s plainclothes unit, which was disbanded due in 2020 to its involvement in shootings across the city. According to a 2018 report from the investigative journalism outlet, The Intercept, while plainclothes officers represented only six percent of the force they were responsible for 31 percent of all fatal shooting incidents.

Mayor Adams made good on his campaign promise of reinstating the unit back in January.

Adams stated that the teams will avoid previous mistakes by requiring officers to turn on their body cameras when interacting with the public and wearing windbreakers that make officers more identifiable as cops.

The Neighborhood Safety Teams have seized 105 firearms and effected 115 gun arrests since their start in March, according to NYPD.

“If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part,” Adams said at the press conference. “If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part.”

Mayor Adams placed blame on Albany lawmakers for not passing stronger restriction to bail reform.

“We would have liked to receive more, like the dangerousness standard. That’s so important. You have one of these guys that come in front of you or someone is arrested nine times. I think the judge should make the determination, this person presents an imminent threat to the city,” Adams said.

However, a report from progressive comptroller Brad Lander published last March, found that bail reform was not responsible for the increase in crime.

Adams noted that he will be pushing for the dangerous standard to be included in the next legislative session.

Suspect charged for killing Zhiwen Yan

Glen Hirsch, 51, of Briarwood has been indicted by a grand jury on charges related to the death of Zhiwen Yan, a 45-year-old Chinese food restaurant delivery worker from Middle Village, who was gunned down on his scooter back in April, just moments after dropping off an order in Forest Hills.

Zhiwen Yan and his wife on their wedding day.

According to investigators, on April 30, the suspect was observed on multiple surveillance cameras driving by the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant on Queens Boulevard.

Allegedly he had passed by the restaurant seven times, just before 9:30 p.m., when the victim, Yan, was said to have left the restaurant to deliver an order. He then managed to get behind the scooter and followed him to the address at 108th Street in Forest Hills.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said that Yan then dropped off the food order, returned to the scooter, and rode away. It was when he stopped at a red light, at the corner of 67th Drive and 108th Street, when Hirsch allegedly approached the victim on foot.

Having recognized Hirsch, Yan started to back away on the scooter. At that moment, the suspect allegedly fired a single shot, striking the delivery worker in the chest causing him to fall off his scooter. EMS quickly responded and transported Yan to NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst where he was pronounced dead. The suspect and his Lexus RX3 SUV were also seen racing away from the scene.

“As alleged, a petty dispute over a take-out order became an obsessive point of contention for the defendant who began to stalk and harass employees at the restaurant for months,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement following the indictment. “The tragic end result was the murder of a hard-working employee, who left behind a devastated family and a grieving community. Gun violence is never the answer and will not be tolerated in Queens County. Following a thorough investigation by my office and the NYPD, the defendant has been apprehended and will now face justice in our Courts.”

Hirsch already had a history of causing issues with employees at the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant going back to Nov. 30, 2021, when the suspect allegedly placed an order that evening asking for extra packets of duck sauce, which he was provided. Nevertheless, he became irate and insisted that the restaurant refund his money because he wanted to return the food. But when the worker refused to take it back, Hirsch called the police.

When police arrived, the employee explained that due to COVID-19 protocols, they could not accept the order back. Hirsch then stormed out of the restaurant. Over the months that followed, he allegedly threatened and harassed several Great Wall employees, including the owner, Kai Yang.

The allegations further indicated that on Dec. 16, 2021, the victim, Zhiwen Yan, saw the defendant using a knife to damage a worker’s car that was parked outside. Hirsch allegedly threatened him, saying “I have a gun,” and “be careful, this is the last time I’m going to tell you.”

But as Hirsch left towards his vehicle, three restaurant workers followed and confronted him. One of them pulled down his mask while the others took pictures of his face and the license plate of his gray Lexus SUV with their cellphones.

The charges state that Hirsch then returned to the restaurant again on Jan. 28, this time brandishing a firearm and talking to one of the workers who was outside shoveling snow. He reportedly said, “How’s your car? Remember me? I will kill your entire family.” The employee quickly rushed back inside to call the police. When he returned outside, the suspect was gone but the tires on his car were slashed.

Hirsch was arrested on June 1, following the issuance of a warrant. A subsequent court-authorized search warrant was later executed at his wife’s home, where police say they recovered eight firearms from inside a closet believed to contain items belonging to the suspect.

He was arraigned before Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth C. Holder on a 10-count indictment and is being charged with second degree murder, possession of a weapon, criminal mischief, menacing, and stalking.

