LaGuardia Community College and Council Member Julie Won Co-host a Celebration of the Power of Women

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY (March 24, 2023) — This morning, Council Member Julie Won (26th District) and  LaGuardia Community College/CUNY President Kenneth Adams held a special event at the LaGuardia campus in Long Island City in honor of Women’s History Month. At the event, themed “Celebrating the Power of Women,” eight women from the Queens community, including three honorees from LaGuardia, were recognized for their selfless dedication, commitment to community service, and hard work.

“I’m honored to co-host this Women’s History Month celebration with LaGuardia Community College to recognize the achievements of eight amazing women who dedicate their time to serving our neighbors. 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 in community organizing, government, and education,” said Council Member Julie Won. “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 putting this event together.”

“The women honored today selflessly serve Queens communities on many levels that include elder care, housing, education, and community outreach,” said President Adams. “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.”

This year’s honorees (in alphabetical order) are:

Claudia Baldonedo, is the Director of Youth Workforce Development Initiatives and Adjunct Associate Professor of Business Technology at LaGuardia. For more than 40 years, Baldonedo has designed and implemented educational, vocational skills training, and support programs designed to meet the educational and workforce development needs of unemployed and underemployed workers of Queens. Over the years, her main purpose has been to assist students, youth and immigrant populations to enter and advance in the workplace. Baldonedo leads LaGuardia’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which has impacted the lives and work paths of thousands of youth across NYC for the past 25+ years. Under her supervision, the development of partnerships and collaborative relationships with community-based organizations and public institutions, have leveraged more than $100 million in grants and contracts to support educational and workforce development initiatives.

Baldonedo says one of the biggest challenges women face today is navigating career and motherhood. “Yes, I have faced this challenge head-on,” said Baldonedo, who is the mother of five children. “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 my children are grown, college graduates and have successful lives of their own.” Baldonedo says she could not have done this alone. “I must not neglect to mention, that I had a very supportive spouse,” she said. “If he was alive today, I think he would say, ‘job well done.’”

Baldonedo has worked closely with colleagues in other CUNY institutions in Queens, and with organizations including the Langston Hughes Public Library, the Queen Health Network, Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Inc. and Sunnyside Home Care Project to serve over 100,000 NYC residents. Baldonedo, who resides in Brooklyn, sits on many Boards of organizations throughout NYC including Youthbridge New York and Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Baldonedo is most proud of the work accomplished in the New York City training and education arenas as a teacher, grants writer, counselor, mentor, advisor, consultant and activist. Claudia is an active member of Chabad Synagogue in Crown Heights. She is a mother of five children, 2 boys and three girls, one of whom graduated from LaGuardia in 2022.

Adriana Beltran-Morelli, Deputy Director of Woodside on the Move, has a long and illustrious record of public service to the communities in Council District 26 and beyond, working to empower immigrant, low-income communities and historically marginalized communities in Woodside, Queens. Through her work with Woodside on the Move, Beltran-Morelli champions the empowerment of the Central and South American immigrant communities. Beltran-Morelli immigrated to the United States, continuing her education at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens and Baruch College, where she began her journey as a grassroots activist. Beltran-Morelli has been active in the community from her student days to her tenure as the Deputy Director for Woodside on the Move. She has a mission to ensure that all immigrants and lower-income communities can access necessary and lifesaving resources despite cultural, linguistic, or technological barriers. At Woodside on the Move, Beltran-Morelli managed holistic programming for youth in schools and public safety programming. She builds long-lasting relationships with community-based organizations and faith-based institutions. Beltran-Morelli’s work is instrumental in ensuring that our Woodside communities thrived despite the many social barriers that COVID-19 pandemic made even worse.

Judith Brown Fears, Community Coordinator with Community Capacity Development, has helped empower youth, low-income communities of color, and the residents of the NYCHA Queensbridge, Ravenswood, and Woodside Houses. Her focus is education, public safety, and women’s rights. Fears began as a program manager at the YMCA of Greater Atlanta, the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, and the Harlem Commonwealth Council. A graduate of Clark Atlanta University, Fears is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Walden University; and in 2021, Fears became the New York City Community Coordinator for Community Capacity Development, a nonprofit the mission of which is to uproot the systemic challenges facing marginalized communities of color. A champion for social justice, public safety, and youth empowerment, Fears has built long-lasting relationships with other community-based organizations and faith-based institutions. She has worked to enhance public safety measures in a holistic matter and to ensure that the basic human needs of historically marginalized communities are met; and as an effective community organizer, Fears ensures that critical behavioral and cultural changes are implemented and evaluated citywide through the Community Capacity Development’s community engagement programs.

