The city is coming back to life. Do you ever look around at the nature within New York and wonder how to be even more at one with it? This week, Epicenter-NYC spoke with Stephanie Foo, one of NYC Parks Departments Super Stewards.
What is a Super Steward you ask?
Super Stewards are people who receive special training from the Parks Department and go on to work independently caring for neighborhood parks and spreading the word about the benefits of nature in the city. There are several types of Super Stewards: Care Captains, who take care of street trees (more on these amazing plants later); NAVigators, who care for the city’s forests and meadows; Shorekeepers, who help with wetlands; and Trail Maintainers, who — you guessed it — maintain the city’s trails. All of these duties are carried out by volunteers.
Foo, who is originally from the Bay Area in California, became a Super Steward because she missed the greenery of the West Coast.
“I wanted to connect more intimately with nature and it feels so much better,” she said. “I feel more in tune with the seasons, I feel more at home.”
Foo’s speciality and favorite part of the job? Removal of invasive species. “It’s really fun, you can see a young tree that is really struggling, and you can just go in, and in like 10 or 15 minutes, you can cut away all of these horrible vines that are choking the tree and killing the tree,” she said. “You save a tree’s life! It’s as good as planting the tree, even better, quite frankly. It feels really good to be able to go out there in the morning and do that and make it a better place for all of us to live.”
The city’s trees, particularly the often-overlooked street trees, serve an important purpose.They help process rain and water runoff, preventing sewage and other undesirable elements from entering our water supply, clean the air and help regulate the temperature — apartments on a shady street will naturally be several degrees cooler during summer months.
“A single street tree can help save the city thousands of dollars per year in all the hard work that it does,” Foo said.
You can learn more about the trees on your street and what they do with this in-depth NYC Street Tree Map.
You don’t need any special skills, beyond an appreciation for nature, to become a Super Steward; NYC Parks will provide you with everything you need (hat included!).
“It really works around you and what you’re good at,” Foo said. “If you really want to get on your knees and pull weeds, you can do that. If your thing is you want to walk around and take notes of problem areas, you can do that. You can be 80 years old and be a Super Steward because you’re getting the neighborhood kids all into trees or picking up trash.”
To become a Super Steward, get started by attending one of the Parks Department’s events. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Vaccine apartheid is literally going to kill us
By S. Mitra Kalita
You really can’t serve and cover Queens without covering and serving the world.
A March 22 email to Epicenter from a 69-year-old man in Germany who was ready to fly to New York City: “As you probably know, the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine here in Germany has been incredibly slow and we have not yet received an appointment for our first doses.”
A few weeks later, on April 6, a direct message came in on Twitter from an immigrant wanting a vaccine for her mother back in Jamaica. No vaccines there either. What to do?
And just this past weekend, came a plea from the U.S.-based daughter of a Toronto retiree. The mother’s second dose of Moderna isn’t until July and she wants to cross the border to get it earlier.
Epicenter-NYC has increasingly been hearing from people all over the world in search of a Covid vaccine. The requests come as scary new variants of the virus surge in India, Brazil and other countries. India saw a record 350,000 new cases Sunday (with questions over the accuracy of that count) and Brazil has the second highest-global death toll at 380,000 (the U.S. is first). Meanwhile, some countries, such as Haiti and Cuba, have no vaccines, and the U.S. has millions of doses it’s not using.
Signs of vaccine apartheid, even within the U.S.’s own rollout, have been around for months. We at Epicenter regularly chronicle the challenges of getting vaccines (see reporting from February, March and April) and how people of color and the elderly disproportionately face obstacles. Admittedly, my interest widened in recent days as the situation worsened in India, my parents’ and in-laws’ homeland. About a half-dozen members of our families had or have the virus; my aunt Rini died. We’ve seen repeatedly that elements of taking the pandemic seriously — paying attention to symptoms of Covid, distancing measures, the vaccines themselves — feel theoretical until they become personal. In some ways, this too is at the heart of the problem and contributes to a disjointed response. Read more.
Epicenter-NYC will be hosting a special livestream this evening checking in on our neighbors around the world. Please join us on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube at 9 p.m. EST. We expect on-the-ground reports from Brazil, India and Peru — and Queens, of course.
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OUT & ABOUT
As the world begins to open back up, now is the perfect time to channel your inner Anthony Bourdain. Explore, be curious, try new things; life is too short. Join the late chef and writer’s assistant, Laurie Woolever, this Thursday, April 29, at 8 p.m. to discuss the book she was helping him to write, and ultimately finished on her own, “World Travel: An Irreverent Guide.” Tickets are $15, or $40, with a copy of the book, purchase yours here.
Bruce McCall’s New York
The New York Historical Society is showcasing more than 40 of the legendary artist’s depictions of NYC, from the zany to the fantastical. The exhibit runs now through Aug. 15. Tickets can be purchased in advance; admission is pay-what-you-wish on Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m.
The Shop Small Astoria Spring Retail Crawl is back. Now through Sunday, May 2, if you make purchases from eight out of the 18 participating retailers, you will receive a swag-filled “Thank you for shopping Astoria” tote. And you get to support local businesses who have struggled for the past year. Seems like a win-win to us.
MOMI is back
Well, almost. The Museum of the Moving Image officially reopens its doors this Friday, April 30, which coincides with the unveiling of a new exhibit: Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. In-person screening will return as well. Book your timed-entry ticket here.
And head to the newly reopened Bluestockings Cooperative on the Lower East Side, New York’s only queer, trans and sex worker run bookstore for your literary needs. Its doors are open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Our essential immigrants
Fedelina, Mario, Moisés, Yimel, Juan, Ofelia and Guadalupe were all essential workers who passed away during the pandemic. They were also some of our city’s most vulnerable residents — undocumented immigrants. The Women’s March co-founder and artist Paola Mendoza used photos provided by their family members to create an art installation on the Lower East Side to honor and acknowledge their sacrifices. You can view the exhibit at 2 Rivington Street through Monday, May 3 or online.