If convicted on all charges, Hirsch faces between 29 and 44 years-to-life in prison.

Mets fan makes impressive homerun snag

Ridgewood/Queens dad finds faith in fatherhood, baseball

Alan Alcantara, 31, made the impressive grab during the New York Mets game last week with his one-year-old child in his arms.

Alan Alcantara’s view from center field was a familiar one.

The Dominican-born 31-year-old grew up playing baseball, continuing through high school and even recently playing center field for three years for his job’s softball league.

He grew up watching Sammy Sosa, emulating the batting stance of Ken Griffey Jr., and idolizing his favorite player, Pedro Martinez.

But when the Ridgewood resident found himself in section 140 at Citi Field last week, just beyond the center field wall, he was without a glove and instead holding his one-year-old son, Levi.

The first inning home run hit by the Mets’ own Starling Marte was hit over the wall, and although Alcantara didn’t catch the ball on the fly, he positioned himself to catch the ball off the bounce after it ricocheted off the center field void between the Home Run Apple and his seats.

“I saw the ball coming off the bat,” Alcantara recalls. “It was a split-second decision to get up on the rail.”

The 431-foot moon shot to center field was hit 107.2 miles per hour off Marte’s bat, finding its way into Alcantara’s outreached arm, while he was standing on the side railing of his seats.

He says he’s been asked multiple times why he didn’t put his child down before attempting to catch the ball, but he says everything happened in “about two or three seconds.”

“My first thought was, let me stand up right away to see if I can catch it, so it doesn’t hit my family,” he added.

Alcantara, a church administrator at the Transformation Church in Ridgewood, happened to be at the game as part of an annual tradition with his co-workers. Families, volunteers, directors of ministries and even the church’s senior pastor — who Alcantara says is a huge Mets fan — were in attendance the night of Tuesday, May 31.

The bonding experience became a tradition last year, he says, as a way for the church’s congregation to regroup and celebrate life amid a global pandemic.

Alcantara, a father of two and soon-to-be three, says he received a flood of text messages from relatives and friends in his home country, who later saw the video clip of him catching the home run ball. A friend of his, a Pastor from Colombia, told him that he saw the replay of the catch while he was in the airport.

“I literally couldn’t pay too much attention to the game after [the catch],” Alcantara said.

The Mets would go on to defeat the Washington Nationals that night by a score of 10-0. They currently sit atop the NL East standings and have posted a 38-19 record through the first 57 games of the season. Only the 1986 Mets, who would go on to win the World Series that year, have posted a better club record to start the season.

During the pandemic, the Transformation Church pivoted to streaming their live services online, enabling the church at 16-40 Hancock Street to reach a larger audience than before, Alcantara says. Attending the church since he was 16, and a staff member for the last three years, Alcantara says that the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the church’s local membership.

“We saw a lot of deaths within our members’ families,” he says. “There was a time when our pastor did so many funerals in one week, it was crazy.”

Transformation Church started as a Hispanic church before opening up english-speaking services about a dozen years ago, in an attempt to reach the American-born youth whose parents were also Hispanic.

“They understand Spanish, but not fully,” Alcantara, a graduate of Baruch College, said. “We want them to understand the word of God.”

Migrating from the Dominican Republic at 13-years-old, Alcantara has called Ridgewood his home for nearly two decades now. In addition to preaching the gospel and coordinating Sunday services, Alcantara helps the church hold annual food drives around Thanksgiving to aid local families.

“We want to be able to put our faith into action, not only preach the word, but also live it out and help people because it’s part of the gospel,” he added.

With Father’s Day right around the corner, Alcantara took his brief viral moment to celebrate the dads who are present in their child’s life.

“I want to thank the fathers for all the work you do for your kids,” he said. “I know sometimes we go unseen, but God sees it, and your kids do as well, and they will thank you for it.”

Ridgewood student hits milestone while achieving dreams

Despite these uncertain times Kylie Gordon, 11, has clung to her passion for the performing arts. Considered a “triple threat”—skilled at singing, acting, and dancing—Gordon took things to the next level by auditioning for Broadway shows, eventually landing her first role in “The Lion King.”

Unfortunately, the very same week she was cast, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, causing Broadway to temporarily shut down. Because of that, she missed out on her big break.

“Unfortunately, now she is over five feet tall, which is too tall for children on Broadway,” Kylie’s Mom, Kimberly, explained. “We’re hoping she’ll have additional Broadway [opportunities], but now a lot is more commercial modeling and acting.”

