Queens Gigabit Center opens in Jamaica

LinkNYC CEO Nick Colvin

By Alicia Venter



The Queens Gigabit Center held its grand opening on Friday, Dec. 2 in the Allen Senior Center in Jamaica. In an attempt to bridge the digital divide in New York City — where two in five households lack either a home broadband connection or mobile broadband — the center will bring free high-speed internet access and access to computers to the seniors at the center. 

This is the third Gigabit Center in New York City, and the first in Queens. The center was created in partnership between Office of Technology and Innovation and LinkNYC, a free public Wi-Fi network with kiosks across the city that provide Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging among other services. 

The opening was held to a crowd of approximately 100 senior citizens, who were encouraged to connect to the internet. Members of LinkNYC and staff of the center were available to help the attendees who were struggling to access the service. 

Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez serves as the commissioner for the New York City Department for the Aging, and she expressed how access to the internet at the center will help eliminate the barriers that the older population faces in the city.

“When anyone does anything in particular communities like this one to just equal the playing field, to bring technology to the level that many other communities enjoy, it is a gift,” Cortés-Vázquez said.

The digital divide, she shared, was devastating on the older community during the pandemic. Through the ingenuity she attributed to the New York City Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser and the directors of senior centers in the city, she applauded the speed in which programming transitioned to virtual.

“We knew that virtual programming for some is just a technical skill. For us, it broke social isolation,” she said “We know that social isolation is one of the hardest things that older adults can experience. We know it hurts us mentally and can affect us physically.”

Firing in at 800 megabits per second (Mbps), the free high-speed internet at the Gigabit Center is 32 times faster than low-end broadband internet. As defined by the Federal Communications Commission, internet speeds must be 25 Mbps or greater to be considered broadband. 

The internet is provided by LinkNYC, with numerous high-ranking members of the organization attending the grand opening. 

“To the older adult members who are here with us today, I want to welcome you to this space that was created specifically for you,” Nicole Robinson-Etienne – Director Of External Affairs LinkNYC. “At LinkNYC, we believe that high-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury. It’s a necessity to modern life.”

Through a public-private partnership with the city of New York, LinkNYC installs kiosks with free services, CEO Nick Colvin shared with the Leader-Observer.

Currently, LinkNYC is working to expand 5G coverage to communities in need. Currently, about 100 Link5G kiosks have been deployed throughout the city — approximately 90 percent of the locations are to be deployed outside of Manhattan or above 96th Street. 

Quantity is important, since 5G uses a high-frequency wavelength that struggles to connect through buildings or skyscrapers. LinkNYC says users can connect within 750 feet of the kiosks.

“For LinkNYC, we are a mission-driven organization. We believe that access to the internet is a human right. It is necessary to fully participate in society,” Colvin said. “That’s really the core of what we do. It’s really to bring free internet to as many people in New York as we can.”

Evette Ennis serves as the Vice Chair of the Allen Community Non-Profit Board and the Greater Allen Development Board, and spoke on behalf of the center.

“We are extremely thankful and honored that our senior center was chosen as the Queens Gigabit Center,” Ennis shared. “This will provide greater access and equity to all.”

Q44 SBS Lane Enforcement to begin Dec. 2

Fines beginning at $50 for drivers who block bus lane

By Alicia Venter


The Q44 SBS Route. Photo: MTA

The Q44 SBS Bus Lane Enforcement Warning Period ends on Dec. 2. Drivers who violate the bus lane regulations — any instance of violating the bus lane — will be issued summonses, with fines beginning at $50. Repeat offenders will face up to $250 in fines.

The DOT has issued warnings to drivers blocking the bus lane since Oct. 3, a period meant to serve as an opportunity to inform drivers of the regulations. Since the warning period began, 3,325 warnings have been issued.

“Bus lanes are for buses, period. Automated camera enforcement is a critical tool in keeping our bus lanes clear, providing faster and more reliable commutes for New Yorkers,” said New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “As the agency that created, revitalized and made permanent the Main Street Busway in support of bus riders on the Q44 SBS and other routes in Downtown Flushing, DOT is thrilled to support the MTA’s continued expansion of bus-mounted cameras as part of our close collaboration to improve bus service across the city.”

