Variety hosts end of year celebration
by Benjamin Fang
May 26, 2017 | 250 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vareity Year-end Celebration 2017
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The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens hosted its end of year celebration last Saturday in Astoria. Dozens of kids and their parents participated in activities including arts and crafts, dodgeball and musical chairs. They also enjoyed a video, produced by the organization The AJ Project, which explained the importance of the club, some of its programs and encouraged donations. The families wrapped up a fun-filled day with a dance party hosted by guest emcee Meester Mario.
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The Zen Rocker Who’s at Home in the Nabe
by Nancy A. Ruhling
May 26, 2017 | 66 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike is a lifelong Astoria resident.
Mike is a lifelong Astoria resident.
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The band he’s in, Kings Bounty, recently opened for Korn.
The band he’s in, Kings Bounty, recently opened for Korn.
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Mike has a day job as a construction supervisor in Manhattan.
Mike has a day job as a construction supervisor in Manhattan.
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What do a statue of Ganesha, an electric-red Kramer guitar, a 20-year-old ZZ plant, ticket stubs from Bad Brains and OFF! concerts, a Malta stamp and a black Trek road bike have in common? I’m guessing you’ll never guess. OK, here’s the answer: Mike Dijan. I told you you’d never guess. Mike, obviously, is interested in a lot of different things. Besides the aforementioned, he’s into carpentry, yoga, long-distance running, veganism, triathlons and nutrition. And probably a couple of other things that didn’t come into the conversation. “None of the things I’m involved with would have happened if I were not from this neighborhood, because I was influenced by or introduced to them by people from here,” he says. Mike, calm and clean-cut, was born and raised in Astoria Park South, which he still calls home. “I’ve lived in this apartment for 26 years,” he says. “Before that, I lived across the street.” Malta and music were among the first things Mike was exposed to. His mother’s family immigrated in 1963. His maternal grandfather, who served in the British Royal Air Force and was the bodyguard and chauffeur of the archbishop of Malta during World War II, is featured on a stamp, shown in uniform carrying the cleric in a ceremonial sedan. “When I was a child, he was my mentor,” Mike says. Mike’s father, a jazz-fusion bass player, went AWOL before his son’s third birthday. Mike’s stepfather was Maltese. “My father left his vinyl collection behind, and my mom showed me how to put the needle on the record player,” he says. “I listened to a lot of British rock like The Beatles.” During the summers, he and his two younger brothers visited Malta, where Mike still goes every couple of years. The Astoria South Park neighborhood was filled with musicians, and although Mike liked to noodle around on his friends’ instruments, he didn’t get his own guitar until he was 17, when the punk scene was in full swing. “Someone I knew was going on tour and needed money, so he sold me a Kramer for $200,” he says. “I had money because I was working at a gas station. I had started that job when I was 11.” Bottom of Form Speaking of school, Mike, who was expelled from Bryant High School for fighting, took a yearlong course at automotive school. “This was the era of muscle cars, and I used to do illegal drag racing,” he says. “I made some money and I lost some money, but I never got hurt or caught.” After a short stint working for a company that rebuilt motors, Mike became a carpenter’s apprentice. When he wasn’t on a job, he was on the stage. “I worked during the day and played at night,” he says, adding that he released records and did national, European and Asian tours. “I never pursued music as a career because I became a father when I was 22. My family became my priority.” But Mike never abandoned his side career. Earlier his year, he and his mainstream-sounding rock/metal band Kings Bounty opened for Korn in California. “Music has always been fulfilling because I love to do it whether I make money or not,” he says. It was music, in fact, that led him to his other pursuits. “As a musician, I was smoking and drinking too much and eating too much bad food,” he says. “I also was on medication for stomach ulcers.” One of his musician friends persuaded him to lead a healthy life. “I went cold turkey,” he says. “I quit all my bad habits and lost 70 pounds. I am no longer on medication. I became a vegetarian and for the last several years, I have been vegan. I thought my creativity would decrease, but it actually got better when I was writing music with a clear mind.” To keep in shape, he began running half-marathons and competing in triathlons. “I’m pushing 50, but I can do things athletically that I couldn’t do in my 20s,” he says. “I can cycle to and from Long Beach and to and from Nyack.” About a decade ago, Mike started practicing yoga. “My girlfriend at the time had passes to a studio that did hot yoga,” he says. “It was all women. The instructor looked at me and asked, ‘Did you lose a bet or something?’ I said, ‘No, I just want to try it.’ I had never done a physical/meditative practice before, and I was hooked.” Yoga opened up his spiritual side. “I’m a Hindu in learning,” he says. “Hinduism is so complex that it takes a lifetime to fully understand it.” Mike, who is a job supervisor for large commercial construction and renovation projects in Manhattan, is helping others turn their lives around. “I recently got my drummer to change his eating habits,” he says. “He dropped 70 pounds in six months and ran with me in a half-marathon. Watching him come out of that situation, that’s the payoff for me.” Mike has done a lot of things and undoubtedly will do many more that he cannot even imagine yet. But there’s one thing that he knows will never change: his love for Astoria. “I’ve traveled a lot,” he says, “but I always kiss the ground when I get back home.” Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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NYCHA unveils digital upgrades, services for tenants
by Benjamin Fang