Loretta Capuano-Vella, Director of the Student Information Center at LaGuardia, is a first-generation American and a first-generation college graduate. Capuano-Vella said she had to persuade her parents to let her go to college and soon had to learn how to take the steps to get in and succeed. Capuano-Vella admits that in her own college experience, she had quite a few bumps but made it through. Capuano-Vella said her experience helped her decide she wanted to help other students attain their goals. “My main driving force is helping students navigate the college system and giving them keys’ to student success,” Capuano-Vella said. “Students continue to inspire and energize me.”

Capuano-Vella joined LaGuardia in September 1995, and since then, she has served in many roles that include: Special Projects/Assistant to the Dean/Vice-President; Coordinator of Enrollment Services; Acting Director of Educational Planning and Testing; and Coordinator of CUNYfirst Registration Support. Since 2003, Capuano-Vella has served as the Director of the Student Information Center (SIC).

“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 Senate, and experiencing shared governance in-action. I am looking forward to what the future brings to LaGuardia.”

Courtney Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of Little Essentials, graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Union University, where she began her journey as an activist for youth and families who experienced barriers in the education system. As a teacher, assistant principal, and principal for the public schools, Crawford hoped that all individuals can access resources despite cultural, linguistic, or technological barriers. Crawford has a strong record of community service in Council District 26 and the rest of the city, and she has helped empower our youth through education and community organizing. As CEO for Little Essentials, Crawford champions the empowerment of youth and low-income communities by providing essential children’s supplies to families living in poverty. She helps provide the necessary resources for youth living in poverty to thrive, which is critical in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic; and Crawford helps build long-lasting relationships with low-income and historically marginalized communities in all five boroughs. She is an effective advocate for youth, because she focuses on breaking socioeconomic barriers in education for historically marginalized communities. Crawford joined Queens Community Board 1, where she has served as Vice Chair for the Parks, Recreation, and Culture Committee.

Pema Genkhang, Queens Regional Director with State Comptroller’s Office, has a strong record of community service in Council District 26 and beyond. She has helped to empower low-income, immigrant communities, communities of color, and historically marginalized communities in Queens and the rest of the city. Working for State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, she champions the empowerment of the immigrant and Himalayan communities. Genkhang’s personal experience as the daughter of Tibetan refugees informs her work in government; and she has been active in the community since arriving in this country. Genkhang strives to ensure that all immigrants and lower-income communities can access necessary and lifesaving resources despite cultural, linguistic, economic, or technological barriers. As the Queens Regional Director for the Comptroller’s Office of Intergovernmental & Community Affairs, Genkhang facilitates engagement with community organizations, key stakeholders, government agencies, and elected officials, helping build long-lasting relationships with significant community stakeholders. She has been instrumental in ensuring that the Tibetan community is adequately represented.

Shahenaz Hamde is the Program Director at Ravenswood Senior Center with HANAC. After immigrating to the United States, Hamde continued her education at Queens College, where she began her journey as a grassroots activist. She helps empower immigrant, low-income communities of color, as well as older adult residents of our local NYCHA developments. She ensures that all individuals can access resources despite cultural, linguistic, or technological barriers. Hamde has built long-lasting relationships with community- and faith-based organizations; and she has been active in the community from her student days to her career at the social services organization HANAC. She handles nuanced health and wellness programming at the Center. Hamde’s work has been instrumental in ensuring that the basic human needs of our older adults are met, which was critical at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Center distributed food and organized virtual programming. Her work helps enable older adults living in Ravenswood and Astoria to thrive; and in her neighborhood, Hamde serves as Vice Chair for the Queens Community Board 1 Parks, Recreation, and Culture Committee.

Wen (Wendy) Ren, financial specialist with LaGuardia’s Budget Office, originally from Shanghai, China, came to the United States in 1990. Ren said arriving to New York City opened her eyes to a world of opportunity for her and her family. “When I first came to New York City, I was like, ‘this is amazing! There are so many big buildings,” she said. “Now, Shanghai has changed. I got back to see my family. My parents and older brother have come to see me in New York City.”

She has been a member of the LaGuardia community since 1999. She worked in the Accounting Office from 1999-2015 and has been in the Budget Office since 2015. Wen’s primary responsibilities include assisting the budget director on managing the college budget and working with colleagues. Ren takes pride in overseeing the creation, analysis and distribution of the College Wide Financial statements; ensuring the college’s allocations are distributed timely and acting as a liaison at times with the Central Budget Office. “LaGuardia is like a family. People are so nice and we have a great team to work together and get the job done.”

“It’s wonderful to have our voices heard,” Ren said. “Women have more opportunities to express themselves. 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.” Wendy has a son and lives in Jamaica Queens.

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LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC), a Hispanic-Serving Institution, located in Long Island City, Queens offers more than 50 degrees and certificates, and more than 65 continuing education programs to educate New Yorkers seeking new skills and careers. As an institution of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his advocacy of underserved populations. Since 1971, LaGuardia’s academic programs and support services have advanced the socioeconomic mobility of students while providing them with access to a high quality, affordable college education.


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