QCH immigration services spike amidst concerns
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Mar 24, 2017 | 197 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Diana Segura
Diana Segura
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Bigyan Khanai
Bigyan Khanai
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With the current political climate, Queens Community House immigration specialist Carmen Gutierrez has been busy. Gutierrez, who has worked as a paralegal and immigration specialist for 23 years, including 15 years with Queens Community House, said she receives hundreds of phone calls and appointments for those concerned about their status. The most requested services are help with citizenship applications. Many of her clients are permanent residents who are either applying for the first time or attempting to obtain citizenship once again. Currently, Gutierrez noted the process to apply for a U.S. citizenship is much longer and more expensive than it has been in the past. For example, the fees increased in December from $680 to $725 per application. Last July, the entire application process took around five months. Now, it takes about seven or eight months to have an interview with an officer, Gutierrez said, with an additional one or two-month wait for the swearing-in ceremony. The process is likely taking longer because the Department of Homeland Security is receiving more applications. Many people who visit Gutierrez are permanent residents who are under the misconception that they cannot travel because their home countries were listed in the travel ban. “There was a rumor that legal permanent residents could have problems traveling, so they started applying for citizenship.” Gutierrez said. “We have to tell them that if there are no problems, like if they don’t spend any extended time outside the U.S. or have any criminal problems, they should be okay.” Queens resident Diana Segura is originally from Mexico. Her parents brought her to the country when she was nine years old. The nonprofit helped her renew her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. “In our heads we are all Americans, and going to another place we don’t even remember terrifies us,” Segura said. “We want to go forward and be a part of this country that we’ve been a part of our whole lives.” After she received her DACA status, she was able to find a better job, which helped her pay for school. Segura recently completed a nursing assistance program and is on her way to reaching her goal of being a registered nurse. An anonymous donor recently gave Queens Community House a $7,500 matching grant to support the increased demand on their free paralegal services. The nonprofit is in the midst of running a social media and email campaign to meet this match so they can protect more of their immigrant neighbors, communications coordinator Angel Roggie said. The grant would help applicants with fees, especially those who don’t qualify for fee waivers because of their income. “It’s nice to help unify families, whether they are parents and children or spouses,” Gutierrez said. “As immigrants, we work hard and a person without legal status needs the legal status to perform fully in this society.” Bigyan Khanai is originally from Nepal, where he previously worked in the Education Ministry and advocated for human rights for all under his country’s democracy. “But then the Communist Party from China came in, kidnapping people and killing those who believed in democracy,” he said. “I was kidnapped by the Communists, but I was able to escape.” After hiding in Nepal for some time, Khanai managed to get a job on an American cruise ship. Once he was in the U.S., he applied for asylum because he knew he would be killed if he went back to Nepal. Eventually he received a green card and his family was allowed to join him. Queens Community House helped Khanai become a U.S. citizen, and together they are currently working on getting his wife, mother and children their citizenship as well. “My daughter got a scholarship to a private high school, and my son has been called gifted and speaks perfect English,” Khanai said. “I can see that my kids will do so much more and that they will work for America. “Everything I went through is worth it just for that,” he added. “I may be able to use my talents if I get a chance, but I know my kids will do great work.”
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JAMAICA VOICES: Nicanor Camu finds comfort & convenience in Jamaica
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Mar 24, 2017 | 41 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Born into a family with 18 children, Nicanor Camu has always appreciated having fun and putting in hard work for a quality life. Now retired, he still incorporates those qualities at his home in Jamaica. Camu moved into a corner, one-bedroom apartment at Zara Realty’s 87-50 167th Street property in 2009 after living in Bay Ridge for 24 years. While living in Brooklyn, he and wife Maribeth always had plans to move into a different neighborhood and experience a new community. The building is located in an area that incorporates several South Asian, Latino and Caribbean cultures, which shows in the shops and restaurants. Originally from the Philippines, Camu he moved to the United States in 1985 after pursuing three college degrees and a master’s degree in economics. Throughout his career, he has worked as a nurse at Lutheran Hospital, worked at an office in the Garment District, and later joined a limousine business in 1998. During his ten-year stint as a limo driver, he worked with celebrities such as Sarah-Jessica Parker, Sylvester Stallone, Patrick Ewing, Tom Cruise and Olivia Newton-John. In 2008, he was forced to retire early after an accident. He sustained a broken back and damaged nerves. In 2012, he had five bypass surgeries. “I was given a five percent chance to live, but I beat the odds,” Camu said, adding that the five-year anniversary of his heart surgeries is coming up in September. Most of his time is spent within the home. The spacious apartment is adorned with seasonal Japanese art, precious Victorian figurines, and his awards, as well as a crown and a trophy his wife received when she won Miss Phillipines years ago. The couple also tends to an indoor garden featuring plants such as white orchids and various mini-trees that sit in front of large picture window overlooking the neighborhood. Camu can still do the small fixes around the apartment on his own. Whenever he has a bigger issue, he reaches out to management. For example, at his request management put up extra signs and security to prevent strangers from entering the building. “You hear on TV that people get raped and mugged all the time in their apartment building,” he said. “I don’t want it to be like that here, so I look out for the community.” And it's a community he feels comfortable in. “The building is near transportation, shopping mall, hospital, banks, church and government offices,” Camu said. “On top of that, I’m only one block from my doctor’s office and the grocery store is right below us. Everything is right here.” When his wife retires in three or four years, the couple are planning on splitting their time between New York and the Philippines. For now, they continue to enjoy their oasis in the city while they travel and explore the world. Sponsored by Zara Realty.
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The Small-Business Brothers, 13 and 11
by Nancy A. Ruhling
Mar 24, 2017 | 40 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Izzy started his first business at age 3.
