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CB6 newbies eager to serve Forest Hills, Rego Park

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Three new members of Community Board 6 said they greatly appreciate the Forest Hills community in which they live and are anxious to do whatever they can to make sure the neighborhood is not adversely affected by tough economic times.

Juan Matiz, 30, an architect; Darlene Vourman, 44, a director of the Police Athletic League Head Start pre-school program; and Ronnie Croce, the director of communications and correspondence for the City Council, joined CB 6 April 1 after their applications were approved by the borough president and Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills).

"There are some communities that never came back from the last fiscal crisis. People fled, and the place became rundown," said Croce, who worked for former state Sen. Don Halpern in the 1980s and former state Assembly Speaker Mel Miller in the 1990s. "I think you have to be especially vigilant at times like these to make sure that a beautiful community like Forest Hills doesn't deteriorate."

Echoing Croce's concerns about the economy, Matiz said he was moved during last week's CB6 meeting by Katz's speech about the current budget crisis within the city and state.

"With some of these cuts, it's a time when people are going to have to take a bit more responsibility and contribute more," Matiz said. "I'm really anxious to start to understand how we can help in the community."

Vourman is a lifelong resident of Queens and Matiz has lived in Queens ever since he moved to the city from Bogota, Colombia when he was 6 years old. Vourman grew up in Forest Hills, while Matiz lived in Astoria before moving to Forest Hills four years ago. Croce lived most of her life in Brooklyn before moving to Forest Hills eight years ago.

"I think Forest Hills is one of the best and nicest neighborhoods not only in New York City but in the world," said Vourman, who has two advanced degrees in education and is working on her doctorate at St. John's University in the teaching of modern world history. "My passion is traveling. I've been to some very beautiful places, from Italy to Bangkok, but Forest Hills is really a wonderful, wonderful place."

CB 6's coverage area encompasses Forest Hills and Rego Park.

All three new CB 6 members are products of the city's public school system and said they have vested interests in making sure public schools maintain high standards. Croce's four children attended public schools in the city and SUNY colleges. Matiz has a 3-month-old baby whom he plans on sending to public school, while Vourman has three children who attend public schools.

"I have three children, so obviously I'm very concerned about education in Queens. ... It's not only a professional interest, but also a personal interest," said Vourman, who has signed up to be on CB 6's education committee.

Vourman said she is very pleased with the education her children have received at public schools in Forest Hills and at the Academy of American Studies High School in Long Island City. She plans on waiting to hear what the problems and concerns of the community are in terms of education before becoming involved in enacting any changes, she said.

Matiz is a member of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, an organization that encourages Hispanic college students to pursue post-graduate education in business and provides incentives for them to become successful business people.

As a member of CB 6, Matiz has signed up for the youth committee in addition to the planning and zoning committee and the housing committee, where he feels his background as an architect will be an asset.

"You hear too many stories about kids that don't really seem to think that they have opportunities, and this world is full of opportunities," Matiz said. "I'm hoping that kids who have migrated here recently from different parts of the world can benefit from the many people out there who serve as good examples for young kids today."

Other issues in which the new members plan to become involved include sanitation and transportation.

Croce said she hoped to help prevent cuts to sanitation services, especially since money for the Forest Hills Doe Fund, which paid private workers to clean the commercial area around Austin Street, has run out.

"The diminishing of sanitation services is tremendously bad for morale," she said. "I believe that crime starts to increase when streets start to look dirty and seedy."

As a member of the board's transportation committee who commutes to work by subway, Croce plans to push for the installation of a better ventilation system at the Continental Avenue subway station, which has reached up to 107 degrees during summer, she said.

All three board members said they are looking forward to working with the energetic, dedicated members of CB 6 and making a difference in the community.

"This is actually one of the most active and vocal boards in the city," Katz told new members. "You're in for an exciting time."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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