Queens boasts residents from 120 countries who speak more than 135 languages and it celebrates its immigrant diversity.
In this unique borough, the Queens Ambassador Awards—sponsored by Caribbean Life’s sister Times Ledger newspapers—recognized and honored the invaluable contributions of its immigrants. Last week’s Awards ceremony at LaGuardia Plaza Hotel brought together honorees, families and friends in an event that rivals the United Nations.
One awardee is a relative newcomer, some have been here for decades; the oldest recipient proudly announced she was 80. From business, medicine, the arts, helping professions and educators, these celebrated immigrants contribute in all sorts of ways. Five of the 24 honorees hailed from the Caribbean.
Haitian-born Elsie Saint Louis accepted her award with her mother and daughter as well as colleagues cheering her on. For 13 years, Saint Louis has been the director of the Cambria Heights-based Haitian American United for Progress. In her acceptance speech Saint Louis made a point how important it is to pass on knowledge as well as include young people in programming and leadership in order to provide continuity in this sort of work. Multi-service HAUP is an agency open to the whole community with its adult education, legal services, health programs, and services for the mentally disabled, youth services and immigrant/refugee assistance and universal pre-K.
Honoree Jamaican-born Annette M. Hurd Runcie operates upscale fusion restaurant Pa-Nash Restaurant in southeast Queens; it opened in 2013. Particularly proud of the Y.E.S. program she founded, she spoke about the non-profit that provides business, professional, social etiquette workshops, internships, mentorship and scholarships for youth in the community.
Dominican taekwondo pro Sandy Arias arrived 13 years ago. Having practiced the martial arts since he was six in his home country and a member of the National Team before his emigration, he turned a small storefront in Woodside into a taekwondo academy. “I work with my students on discipline, self-confidence, mental and physical well-being,” he says, of the sport’s value. His program includes local, state and national travel to competitions where his students always return with a slew of medals.
Nadine Grigsby relocated from Trinidad and Tobago preceding her family by five years to advance her education. After working in non-profit world and having two children, she opened the Great Start Early Learning Program. She says, “I know that early childhood education impacts children’s entire future.” She also formed the Southeast Queens Daycare Association, for local day-care providers to share techniques and resources. Competing as Mrs. Queens in the Mrs. New York State pageant, she says, “I make early childhood development my pageantry platform.”
Parker Sarabjeet has been working since his emigration from Guyana at the age of 16. At the age of 42, he began to volunteer at the food pantry The River Fund. This turned into a calling and a staff position as logistics manager. He is responsible for the warehouse, deliveries, inventory tracking, and scheduling. He says, “What is important to me is helping people learn something new every day and helping them to get in touch with their own resources.”
Caribbean-born awardees proudly took their place among the stellar immigrants in a joyous evening acknowledging their hard work in becoming a part of America.