He simply wanted to fix the sign, but as he talked with residents and leaders who desired a greater voice in the community, each action snowballed into the nonprofit organization that exists today: Welcome to Whitestone Civic Association.
O’Connor began the group when he was only 19 years old, demonstrating an enterprising investment in his neighborhood rare for his age. But Whitestone runs deeply in his blood; he is a fourth-generation Whitestone resident.
“We my family go way back. Growing up in the neighborhood, I knew how it was…and I wanted to bring it back,” O’Connor said. “I wanted you to know your neighbors. I wanted the residents to shop in Whitestone businesses, bring back sense of community.”
O’Connor and his staff—all of whom are unpaid volunteers—work on both the mundane but necessary tasks, such as fixing traffic lights or cleaning graffiti, as well as bigger projects to support local institutions.
One of O’Connor’s favorite memories was hosting a Christmas fundraiser for children to take photos with Santa at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Earlier this year, the group challenged elementary students to draw the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in honor of its 75th anniversary.
The challenge received over 300 submissions, five of which were selected to be showcased in the Queens Library Whitestone branch.
When asked about his future plans, O’Connor, 23, said that he “didn’t know,” but mentioned that his work may lead him to a “city agency position.”
For now, O’Connor, is focusing on developing the civic to serve and reflect the community as best as possible.
“I just want it to be known as the voice of Whitestone,” he said.