Variety Boys and Girls Club brings back Friday night teen program

The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens (VBGCQ) welcomed back its Friday Night Teen Program last week, with dozens of teens showing up to take part.

Due to funding issues, the club was forced to shut down the program at P.S. 199 in Sunnyside last summer, according to Ariel Gagliardo, the club’s resource development director.

The event is geared toward middle and high school students in the Sunnyside and Woodside communities. On its opening night last week, the club drew in children aged 12 to 16 years old. The groups participated in a number of activities, including dodgeball and icebreaker challenges.

Gagliardo said that while the club does have many programs to help with academics and leadership, Friday nights act as a source of fun and creativity for the kids. Included among the various weekly activities are sports, performing arts and visual arts.

Teens play dodgeball at the Variety Boys and Girls Club last Friday night.

Teens play dodgeball at the Variety Boys and Girls Club last Friday night.

“Anything that we could expose them to, we try to do it,” Gagliardo said. “With kids and teens, if you can keep them occupied and engage them, then they’re there no matter what.

“Even if they aren’t always necessarily into the topic at hand,” she added. “If they can have a positive relationship with people, with their peers, they’re going to want to keep coming back. So, it’s really great.”

Many of the kids who attended the first week said that they would rather be hanging out with friends on Friday nights versus being stuck at home. Andrew Ajaka, 14, joined Vahig, Shant and Gabriel Gajzavina after they told him about their experiences from last year.

“I heard about the program from my friends who did it last year,” Ajaka said. “We all live close by to the school, so we plan on coming every week.”

The program encourages the teens to create new friendships with one another, as well as with the staff. Executive Director Blair Trunzo guided the kids through each activity with the help of Membership Coordinator Sandy Joseph and Youth Development Professional Raquasia Smith.

Smith joined VBGCQ at just six years old and eventually returned to the organization as a volunteer when she was a college student. She wanted to see “how things worked on the other side” and was pretty happy with the turnout so far.

Ralph Trionfo, a VBGCQ board member, also participated. Trionfo first got involved with VBGCQ about 30 years ago.

“It’s a safe environment, the kids have fun and they make new friends,” he said.

Registration for the event costs $10 at The middle school portion takes place from 6 to 7 p.m., while the high school session lasts from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday.

DOT halts improvement of dangerous intersection

An inexplicable delay in implementing traffic control plans to rework the dangerous intersection of the Grand Central Parkway exit 45 ramp and Astoria Boulevard North has many Astoria natives and elected officials up in arms.

In November of 2013, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas met with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall to discuss the dangerous intersection at 32nd Street, Astoria Boulevard North and Grand Central Parkway following a number of community complaints.

Two lanes of traffic exiting the Grand Central Parkway and four lanes of traffic from Astoria Boulevard North are currently controlled by the same traffic light. Often drivers are forced to cross three, four or five lanes of traffic in order to turn onto 31st Street.

According to the 114th Precinct, accidents and near-accidents are very common in the area.

“This intersection is dangerous and confusing,” Simotas said. “Motorists from the area dread crossing multiple lanes of traffic to get home and drivers new to the area have no idea how to get where they are going.”

After the 2013 meeting, DOT conducted a study of the area and in May 2014 submitted a proposal to Community Board 1 outlining their plans for improving the intersection, which was quickly approved.

However, the safety measures have yet to be implemented, and Simotas sent a follow-up letter to DOT last Thursday regarding their failure to follow through with their plans.

“There is no good reason why residents and motorists should still be endangered at this intersection after DOT and the community board have agreed on what needs to be done,” Simotas said.

Gov. Cuomo announces AirTrain linking 7 train to LaGuardia

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced a proposal that would connect the always-difficult-to-get-to LaGuardia airport with the 7 line and the Long Island Rail Road via an AirTrain that would curve along the Grand Central Parkway and connect to an expanded terminal alongside Citi Field and the National Tennis Center.

For anyone who has gone through the stressful and exhausting process of either taking a cab through endless traffic or trying to pull multiple bags of luggage onto a bus, the news of the AirTran is reason for celebration.

Cuomo’s office said that the train would cost about $450 million to build, though they don’t have a timeline for the train’s construction.

“I would not venture a guess to the timing,” the Governor said.

A spokesperson did say, however, that once construction began the project should take about five years to finish.

Who will pay for the train is a little bit vague, but Cuomo seemed to indicate that the cost would be covered from the budgets of the MTA and the Port Authority, with some help from the state and the money it is expecting to receive from settlements with Wall Street banks.

Astoria residents will be especially happy to note the plan, since it was proposed earlier by Rudy Giuliani to extend the N line from Astoria to the airport. Many opposed the idea because of the effect it would have on local neighborhoods, and the idea was eventually dropped.

Now it will just be a waiting game for LGA to become as convenient and accessible as JFK, and in the meantime, you’ll just have to crawl through traffic to get to the airport with the best of ‘em.

Local symposium helps Astoria parents decide where to send their kids to school

Feeling lost about where to send your child to school and how to get them in?