The Q44 SBS runs from the Bronx to Jamaica, cutting through College Point, Flushing and Forest Hills. According to the MTA, it is one of the busiest routes in the MTA bus network.

The bus lane regulations will be enforced through ABLE cameras. According to the MTA, the technology will be expanded to all the boroughs and cover approximately 50% of bus lane miles across the city.

The MTA and DOT plan to expand camera enforcement to cover up to 85% of existing bus lanes by the end of 2023.

“As more and more bus lanes and busways are camera-enforced, we hope that drivers begin to change their way of thinking and avoid blocking a bus lane,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “New Yorkers need drivers to comply with bus lane rules regardless of whether they are camera enforced, so err on the side of caution and avoid a ticket.”

Each bus lane corridor will have signage indicating the hours that the bus lanes are operable, and they will warn motorists that the lanes are camera-enforced.

West Hamilton Beach Home Illuminates for Holiday Season

By Alicia Venter


This holiday season, a home along the waterfront in West Hamilton Beach holds “a million and a half lights of illusions.” 

Visitors will be welcome to the sight of hand-painted decorations of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, the Grinch, Sindy Lou Hou — and more.

The owner of the house at 102-24 Rau Court, Michael Giglio, asks only one thing from any ongoer who visits his illuminated home:

“Get the hell out of your car,” he said.

Giglio sits outside his home every night to put his lights on for the community. He wants the people to come and talk to him, share their stories and participate in the experience. He offers candy to all children who visit him, and he wants to give out more.
He is always there — weather permitting.

 “If it is raining, Mr. Giglio will not be turning on the lights,” he emphasized. 

Monday through Thursday, lights are on from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Friday through Sunday, lights begin at 6:00 p.m., and remain on for an undetermined amount of time. Giglio will keep them on until 2:00 a.m., he shared, if there are people enjoying the lights.

Since he was 21, Michael Giglio has been decorating his homes in New York with as many decorations as he could create and as many lights as he could muster across his lawn. He started in a rental home in Richmond Hill on 104th Street, and since retiring from the Department of Environmental Protection, he has been able to put more energy into his decorations.

In what he describes as “a Christmas decoration of art,” Giglio has been putting on his light show for over 30 years in love for his community.

The newest addition to the home is a Christmas shop, where visitors can purchase a variety of items including reindeer ears, 

Giglio has a donation box in front of the house, of which 70 percent of the proceeds will go to an undetermined charity. 

On Dec. 10, from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m, Giglio is holding the “Great Cupcake Giveaway,” where one kid will get a chocolate chip cupcake with sprinkles and a bag of candy.

On Dec. 17, the “big fat man himself,” Santa Claus will be giving away free candy to visitors and interacting with the visitors.

Once, the two daughters of Giglio asked him why he put such effort into decorating his home, to which he replied with a deep laugh: “Because once Santa Claus flies over our house, he’s not going to miss it.” 

Giglio, who describes himself as “Vintage Mike” because of his connection to his oldest self-made decorations, continues every year with his decorations for both his community and for a personal reason.
“I still haven’t met my destiny,” he shared.

GigThis destiny is to be featured on the Great Christmas Light Fight, a television show that displays the best Christmas displays created by families across the United States. A $50,000 reward is offered to the best home that year — a reward Giglio wants.

Giglio lives by the water, but refuses to let the fear of flooding prevent him from his passion of decorating for the holiday season. Instead, he gets creative — each of his decorations sit at least a foot above the ground to prevent damage. 

Giglio “asks out of his heart” for people to tell friends, family and neighbors to travel to Beach 1, tucked away near JFK Airport, to visit his winter wonderland light show.

Helen Day shares devotion to Richmond Hill history

By Alicia Venter


Day also is the Vice President of The Center at Maple Grove, dressing up as a ghost in their Halloween event this year.

Helen Day has been president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society for two years, after devoting 19 years of her life towards the organization.

Coming to Queens at age three from England, Day, 69, quickly fell in love with his history and culture. Despite living in Maspeth when she first moved here, she joined the Richmond Hill Historical Society per the encouragement of her friends, and never thought to leave after.

“Our mission is really to preserve the historical legacy of Richmond Hill, and to make sure people are aware of the history of this community,” Day said.

“It’s not just about books,” she added.

