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You have the chance to change a life

You have the opportunity to help change someone’s life, and it won’t cost you a penny. All you have to do is tell someone you know about the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women right here in Woodhaven.
Perhaps you know a woman who never got the opportunity to finish high school. That diploma can often be the key to a better future, it can open the door to better job opportunities or maybe even a promotion at a current job. A high school diploma can be the first step in going to college.
In less than a month, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women will begin holding open registration for their tuition-free classes for the 2021-2022 school year.
To ensure the safety of all students, you must have proof of vaccination in order to attend classes at SSNDEC Woodhaven.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center offers classes to prepare women to take the TASC (formerly the GED). To register, visit the center at 87-04 88th Avenue across from St. Thomas the Apostle Church on Monday, September 13, between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The classes are for women 20 years or older, who are committed to working toward their high school diploma and can attend classes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
They should also have sufficient reading and writing skills in English to work on the high school equivalency curriculum.
If you know someone whose English skills need some work, or perhaps they cannot speak the language at all, the School Sisters also offer ESL (English as a Second Language) courses.
Again, these classes are tuition-free and offered at six levels, from Introductory to Level 5. Classes are scheduled between Monday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The schedule will vary depending on the level.
All women must take a placement test to determine their level. This test will be given on Tuesday, September 14, at 10 a.m. and again in the afternoon at 1 p.m.
What a difference you could make in the life of the person you share this information with. Not only will it make a difference in the life of that person, but the impact will be felt by their children and the entire family.
Changing the lives of women and their families was exactly what SSNDEC executive director Sister Catherine Feeney had in mind when she and her fellow sisters opened the educational center in 2003 in Ozone Park.
In those early days, the center had just over a dozen students and it was strictly a GED program.
In short order, they also saw a need for an ESL class so they could serve a larger segment of the community. The classes were such a hit they soon needed to find larger quarters, and that’s what brought them to Woodhaven, taking up residence in the former convent that was the home to the nuns that taught in St. Thomas the Apostle.
After the move to Woodhaven, the School Sisters had the room to expand. And with convenient access to transportation – it is near the J train and the Q56 bus along Jamaica Avenue, the Q11, Q21, Q52Ltd, Q53Ltd, and QM15 along Woodhaven Boulevard, and the Q24 along Atlantic Avenue – they were able to greatly increase the number of women they could help.
Well over 2,000 women have been helped by the School Sisters in the years since they opened their doors. And as a byproduct of these classes, their children and entire families are helped. As a result, this can only help improve our neighborhood.
I have been honored to see the students of SSNDEC over the years thrive in the warm, encouraging environment provided by the teachers there.

If anyone has any questions or would like to RSVP for the open house, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women in Woodhaven can be reached at (718) 738-0588 or email at Visit their newly renovated website for more information.

Sad milestone for old Avenue Diner

Last week, I saw the following message posted by a good friend on Facebook: “Feeling a bit bummed. One year ago yesterday was an end of an era for me. Missing all of my Woodhaven family and friends; wishing you all the best!”
This was written by Paul Vasiliadis, whose Avenue Diner closed one year ago after a long struggle with COVID-19 and New York City.
There were many replies from friends and family and customers and staff. Wanda Flores, longtime waitress at the Avenue Diner, said “I miss you and Mr. Jimmy [Paul’s father] every day. You always gave your best and that is why you are so missed. Love you always.”
Former customer Wilda Melendez said: “It breaks my heart when Nadira and I walk past the diner and there is nothing there. It truly was a family diner. It was a light in our community. You and your family made it that.”
And another customer, Daisy Croke posted: “We miss you too. Woodhaven is not the same without you.”
It’s not easy to watch bad things happen to good people. And Paul and his father Jimmy and the rest of the staff of the Avenue Diner were good people who had become family to many people here in Woodhaven.
I never met a more hardworking man than Paul Vasiliadis. In over 11 years operating the diner, Paul took off a total of 30 days. That’s 30 days off out of 4,150, covering weekends and holidays and snow days.
That covers all the days he woke up, his body sore and tired, and yet he still came in day after day, making Paul Vasiliadis Woodhaven’s Iron Man.
In the early days of COVID-19, when restaurant after restaurant temporarily closed, The Avenue Diner remained open. It was a struggle, but Paul kept at it and the many customers who depended on the diner, particularly seniors, were never disappointed.
But the City of New York was relentless in their harassment of small businesses over signage and other minor issues, hitting essential businesses like the Avenue Diner with onerous fines that made it impossible in many cases to survive.
Their fines and harassment may have not closed all the businesses, but it certainly set them up to perish once COVID-19 came along. And even then, the city was unstoppable when it came to penalizing and punishing small businesses like the Avenue Diner.
Young men can ride bikes and ATVs up and down our streets, terrorizing pedestrians, but they won’t catch a fine from our city. People can defecate on Forest Parkway, and there will be no one coming along to write them tickets.
Our city doesn’t like moving targets. Hardworking people who show up to their businesses day in, day out to serve our communities are easy targets for income by our greedy and heartless city.
And so, I see Paul’s words and I am sad. But I am also angry because it didn’t need to be this way. The Avenue Diner may have been foiled by COVID, but it was the city that weakened them enough to allow that to happen. Never forget that.
On his next to last day in Woodhaven, residents, customers and friends gathered outside the eatery to let Paul and his staff and his family know how sad we were and how much we were going to miss them all.
“You were the first business I engaged with when I came here and you were so supportive. I will never forget the conversations we had, they meant so much to me,” said Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District.
Paul’s wife, Alexandra, and their three children Demetra, Andreas and Eva, and his father Jimmy were touched by the gathering of residents, many of whom were there right from the beginning.
My wife and I were blessed to be there that day, in March of 2009, when the Avenue Diner opened. It was filled with hope and optimism, they had already put in so much work just to reach opening day.
I wonder if they would have stuck with it had they known how hard it was going to be, and already I know the answer is yes. People who are successful have a special work ethic, and Paul Vasiliadis embodies that and he will succeed again.
We should have a city that supports and lifts up and rewards people like Paul. I guess this was just a long way of saying that this city stinks and I miss my friend.

