Local Champions inspire, change Queens neighborhoods for the better


On April 6, Queens Community House (QCH) celebrated its Celebrating Local Champions Reception at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. The evening proved to be a great success with more than $20,000 raised towards furthering QCH’s mission.

 According to Executive Director Ben Thomases, the goal of the annual event is to recognize the deep connection between QCH and the local community. “Forest Hills is where the organization was founded 40 years ago, so our connection to the neighborhood is very important to us,” he said. “This event is a way for us to thank the Forest Hills community as well as to introduce ourselves to neighbors who might not be aware of the range of services we offer.”



Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, was honored by QCH at the event. Brown, a Forest Hills native, ran a children’s clothing boutique on Austin Street for many years and was elected President in 2001. Under her tutelage, she has doubled the chamber’s membership and produced numerous free, family-friendly events for the community, including street fairs, the Forest Hills Festival of the Arts, and Celebrate Winter Under the Tent.

“Leslie’s been a great leader in the Forest Hills community, and we wanted to give her some recognition for all of the great work she’s done,” Thomases said.



During the event, QCH also presented the fifth annual Irma E. Rodriguez Queens Community Builder Award to Lester Lin, founder of the nonprofit City Mission.

In 2014, the city administration opened a family shelter in what had been the Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst, setting off a series of angry protests from local residents. Moved by this controversy in his own community, and wanting to give a response that improved the situation for all, Lin reached out to the Department of Homeless Services to see how he could help.

He organized friends and neighbors to throw a welcome party at a neighboring church for the shelter families. The party was intended as a message of love and compassion to these troubled families and was for many their first non-confrontational contact with their new community. Lin continued his relationship with the Boulevard Family Residence, recruiting volunteers to organize family-friendly activities, donation drives to meet basic needs such as clothing and diapers, a fatherhood program, and a weekly care group providing tutoring for the shelter children. Later incorporating their activities as a nonprofit organization, City Mission, they have expanded their reach into the community through resume assistance workshops, health fairs, and projects with local high schools. 

For finding a way to reap positive change from conflict, and for inspiring his neighbors to do the same, Thomases said Queens Community House was proud to honor Lin.

“We ourselves were founded from a community conflict, with the intent of helping the neighborhood to heal and come together,” Thomases said. “We are so glad that Lester has echoed those values with his own actions. He is truly making Queens a better place to live for all residents.”


To see the digital journal, click HERE. To see photos from the night's festivities, click HERE.

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