The Richmond Hill Historical Society just celebrated their 25th anniversary on Nov. 5 with a “70’s Spectacular” at Holy Child Jesus Monsignor Murray Hall in Richmond Hill.

165 people attended the buffet dinner/dance — “likely the biggest celebration we’ve ever had,” Day notes — in honor of its past president and founder Ivan Mrakovcic and Patricia Winters, principal of the Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy.

Mrakovcic, who passed away two years ago to brain cancer, always wanted to host a 70’s themed dinner, Day said.

Much of her success with the community, she notes, comes from the people she works with in the society. Many of the board members were among the founding members when the organization first began in the 1980’s. Laura Mrakovcic helped found the society with her husband, and she resumed her place on the board following his death.

Carl Ballenas, the Vice President and Historian of the society, wrote the Arcadia book on the history of Richmond Hill.

“It’s quite a great group of people, and still we continue to add on new board members when needed,” she said.

A retiree following a 30-plus career at Verizon, Day engages with the community in a number of ways. She serves as the vice president of The Friends of Maple Grove, a center within the Maple Grove Cemetery. She sets up art displays at the center and attends many of their events, including a self-guided walking tour of Maple Grove Cemetery known as “Spirits Alive” around Halloween. She dressed in a long black cape, pink dress and tiara to portray Josephine Adams, the wife of a sea captain who went on to discover Swan Island off the coast of Honduras. She has been part of the event since 2003.

Historical locations Day recommends locals visit include the Buddy Monument in Forest Hills Park, which commemorates fallen veterans from World War I and World War II, and Richmond Hill Republican Club, which is an official New York historical landmark.

Day has been married to her husband John for over 35 years, and together they have a daughter in her thirties who works in theater.

Day hopes that as president, she can expand the Historic District. A northern part of Richmond Hill was deemed a Historic District in May 2019. She would like to put up plaques through the area so people realize they are in a historic district.

Eventually, she would like elected officials to support putting historic street lights in the area.

“It’s been a wish of ours for quite a while and [elected officials] said, ‘well, maybe if you get a historic district we can do something,’ and now we do,” Day said. “So maybe they can do something.”

For more information on the Richmond Hill Historical Society, visit https://www.richmondhillhistory.org.

Any tips about whats happening in Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Ozone Park or Southeast Queens? Email me at aventer@queensledger.com!

CB9, electeds honor local veterans

By Alicia Venter


Three members of Community Board 9 (CB9) had no idea when they sat down for their monthly meeting on Thursday of the heartfelt surprise waiting for them once the clock hit 7:15.

Joe Iaboni, Joseph Richard Smith and CB9 District Manager James S. McClelland were ushered to their feet to be recognized by their community and elected officials for their service in the United States armed forces. 

With Veterans Day only a few days after the meeting, Community Board Chair Sherry Algredo organized this surprise for her fellow community board members — and her friends.

The three veterans were provided official citations and awards from a number of their leaders. State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilwoman Joann Ariola and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar each attended to celebrate Iaboni, Smith and McClelland. 

However, each of these officials are involved in Veterans Affairs within their political sphere, and made an effort to illustrate how the recognition of the service the men provided must extend beyond Nov. 11.

“We need to do what we can do for our Veterans each and every day. Every day is Veterans Day,” Addabbo said. “When we take care ofthese issues that face our Veterans every day — mental health, physical health and housing — we get to address the most serious issue, and that is the suicide rate.” 

By recognizing these veterans and all the veterans in Queens, the county that has the most veterans in New York City, Addabbo explained how that helps bring down the suicide rate among veterans.

The political leaders were friends with the veterans long before Thursday night. Ariola knew Iaboni for many years, and they are neighbors.

When I go down 157th Avenue, I see [Joe’s] flag on one of the tallest poles you can legally have on your front lawn waving so proudly,” Ariola said “As I go by, I always say God Bless America.”




Any tips about whats happening in Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Ozone Park or Southeast Queens? Email me at aventer@queensledger.com!

Richmond Hill drama group to perform “The Spongebob Musical”


By Alicia Venter



“When the smallest of us are underestimated in the wake of a catastrophe, a town learns that it is the size of one’s heart that matters when dealing with grief and overcoming it.”

This is how Liam MacLarty, the director of  Richmond Hill’s Holy Child Jesus Teen Drama Group’s performance of “The Spongebob Musical,” summarized their upcoming summer production.