The first and last thing you see in Woodhaven

There will be a homecoming this Sunday at Emanuel United Church of Christ as Father Elias Mallon returns to Woodhaven to speak at the 10 a.m. service.
Father Mallon grew up in Woodhaven and went to St. Elizabeth’s and then Archbishop Molloy High School. He was ordained in 1971 and has spent his life involved with the study of Roman Catholic-Christian-Muslim dialogue and peace building in the Middle East since 1985.
He has published many articles and two books on Islam, including the award-winning “Islam: What Catholics Need to Know.” His travels on the subject have taken him around the world.
He’s excited to be coming back to his childhood home, and although Emanuel will be somewhat new to him, Father Mallon has vivid memories of the area around the church.
“Some of my unhappiest times were spent near Emanuel Church,” he said, laughing. “St. Anthony’s was across the street and that’s where the ballfields were. And I hated playing baseball. I was so bad, teams used to fight to put me on the other team!”
But he does share one fond memory of St. Anthony’s.
“In the winter, they used to hose it down and turn it into a skating rink,” he recalled. “I liked that a lot!”
Sitting at the corner of 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, Emanuel United Church of Christ has the unique distinction of being either the first or last thing people see when entering or leaving Woodhaven.
Over the years, Emanuel has been an integral part of the fabric of Woodhaven, opening its doors to welcome many community groups. Through their generosity, Emanuel has become known as “the friendly church.”
Emanuel has been part of Woodhaven for so long that it’s surprising when you dig into their history and find out it started out in Manhattan before branching out to Brooklyn in 1877 to serve a population that was rapidly expanding east.
During World War I, many of the congregation’s elders began leaving Brooklyn for the wide open spaces of Queens and Long Island. Emanuel soon followed, merging with a separate mission from Richmond Hill and purchasing a plot at 89th Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
The 89th Avenue church building opened in 1924, and it lasted a little over a decade.
A year after its 60th Anniversary, in 1938, the City of New York took over the property and tore down the church as part of a project to widen Woodhaven Boulevard. For those familiar with the area, the old church sat at 89th Avenue at what is now the middle of Woodhaven Boulevard.
The congregation received $136,000 from the city, bought a nearby plot of land on 91st Avenue, and built the beautiful church that has welcomed travelers to Woodhaven ever since.
It is a true community church, serving as the focal point for Anniversary Day Parades, Boy Scout meetings, and as a place where community issues are hashed out during meetings of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.
More recently, Emanuel opened its doors as a COVID vaccination center so that locals and seniors could be protected against the deadly virus.
Emanuel has also hosted meetings and events of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society for the last 29 years. And we have some good stuff planned in the coming months, so if you’re not on our mailing list, contact us at and get added.
Whenever the community has needed help, the folks at Emanuel have always generously opened their doors. They serve as a mirror for our community, reflecting the best that Woodhaven has to offer, where caring for your neighbors and caring for the community is more important than caring for oneself.
It is that strength that has kept Emanuel alive and well into their 144th year, and we thank them for all that they have done for our community.

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