From rooftop farming to green library branches, bike repair training and ride programs to green design labs in public schools, western Queens just got an influx of green, thanks to grants born out of the nine-day blackout of 2006.
For the second year in a row, North Star Fund awarded grant money to environmental organizations from its “Greening Western Queens Fund.” This year that meant doling out a little over $2 million to 16 organizations on March 15.
The money is part of a total $7.9 million set aside from the $63 million settlement Con Edison reached with western Queens group Power for the People for its mismanagement of the outage that left over 150,000 people in the area without power.
After the settlement, the Public Service Commission chose North Star to administer the grant money, which it has done through an advisory board made up of green experts and two members of the community, according to Hugh Hogan, North Star’s executive director.
Last year’s biggest awardee was the City Parks Foundation, which was granted $2.5 million to plant and steward 850 trees in western Queens.
This year, “beyond greening the landscape, we’re really looking at ... building the tools to be able to sustain these investments for western Queens over time,” Hogan said.
Of this year’s awardees, Hogan said that “in some cases we were funding a track record in the area already.” In other cases, “we were able to help [groups] make an investment in western Queens.”
This year, for example, grant-awardee Solar One will invest in a full roll-out of its energy education program in five western Queens schools: the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria; PS 84, PS 122 and IS 204, all in Astoria; and Woodside’s PS 12.
The organization received a one-year grant last year as well, which represented Solar One’s first foray into Queens’ schools. By educating teachers, students and custodians on how to reduce energy consumption, the overall energy usage at eight western Queens schools dropped by eight percent, according to Esther Siskind, the group’s program director.
With the $60,000 it won this year, Solar One will be able to deliver a 10-week-long energy curriculum taught by a Solar One instructor in multiple classes throughout five schools, Siskind said. Lessons will include hands-on activities and games to teach students about fossil fuels, renewable energy and climate change.
Recycle-A-Bicycle, another grant winner, is also taking the money it was awarded this year as an opportunity to expand its existing presence in western Queens.
The group, which has a bicycle jobs training center in Long Island City, will spend this year’s $25,000 grant to deepen a standing relationship with International High School at LaGuardia Community College, as well as develop programs with other schools, according to Pasqualina Azzarello, the organization’s executive director.
Schools Azzarello is in talks with include Woodside’s IS 125 and Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City. Recycle-A-Bicycle aims to teach high-school-age students how to repair and refurbish bikes. It runs two storefronts in Manhattan and Brooklyn where the bikes get sold.
“While we are being funded for two years, we do plan to integrate our programming with enough support that they will last for years and years to come,” Azzarello said of the western Queens initiative. The group will also run a free Kids Ride Club at Sunnyside Community Services this summer. Kids 14 and up can join free and go on rides; healthy lunches will be provided for $6. An adult volunteer corps is also welcome to join.
Hogan said North Star’s advisory committee for the Greening Western Queens Fund is seeking ways to make the most of the $7.9 million.
“The legacy of what happened will always be a painful one for the people that went through the power outage,” he said. But because of the grant money that has come out of it, “western Queens will be known beyond just Queens for being a model green community, and that’s really exciting.”