After 30 years of helping the community, it is time to Celebrate. Over the years the Jackson Heights Beautification Group has changed as the needs of the neighborhood has changed. Currently, we have 15 major projects including:
- JH Orchestra
- JH Halloween Parade
- JH Dog Run
- JH Gardening
- JH Composting Center
- JH Summer Sunday Concerts
- JH Historic Weekend Garden Tours
- JH Holiday Lighting of the Post Office
- JH Graffiti Removal
- JH Breakfast with the Principal
- JH Newsletter – The Views
- JH Post Office Project
- JH Tree Care on 37th Avenue
- JH Student Art Competition
- JH Debates and Townhalls
This all happens because of the support of our paying members and dedicated volunteers. We have an 18-member dedicated volunteer board who run each of these projects and make the events happen.
In just December we have a Santa Bike Ride, our 30th Anniversary Party and the beginning of the Orchestra season with a special performance at PS 69 on Saturday, December 15 of a new piece written to involve local school children.
Living in Jackson Heights, many people think our Jackson Heights traditional events just happen such as the Halloween Parde, the Summer Concerts, the Garden Tours in June and the gardening in the community, but in fact they happen because the community comes together to support the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and our volunteers work tirelessly to make sure they happen.
One of our volunteers is Rafael Rodriguez. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Rafael grew up with a trusted machete working on a family farm growing everything they ate and cutting tobacco. At 21 years old, he immigrated to New York City. Rafael has lived in his apartment on 94th Street since 1976. He drove a taxi and for 13 years and then bought a small bodega on 37th Avenue between 92nd and 93rd Street where he worked until he suffered a major stroke working behind the counter in his store in 2005. After spending a month in a coma and years of rehabilitation, he still suffers weakness on the left side of his body and is blind in one eye. As a father of 3, the stroke set him back. He lost his store and was never able to work again, but you can’t stop Rafael. With the support of his family, he slowly got back on his feet. The next year he discovered the 97th Street Block Association Garden on 97th Street near Northern Blvd. and asked to help. He was told the only space left was full of poison ivy, but that did not stop Rafael. Soon he had a clear plot to grow his vegetables and a bad case of poison ivy. Rafael explains that he loves to be in the garden. Due to the stroke, Rafael had to work at his own pace, but he explains if you start at 6 AM you have a lot of time to get it all done. I met Rafael in 2005. He walked by the JHBG garden next to Food Bazaar on 34th Avenue and Junction Blvd with his cane and his ever-present machete and asked if he could help. He has not stopped helping since that day. The only thing that stops Rafael is the cold due to doctor’s orders, but from April to November, he works daily taking care of gardens around Jackson Heights.
Rafael first big project was building green and white wooden tree surrounds to protect trees on his block. With the support of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Rafael has built around 100 green and white tree surrounds in the neighborhood. You can find them around PS 149, PS 280, PS 228, PS 89 the library and on his block on 94th and 95th Street.
For the last 6 months, Rafael and JHBG have worked diligently to reduce the rat infestation in the neighborhood. In the Spring we started with education. With the help of the NYC Department of Health, we held a Rat Academy and learned we had to remove the food sources.. The discarded food containers along 69th Street were a buffet for the rats. So in May Rafael began almost daily cleanups of the area around the BQE where the problem was most severe. Given the large number of homeless people in the area, it was a daily battle to keep the trash and food waste down. JHBG installed metal trashcans along the BQE and Rafael collected the trash along the BQE most every morning. With the help of District 3 Superintendent Miguel Capella, we have set up regular trash collection in the area and it is improving. We have now baited the area and are hoping for a cold winter to keep the number of rats down.
Rafael has also planted thousands of dafodill and tulip bulbs around the area. In April when they bring color to a cold spring day, think of Rafael’s hard work.