Kylie Gordon, 11, aspires to perform on Broadway

Since the second grade, Gordon has been home-schooled through Time4Learning, which allowed her to get her education and pursue her passions of singing, acting, and dancing, all while continuing to enjoy being a kid.

Last month, the Gordon’s celebrated Kylie’s fifth-grade graduation and her transition into middle school.

“I get to spend a lot more time with my family than when I actually went to school, so it’s fun. I get to mess around with my sibling, and it’s great,” Kylie said.

Kylie’s mom, who plays an additional role as her teacher, said that the home schooling experience was quite challenging at first, but eventually, it got easier and helped the mother-daughter duo strengthen their bond.

“One thing I remember from kindergarten was math, which was really stressful. She didn’t get it; I didn’t get it. But with home school, I have to dive in and kind of understand it,” Kimberly said.

“Once I did, our relationship with schooling and understanding each other in terms of learning style improved greatly,” she continued. “It took some time, but I think we’ve gotten into a great groove and I understand when she needs a break, especially when she has a job or something of that nature.”

Since she was two years old, Gordon has loved singing and dancing.

Vocally, she trains with Craig Derry, a coach and producer who has worked with prominent artists including Foushee, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, SWV, Al B. Sure, Tamar Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Mario, and more.

Gordon takes dance lessons at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she says she’s made a lot of friends and developed a great passion for ballet dance.

“I love ballet dance because I get to show my technique, which I love. It’s so fun to do,” Gordon said.

“I like performing because I know that I can make people smile,” she added. “I love choreography too, because I can show off my moves and my pizzazz.”

Although sad she was unable to perform on Broadway, Gordon did not let that stop her tenacity and urge to create art.

Gordon, who sings under the stage name KylieBear, recently released a new single, “This Girl,” which she wrote with her mom.

“‘This Girl’ is about a girl who’s telling people not to just pay attention to her looks, but also to her feelings,” she said. “We had so much fun doing it. First, we just had a little melody, and then we started writing the lyrics, adding the details, and then I started singing it.”

“I like to show my feelings in my songs in ways I can’t actually speak them sometimes.,” she continued. “I like people to listen to them when I don’t think they can actually hear me.”

Gordon’s discography also includes original songs such as “Hey Mr. DJ,” “You Are My Friend,” and “Lights Camera Action.”

She said that her biggest musical influences are Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, and the Broadway cast of Hamilton.

Kylie and her mom are extremely thankful for Time4Learning and the way they were supported throughout her rigorous schedule as a performer.

In fact, Gordon was able to interact with other students her age who were also graduating via the virtual graduation ceremony, hosted on YouTube Live.

As she moves on academically, Kylie also looks forward to advancing her performance career — and even has some big goals for herself.

“I want to perform all over the place, and hopefully have my own tour,” she said. “I want to have a bunch of people in the audience singing my name. I want to showcase myself.”

2022 Election Profile: Assembly Candidate Johanna Carmona

Johanna Carmona, a Sunnyside native and former Hispanic community liaison for outgoing Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, announced her bid for the New York State Assembly’s 37th District.

Nolan, whose district whose district encompasses the Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Woodside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood communities in Western Queens, has held the position since 1984. Following the announcement of her retirement, four local candidates have opted to throw their hats into the ring.

Carmona, 32, is a lawyer who previously worked special victims for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. She has also been endorsed by Nolan, who has represented the area for decades and felt she is the most qualified to succeed her up in Albany.

The main reason Carmona is running for the Assembly is to help give her community substantive representation at the state level.

“The neighborhood’s growing, but at the same time, it still has the same values that I feel are there from when I was little,” Carmona said in an interview. She emphasized that the tight-knit community of Sunnyside has been instrumental in her own life, like when neighbors helped her Dad with everything from babysitters to cooking a decent meal after Carmona’s mother suffered a stroke.

Carmona’s three top issues she’d like to tackle up in Albany are public safety, education, and affordable housing.

“The rent increases are going to be a concern because it also affects someone like myself,” Carmona said about the Rent Guidelines Board potential increases, adding that she’s been a lifelong tenant. Carmona supports Good Cause Eviction, a bill that would strengthen tenant rights with certain clarification to the language of the bill, saying that some terms such as what is deemed ‘satisfactory’ to the court are too grey and needs more clear definitions.

While Carmona is generally supportive of bail reform, she says the legislation could have been written more robustly before passing. The former special victims prosecutor said that the bill lacked key provisions and that her experience as a lawyer will suit her to write effective legislation.

