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HANAC’s Multi-Faceted Approach to Social Services and Affordable Housing


Courtesy of HANAC. HANAC, a citywide social service and affordable housing nonprofit, has been a steadfast support for New York City residents since 1972, annually aiding over 30,000 individuals, particularly focusing on low-income seniors.

HANAC, a citywide social service and affordable housing nonprofit, has been a pillar of support for New York City residents since its establishment. Serving over 30,000 individuals annually, HANAC remains dedicated to uplifting vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on low-income seniors.

Founded in 1972 in Queens, NY, HANAC initially aimed to support the Greek community immigrating to the United States, addressing their social service needs and aiding in their acclimatization to American life. Originating from the initiative of a reporter for the Long Island Press, who recognized the challenges faced by Greek immigrants, HANAC secured a planning grant of $75,000 from Mayor John Lindsay to establish its operations.

Over time, the organization expanded its scope beyond the Greek community to serve a broader demographic in New York City. Today, HANAC has evolved into a citywide nonprofit, annually assisting 30,000 residents across NYC with funding from various governmental sources. Notably, HANAC manages a portfolio of 650 affordable housing units for seniors in Queens, NY, demonstrating its enduring commitment to addressing the diverse needs of the city’s vulnerable populations.

The multifaceted approach of HANAC encompasses three primary categories within its social service arm. Firstly, the organization provides comprehensive older adult programming, including senior centers, transportation services, and various other initiatives tailored to meet the needs of the senior community.

Courtesy of HANAC. Evolving from its roots in Queens’ Greek community, HANAC now serves a diverse demographic, providing comprehensive social services, including elder care, family support, and youth empowerment programs, while also actively addressing the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Secondly, HANAC offers adult and family programs, such as high school equivalency assistance, weatherization support, and substance abuse programs.

Lastly, youth programming, primarily situated in public schools and after-school programs, aims to empower young adults through initiatives like the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which facilitates their entry into the workforce.

In addition to its robust social service endeavors, HANAC is also deeply committed to addressing the pressing issue of affordable housing in New York City. As owners of 650 units of senior affordable housing, the organization strives to ensure that low-income seniors have access to safe and stable living environments where they can age with dignity and respect.

Stacy Bilgos, Executive Director of HANAC, emphasizes the significance of their housing initiatives.

“One of the key issues that low-income seniors face is housing instability,” Bilgos said. “We saw all these seniors struggling and we wanted to help them as valued members of our community, supporting their ability to age in place within the community that they actually helped build.”

However, despite their impactful efforts, HANAC faces significant challenges in their mission to increase and enhance access to affordable housing. Bilgos highlights the barriers faced by seniors in navigating the system, such as the requirement for online accounts to apply for housing, which poses challenges for those lacking digital literacy or access to technology.

“In order for anybody to apply for affordable housing, they need to have an online account, so if they don’t have a computer or don’t have Wi Fi,  that basically prevents them from doing that,” Bilbos said. “Think about any other older adult that maybe they don’t know how to use a computer. So that’s the first roadblock, another is older adults not knowing where to go to find the services so that they can get help.”

Furthermore, with the ongoing affordable housing crisis in New York City, there is a pressing need for increased services and resources to support vulnerable populations. Bilgos emphasizes the importance of community collaboration and governmental partnerships in addressing these issues effectively.

Regarding the city’s initiatives to tackle the affordable housing crisis, Bilgos acknowledges the gradual nature of such endeavors, emphasizing the need for sustained efforts across multiple neighborhoods.

Antiquated, confining, and convoluted zoning regulations curtail the potential for new housing developments and drive up the costs of existing ones. The Housing Opportunity Initiative, part of the City of Yes initiative advocates for zoning reforms that would alleviate the housing crisis by permitting increased housing construction across all neighborhoods. While the City of Yes initiative signifies a step in the right direction, Bilgos emphasizes the importance of continuous expansion and improvement in affordable housing initiatives to meet the evolving needs of New York City’s diverse communities.

Bilgos underscores the importance of raising awareness and advocating for vulnerable populations. She emphasizes the need for kindness and empathy, urging individuals to volunteer, be advocates, and support initiatives aimed at alleviating housing insecurity.

