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Forest Hills organization fights for library elevator

It's been a grassroots effort by every measure of the word.

The Forest Hills Action League, formed in September, has no real budget or non-profit status, and collects only a $1 nominal fee from any resident wishing to become a member.

Though its organizers hope for hundreds of members, its following is more likely in the dozens. And its regular meeting place - Wendy's fast food restaurant on Continental Avenue - was offered to them through the generosity of owner and real estate developer Robert Rosenfeld.

But the Forest Hills Action League, which met for a brainstorming session Monday night, is taking on a slew of neighborhood issues, from overflowing city trash bins to deficiencies in the Forest Hills branch of the Queensborough Public Library to slow service from the U.S. Postal Service.

The group has its fair share of critics, who say its members should do less talking and more acting, but the league has also been making waves.

Four months ago the group galvanized the area's elected officials and local residents in a march down Austin Street, attempting to draw attention to the need for more trash pickups. In the months since then, members say sanitation service has improved.

On Feb. 28, the group gathered about 40 people on a frigid night for a vigil in front of the Queensborough Public Library's Forest Hills branch.

The building has no elevator providing handicapped access to the second floor, where children's books are kept, and bathroom stalls on the basement level are inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs.

Library officials say they are trying to bring the Queens Public Library system into compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and hope to begin work on a new elevator and bathroom stalls in the spring.

The Forest Hills Action League plans to put pressure on the library system until the renovations are made. At the vigil, the group collected more than 100 signatures on a petition, which it will present to library officials.

"You know, sometimes you don't need a big organization. Sometimes all you need is people caring, and worrying, and doing something about it to change your neighborhood," said Estelle Chwat, who formed the group with her husband, Norbert.

Speaking to about a dozen people gathered at the Wendy's, Chwat said the sanitation drive and library push will help determine the future of the Forest Hills Action League.

The group is considering whether to tackle two more neighborhood concerns: making Queens Boulevard safer for pedestrians and speeding up mail service at the Forest Hills post office.

"This could be the beginning of a whole new civic organization," she said. "We have to test this organization out, see what the impact is."

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