Izzy started his first business at age 3.
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As his mother holds him, Abey taps out his thoughts.
As his mother holds him, Abey taps out his thoughts.
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Izzy Weitzman is sitting at the kitchen table putting Magic, The Gathering cards into packets for pricing. Each one, he explains, entitles the bearer in the role-playing game to acquire mystical creatures and sorcerer’s spells. Some of them, he says, are worth a lot of money: He saw the Invention Edition of Lotus Petal on eBay for $250. “It’s not a card I really like,” he says. “I’m only asking $150 for it.” Izzy’s been collecting for a couple of years. He thinks he has about 700 cards. He also has 350 to 400 Pokemon cards. He’s not interested in that game any more and hopes someone buys all of them. Abey, Izzy’s brother, writes short stories. He’s made some into booklets to sell. Izzy’s Cards and Stories Emporium made its debut at Astoria-based Muyu Market, a place where kids buy and sell, right before Christmas 2016. Josh Weitzman, a stagehand at the Roundabout Theatre Company, and Michelle Noris, president of Norfast Engineering, serve not only as their parents but also as their business advisers. “I made $90 there, but I bought a stuffed animal for $15,” says Izzy, who “owns” the store. “I used the money to buy some more cards through Amazon.” Abey, who made $30, is saving for a Ferrari. For Abey, sharing his stories isn’t merely about making money. Cerebral palsy makes it difficult for him to speak, so he communicates via the written word. An eighth-grader at the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, Abey explores the physical world in a motorized wheelchair. When he’s ready to put down his thoughts, his mother picks him up and holds him upright in front of a specially configured laptop in the living room where he joyfully taps his chest against large color-coded buttons that correspond to letters of the alphabet. Using this “academic achievement assistant,” which was designed and assembled by his father for in-home and in-school use, Abey painstakingly writes. As every letter shows up on the screen, his big brown eyes light up and he smiles. He can do about 1,800 “switch hits” a day, spread out over four to five sessions of 15 to 30 minutes each. That’s 150 to 200 words daily. He gets his ideas, he taps, “sometimes from something I have seen or read but often times I just get an idea and the story comes to me slowly.” Right now, he’s working on a story that involves a class of young children and a psychotic teacher. He’s also doing a feature for Kids Spirit magazine, where he’s been published before. But he has bigger things in mind. When he taps that he wants to write the great American novel and win the Pulitzer, Izzy Googles the prize on the family laptop and starts reading the submission instructions aloud. “$15,000! Wow! That’s what you win.” It’s not enough for a Ferrari, but it sure beats selling Abey’s stories for $2 each. Izzy, who is a sixth-grader at The 30th Avenue School PS/IS 300, also has a clear eye on his future. “I’d like to do computer coding and competitive magic,” he says. “And I’d like to do pro tours. They are really important.” Izzy started his first business when he was three. Bolt, which employed Josh and had its own business cards, existed only to fix things for his mom around their house. It didn’t last very long because its prices were, Michelle complains, sky high. “One time he charged me $200 to change the batteries in my smoke detectors,” she says, adding that this was outrageous because she had paid for the batteries. “I negotiated it down to $25.” Izzy still doesn’t think this was such a big bill. The work, after all, was excellent, he reminds her. His second company, called The Company, was set up to build things. Although it was in existence for five years, it didn’t construct a single thing. Izzy shrugs; sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to move on. In addition to the store, Abey and Izzy also have been involved in creative endeavors. Two years ago, Abey wrote, directed and edited a short film, The Nugget, which stars Izzy, its producer. And for several years, Abey has maintained a blog devoted to his poems and prose. They don’t think it’s weird that they are “kidpreneurs.” In fact, they encourage others their age to give it a try. “My advice is that you either have to have a creative idea that gets people’s attention or sell your old toys,” Abey taps. Izzy and Abey will, undoubtedly, embark upon new adventurous ventures together. They don’t know whether they always will make money, but they’re sure going to have a lot of fun trying. Nancy A. Ruhling can be reached at nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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Corona school getting a five-story addition
by Patrick Kearns
Mar 24, 2017 | 40 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students at PS 143 in Corona will no longer have to brave the seasonal weather to get to and from classes once a major annex is finished Last week, State Senator Jose Peralta and the School Construction Authority (SCA) announced plans for a five-story addition to alleviate overcrowding and eliminate the need for classroom trailers. “After years of fighting, a project to alleviate school overcrowding is finally underway,” Peralta said. “As you know, school overcrowding in this neighborhood is not new. It has been that way for many, many years.” When the school was originally constructed, Peralta noted, it was meant to house 900 children. The school population is somewhere near 1,800 students. “School construction has not kept up with the growing population here in Corona,” he added. The solution to the issue was to utilize trailers that were supposed to be temporary. “[These are] rundown trailers where students learned in frigid conditions or intense heat when the weather warms up,” Peralta said. “No kid should be learning in a trailer.” The new annex is expected to accommodate approximately 980 students, and include science labs, art and music rooms, and large cafeteria. SCA expects it to be ready for occupancy by September 2020. According to the SCA's Michael Mirisola, the project also includes a new playground and renovations to the existing Louis Armstrong Playground. Once work begins, children currently using the trailers will have to relocate to different schools. Peralta said they’ve already held extensive meetings with Borough President Melinda Katz, the Department of Education, and parents to decide the best strategy. They will meet again next month to finalize plans. “This is something that we have been fighting for, for many years,” said Angelica Salgado, president of the Parent-Teacher Association. “Our children will finally be able to have classrooms.”
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Bigyan Khanai
Bigyan Khanai
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