The show will begin this upcoming week, and the performance — which MacLarty describes as “very timely and really, very heartfelt” — is designed for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

“I’ve noticed a lot of times when I tell members of the community that we’re doing ‘Spongebob,’ everyone thinks it’s the cartoon, but it’s not,” MacLarty said. “It’s this unique animal of joy and love. This is a show for everyone. If you are 100 or if you are one; if you are young at heart or if you are old at heart.”

With the mission statement in the script being “to find and spread joy whenever possible,” the group’s 27 cast members, ranging from ages 13 to 19, and crew are creating a humorous yet meaningful and relevant production. Performances run from Sunday, Aug. 4 through Thursday, Aug. 7 at Msgr. Murray Hall. Tickets are $15.

“The Spongebob Musical” is the 42nd production for the HCJ Teen Drama Group, which began in 1972 with the goal to “get kids off the streets,” MacLarty said. They have hosted a production annually every summer, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the group created “QuaranTeen Drama: Theatre Workshops” to continue to encourage people in the arts. During this time, online workshops were held, with Broadway actors and other professionals in the industry making appearances. This is MacLarty’s second full show as director, after serving as assistant director since 2013.

“[Directing] is kind of like being the captain of a boat,” MacLarty said. “You can steer it, you can brace for impact, but at the end of the day, the wave is going to take you where you are going to go.”

The show’s leads are Niko Rissi, 18, who plays Spongebob and Jonathan Kamprath, 20, who plays Patrick. Kamprath falls within the age range for the production because his birthday happened during rehearsals.

For Kamprath, who is originally from Richmond Hill, this is his fifth show, and his second playing one of the lead characters. However, Rissi, who is from Manhattan, only joined this year due to Kamprath’s friendly persistence.

“Jonathan lived around the area, and had been telling me about these shows for a while, so finally I just said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to come out and do this,” Rissi said with a laugh.

Currently enrolled at SUNY Cortland and studying musical theater, this is hardly Rissi’s first time on the stage. However, he shared that he is among some of the nicest people he has ever met while with the HCJ Drama Group, and that it is clear that “they all want to be here and we are all excited to see what this turns into.”

His joy in playing Spongebob comes from his unwavering happiness in the face of adversity or hardship.

“No matter what is thrown at him, he’s going to overcome it, and he’s going to overcome it with a smile on his face, which I can’t say everyone will. He is going to do it all with a smile, no matter if the world’s going to end.”

Kamprath’s dedication to HCJ Drama Group can be seen clearly in his commute — he is currently living in Pennsylvania, and has been either commuting from the Keystone State via the Trans-Bridge bus line or temporarily with Rissi.

“I had been trying to get Nico to do this show for years, and he finally said he wanted to do it,” Kamprath said. “And, quite honestly, Spongebob is one of my favorite shows. I thought if I were going to do it, I better do it now.”

Despite the numerous shows he has been in “The Spongebob Musical” has been his favorite so far. He loves Patrick’s innocence, pointing out how the starfish makes a “very selfish, selfish decision,” in the performance, but that he doesn’t recognize it.

Most of the props were made by members of the drama group, as they creatively crafted costumes out of egg cartons, computer wives out of discarded keyboards and volcanoes out of jungle gyms. Despite the comical constructions fabricated by the crew, MacLarty emphasized that it does not limit the performance to a younger audience.

“A lot of people think that it’s a very silly cartoon show. But really it’s about everybody coming together after a cataclysmic event — they think the world is ending. There’s a subplot of the media, that everybody is angry at them, and then the mayor is cracking down on people,” MacLarty said. “It’s really very timely, and really very heartfelt.”

Both Nikki and Kamprath are hoping to continue their acting careers into their professional lives. Their dynamic will be clear on the stage, sharing a friendship that goes beyond sharing the spotlight.

“To have him be the Spongebob to my Patrick has just been great,” Kamprath said.

Tickets can be purchased outside Msgr. Murray Hall at Holy Child Jesus Parish at 111-02 86th Ave. in Richmond Hill before and after each mass on July 30 and July 31, as well as in the cafeteria of the parish from 7:00 – 9:30 from July 31 through Aug. 3. Seating is reserved. For more information, email hcjteendrama@gmail.com.

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