“I think volunteering is helpful but also just being more mindful that other people are facing something that they may not be facing and being an advocate for the vulnerable populations,” Bilbos said. “Really, as humans, we really need to be kinder to each other and, and just be more aware that individuals struggle in very different ways. And we should advocate for them, especially when they can’t advocate for themselves.”

As summer approaches, concerns about the well-being of older adults come to the forefront, particularly regarding access to air conditioning amidst rising temperatures. While many may take cooling systems for granted, the reality for some seniors is grappling with the financial strain of soaring electric bills. This poignant observation underscores the broader issue of housing insecurity among older adults, where basic necessities like shelter and comfort are often compromised by financial constraints.

Looking ahead, Bilgos envisions a future where housing insecurity is eradicated, and all individuals, especially older adults, can age gracefully without the burden of housing-related stressors. She emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding, urging individuals to consider the challenges faced by vulnerable populations and work collectively towards creating a more inclusive and supportive society.

“The dream is that everybody does not have to deal with housing insecurity,” Bilgos said. “The dream is so that each and every older adults can age gracefully, and that they don’t have to pick between paying rent or buying groceries.”

For those interested in supporting HANAC’s cause, visit for volunteering opportunities as well as advocacy efforts being encouraged, alongside fostering a greater awareness of the challenges faced by marginalized communities in New York City.

Legislators and Advocates Rally for MENA Bill, Calling for Accurate Representation


Credit: Mohamed Farghaly. Rana Abdelhamid of Malikah delivers a powerful address, emphasizing the importance of accurate representation and access to resources for the Middle Eastern and North African community during the rally.

A diverse coalition of legislators and advocates gathered at the Al-Iman Mosque in Astoria on April 1 to rally in support of passing crucial legislation aimed at recognizing Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) individuals in New York State’s demographic data.

The MENA bill Seeks to rectify a long standing issue where MENA communities have been incorrectly categorized as white in government documents. This misclassification has led to inadequate representation and resource allocation for these communities.

The conference, led by Rana Abdelhamid of Malikah and the NY MENA Coalition, commenced with motivating remarks from the representative of the Middle Eastern and North African community.

“For decades, our community has been completely erased, we have not been seen in data and that has had dire devastating consequences for health care outcomes, for education outcomes in the community and for access to language translation in this community,” Abdelhamid said. “For so long, we have been designated as white as our designation and our community has been completely erased. Honestly, it’s offensive and it is not accurate. We need representatives that advocate for us, we need support across the board and in order for us to be able to have that kind of support, we need data that actually reflect and tell some story about what our team is.”

Credit: Mohamed Farghaly. Community leaders gather outside Al-Iman Mosque in Astoria, Queens, to advocate for the recognition of Middle Eastern and North African individuals in New York State’s demographic data.

Senator Michael Gianaris was one of the first legislators to speak on the topic in support of the bill.

“Let’s begin with a very simple proposition, Middle Easterners and North Africans are not white. That’s something we should all be able to agree on,” Gianaris said. “And yet, New York State and even the federal government recognize them as white. That means a couple of things. First of all, it’s offensive, because you’re telling an entire community that they are not what they think they are. And they know best. But it also means that the government doesn’t see that community. The state doesn’t know where they are, what their needs are. And that means that the real consequences in terms of government services and communities are underserved because of it, and often aren’t able to avail themselves of like government programs and services that are specific to certain communities. And so, we are aiming to change that.”

According to the U.S. Census, there are at least 280,000 MENA individuals residing in New York State, though studies suggest the actual number could exceed 500,000. The MENA Bill aims to disaggregate MENA populations from the white demographic category or collect separate data on each major MENA group.

Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas emphasized the importance of this legislation, stating, “Viscerally that middle eastern North African communities have not been treated as white have not benefited from white privilege. I continue to face many harms that many other communities of color face. And it’s critical that we have the data and the information to uplift this reality.”

Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani then took to the podium to share his sentiments as a member of the community he is trying to represent. “It baffles the mind that when the NYPD created demographics and units under the leadership of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, they understood that North Africans and Middle Easterners are not white. But when it comes to any aspect of state support, when it comes to any aspect of recording statistics that tell the stories of this community, this entire community has been absorbed into the idea of whiteness. We have to turn a new page and ensure that now we see state support for this community. Because if you’re not recorded in these statistics, your story is not told. And if your story is not told, then your life is not supported.”

The rally garnered significant support from a diverse array of community leaders, each representing various organizations dedicated to advocacy and empowerment. These leaders brought with them a wealth of experience and expertise from their respective fields, highlighting the widespread coalition formed in support of the MENA Bill.

Somia Elrowmeim of the Women’s Empowerment Coalition shared her sentiments. “I always have asked myself why I have to choose white, I’m not white and I do not have the privilege of being white and that would really bother me. Allah. We have been advocating and educating our community because we want to be recognized. And we want to get the support that we need as people of color as Middle Eastern or North Africas, that’s important to us, because we always have been underserved.”

Youssef Mubarez, representing YAMA Action, emphasized the importance of passing the MENA Bill. He highlighted the challenges faced by Middle Eastern owned small businesses in New York, which were initially considered essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic but have since been overlooked.

“We were the first to give support, but the last to get support, all because of the simple checkbox that says that we are white, and our families are white,” Mubarez said. “Passing this bill means that when we apply for business loans and grants that are supposed to support minority communities on a level playing field, we urge state legislators to pass this bill, so that we are no longer essentially forgotten.”

The MENA coalition sought guidance from the Asian American community and collaborated with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) to advance their cause. Recognizing CACF’s successful advocacy efforts in the past, which led to tangible results for their own community, MENA reached out for advice and support.

Jeemin Cha, representing CACF, expressed solidarity with the MENA New York Coalition and emphasized the importance of passing the data disaggregation bill.

“CCAF stands with the MENA New York Coalition to urge New York state legislators to pass the needed data disaggregation bill. The MENA community has been made invisible by being lumped into the White category, obscuring their unique struggles in health, education, housing and political representation. This injustice ends now. Passing this bill marks a historic step towards the true representation they deserve in New York.”

With broad bipartisan support and a unified coalition of advocates, the MENA Bill represents a crucial step towards rectifying long standing disparities in data representation and ensuring equitable access to resources for MENA communities across New York State.

“The MENA community has been invisible for too long,” stated Abdelhamid. “This legislation is a crucial step towards proper representation and access to resources.”

Credit: Mohamed Farghaly. Gathered outside the culturally significant Al-Iman Mosque in Astoria during the holy month of Ramadan, a diverse coalition of legislators and advocates rallied in support of the MENA bill.

New York City Prepares for Largest-Ever Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day Celebration


Courtesy of Department of Transportation. NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez announces the largest-ever Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day event, emphasizing the importance of sustainable transportation and environmental activism in New York City.

New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez announced the largest Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day event yet, with a number of car-free streets and extended operating hours taking place on the 54th anniversary of Earth Day on Saturday, April 20. 

The annual affair, spearheaded by NYC DOT, transforms select city streets into car-free zones, amplifying activism and education on climate change, environmentalism, and sustainable transportation. This event also heralds the commencement of the city’s Open Streets and Public Space Programming season.

“Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day encourages New Yorkers to leave their vehicles at home and appreciate our streets as shared open spaces for all,”  NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said. “As part of the city’s largest-ever Car-Free Earth Day celebration, will be hosting programming, music, and other activities at dozens of car-free streets around New York City. And new, temporary public art will help us remember: We only have one planet — and we must all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint and respect our environment.”

This year’s Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day, sponsored by WABC, boasts 53 car-free streets and plazas across the five boroughs, featuring public art or community programming—an expansion from the 30 locations in 2023. NYC DOT will extend car-free operations by one hour, with streets closed from 10 am to 4 pm.

Through support from Lyft, Citi Bike will offer unlimited 30-minute rides on classic bikes for 24 hours with the promo code CARFREE24 in the Citi Bike app.

