2014-01-31 / Columnists

Who’s Who

Felicia Johnson, Community Board
By Katie McFadden

Felicia Johnson Felicia Johnson Tell Us About Yourself

I moved to Rockaway in 1986. I lived in Ocean Village when I first moved here, then I went to Arverne and then to Far Rockaway.

I’m a geriatric social worker and work with the elderly at the Horizon Care Center. I’ve been doing the same type of work since 1986.

My mother lives on Long Island. My father is deceased. I’m one of five kids; three girls and two boys. I have a dog named Remy D'Mann! He is a little guy, a terrier mix.

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

I started out at what is now Goldie Maple Academy, when it was a public school. A contract was awarded through DYCD and Mayor Dinkins started the Safe Street, Safe City program. A grant was awarded to open a community center called the Rev. Charles Mason Community Center and I volunteered there. At the time, the director was someone I went to high school with. We worked together and the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation heard about some of the things I was doing there and asked me to be the first president of the Community Advisory Committee. From there, they invited me to interview for the RDRC Board of Directors. From the Board of Directors, Rod Cummings saw what I was doing with the board and she nominated me to be placed on the community board. I became a member of the community board more than 10 years ago.

Are you involved in any other community groups currently?

I am on the Rockaway Youth Task Force Adult Advisory Committee. I’m on a Southeast Queens Economic Development Committee. I wanted to make sure that Rockaway didn’t get left out of that, so I’m on the steering committee for that group. I’m also on the advisory committee for the Close to Home program on Beach 38th Street which takes low-level juvenile offenders and places them in a home-like environment and keeps them close to their community so they’re not incarcerated. I’m also on the Urban Renewal committee and the Queens Transportation Committee. We’re fighting to keep the Rockaway Beach Line and the ferry. Transportation sorely needs to be improved here in Rockaway. I’m also on the advisory committee for the Arverne East Project with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance.

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

I co-chair the health and social services committee. Healthcare is very important right now because we’re down to one hospital. We’ve been meeting with the hospital CEO, making sure that the hospital stays open. We’re also involved with restarting the inter agency social work council with the Visiting Nurse Service. This program deals with the elderly population in the Rockaways and includes a coalition of Rockaway social workers. We used to have it before but it died out for some reason.

Now there’s a whole new group that is trying to start up the same program and is trying to figure out how we can best utilize what services are available for the elderly and infirm.

We’re also trying to make sure that there is some kind of urgent or emergency care facility in Rockaway. If anyone is looking to bring programs to the community, we can to make sure they’re programs that add to the community. Rockaway got the short end of the stick in terms of social service programs. We’ve almost become a dumping ground. We’re looking to bring economic viability to the area. It’s hard to sell half a million dollar homes when you don’t have certain health services in place.

We’re looking for programming having to do with health services. We make recommendations to the full board. The programs have a chance to present their full project to the community board. Right now we have a couple of programs looking to come to the area. We’re not sure how great they’re going to be. We’ve asked them to go back and revise their plans because we have some concerns. We don’t want to be a dumping ground. We want something that’s useful and beneficial for the community and we want it to service Southeast Queens as well.

Our committee doesn’t meet on a regular schedule. As issues come up or people want to make a presentation or there are issues going on, we’ll call a meeting. When they thought the hospital (SJEH) was going to close, I was on a family reunion. I came back for a meeting and worked with Lew Simon to put together a rally with 1199 to protest the talk of closing the hospital. At this point, I believe the hospital will not close.

Nursing homes are also suffering because of Sandy. There needs to be some change is legislation in Albany with the Department of Health in how they look into this.

I was unemployed for a year and a half until December. As a social worker, having to apply for social services, I see how people are treated and what they go through. There is no training for those in their 40s and 50s. We get economically moved out because people want to pay younger employees less money. We’re a population where our money is being taxed and there’s no money for training people in the middle age bracket. We can’t get hired because no one wants to pay for those with 20 years of experience. This is another social issue that needs to be changed.

I’m also on the executive committee of the community board. I’m the only black woman. One is white and one is black. Dolores and I work well together. We always have to look at things from a holistic point of view.

I also serve on the youth services and education committee on the community board.I used to co-chair that committee, but once we had a young person appointed to the board, Milan Taylor, that committee was turned over to him but I do still sit on that committee.

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

As long as there’s work to be done. I am looking to branch off into something else which may require me to leave the community board but I don’t see myself not being a part of it because I’m tired of it. I’m looking to run for State Assembly in the 31st District, which may require me to leave the community board.

I really believe that my plan is tied up in Albany. I believe I’m doing the right thing by running for assembly. Unless you walk in people’s shoes, you don’t know what they need. I know what it’s like to be unemployed and to apply for food stamps and to struggle with transportation. Instead of me complaining about the things that need to change, I want to be a part of that change. I want to become part of the solution. As a social worker, you always want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want to serve for the better because I believe in better. I believe together we can get better and do better.

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

For this strip of the peninsula, definitely healthcare because with losing the hospital, and nursing homes not fully functioning because of Sandy, a lot of people lost jobs. Transportation is also a big issue.

There is an east end and a west end here and there is a difference in economics but there are enough people that can come together. We saw that and demonstrated that well with the ferry situation. We have to reach out and go beyond our circles. My success depends on your success. I don’t have all the answers, but you may have some. That’s what divides us. The “them vs. us” instead of a We. Now we’re starting to really see the peninsula come together. Sandy, in all of its devastation, was a blessing and a curse. “Them and us” all mean the same thing now. We’re all starting from a level playing field. We all need each other to get the things we need. Maybe Sandy is what it took to get us away from the them vs. us mentality.

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

I went to school in Virginia. It reminds me of that. This could be a great resort area. I’m not a big beach person but I like the fact that the ocean is there and I can smell it and go on the boardwalk. Queens is the most diverse borough and Rockaway is diverse on its own. We have a little bit of everyone living here. I’ve met with really great people since I’ve been here. I see so much potential for the peninsula right now and I’m excited to see where it’s going.

What’s your biggest complaint?

Transportation. I live in Far Rockaway and work on Beach 54th Street. Why does it have to take me an hour to get to work? Transportation needs to be improved. Nobody takes responsibility for it. When you call 311, they tell you there’s a schedule, but no one keeps that schedule.

Also, the entire community not coming together previously was an issue but I think that’s changing now.

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

Just come out and get involved! Come hear what’s going on in the area. I attend the Bayswater Civic meetings. I used to go to the Arverne Civic meetings when I lived there. Just come out and hear what’s happening. Don’t expect someone to know what your area needs. People need to become involved. Only together can we make things happen, not individually.

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