May 26, 2017 | 101 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the New York City Housing Authority celebrated the two-year anniversary of its 10-year strategic plan, NextGeneration NYCHA, officials rolled out a series of digital upgrades for residents last Thursday at the Ravenswood Houses. NYCHA general manager Michael Kelly joined tenants association president Carol Wilkins and community leaders to cut the ribbon on a new digital kiosk, which can be used to pay rent, place work orders and re-certify annual income. Residents can also use it to learn about workforce development, apply for NYCHA jobs, and keep up with emergency information or outages. More than 140 kiosks will be installed at nearly all of NYCHA’s public housing developments throughout the city. An additional 37 will go live in June, with the full roll out expected by September. “You don’t necessarily have to be a computer genius to figure this stuff out,” Kelly said. “It’s a way of empowering residents. This is an opportunity for residents to feel they have more input.” Kelly and Wilkins also toured one of NYCHA’s digital vans stationed in front of Ravenswood. The van features free Internet access, laptops and even a bilingual instructor. Residents can come in and look up their case numbers, the status of their work orders, and learn more details about the work. The mobile van jumps around to different NYCHA developments, offering residents a window of opportunity to get connected to the web. NYCHA workers also showed off their new handhelds, which every staff member is equipped with when managing work orders. Carmine Granata, who inspected Juanita Taveraz’s apartment last Thursday, ran through the procedure in just seven minutes. He checked for carbon dioxide and smoke detectors, room and water temperature, and the condition of the tub, among other things. Previously, inspectors would write down their notes on paper, which they would need to later type into the computer. With a digital handheld, Granata can check off boxes, take photos for evidence and obtain a digital signature quickly. He can also create the work order for the contractor or vendor and log notes as well. “It’s faster and more efficient for tenants,” he said. “Papers won’t get lost.” According to NYCHA, the authority closed 677,000 work orders using the smartphones, saving $1.2 million since the handheld’s deployment. Since the launch of the MyNYCHA app, which residents can access on their smartphones, the agency has saved another $960,000. All of these digital efforts are part of a broader approach to improve the lives of NYCHA residents, Kelly said. “What we’ve done differently is reallocate our resources in a way that's more expensive to do this kind of capital investment now, but it pays dividends through the saving of operations,” he said. “This is an opportunity to invest in improvements now that would minimize our expenses into the future.” Wilkins said it’s a great idea to get all residents up to speed on the latest technology. “Everything is becoming digitalized and we all got to get on board with it,” she said. “I think it’s a little safer than having to fill out the paper.” Although she recognized that seniors may be hesitant to use technology, the tenants association is sponsoring computer classes for seniors to adjust. “Hopefully when this system comes, it’ll be easier,” she said. “They can come down here and use the kiosk and put in complaints. “It’s just getting the seniors to know how to do it,” Wilkins added. “The resident association will really work with seniors to try to get them there.” Wilkins said she looks forward to change, whether it’s the handhelds for staff or the digital kiosks. “It’s either be left behind or change, that’s how it is,” she said. “Hopefully everyone will learn and go along with it.” As NYCHA celebrates the two-year mark of its strategic plan, Kelly said it’s important that the housing agency continues to receive funding from the federal government. It has a $17 billion capital need, as issues like leaky roofs and malfunctioning elevators continue to plague tenants. “There’s a relationship between capital improvements and the quality of their day-to-day life,” Kelly said. “That's why it’s important for us to look at ways we can actually continue to lobby for more federal funds. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed and doing as much outreach as we can to have these cuts not come into fruition,” he added about potential cuts to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). One example of how funding affects customer service is maintenance delivery times. Right now, the average length of time it takes for a work order to be complete is about four days. Kelly said if NYCHA loses funding, that can be delayed to 10 or 15 days. Problems then build up for residents. For now, NYCHA is celebrating some of its achievements under the leadership of chair Shola Olatoye. In the last few years, the city’s largest landlord has increased rent collection by 3.2 percent, generating more than $2 million for repairs. The agency has already created 50 new resident associations, made sure all developments recycle and have placed 5,663 residents with jobs. In terms of safety, NYCHA has installed 6,000 new lights at 16 developments and added 1,500 new CCTV cameras at 53 developments. The city has also stepped in to fill some of the funding haps. Mayor Bill de Blasio committed $1.3 billion to fix more than 950 roofs citywide, will will benefit more than 175,000 residents. Sixty-seven roofs will be replaced by the end of this year, officials said. Kelly said one of the biggest challenges for NYCHA moving forward is making sure the needs of public housing residents remain in the eyes of lawmakers and policymakers on the local, state and federal level. “Two years of success for Next Generation NYCHA,” he said, “and it’s a good foundation moving forward.” Ravenswood Construction While NYCHA focuses on its capital needs and funding, officials are continuing to make improvements where necessary. At Ravenswood Houses, NYCHA workers are replacing two major steam distribution systems that provide heat and hot water for 13 buildings and 1,500 apartments. Kelly said the construction will focus on the heating plant, which is similar to a boiler room, vertical risers that send steam up to radiators, and radiators themselves. “We can fix one thing, but unless we fix all three things, then it’s still an issue,” he said. The $1.4 million project is expected to be completed by November. Oscar Esposito, the construction project manager, said despite the heavy traffic on 21st Street, the street will be fully opened this week. “We’re looking at 100 percent completion and everything being back by October this year. In other words, ground restored and everything,” Esposito said. “But the distribution system itself, hopefully by September before the heating season begins.”