Among the highlights, four artists have been chosen to create temporary, environmentally themed works along designated routes. Natalie Wood presents EcoHarmony, transforming repurposed furniture into organic sculptures adorned with live plants, while giving away 1,000 plants to promote environmental awareness. Kelp Parade, by Amanda Thackray and Wendel Jeffrey, brings a dynamic kelp forest to life through 24 flags made from upcycled plastic bags, activated by movement and sound. Lyubava Kroll designs Keep NYC Green graphics envisioning a greener future for the city, to be installed on streetlight poles.

Signature event locations include Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, featuring a car-free route from 40th to 45th Street, and Woodside Avenue in Queens, spanning from 75th to 78th Street.

“I’m thrilled to celebrate Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day in Queens and across the city again this year.” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr said. “This event is a great way to encourage city residents to reduce our reliance on cars and to take other steps that will reduce our city’s carbon footprint and help limit the negative impacts of climate change, which we have already started to feel.  I look forward to the Car Free Earth Day festivities that will take place on Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst, which will be a great launching point for DOT’s highly anticipated Open Streets and Public Space Programming season.”

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso emphasized the importance of sustainable transportation, envisioning safer, cleaner streets and more livable neighborhoods through investments in public transit.

“Car-free streets are more than a celebration of Earth Day, they’re a chance for New Yorkers to see the sustainable, green, healthy city of the future that’s within reach,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “By investing in public transit and encouraging a shift away from private vehicles, we can achieve a future where our streets are safer, air is cleaner, and neighborhoods are more livable. I’m so excited that NYC DOT will be not only upping the number of car-free streets but increasing the hours of operations as well, and I hope to see all of New York enjoying the great outdoors in honor of Earth Day.”

Courtesy of Department of Transportation. During Earth Day this year, the Department of Transportation plans to transform select city streets into car-free zones for residents’ enjoyment.

Variety Boys and Girls Club to host College and Career Fair in Astoria

The Variety Boys and Girls Club in Astoria is hosting a College and Career Fair on Saturday, June 8th from 11AM-4PM.

The event will serve as a valuable platform for colleges and young professionals to connect with, inform and inspire prospective students and job seekers.

The Club is looking for energized and engaged vendors in both colleges and universities as well as local businesses, corporations, NYC, NYS and Federal governmental offices as well as other not for profit organizations who will not only engage with our members, but will inspire them,” said Leah Carter, Chief Advancement Office at The Variety Boys and Girls Club

Dozens of local Queens business professionals are volunteering at the event, including those who sit on The Club’s Young Professionals Committee (YPC). The Club’s YPC is group of local volunteers from companies such as Edward Jones, Amazon, Chip City Cookies, GrubHub, BQE Media & Marketing, NinjaBear NYC, United Print Group, Mega Development, Equinor, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, and more…

“Members of the YPC are excited to help bring together students and professionals to explore higher education and career opportunities,” said John Renda, an Edward Jones financial advisor and Co-Chair of Variety’s Young Professionals Committee.

“It’s a privilege to be able to inspire students to find their passion, pursue further education, and set a direction for their future career paths,” said John Sanchez, VP of BQE Media and Co-Chair of Variety’s Young Professionals Committee. “I remember being young and confused about my career path. I wish that I had the opportunity to meet more professionals in various industries during my middle and high school years,” Sanchez added.

If you are a young professional who would like to showcase your institution or organization to a diverse group of students and professionals at the Variety Boys and Girls Club, register here.

“We recognize that not every kid wants or can go to college, so we want to create an opportunity where our kids can get to learn about all types of educational opportunities as well as jobs and careers in a multitude of different industries,” said Alexia Makrigiannis, Director of Strategic Planning at the Variety Boys & Girls Club.

The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens is located at 21-12 30th Rd in Astoria, Queens.

Astoria Welfare Society Hosts Ramadan Iftar

by Charlie Finnerty

The Astoria Welfare Society hosted an iftar dinner at Al-Amin Mosque at sundown March 31. Local muslim communities, neighbors and asylum seekers broke fast alongside Queens County Civil Court Judge Soma Syed, Consul General of Bangladesh in New York Md. Najmul Huda. Attendees joined in prayer, nasheed song and ate food provided by Astoria Welfare Society. Astoria Welfare Society General Secretary Mohammed Jabed Uddin said roughly 300 people were in attendance, including 40–50 asylum seekers.

