Honoring Our Veterans with a Woodhaven Memorial Day Tradition

by Ed Wendell

Just over one hundred years ago, a beautiful tradition was launched in Forest Park, the creation of a living, breathing memorial to 70 young men from Woodhaven who lost their lives in World War 1.
Although our country’s time in the war was brief, we suffered many casualties and Woodhaven was hit very hard. Week after week, the front page of the Leader-Observer announced the names of the newly dead and wounded.
It was a dramatic turnaround from the early days of our involvement in the war when the newspapers and the public were quite enthusiastic, seeing our young men off with rousing cheers and festive parades.
In the days and months after the war ended, residents of Woodhaven wanted to create a unique monument to the young men whose lives were lost. The idea they finally settled upon was original indeed, and the press stated that it was the first of its kind in the United States.
In May of 1919, fifty-three trees were planted along the road entering Forest Park at Park Lane South and Forest Parkway, each in the name of a soldier that perished. Over time, as more names were added to the Honor Roll, the number of trees grew to approximately 70.
And every Decoration Day (as Memorial Day was originally known) families would gather in Forest Park and decorate the memorial trees. A large granite monument with a plaque listing the names of the dead was erected atop that hill, across from the golf clubhouse.
The residents of Woodhaven referred to that hill as Memorial Knoll and the annual parade would end there, amongst the memorial trees.
Chairs would be set out on the lawn in front of the clubhouse and hundreds and hundreds of veterans, family members and residents would march up that hill to pay tribute to the dead. According to reports in the Leader, veterans from the Civil War marched up that hill and took part in ceremonies there.
It was a beautiful tradition that faded away due to a series of events triggered by the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard in the late 30s or early 1940s.
You see, the old American Legion headquarters sat on the old Woodhaven Avenue and it had to be torn down to make way for the 10-lane Woodhaven Boulevard.
The city reimbursed the Legion and they built a new headquarters at 88th Avenue and 91st Street, behind PS 60, where it sits today.
And since they had a nice new building with a lovely front yard, they decided to move the monument from Forest Park to its current location. If you’ve ever been to a WRBA meeting or at the Senior Center, then you’ve seen this monument. It’s still there, listing the names of these young heroes.
But once the monument was moved, the parade route was switched and as families moved away or died off or just plain forgot, the tradition of decorating the trees disappeared.
But the trees are still there.
Sure enough, time has been harsh to the trees and many of them have fallen. But quite a few of these trees have passed the century mark; they still stand proudly on Memorial Knoll, high above Woodhaven.
The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and American Legion Post 118 worked together to revive the tradition of decorating the trees in 2015. And they have been decorated every Memorial Day since then.
This year’s Memorial Tree Decorating is tentatively scheduled for Friday, May 17th at 6 p.m., we will be meeting right outside Oak Ridge (weather permitting). E-mail us at projectwoodhaven@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

A Beacon of Hope for Veterans Battling Addiction

 

Mohamed Farghaly

Samaritan Daytop Village’s Ed Thompson Veterans Program stands as a beacon of hope for veterans battling addiction and grappling with the aftermath of war.

MOHAMED FARGHALY

mfarghaly@queensledger.com

In a quiet corner of Queens, lies a haven dedicated to healing the wounds of war that linger long after the battlefield fades from view. Samaritan Daytop Village, Ed Thompson Veterans Program located at 130-15 89th Rd, in Richmond Hill stands as a beacon of hope for military veterans grappling with the harrowing effects of drug and alcohol dependency, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other life challenges.

The organization is nationally recognized for its pioneering efforts in providing specialized treatment tailored to the unique needs of male veterans. Offering residential addiction treatment, Samaritan Daytop Village understands the profound bond shared among military comrades and leverages this camaraderie to facilitate recovery.

“Most of what we do here is based around community activity,” Roger D Walker, Program Director of Ed Thompson Veteran Program said. “We believe that community is the antidote to a lot of ailments, folks involved together, so everything we do is around that thing.”

Mohamed Farghaly

Located in Queens, New York, this haven offers specialized treatment tailored to the unique needs of male and female veterans, including mental health counseling and equine therapy.