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State lawmakers form Asian Pacific-American Legislative Caucus
by Benjamin Fang
May 26, 2017 | 50 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In celebration of Asian Pacific-American Heritage Month, which is recognized nationally in May, state lawmakers announced the formation of the Asian Pacific-American Legislative Caucus (APALC) last Thursday at Flushing Town Hall. The purpose will be to research and advocate for issues, policies and laws that affect the state’s Asian American and Pacific Islander population, which is at 9 percent and growing, officials said. “While Asian Americans have come a long way over the years, they still have hurdles facing the community,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “The caucus will identify legislative and budgetary issues specifically affecting the Asian-American community.” The driving force behind the new caucus is Assemblyman Ron Kim, who was once the only Asian American in the legislative body. With the election of his former chief of staff, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who represents Chinatown and lower Manhattan, the number of Asian Americans in the Assembly has doubled. They noted that there are no Asian-American representatives in the State Senate. “This type of initiative will lay the foundation beyond just me and Yuh-Line,” Kim said. “When we’re done with public service, this caucus will grow and make sure there’s a sustained voice for all Asian Americans in the state of New York. “For me, it’s recognizing that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing minority group in the state and county, and we elect the proper representation to reflect that number,” he added. “That results in lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of meaningful legislation that supports our communities’ interests.” For the next few months, Kim and Niou, who are now co-chairs of the caucus, will work with the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus to structure bylaws. They’re also looking for a full-time executive director, paid for by the speaker’s office, to run the caucus. “Those two communities understand better than any community what it feels to be marginalized in our system,” Kim said about the black and Latino communities. “We don't want to recreate the wheel. We want to work collaboratively with them.” The caucus is open to members who have at least an Asian American or Pacific Islander population of at least 10 percent in their district. Right now, there are 11 members, but it is expected to grow to between 15 and 20 members, Kim said. Niou called the creation of the caucus a “milestone moment” for the city and state’s Asian-American community. “Together with these legislators, we have the opportunity to really unite our voices and advocacy efforts to better represent our constituents as a whole,” she said. She listed a slew of issues the caucus will examine, including high rates of poverty among seniors and children and chronic Hepatitis B, which disproportionately affects the Asian-American population. Other issues they’ll discuss include helping small businesses, defending immigrant rights and increasing adult literacy rates. On Monday, community organizations went up to Albany to discuss a bill Kim is pushing to protect taxi drivers of south Asian descent, many of whom are frequent targets of hate crimes, he said. Other lawmakers are pushing legislation to address data disaggregation, which would break down how issues affect different communities within the Asian-American category. Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a member of the caucus, has also advocated for the state education department to open up high school equivalency exams to providers offering Chinese and Korean language options. “We need to shed light on so many of these realities and discuss how we can provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to this particularly vulnerable population,” Niou said. “Our legislative body is one step closer to reflecting the diversity of our state.”
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Christina Vega
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May 25, 2017
KEEP MVP OPEN!! Why?? Because this school change our comunity our kids is our family.. Best Decision!! Me and my husbane made was to send our Daughter and son go this beautiful school. My daughter was for the first Grad class 2016 .. Best eduaction ever and also my daughter leave school and teacher and staff keep motivate my daugher.. to keep doing good and too keep taking good decision in life.. To my Daugher an all the kids doing the samething.. For me that is a great !! Only this Teacher for this school do that because other school never do that.. Teacher and Staff goes above and beyond!! People who love kids .. This is first time my kids felling so Happy going to school.. Our kids need more school like this ..Where teacher and personal care about children.. Believe me this school you felling like family.. I love every one person for this school and my kids too .. My son is doing great and he have a Ip.. Thank to this wonder full teacher and he fell motivate every day to go to school... I can be all day here because this is school is a dream for every kids and parents.. Thank You! MVP Mvp stand united !! KEEP MVP OPEN!! Is very important work together going to be strong to the fight United for our school. Att: Christina Vega