“And then there was also another one where they didn’t include which was obscene sexual acts performed by a child, why wasn’t that included? My biggest thing is that I’ve dealt with victims, and my biggest proponent is to make sure victims are protected. And, of course, it was amended and included that, but you know, people have to understand that the wording has to be careful when something that passes so quickly,” Carmona said.

Carmona plans to laser in on lowering class size, funding for after-school programs, and expanding college access programs.

“Making sure we have solid college access programs, I think will be very beneficial because it’s a nice way coming from a family of very low income to segue into a better job,” Carmona said, specifically highlighting how an NYU program helped her in her own life.

While Carmona has her main issues, she also would like to focus on otter topics like climate policy. Specifically, she’s looking at ways to revitalize Newton Creek, such as using the waterway as a source of renewable energy and utilizing discretionary funds to expedite the clean-up timetable.

Carmona has been hitting the district one door at a time, even giving her personal cell phone number to potential voters to make sure she is accessible to the community.

“The majority of people just want a better quality of life,” Carmona said about her conversations with voters across the district. “It comes down to people protecting their families, being able to afford their homes, and being able to just go down the street and say I can come back home safe. And honestly, it’s just that’s what’s been resonating throughout the whole district.”

Carmona will be facing fellow candidates Juan Ardilla, Jim Magee, and Brent O’Leary in the Tuesday, June 28 primary.

Thousands turn out for Queens Pride

Thousands filled the streets in Jackson Heights on Sunday to celebrate the 30th annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival. Having been absent for the last two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festivities took the event to a whole new level.

Lasting over two hours, this year’s Queens Pride Parade featured more than 100 different groups, including local activists, LGBTQIA+ organizations, and elected officials.

Mayor Eric Adams helped lead the parade along with Grand Marshalls Adrienne Adams, speaker of the New York City Council, and former City Councilman and parade co-founder, Daniel Dromm.

The event also included representatives from nonprofit organizations such as Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, the Caribbean Equality Project, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the CUNY LGBTQIA+ Consortium, End Trans Detention, and many more.

It also included several performances by Fogo Azul, The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps, Gotham Cheer, CitySoul NYC, and City Cheer.

The Queens Pride Parade was founded by Dromm and gay rights activist Maritza Martinez in 1993 to improve the visibility of the LGBTQ community following the death of Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay Puerto Rican man who was viciously attacked by three skinheads at the schoolyard near 78th Street and 37th Avenue.

His would become the first gay hate crime to be tried in New York State. The street corner where the attack took place was later renamed “Julio Rivera Corner” as a symbolic gesture honoring his life and memory.

Jackson Heights has been home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the entire City since the 1920s, but when the attack took place in ‘93, activism was largely non-existent in what was at the time a socially conservative borough.

“If it wasn’t for Julio the Queens LGBT movement would not have gotten as far as it has gotten,” Dromm said back in 2015. “Julio did not die in vain. He changed people’s lives.”

Every year, the parade—which spans over a dozen city blocks—concludes the festivities at this historic corner. But Pride doesn’t stop there. The festivities continued long into the night with live music, presentations, food, drinks, and more.

Some of the many colorful costumes worn during the 2022 Pride Parade and Festival.

Looking regal. The Imperial Court of New York participates in the 2022 Queens Pride Parade.

Fogo Azul NYC drummers get the crowd moving in the streets during the parade.

Participants with Apicha Community Health Center enjoying the annual Pride Festival.


Expanding economic opportunities in Queens

From forming newfound partnerships, investing in e-commerce and even finishing your college education, Queens business owners are adapting to new ways to seize economic opportunities.

Speaking to business owners at the Hyatt Regency JFK at Resorts World NYC, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams was the keynote speaker at the business resource event hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams speaks at the Hyatt Regency JFK at Resorts World NYC at a business resource event hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

In the city’s lone casino, it was fitting for Speaker Adams to call on former college students to essentially bet on themselves via the CUNY Reconnect Initiative, which aims to return nearly 700,000 students who have earned some college credits but no degree.

“I want you back,” Speaker Adams said. “My baby for now is CUNY Reconnect and I want you back.”

The New York City Council has called upon Mayor Eric Adams to invest $23 million to fund the initiative that was modeled after a statewide program in Tennessee that acts as a “last-dollar grant”, paying the remaining balance towards an associate or technical degree.

The Mayor’s Executive Plan did not include any funding for the initiative, but that could change before the end of the fiscal year later this month.

Nonetheless, Speaker Adams said the program would benefit thousands of minority women who had to leave school early, no matter what life circumstances got in the way of finishing their degree.