“As Muslims around the world observe this sacred time through fasting and reflection, we find joy in coming together as a community to breakfast in the spirit of unity and camaraderie,” Uddin said.

Civic Leader and Assembly Candidate Hiram Monserrate Shines Light on Roosevelt Avenue’s  Challenges

Queens Ledger Staff

In a relentless campaign to address the myriad challenges along Roosevelt Avenue, civic leader and Assembly candidate Hiram Monserrate casts a spotlight on the neighborhood’s pressing issues.



In a thorough investigation on the streets of Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, civic leader and Assembly candidate Hiram Monserrate has brought to attention a myriad of concerning activities, signaling a call for action to address the prevalent issues plaguing the neighborhood.

Monserrate’s endeavor sheds light on the multifaceted challenges faced by the community and underscores the necessity for concerted efforts from authorities to mitigate them effectively.

During Monserrate’s inquiry, a troubling pattern emerged as no less than 15 instances of alleged prostitution solicitation and unlicensed street vending were observed within just a six-block radius.

These activities, ranging from the sale of cooked meat from makeshift setups such as garbage cans to the blatant solicitation of prostitution, and  unlicensed smoke shops paint a grim picture of the street’s environment. Monserrate’s frustration was palpable as he recounted encounters where individuals engaging in illicit activities openly disregard regulations and authority figures.

“The fact is that the NYPD and the sheriff’s cannot enforce this and they’re not closing the nuisance,” Monserrat said. “They’re not doing it. Clearly, the city needs more tools.”

Beyond the immediate concerns of prostitution solicitation and illegal vending, Monserrate highlighted broader issues impacting the quality of life for Roosevelt Avenue residents. Instances of graffiti on properties further compound the deteriorating aesthetics of the neighborhood, while also raising safety concerns. Despite a visible police presence, Monserrate argued that a more proactive and comprehensive approach is warranted to address the root causes of these challenges effectively.

Monserrate’s advocacy extends beyond mere observation, as he has actively called for the establishment of a permanent task force involving multiple agencies. Such a task force, composed of representatives from law enforcement, sanitation departments, and other relevant bodies, would be tasked with enforcing regulations and ensuring public safety along Roosevelt Avenue. By addressing the issue holistically, Monserrate believes that lasting change can be achieved, preventing a return to the status quo.

“Right now, we’ve seen probably 10 Cops around,”  Monserrate said. “But what we need is a 100 cop task force at one time.”

Illegal street vendors operating along Roosevelt Avenue have not only flouted regulations regarding unlicensed vending but have also contributed to environmental degradation by indiscriminately dumping their garbage onto the streets. The unsightly accumulation of waste not only mars the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood but also poses health hazards to residents and passersby.

The presence of food trucks parked directly outside residential homes exacerbates the situation, as the constant flow of customers and associated activities disrupts what should be residential areas.

The urgency of Monserrate’s efforts has not gone unnoticed, with residents and other community leaders echoing the same sentiments. While recent actions by city officials to address some of the challenges are commendable, Monserrate stresses the importance of sustained and comprehensive measures.

“We have to talk to each other, and we have to make sure that we resolve the problem,”  Monserrate said. “We need to be able to work together on this.”

As discussions continue on how best to tackle the challenges facing Roosevelt Avenue, Monserrate’s dedication to highlighting these issues serves as a catalyst for change. By rallying support and advocating for tangible solutions, Monserrate hopes to foster a safer and more vibrant environment for all residents of the neighborhood.

Queens Ledger Staff

Amidst the bustling streets of Roosevelt Avenue, blatant graffiti defaces residential homes, raising both aesthetic concerns and safety alarms. 

Mayor Adams Zoning Overhaul Sparks Debate on Affordability in Long Island City

Courtesy René Salazar

The Western Queens Community Land Trust provided attendees with resources and information
on housing and community projects.

By René Salazar, Freelancer

Community groups in Queens, including the Western Queens Community Land Trust, the Justice For All Coalition, and Racial Impact Study Coalition, convened a town hall meeting at P.S. 111 Jacob Blackwell in Long Island City on March 23. The gathering aimed to delve into concerns surrounding the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal, a zoning reform initiative geared towards alleviating the housing shortage in New York City neighborhoods.

