2014-01-17 / Columnists

Who’s Who

Jose Velez, Community Board
By Katie McFadden

Jose Velez Jose Velez Tell Us About Yourself

I grew up in a family of eight. I’m the only boy. The rest are girls. I come from a fairly talented family. I have two sisters that are actresses, one on TV and one on stage. One was a dancer. I have a sister that runs the Beacon program in Far Rockaway. I have a sister that’s an excellent cook. We’re a well-rounded bunch. My mom is a singer and my father, who’s not with us anymore was a community affairs officer in the 79th Precinct in Bed Stuy. We learned a lot of our values from our parents including community, treating people well and giving back.

My family hopped around a lot, from New Jersey to Brooklyn and Manhattan before we moved to Rockaway in 1971. I grew up in Arverne on Beach 66th Street. That was home base for us. My wife of 25 years, Vanessa, was the girl next door. We both grew up in Rockaway on the same street. We have an older son together. I currently live on Beach 3rd Street and I’m a school aide at Leon M. Goldstein High School.

Were you involved with community or civic affairs before joining Community Board 14?

I was involved in the Mott Creek Civic Group. Mott Creek is basically this little body of water between Seagirt Boulevard and Seagirt Avenue, from Beach 2nd Street to about Beach 6th Street. Developers were coming into the neighborhood and building housing out of character. A number of us got together, including Fran Tuccio and Tracey Conroy, and we started fighting it and we were successful. We tied in with another community group and we were able to get what we wanted. At that point, Councilman Sanders asked if I would be interested in being on the Community Board and I said yes. I joined the Community Board in 2004.

Are you involved in any other community groups or activities currently?

We have a little civic group in our neighborhood on our block that maintains the beach there, called the Simis Beach Civic Association. I’m the president of that group. I’m also a member of the New York Rising Committee and I’m involved in participatory budgeting for the 31st District in Far Rockaway. I’ve also done a few shows with the Rockaway Theatre Company. One of the most important things that I do is during the holidays. For the last 11 years, my wife and I do a Thanksgiving luncheon on Thanksgiving day from our church, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea and St. Gertrudes. We serve food to the community with the help of donations from the Graybeards and the Rockaway Irish Boys. It’s a really nice event .

What committee, if any, are you on? How often does it meet?

I was originally on the budget committee as co-chair, but now I’m co-chair of the Parks and Public Safety Committee. The reconstruction of the boardwalk is primarily what we’re involved with now. We’re looking at the Parks Department and its master plan for all of the parks in Rockaway. The way I see it, for us in Rockaway, our parks are kind of like lifelines. People like to come to the beach and use recreational facilities. It is not just for us, but for everyone that wants to enjoy it. I see it as an economic engine. My vision is to make sure parks are accessible to everyone and that we have a lot of recreational facilities going on here in Rockaway.

We’ve been meeting every couple of months with the Parks Department to get an update on what they’re doing concerning the boardwalk and the master plan for redeveloping all of the parks in Rockaway. We’re going to be meeting quite often for at least the next year or so because there’s a lot going on.

How long do you see yourself being a part of the community board?

Until my voice is not longer needed. I see that there’s a lot of work to be done in Rockaway. I think I’m going to be there for a while.

What do you think is the most important issue facing Rockaway?

Economic development. I see the rebuilding of the boardwalk and the parks as an economic engine that will drive Rockaway. We need to incorporate our parks into that economic scheme. People aren’t going out to the Hamptons anymore. Young people are coming to Rockaway. They see the value of coming to a public access beach. I truly believe once the boardwalk starts to be rebuilt, more people will come to Rockaway. I’d like to see Rockaway be the destination point that it was 40, 50 years ago.

What’s the best part of living in the area?

There’s a lot to be said, but the best part is the people. Rockaway can be very small townish. It can feel like a small town and that’s a really beautiful thing. We’re part of the city but we’re still a small town on the beach. I think that’s one of the best features.

What’s your biggest complaint?

People need to get involved. It feels like a small town, but more people need to be involved in our little town. Join a civic group. Volunteer. Come to community board meetings. Raise your voices. The more voices that are heard, the better our town becomes.

What advice do you have for people not on the community board who are interested in helping Rockaway?

Join volunteer groups that are out there. If you don’t volunteer with a civic group, volunteer at a church or synagogue. Get involved with your community. Join a group like the Rockaway Youth Task Force, the Graybeards, the Irish Boys, the WISH Foundation, the community gardens in Far Rockaway, etc.

We also have the Rockaway Theatre Company, the Rockaway Artists Alliance, the Bayswater Players in Far Rockaway.

There are so many opportunities for people to become involved in the community and if you can’t find something that you love, start something that you love.

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