At the heart of Samaritan Daytop Village’s approach is a commitment to evidence-based treatment grounded in the Sanctuary Model. This therapeutic philosophy acknowledges the prevalence of trauma and its profound impact on all facets of human existence. Emphasizing principles such as safety, respect, empowerment, and mutual self-help, the program fosters an environment conducive to healing and growth.

“Stabilization is a big part of what we do,” Deirdre Rice-Reese, Assistant Vice President of Residential Treatment said. “We make available medication that a person may need to help quell those urges and cravings for substances. We’ve developed a change team to monitor progress over time in specific areas like increasing retention.”

One of the hallmarks of Samaritan Daytop Village’s approach is its focus on community-based interventions. Recognizing that isolation can exacerbate the challenges faced by veterans, the organization strives to create a supportive network where individuals can draw strength from one another. From communal gatherings to leisure activities, every aspect of the program is designed to nurture a sense of self and camaraderie.

“Once they have dinner, there’s a house meeting at six o’clock, then general cleanup, just to get the kitchen and stuff clear,” Walker said. “Then at downtime, watch TV, hang out, go in the backyard.”

The residential facilities at Samaritan Daytop Village provide a structured yet nurturing environment where veterans can embark on their journey of recovery. Each day begins with morning meetings and group sessions aimed at fostering a sense of solidarity and shared purpose. Throughout the day, residents engage in a variety of therapeutic activities, from equine therapy to recreational sports, aimed at promoting physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

“Therapeutic recreation dosing is critical,” Walker said. “They are a very competitive group of veterans. They are often playing intramural basketball against some of the others.”

Central to the program’s success is its holistic approach to treatment, which encompasses not only addiction recovery but also mental health support and medical care. A team of dedicated professionals, including nurses and case managers, ensures that residents receive comprehensive care tailored to their individual needs. From medication management to access to on-site medical clinics, every effort is made to support veterans on their path to recovery.

Beyond its residential facilities, Samaritan Daytop Village extends its services into the community, providing support to veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Through partnerships with VA hospitals, treatment courts, and other agencies, the organization ensures that veterans receive the care and assistance they need to rebuild their lives.

“We serve whoever has served, it’s not characterized by your discharge status which is helpful,” Rice-Reese said. “A lot of our discipline veterans are discharged in the military for alcohol and substance use disorders or mental health disorders which is not fair to them.”

 Trevor Badel, a former Army serviceman, has found refuge and support at Samaritan Daytop Village. Having spent three years in the program, Badel emphasizes its vital role as a lifeline for veterans in need. Recognizing the scarcity of veteran-centric programs, Badel sought help at Samaritan Daytop Village, where he found a comprehensive array of services, including mental health counseling and equine therapy sessions.

Mohamed Farghaly

With a commitment to evidence-based treatment and community-based interventions, Samaritan Daytop Village fosters an environment of healing, camaraderie, and growth.

“I just needed help at the time because I served in the Army, this place serves veterans,” Badel said. “I believe there wasn’t any other veterans program other than this one.”

For Badel, this program isn’t just a place of refuge; it’s a community of support and understanding that has provided him with the tools to navigate life’s challenges and envision a brighter future.

As Memorial Day approaches, Samaritan Daytop Village remains steadfast in its commitment to honoring the sacrifices made by those who have served their country. From participating in Veterans Day parades to hosting events for Veterans Treatment Courts, the organization continues to advocate for the well-being of veterans both within its walls and beyond.

Looking ahead, Samaritan Daytop Village is dedicated to its mission of serving those who have served their country. With upcoming initiatives ranging from therapeutic trips to West Point to community outreach events, the organization continues to be a beacon of hope for veterans in need of support. For those who have served their country with honor, it offers not just treatment but a path to healing, dignity, and hope.

Big Turnout for Mother’s Day 5K at Forest Park Despite Rain

By Britney Trachtenberg britt@queensledger.com

Despite the rain on the morning of Sun., May 12, Run Hustle Run hosted their 4th Annual Queens in Queens Mother’s Day 5K Run/Walk at Forest Park Carousel Amusement Village. Forty people attended the event, which is their biggest total yet. This is also the first year that Run Hustle Run hosted the event at this park.