During the meeting, organizers delivered a presentation elucidating the essence of the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity, spearheaded by Mayor Eric Adams, and its potential ramifications on the community. Attendees received informational materials and resources concerning housing and community initiatives.

In addition, organizers provided QR codes for attendees to scan, facilitating access to resources, and set up an interview station where individuals could share their thoughts in private.

Residents expressed apprehension about the swift transformations in the neighborhood, with many expressing fears that the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal’s approval could hasten gentrification in the locality and its environs.

Following the presentation, an open dialogue unfolded between attendees and organizers, focusing on community needs, deficiencies, and desired changes. Memo Salazar, co-chair of the Western Queens Community Land Trust, underscored the significance of community input, urging residents to voice their concerns to elected officials.

“We are trying to get the ball rolling and that starts with you and your thoughts and ideas. You know best because you live here,” Salazar said. “This is your home, so we need to hear. What do you need? And then we need to go to our elected officials and tell them that. That’s why we are here, we are here because this is home.”

After the discussion, attendees were prompted to share their perspectives on posters displayed throughout the school auditorium, addressing inquiries about necessary programs, educational resources, career training, and job opportunities.

Community members expressed apprehension regarding the neighborhood’s rapid transformation, with many fearing that the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal could exacerbate gentrification in the area. Christina Chaise, a long-time Queens resident, voiced concerns about the potential impact on the Queensbridge public housing development.

“No doubt Queensbridge will be the most impacted and literally we’ll be positioned to live in the shadows if this rezoning plan goes through” Chaise said. “When I think about what it means to build more affordable housing. I think, with the definitions that exist by the department of city planning, does not favor deeply affordable housing. I don’t think it’s real affordable housing”

The proposal primarily aims to modernize zoning regulations by implementing various initiatives, including the elimination of parking mandates, incentivizing up zoning, facilitating residential conversions, introducing town center zoning, and promoting small accessory dwelling units.

“We are here, we are voters just like the other people that are voters, but we vote long term. We are not leaving” Salazar said.

Attendees exhibited skepticism towards the credibility of Mayor Adams’ proposal, questioning its efficacy in addressing affordability issues. Mayor Adams, however, emphasized the proposal’s focus on permanent affordable housing, assuring that up zoning would be contingent upon the provision of affordable housing units.

“Affordable housing is what we need. We are going to allow buildings to get 20% bigger only if they use the new space to deliver permanent affordable housing” said Mayor Adams in his proposal announcement.

The town hall concluded with organizers urging community members to engage further by attending additional meetings and communicating with their representatives. Mayor Adams’ City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal is slated to undergo public review later in the spring of 2024.

Courtesy René Salazar

Community members write their thoughts on poster paper provided by event organizers.

Welcoming a Diverse Community for an Inspiring Iftar Gathering

Courtesy Ayman Siam

Attendees eagerly break their fast together during the Iftar event, sharing moments of warmth and camaraderie amidst the setting sun.



The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School in Astoria, Queens, played host to a gathering brimming with warmth, goodwill, and a shared commitment to humanitarianism. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, in collaboration with Malikah and Islamic Relief USA, orchestrated an uplifting Iftar dinner as part of their ongoing “Iftar on the Go” series.

Iftar marks the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan, coinciding with the Maghrib prayer’s adhan, the call to prayer. This meal, their second of the day, follows the pre-dawn meal of suhur, initiating the daily fast observed throughout Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from food and drink, concluding their fast with the evening meal of iftar at sunset.

Malikah is a grassroots organization in New York City advocating against gender and hate-based violence through self-defense training, healing justice, and economic empowerment. Partnering with schools, community organizations, and religious institutions, Malikah’s trainer model equips women and girls with skills in healing, self-defense, organizing, and financial literacy. Since 2010, they’ve impacted over 20,000 women and girls globally.

Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) is a non-profit humanitarian agency and part of the Islamic Relief Worldwide network. Established in California in 1993, IRUSA undertakes global relief and development efforts alongside sponsoring domestic projects. These initiatives span from emergency disaster responses to aiding the homeless and supporting access to healthcare for those in need within the United States.