Black pain/white media
Epicenter was featured on the Laura Flanders Show, as part of a monthly partnership with URL Media, to talk about community journalism. Watch it here or tune in Sunday on PBS (WLIW at 11:30 a.m., for example).
GIVE & GET HELP
AAF’s 2021 Mayoral Forum
Join mayoral candidates Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire and Scott Stringer as they share their plans and visions for the City, with a special focus on issues within the Asian American community. The forum will be moderated by Epicenter-NYC’s founder, S. Mitra Kalita tonight from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Register for free here.
Help thy neighbor locally
Last week we spoke with one of East Brooklyn Mutual Aid founders about the drop in donations that has accompanied the rise in vaccines and return to “normalcy.” Astoria Food Pantry is facing a similar problem, despite more need than ever. Last week it ran out of groceries before 8:30 a.m., and had to turn many people who were in need away. It desperately needs donors. Help however you can by donating here.
Help thy neighbor globally
India is being battered by a second wave of Covid-19. Yesterday, the country reported 352,991 new cases, setting a record for the fifth straight day. If you are interested in donating to local efforts, here is a list of organizations that are accepting international donations.
Covid-19 funeral assistance
FEMA launched a program last week that provides monetary reimbursement of up to $9,000 for funeral expenses of those who died from Covid-19. Who is eligible: The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien — the deceased person does not need to be though. What you need: An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to Covid-19, funeral expense documents and proof of funds received from other sources, such as funeral insurance. Learn more and call (844) 684-6333 to apply. Multilingual services are available.
QUEENS MEMORY PROJECT
Epicenter-NYC partners with Queens Memory, a community archiving program supported by Queens Public Library and the Queens College Library, to share its Covid-19 project. For the past year, Queens Memory has been collecting personal stories about life during the pandemic.
The stories gathered will become a testament to the struggles and resiliency of the World’s Borough. Submissions will become part of the Queens Memory digital collections at Queens Public Library and the Queens College Library and will be shared through the Urban Archive platform.
photo: Jean Kim
Well since I’m a student, being in quarantine is very hard. I’ve had a hard time adjusting even though it’s almost been a year. I have been slightly stressed, very tired of all the work. It’s been hard to focus and difficult to work out considering the amount of sitting we do in front of screens. However, I’ve still persisted! I’ve made a few new friends as well. All has been great. School has really taught me lots of things, and I’m happy I got to experience this pandemic.
—Jena Kim, Fresh Meadows, March 2021
Do you have a connection to the borough and a story to share? We want to hear it. Submit yours here.
The final stretch
51,000 students returned to classrooms for the school year on Monday after a last call to return for in-person learning. While merely a dent in New York City’s one million students enrolled in its public schools, almost 378,000 students have returned for in-person learning, exceeding the Department of Education’s (DOE) predicted 315,000 students.
‘Woke’ curriculum saga continues
Critical race theory curriculum is causing a stir across schools in New York City. Parent Harvey Goldman pulled his 9-year-old daughter out of Heschel School, a private institution serving the Jewish Community, after learning that Black Lives Matter was being discussed. Goldman joins what seems a trend: white parents of children at several private schools not wanting to discuss racism at school.
‘Zoom in a room’
High schoolers are back in classrooms, but many of their teachers aren’t. Parents are asking schools and the DOE to explain continued online learning within buildings when teachers are being vaccinated. The DOE maintains flexibility is a priority for families with little insight on whether more teachers will return to classrooms before the school year ends.
Sign up for our education-focused newsletter here.
We’re back in New Jersey this week at Mana Contemporary, an arts center based in Jersey City. Thirty minutes outside of New York City, Mana Contemporary is the host of exhibitions, galleries, residencies and arts styles for everyone. Its current exhibition is “Implied Scale: Confronting the Enormity of Climate Change” on display until July 22. Featured artists include Ted Kim, Catherine Chalmers, Zaria Forman, Jeff Frost and James Prosek. Each work notes the varying, but devastating, effects of climate change through the lived experience of each artist. Learn more and RSVP here. Tickets are free.
Grab dinner and drinks just down the street at Ani Ramen House, a Jersey City staple when craving good ramen. We recommend the Mazeman (brothless bowl) and panko shrimp buns. You won’t regret it. It offers indoor and outdoor seating, although outdoor is limited to one hour. Make a reservation here.
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us. If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.
This week we welcome Afzal Hossain. Hossain is a painter, gallery director and business owner based in Queens. His paintings and multimedia works have been exhibited in solo and group shows in New York City and Bangladesh. A graduate of Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, Afzal worked at Robert A.M. Stern Architects as a designer before starting his solo practice focused on painting and design projects.
Since 2007, Afzal has curated gallery shows featuring Queens-based artists at his art space Gallery 77 in Jackson Heights, a hub for the neighborhood’s creative community. The gallery hosts monthly exhibition openings, community art projects, charity auctions and receptions for local arts organizations.
His new show, “GARDEN BEDS,” is now on view at Gallery 77.
He completed this series of paintings earlier this year, when fear and illness caused by Covid-19 gripped his community in Queens. As winter faded into spring, he started riding his bicycle almost daily through the neighborhoods of Queens to reach his studio, where he could escape safely into his work. At first, the city was almost soundless and empty of people, but the beauty of nature would not be silenced by the pandemic. Trees blossomed, flowers bloomed, and he was inspired to bring this natural life into a new series of paintings that would start where the previous studies of line and friction left off.