Roman Baca is a Marine Iraq War veteran and the Artistic Director of Exit 12 Dance Company. Exit 12 is a contemporary dance company, committed to creating and performing works of high cultural significance that inspire conversations about worldly differences, and the lasting effects of violence and conflict on communities, families and individuals. Through movement, Exit 12 educates audiences about the reality of war, advocates diversity and mutual understanding through cultural exchange, and champions the humanity and dignity of all people.
Rachel Thieme has served as the Executive Director of the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District in Sunnyside, Queens since 2012. In this role, she works with business and property owners to promote, beautify and enhance the Sunnyside commercial district.
Under her leadership, the organization has collaborated with a variety of community partners to revitalize two areas under the elevated 7 train and transform them into welcoming public plazas.
Mr. John D. Smith, Sr. is 86 years young and a long-time engaged and committed resident leader in the Queensbridge, Long Island City area. He is a veteran and a great-great-grand father who continues to serve as a role model for the generations that have followed him. He has been living in the New York City Housing Authority’s Queensbridge development for over 60 years.
Judy Zangwill started her career at Sunnyside Community Services (SCS) in 1986 as Associate Executive Director and became Executive Director in 1990. Integral to SCS’s growth and development, she now oversees three corporations providing community services and home care, serving constituents from toddlers to the elderly. SCS has more than 130 in-house staff , 2,000 home care workers and field staff , and more than 400 volunteers. Her vision for SCS is in line with that of the settlement house movement, which SCS joined in 1989 – a center where everyone in the diverse communities of Queens can feel welcome and find support and services to meet their families’ needs.
Robert (Bob) Danke and his wife Loretta are lifelong residents of Astoria, Queens. World War II broke out when Bob was just 17 years old. Bob was too young to enlist in the service without his father’s signature on a form granting him permission, but that did not stop him from serving his country. In fact, Bob’s dad would also enlist just a few months later, although he was 50 at the time.
Taryn Sacramone has been the executive director at the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC), a nonprofit performing arts organization in Queens, since 2005. During her tenure, APAC has received 21 New York Innovative Theatre Award nominations and four wins, as well as the 2012 IT Awards Caffe Cino Fellowship, given to an Off Off Broadway theater company that consistently produces outstanding work.
Sheila Lewandowski believes in the ability of all individuals to contribute to the betterment of their local and global communities in ways big and small.
A resident of Long Island City, Ms. Lewandowski is co-founder and executive director of The Chocolate Factory Theater. Through her leadership, the theater has supported over 800 artists and as many as 35,000 visitors since opening its doors in 2004. In addition, Ms. Lewandowski instituted the annual Taste of Long Island City as an economic and community development project, the proceeds of which further the work of The Chocolate Factory’s artists each year.