This initiative, a joint effort between the Comptroller’s Office and Islamic Relief USA, seeks to provide sustenance to families in need while also honoring the tireless efforts of individuals dedicated to supporting asylum seekers with vital services.

The event, held on March 27, saw a remarkable turnout of community leaders, activists, and advocates, each contributing to the fabric of New York City’s vibrant tapestry. Among the esteemed guests were NYC Comptroller Brad Lander, Malikah Founder Rana Abdelhamid, Afrikana Founder Adama Bah, as well as revered Imams Idriz Budimlic and Omar Niass. Their presence underscored the importance of solidarity and collective action in addressing the pressing needs of marginalized communities.

“Ramadan, Mubarak, I’m so honored to be here ,” Lander said, opening up the event. “It’s extraordinary work that this organization is doing, not just welcoming people, not just empowering young women, not just building community, but welcoming people into that sacred work.”

As attendees mingled and exchanged greetings, the atmosphere buzzed with anticipation and camaraderie. Representatives from Islamic Relief USA, Gambian Youth Organization, Astoria Halal Fridge, and other community organizations lent their support, further enriching the evening with their unwavering dedication to humanitarian causes.

“For Muslims at home and across the world, the holy month of Ramadan is a time of increased worship and heightened compassion for humanity. In addition to daily fasting, charitable acts and ensuring that our neighbors do not struggle with food insecurity is central to our worship. On behalf of Islamic Relief USA, I am proud to partner with the NYC Comptroller Brad Lander to meet the fundamental needs of New Yorkers across all five boroughs and deliver healthy, fresh meals to over 8,500 beneficiaries,” said Ahmed Shehata, Chief Executive Officer, Islamic Relief USA.

Throughout the dinner, poignant moments of recognition punctuated the festivities, as individuals instrumental in aiding asylum seekers were acknowledged for their selfless contributions. From providing nourishment and shelter to offering invaluable social services, these unsung heroes exemplified the spirit of compassion and generosity that defines New York City’s ethos.

Comptroller Lander, in his address to the audience, expressed heartfelt gratitude to the partners and volunteers who helped orchestrate the event. He emphasized the city’s longstanding tradition of welcoming newcomers and extending a helping hand to those in need, drawing parallels from sacred texts and historical precedents.

“We have a divine task to come to know each other,” remarked Comptroller Lander, invoking teachings from the Quran and the Bible. “Offering food to those who are seeking refuge in strange places, is a deep and profound tradition that we have. And that’s why I’m so proud of the Iftar on the go.”

Lander eloquently articulated the moral imperative of supporting immigrants and asylum seekers, reaffirming New York City’s identity as a beacon of inclusivity and acceptance.

The Iftar dinner also served as a platform to announce the continuation of the “Iftar on the Go” initiative, a testament to the ongoing commitment of partners like Islamic Relief USA and Malikah to address the evolving needs of vulnerable populations. Comptroller Lander underscored the importance of collaborative efforts in fostering a more equitable and compassionate society.

“For the second year in a row, Malikah is looking forward to collaborating on biweekly food distributions in Queens this Ramadan season. Ramadan is a time that amplifies the year-round struggles of food insecurity, an issue we witness daily in our work in Astoria, Queens. Especially knowing that we will be offering halal meals to Muslim asylum seekers in NYC who are already facing immense challenges, we know how vital this service is. Through our partnership with the NYC Comptroller’s Office and Islamic Relief USA, we are not only providing meals but also offering a sense of dignity and community support to our neighbors who need it most,” said Rana Abdelhamid, Executive Director, Malikah.


Courtesy Ayman Siam

Amidst the serene ambiance of the Iftar event, Muslims unite during the Maghrib prayer, a poignant moment of spiritual reflection and community bonding.

Reality House Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Expands Facilities

By Charlie Finnerty

Reality House, Inc., a substance abuse and addiction treatment center in Astoria, are expanding their residential in-patient facility on Astoria Blvd. from 30 beds to 60 and opened a new outpatient office. Specializing in reintegration, Reality House takes a community-based approach to help individuals secure housing, employment and other essential needs to rebuild their life after struggling with addiction. Executive Director Michael Cannaday said he sees reintegration as providing the support needed to ensure the longer recovery process is successful.