New York City can be overwhelming in almost every aspect of life, and education is no exception. From public to private to charter schools, the options are endless and even the idea of having to figure out and work the system causes some parents to move to the suburbs when their children get to school age.

But one group of Astoria moms have made it their mission to help others through a process that they themselves have already gone through.

What started as a conversation among moms at play-dates on what educational choices to make for their children has turned into an annual event to help others in the community navigate the school system and figure out what options work best for them.

On January 24, those moms will be joined by representatives from local public, private and charter schools at the fourth annual Astoria School Symposium — an open fair where the reps will be available to answer questions from community members, along with special topic presentations.

The schedule for specific topics is as follows:

9am – Nursery & PreSchool Forum
10am – Kindergarten Forum
11am – Private Schools Why & Application Process Forum
12pm – Gifted & Talented Forum

Tons of families attend this event every year, so be sure to register here for the event beforehand. The symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the gymnasium at Mount Carmel Church (23-25 Newtown Avenue).

Parents furious at meeting about Most Precious Blood School closure

Parents and students were shocked, upset and furious when they received an announcement on January, 9 that Most Precious Blood School — a presence in Astoria for over 50 years — would be closing in June.

Those feelings had not subsided by Wednesday night, when the Catholic K-8 school hosted a meeting for parents to discuss with them the decision to close the school and what steps parents should take next to get their children set up at another school for next school year.

Press was not allowed in the meeting, as the press secretary for the Brooklyn Archdiocese said it would be “disruptive” and “inappropriate,” but parents walking into the meeting were happy to share their opinions outside of the doors before heading in.

“It caught us off guard,” said Peter Hernandez, whose seven-year-old son has been going to the school since he was a toddler. “We are faithful parishioners of the church, and we felt that we were left in the dark of what was going on.”

Reverend William Krlis, the pastor of Most Precious Blood, wrote a letter and posted it on the school’s website outlining the decision on the closure.

In the letter, he says the closing of the school is “a particularly painful decision that affects all of us.”

The school must close, he said, because of dropping enrollment rates. The current enrollment in the K-8 school is 191 students, a significant drop from the 303 students enrolled in 2008.

Parents refuted this claim, saying that the Pre-K and nursery classes were not accounted for. With these added students, Hernandez said, enrollment would be over 300.

But the Diocese responded saying that those numbers cannot be counted in overall enrollment, because fewer than 40 percent of those children stay at the school when it comes time for kindergarten.

Rev. Krlis also blamed the closure on necessary repair costs for both the school and the adjoining Most Precious Blood Church, which he amounts to about $5.5 million.

According to his letter, the school needs $2.55 million in repairs, and the adjoining church building — which has a crumbling wall — needs another $3 million in repairs.

It has been reported that included in those school repairs are a new roof, boiler, windows and doors.

But, once again, the parents did not want to hear it.

Hernandez blamed the church for the school’s closing.

“I think the structure of the church is the reason the Brooklyn Archdiocese has decided to close the school,” he said, “because they can get the value of the property of the school.

“This is something that has to do with the church’s failing, and the only way to get the money they needed was to do something with this property,” he added.

In his letter, Rev. Krlis admitted that the school was not dealing with any financial struggles, but said that this did not matter.

“While financially we have not run deficits, these essential building repairs, combined with declining enrollment, will not allow us to continue,” he wrote.

A spokesperson said that the Diocese will look to rent out the school space as soon as possible, in order to fund the repairs needed at both buildings.

Parents are not willing to give up the fight, however. An online petition has gathered over 2,500 signatures to save the school.

Frank Farance, a father of twins in seventh grade at Most Precious Blood, said that the closure has been handled “irresponsibly.”

“My kids are in seventh grade. They’re not going to be able to complete their communion, because it happens in eighth grade,” Farance said. “They’re going to have difficulty getting into middle schools and transferring at this point, which gives difficulty into high school. It’s a real, real problem, especially for the middle schoolers.”

Calling the decision “thoughtless” and “careless,” Farance said that “this is not the Catholic way to do this.”

Elected officials have also gotten behind the parents. State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and Councilmember Costa Constantinides all sent a letter to the Diocese asking them to reconsider.

“The outpouring of support from the community and the fear parents are now experiencing over the planned closure of the Most Precious Blood School demonstrate just how much this institution means to our neighbors,” Senator Gianaris said. “I sincerely hope that the Diocese listens to the voices of our community and recommits itself to trying to find a way to keep this beloved school open.”


Man hammered to death in his Astoria apartment

A 29-year-old lawyer was beaten to death with a hammer during a fight over drugs in his Queens apartment on Monday afternoon, police sources said.

Jesse Smith was attacked during the dispute in his apartment on 21st St. near Astoria Blvd. in Astoria around 3:00, hammer13n-1-webpolice said.

He died at Elmhurst General Hospital, cops said.

Smith is a practicing lawyer but was struggling with a heroin habit, a police source said.

His roommate was taken into custody at the scene, where cops recovered a hammer and a shotgun, police said.