"There are a lot of civic groups that are in Forest Hills that many people aren’t aware of, so we want to increase awareness,” said Edwin Wong, founder of FHAA. “Everyone’s doing business stuff, but we wanted to focus on civic groups and things that people could do to contribute to the community.”
Born and raised in Queens, Wong has spent the last decade living in Forest Hills. He recalled attending an Asian-Pacific Heritage event hosted by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz in which there were only a “handful” of Asian Americans that showed up.
With a neighborhood that has a 25 percent Asian population, Wong reached out to Koslowitz to increase the outreach efforts in that community, thus eventually creating FHAA.
His goal now is to unite community leaders to create a ripple effect of participation within the community.
"We’re kind of the new organization in the area, but we want to facilitate for other groups who have been here and we want to support their efforts when we can,” Wong said. "We want to increase awareness about the community for our membership so it’s not just about we are doing.”
Wong and Michael Dunne, director of Military and Veteran’s Affairs for FHAA, coordinated with Mario DiPreta, CEO and general manager of The West Side Tennis Club, to host an event that would introduce groups to one another, as well as have community residents learn more about the different organizations in the area.
Organizations who attended included the FHAA, Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, Friends of MacDonald Park, Forest Hills Kiwanis Club, Musica Reginae, Community Board 6, 112th Precinct Community Council, Women’s Club of Forest Hills and the American Legion Continental Post.
“The importance in tonight is to share our ideas and to perhaps get groups to work together and help each other out,” said Stephen Melnick, founder of Friends of MacDonald Park. “We’re a huge city with 10 million-plus people, and if we don’t do it right we’ll have a rotten city, so that’s why we have people to participate."
Some organizations shared reports on upcoming changes in the new year. For instance, director of Community Services at Forest Hills Hospital, Ted Lehmann, made the announcement that the hospital will change its name to Long Island Jewish Forest Hills by mid-March, with the corporate name being changed to Northwell Health.
“More and more of our activities involve joint work between us and Long Island Jewish and I think we do very well,” Lehman said. “[The hospital] handles most of the things people need in their everyday life from babies being born to treating older people and everyone in between, but we’re not a tertiary care hospital.
“People who need neurosurgery, heart surgery, a breadth of pediatrics, mental health or a range of services that we do not provide will be provided at LIJ,” he added. “With the ambulance and the lights on, it’s not very far, it’s a nine-mile trip.”
Representatives of the Community Education Council for District 28, second vice president Maria Kaufer and borough president appointee Sumaly King, also announced that they’ve developed a website for the district to better help the parents of schoolchildren in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens.
The new website will keep parents informed on policies impacting their children’s education, as well as provide up-to-date education news. For those looking to participate, the website also lists upcoming events and allows parents to connect with education officials.
“One of [the FHAA] focus areas is family, and so [the Community Education Council] will be our connection to what is going in the family community,” Wong said. “If we have questions on what’s going on with the universal pre-k, we can go to them."
Some civic groups and other organizations are already working together for community functions. For instance, Forest Hills Hospital works with or sponsors events with civic groups throughout the year.
Furthermore, the Forest Hills Kiwanis and the Women’s Club of Forest Hills have both worked with members of Forestdale, an organization that aims to work with families in distress, on Christmas donations programs.
Wong said the night was in the initial stage of a much broader initiative that would hopefully lead to a much greater community involvement.
“You volunteer, you give up your time, you stay away from your families for this,” DiPreta said. “It’s important that people understand what you do because the community couldn’t work without this, with good people helping good people."