“Reintegration is the next step after rehab, it’s not an alternative,” Cannaday said. “Some people go to rehab and they have support in place; they have family, they have support.”

Reality House provides substance use treatment, mental health counseling, housing and employment services for patients, according to Clinical Program Director Roland Smith. While most patients come from Queens, Smith said Reality House serves individuals across the city and offers virtual services for those who want to stay connected to the program remotely. The residential in-patient care program is typically 6 months.

“Because it’s a reintegration program it’s more of a step down from maybe a more intensive residential program,” Smith said. “It’s a lot less restricted. They can be back in their communities, visit their families and work.”

Established in Harlem in 1967, Reality House initially focused on offering culturally-appropriate substance abuse, HIV treatment and prevention, mental health treatment and PTSD recovery for veterans. While veterans are still a central part of their work, Smith said that their services have expanded to be open to all New Yorkers that need support. Expanding their residential facilities will help to better serve those individuals since Reality House regularly has a waiting list of at least 30 people, according to Smith.

Roland Smith at Reality House. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Like many staff and counselors involved with addiction and recovery treatment, Cannaday and Smith were both drawn to community-based work after their own personal experiences and struggles.

“The last time I was incarcerated, there was a correction officer who used to walk by everyday and he used to give me the newspaper, he’d give me coffee,” Cannaday said. “When I left I asked him, ‘Why’d you alway give me that stuff?’ and he said ‘I heard you speak before. You’re a smart dude, you’re a decent looking guy. I was invested in you because you have the potential to live next door to me and I wanna know who’s going to live next door to me.’ That sticks with me like a ton of bricks to this day.”

Cannaday said he hopes reintegration facilities like Reality House can become examples for an alternative path for the city and state to support people dealing with addiction, mental illness and poverty that isn’t dependent on criminalization. Particularly after seeing the city’s response to the ongoing asylum seeker crisis, Cannaday said he feels the failures to support those struggling with substances or homelessness is a lack of political will rather than a lack of available resources.

Reality House staff receive a presentation from the national guard. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

“It just gets so disparaging, when you see how much money we’re utilizing in the state and the city right now, because you know what it says? It says that we have the capability to do something, but we really choose not to do it. And that’s what makes people say, ‘Is this a setup?’” Cannaday said. “You say you want us to turn out better but you don’t want to invest in turning it out and you don’t even have the vision to see how far this impacts society. Most these people have mental health issues that are undiagnosed, especially people of color.”

Reality House can be reached at (212) 281-6004.





Hunters Point Parks Conservancy Connects LIC Community with Local Waterways

By Charlie Finnerty

Originally founded in 1998 as the Friends of Gantry Plaza State Park, the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy (HPPC) is a nonprofit committed to protecting and enhancing Long Island City’s green spaces and waterways. In October 2023, they opened their environmental center at 57-28 2nd St. in space provided by Gotham Point LIC in partnership with the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) and North Brooklyn Community Boathouse. The Environmental Center hosts educational opportunities for local students and acts as a hub for local environmental and boating groups. President Bob Basch said he sees the environmental center becoming a central organizing and community-building space for environmental and educational groups throughout LIC.


“We are excited to continue to build out this space and add more environmental programming and boating opportunities,” Basch said.  “We look forward to this center becoming an essential amenity to the community.”

A central part of the educational programming offered at the new center focuses on Newtown Creek, which was named a Superfund site in 2010. Newtown Creek was designated by the EPA as one of the most polluted waterways in the country due to hazardous or toxic materials overflow from city sewage and industrial waste in the area. Students at the environmental center learn about what the creek originally looked like, how it was polluted and what is being done to remediate the pollution as local wildlife slowly begins to repopulate to the creek.

In addition to NCA-led field trips, the center also provides educational opportunities including nature and bird walks, nature journaling classes and their Summer Kids series educational programming on creek wildlife.

Recreational kayaking is one of the key functions of the center, particularly in the summertime, offering locals open paddling sessions and group kayaking sessions open to the public. There is no charge for kayaking and all equipment is supplied.















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