March 30, 2023 By Bill Parry
LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams and Councilwoman Julie Won co-hosted a special event at the Long Island City campus on March 24 in honor of Women’s History Month in which eight women from western Queens were recognized for their dedication, commitment to community service and hard work.
“The women honored today selflessly serve Queens communities on many levels that include elder care, housing, education, and community outreach,” Adams said. “It is our honor and privilege to co-host this event with Council Member Julie Won, who is a leader and community advocate bringing abundant internet access to public housing residents, fighting for the expansion of vitally-needed affordable housing, and helping us launch our ‘3,000 Heroes’ initiative to enhance our facilities to train nurses, paramedics, and other frontline healthcare professionals.”
Former Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and LaGuardia Community College created the first “Celebrating the Power of Women” event in 2010. Nolan retired last year after representing western Queens for 38 years after she was first sent to Albany in 1984 at the age of 26.
“For years, these eight women have worked to empower communities in our district, providing them with the resources, tools, and support to thrive. Now, it’s our turn to honor them for their contributions to the community organizing, government, and education,” Won said. “Thank you to former Assembly Member Cathy Nolan for starting this tradition 13 years ago, and thank you to LaGuardia Community College for your continued partnership in putting this event together.”
Woodside on the Move Deputy Director Adriana Beltran-Morelli was recognized for her work to empower immigrant, low-income and historically marginalized communities in Woodside. She immigrated to the U.S. and graduated from William Cullen Bryant High School in Astoria before attending Baruch College.
Judith Brown Fears was honored for her work as a coordinator with Community Capacity Development to empower youth, low-income communities of color, and residents of the NYCHA Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Woodside Houses. She is known as a champion for social justice and public safety.
Little Essentials CEO Courtney Crawford is an educator who provides essential children’s supplies and necessary resources to families living in poverty, which is critical in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shahenaz Hamde was recognized for her work as a program director at HANAC’s Ravenswood Senior Center. After immigrating to the U.S., she got her degree at Queens College before building long-lasting relationships with community- and faith-based organizations. Hamde serves as vice chair of Community Board 1’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Committee.
Pema Genkhang, Queens Regional Director with the State Comptroller’s Office was honored for her strong record of community service in District 26 and beyond. Her personal experience as the daughter of Tibetan refugees informs her work in government and she champions the empowerment of the immigrant and Himalayan communities.
The final three honorees were LaGuardia staff members including Claudia Baldenado, who has impacted the lives and work paths of thousands of youth in western Queens and across the city. She is the director of youth workforce development initiatives and an adjunct associate professor of business technology at LaGuardia, whose biggest challenge is navigating career and motherhood.
“Making the decision to continue to work and grow my family has been sometimes trying and seemed impossible to juggle work and personal life. However, I would not have changed my course of direction, and at this point, all of my children are grown, college graduates and have successful lives of their own,” Baldonedo said. “I must not neglect to mention that I had a very supportive spouse. If he were alive today, I think he would say, ‘job well done.’”
As director of the Student Information Center at LaGuardia, Loretta Capuano-Vella is a first-generation American and first-generation college graduate who has been instrumental in helping LaGuardia students navigate their way through college to help them be successful.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked with people dedicated to student service and success, especially several mentors and colleagues,” Capuano-Vella said. “Highlights of my time at LaGuardia include working on visioning summits, academic appeals committee, orientation, the COVID Reopening Group, college cenate and experiencing shared governance in-action. I am looking forward to what the future brings to LaGuardia.”
Wen “Wendy” Ren, a financial specialist with LaGurdia’s budget office, came to the U.S. in 1990 from Shanghai, China, and has been a member of the school’s community since 1999.
“It’s wonderful to have our voices heard. Women have more opportunities to express themselves,” she said. “There are still things that have to be improved for women, but it’s nice to see more women in big roles. It’s getting better.”