2007-08-31 / Community

Beachcomber

The fundraiser held at Tribute Park on Beach 116 Street last week was a touching affair, with friends and relatives of those who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 attending. The park has evolved into a fitting tribute to the heroes who died that day; a quiet place to sit and contemplate the world and the problems it often brings in torrents.

The weekend of September 8 and 9 promises to be a busy one, with three events at Gateway Park venues that should provide something for everyone. On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Rockaway Music and Arts Council will host its annual Fall Festival at the Riis Park Mall. The festival brings fine art, crafts, food and entertainment to the mall, with lots of good food available. There are also lots of things for kids to do. The festival will continue on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the same time the festival is going on at the mall, the beachfront will be filled with kites of all sizes and colors as part of the annual New York Kite Festival, an event that has become one of the best-attended on the peninsula. On the other side of the bridge, at Floyd Bennett Field, dozens of vintage aircraft will land and be on view during the weekend. All events are free and all three events are mustsee for both kids and adults.

Watching a group of young Rockaway kids stand on the field next to their favorite players at Keyspan Park in Brooklyn two weeks ago reminds us again how important youth programs are to the community and how important the adult volunteers who run those programs are to the kids. It is not often that they get the recognition they deserve, so this is our way of saying "thank you" to them on behalf of the entire Rockaway community.

St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway is seeking volunteers. The hospital is looking specifically for adults who have some time to help with patient transportation and its "Friendly Feeders" program. Volunteers are needed Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon or noon to 4 p.m., and must be able to give at least 15 hours a week to the patients.

The statistics in a new report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) are both frightening and enlightening. More than 2,800 guns sold legally in Georgia and about 2,300 from Virginia turned up at crime scenes throughout the nation last year. That number is staggering. Of the more than 6,000 guns taken by police in New York State, ATF traced 530 to dealers in Virginia and 443 to Georgia. North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Carolina also contributed greatly to the guns found on the streets of our state. Past studies have shown that one percent of the dealers contribute 55 percent of the guns taken on the street. Despite the desires of the NRA to keep that information secret, the feds finally released it after five years of battle with the gun lobby. It is about time. Our mayor is right to do battle with those gun dealers who inundate our streets with guns that are used by thugs to intimidate and harm others.

One of the fallouts from the No Child Left Behind Act is that subjects other than those that are covered in the high-stakes standardized tests - reading and math - are not being taught on a regular basis in the majority of our public schools. One indication of that is the number of foreign language teachers hired each year by the Department of Education. In 2001, our city schools had 1,826 foreign language instructors. This year, the number is down to slightly more than 1,600 and sinking fast. The state mandate is that students take at least two years of foreign language before they complete the ninth grade. That is not being done in many local schools, primarily because the day is taken up with reading, math and test-taking skills.

In July of 2006, there were 390 home foreclosure filings in Queens. This July, there were 882, a jump of 126.1 percent. Experts say that the problem of people losing their homes because they can't pay the mortgage will only increase. It is not yet clear what the number is for Rockaway, but a quick look at homes for sale due to foreclosure on Craigslist.com seems to show that we have a real problem here on the peninsula. What that bodes for the Arverne By The Sea and Arverne East projects is hard to predict, but it cannot be good news.

In December of last year, Wave editor Howard Schwach reviewed one of the most important books in recent years, "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road To 9/11," by Lawrence Wright. The book won a Pulitzer Prize, was a finalist for a National Book Award and made just about every "Top 25 Reads" list in our nation's newspapers. At the time, Schwach said, "If you are going to read only one book this coming year, make it this book." Now, the book is out in paperback from Vintage Press, and anybody who has not yet done so, should go out and get it.

Despite the mayor's continuing pronouncements that everything is fine in the New York City public schools since he took over, there has been a shocking surge in school crime over the past two years. The mayor says that the crime surge is simply better reporting, but teachers know that is not the case. Take a look at the statistics. During the 2004 to 2005 school year, there were 4,000 reported assaults with physical injury. In the 2005 to 2006 school year, that number jumped to 5,084. While the Post thinks that the number is not significant given the number of kids in the system, the rise in crime is both significant and troubling. Sexual offenses during the period rose to 984 from 543. Robberies in the schools went up to 267 from 50 and even arsons rose to 210 from 152. Those stats might not worry those who support the mayor without question, but they do worry everybody else.

The New York Post recently called Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno "the toughest man in Iraq." Odierno is the commanding general of the Multinational Corps -- Iraq, is also identified as a Rockaway resident. The general, who sat for an interview with Post columnist Ralph Peters, says that Al Qaeda's "worn out its welcome in Iraq." He also calls for the militias who have plagued the nation to be brought into the security forces.

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