“We can help them increase their earning potential, boost their outcomes and strengthen our workforce,” Speaker Adams said. “This will also power our city’s economic recovery and help employers. We believe this initiative is a powerful solution for our city.”

She called for barriers to be broken, particularly for minority and women owned business entrepreneurs, including access to e-commerce and investments to online storefronts.

“These are all critical steps to support and expand economic opportunities across the city. And we will continue to advocate for these investments on a local level,” Speaker Adams said.

She also recognized Aleeia Abraham, founder of the BlaQue Resource Network (BRN), for her role in organizing a network of over 20,000 Black business owners, consumers and community members throughout the borough. Speaker Adams called the community-oriented collective an “essential part” of the community landscape in southeast Queens.

Abraham highlighted her network’s partnership with Queens Together, a network of borough restaurants and community groups, to tackle food insecurity and access during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We distributed anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 boxes of fresh produce every single week in our community,” Abraham said. “Our group grew from about 3000 members to 10,000 members, all because of partnerships.”

Speaker Adams also called for expanding city and state programs that provide technical support for small businesses, particularly legacy and longtime businesses that are considered “community staples”, as well as immigrant-run small businesses.

The City Council is calling for $1.5 million to help businesses launch online storefronts to meet the growing demands for the future economy, Adams said.

“Far too many barriers block businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly in communities of color, from the opportunities needed to thrive,” she said. “But one concrete step the city can take to immediately help underserved businesses is to facilitate access to e-commerce and make them more competitive and resilient in this digital age.”

Local Girl Scouts save lives

Glendale girl receives Medal of Honor

When thinking about Girl Scouts, cookies, crafts, or badges might come to mind. But for Suzanne Ramos, 15, of Glendale, and Kassandra Fjotland, 15, from the Bronx, the height of their scouting careers involves saving lives.

Both girls were presented with Medal of Honor awards for their quick, resourceful thinking.

Ramos was honored with a proclamation from New York City Councilman Robert Holden.

Ramos, a Troop 4015 member and a student at Maspeth High School, has been a Girl Scout since the fourth grade.

All the years of lessons and training as a Girl Scout came in handy when one day she realized her little sister was choking, and she had to step in.

“We were having dinner in our living room, and I heard my sister making noises. Sometimes my sister just makes random noises to herself, but the noise kept continuing. So I turned around to look at her, and her face was blue and her lips were purple,” Ramos said. “My mind was just so clear at that point of what to do.”
Thanks to the skills she learned from Girl Scouts, Ramos knew to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her then-9-year-old sister.

“My troop does a bunch of trips, and sometimes we learn multiple things in one day, like when I learned to do the Heimlich maneuver. On our first day, we learned CPR, Heimlich maneuver, we had suture kits and stuff like that,” Ramos said.

“When we were doing the first day training, they were ways to know if someone’s choking, like when their face is a different color, or they can’t speak,” she continued. “That’s how I knew that’s what I needed to do.”

In addition to her Medal of Honor, Ramos was honored with a proclamation from New York City Councilman Robert Holden.

“In a harrowing moment, Suzanne Cardona performed the Heimlich maneuver on her sister, who was choking and unable to breathe. Ms. Cardona did not hesitate to act and provide life-saving care,” Holden said.

“A credit to the efforts of her parents, teachers, and Scout Leaders, she personifies the very best qualities of a Girl Scout and a member of our community,” he continued. “I was very happy to present this extraordinary young lady with a NYC Council proclamation. Our city needs more people like her.”

Kassandra Fjotland, 15, received awards from NY State Senator Robert Jackson and Councilwoman Carmen De La Rosa for her courageous deed.

Fjotland of Troop 3205, who’s been a Girl Scout for a decade, also came to the rescue of unsuspecting victims during a field trip to Fire Island.

She and two other girls were swimming further out into the ocean, until Fjotland realized that they were caught in a riptide.

“I knew I had to step in when the lifeguards were not noticing what was going on, so I started waving my arms and I was able to grab one of the girls,” Fjotland said. “The lifeguards were able to go into the water and get the girl from the sister troop who was deeper in the water.”

Although escaping a riptide isn’t something she learned from Girl Scouts specifically, Fjotland said that skills like reacting quickly and being resourceful are skills from the Scouts that helped her in that moment.

“Just knowing when to step in is a big factor with what I’ve learned in Girl Scouts,” she said. “Just helping others and if you were in that situation, you’d want someone to help you as well. So that was my mindset.”