Run Hustle Run is one of the only running groups based in southeast Queens. Wil Pierce of Richmond Hill, Charlie Mercado from Richmond Hill, and Jason Nazryk from Briarwood founded the group in 2016 after they coincidentally signed up for the following year’s New York City marathon. Pierce said, “We figured we should train together and through that, we were like ‘let’s open it up and invite other people to run with us and see who comes.’ It was a cold Feb. Tues. night when we started and it was kind of beyond our wildest dreams that people showed up and we’ve been growing ever since.”

“We were founded just to offer health and wellness to the southeast Queens neighborhood,” said Erin Clarke, captain.

In previous years, the running crew gathered at Alley Pond Park and Cunningham Park for this event. The running group chose to meet at Forest Park because it is closer to where they typically run. “We heard from the people in our group that they wanted something a little closer to home so we thought it would be a little bit nicer to have it here,” said Clarke.

Attendees gathered under tents near the Forest Park Bandshell Parking Lot. Clarke checked each person’s registration and gave them a number. The adjacent table had Dunkin’ coffee, munchkins, BJ’s wholesale kosher cookies, Wellesley Farms water bottles, and Wellesley Farms black-and-white cookies. 

Thanya Valdobinos of Flushing started running in June 2023 and heard about the 5K event through Instagram. She said, “I got the Brooklyn half coming up so I figured it’s a great experience.” When asked what inspired her to start running, she said, “To be honest, to keep myself healthy, but also for my mental health. It really does wonders, like, the endorphins after a run, and it brings the community together.”

The event participants gathered for a group photo at the starting line. Credit: Britney Trachtenberg

At 9:00 a.m., Pierce thanked everyone for coming out despite the rain. He said, “The flowers need water and we’re all flowers.” Mercado added, “We appreciate the women out here and the ladies and the mothers who are doing what they do.”

Clarke led the participants in a series of stretches. She encouraged mothers and daughters to lean on each other for balance during the first exercise. They raised each leg and rotated it in both directions for five seconds each. Then, they brought each leg back and held it above the ankle for ten seconds. Next, the attendees walked for ten seconds to work out their calves. They squatted ten times to stretch their glutes and did toe touches and high knees for ten more seconds. Clarke said, “Now that we’re a little warm and we’ve stretched out, it’s time to get this run on!”

The participants split into two groups: people who ran and people who walked. Jenny Reyna from Ozone Park led the walking group. Since 2019, Reyna has participated in runs with Run Hustle Run.

The course started at the Forest Park Bandshell Parking Lot. Attendees went past the PFC Lawrence Strack Memorial Pond and turned onto Woodhaven Blvd. Then, the participants made a right on Forest Park and moved past the Ed Salvinksi Promenade and the George Suffett Bandshell Park. During the course, the walking group stopped to take a selfie on the trail. The path looped around to the Forest Park Bandshell Parking Lot for the finish.

The walking group stopped to take a selfie on the trail. Credit: Britney Trachtenberg

People who completed the 5K received a pink medal that read “Queens in Queens.” 

Attendees wore their Run Hustle Run t-shirts and medals for a group photo. Credit: Britney Trachtenberg

Cynthia Rodriguez from Jamaica attended the event with her family. Though she volunteered with Run Hustle Run, she ran part of the course with her relatives. Amy Rodriguez heard about the running crew while en route to Cynthia’s house. Amy said, “I saw a bunch of people running so I stopped by and asked them what that was about so that’s how I heard about Hustle. They told me to come to the barber shop on Tuesdays.”

Run Hustle Run meets every Tues. at 7:00 p.m. in front of the Hustle Barbershop in Richmond Hill. The running crew gathers every Sat. at 9:00 a.m. near Sweet Leaf in Long Island City and every Sun. at 8:00 a.m. at the Hustle Barbershop. Clarke said, “Our runs are open to walkers [and] runners of all fitness levels.”

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