In a ceremony, Fjotland was awarded with a proclamation from New York State Senator Robert Jackson, and a citation from City Councilwoman Carmen De La Rosa.

“Kassandra and Suzanne are shining examples of the Girl Scouts’ training and leadership in action,” De La Rosa said. “Their bravery and heroism helped save lives and continue to inspire our community and their fellow troop members. As a community we are proud and as Councilmember I’m honored to celebrate their well deserved National Lifesaving Award.”

Perlman: The Pizza Dance Uniting Communities & Offering Humanitarian Aid

By Michael Perlman

The Electric Slide, Macarena, and Queens’ own… The Pizza Dance! Since the late 1990s, The Pizza Dance has been quite a buzz, thanks to fans and most certainly its originator Tony Modica, an immigrant who achieved the American Dream as a business owner and humanitarian.

The Pizza Dance is a sing-along novelty that fosters peace, unity, love, and simple pleasures through shared cultures. Modica is known for his hospitality as he entices palates and entertains at Prima Pasta & Cafe at 161-50B Crossbay Boulevard, a cornerstone since 1992.

“We support love, peace, and unity” is the slogan of The Pizza Dance Foundation, which Kathleen Leon administers. The foundation promotes unity and cultural appreciation through free public activities and mobilizing others to support a unified message of respect and appreciation for all people. It proves that consolidated efforts are a great model of how government and non-profits, including religious and private sectors, can work together for the public’s benefit.

The second annual Pizza Dance Festival of Unity will be held on Saturday, June 11, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Five Towns Community Center at 271 Lawrence Ave., and admission to this family-friendly tradition is free. It has been a draw for not only Long Island residents, but those from Forest Hills and Rego Park, and throughout New York City and State.

The lineup will consist of food including Prima Pasta and Cafe, Grammie and Kids Cookies, smoothies, and piña coladas, as well as games and activities including face painting and giveaways, with a major highlight being Tony Modica and the Pizza Dance. Entertainment will also include the Sunshine Vocal Academy, Kathleen Leon, Emilio Moreli, Al Jeremiah, and DJ performances by Rhythm of the City Entertainment. Vendors will also include Chelsea’s Candles and Crafts, Creations by Erma, and Rhodizzy’s Royalty Palace.

The Pizza Dance originated at La Bella Vita on Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park in 1997. Modica reminisced, “The dance was a sign of a family breaking bread and enjoying pizza, and one child started to dance while enjoying pizza, so I came up with the Pizza Dance. Making pizza and doing the dance was an inspiration for unity and love. The choreography was inspired by the art of making pizza. It has been going strong since the late 1990s.” The Pizza Dance song is copyrighted and trademarked.

Forest Park was the setting of last June’s inaugural Pizza Dance Festival of Unity, which attracted amazing entertainment, as well as performances by Kathleen Leon, who has been running the foundation for the past two years. “She has lifted The Pizza Dance higher than it’s ever been,” Modica said, “and she transformed the foundation into an amazing, thriving one.” “At last year’s event, our attendance was very diverse,” Leon said. “This pertains to how we support and unite all cultures and nationalities, where we are one world with one heart.”

The Pizza Dance Foundation is a humanitarian inspiration that harbors an impressive history of giving back to the community. Modica proves how pizza is an international symbol of unity, and the foundation founded programs that encourage children to stay in school and achieve higher grades. After his lectures, everyone from students to seniors is treated to pizza and a Pizza Dance lesson.

He explained, “Pizza is used as a symbol due to its varied toppings and delectable enjoyment that is recognized by all cultures. Positive messages are enhanced through dance and an enjoyable feast.”

The foundation has contributed to St. Jude’s Hospital for Children and the Alzheimer’s Foundation, as well as sponsored toy drives for the holiday season, and facilitated the donation of clothing to children and places of worship. Modica said, “We provide assistance with trade school scholarships and sponsor the American softball league, as well as support any autistic foundation in need of help.”

Modica reflects on the past in pride. “Twenty-three years ago, June was officially named the ‘Taste of Pizza Month’ and the Pizza Dance Foundation was congressionally honored as well.” Leon said, “Running this foundation has made me proud of the pizza dance in so many ways.

Our aim is to build trade school scholarships for children in need of a better future. We are very humble and will always serve our community.”

The foundation has proven how private citizens and non-profits can achieve success across local communities and beyond with the support of businesses and government. “Help us make a change and spread a positive message to the world by donating, or contact us for more information on how to have us organize an event with you in mind,” said Modica. Parties of interest can email


Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing