Oct. 4, 2023 By Bill Parry
The Canadian hydroelectric company that is constructing a $6 billion clean energy transmission line to a converter station in Astoria is also building a strong bond with the western Queens community.
During a visit to a school near the Astoria Houses last winter, Hydro-Quebec Energy Services COO Serge Abergel saw a bulletin board that addressed the impact of absenteeism at the elementary school and, weeks later, he helped launch a new initiative to ensure students could focus on school rather than worrying about their clothes. The early results were so encouraging that Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) and Zone 126 are already expanding the program that provides free laundry service for western Queens families in need. After just three months the program showed a 12% increase in school attendance for participating students.
Launched in February, as part of the Zone 126 Neighborhood Community Schools efforts at P.S. 171Q, the initiative provided thirty families in Astoria and Long Island City with free laundry services for a year. The expansion will now include an additional 75 middle school and high school families, bringing the total to 125.
“We’re so proud to see the measurable positive results of students attending school more often after we launched the laundry program earlier this year,” Abergel said. “This has been a great success in terms of helping families reduce student absenteeism, ensuring continued learning and development.”
Zone 126 is a community-based nonprofit organization formed in 2011 to combat generational poverty in three western Queens Zip codes which are home to the Astoria, Ravenswood and Queensbridge Houses. Using a collective impact framework, Zone 126’s role has been to convene local organizations, schools, families and others to attract resources to neighborhoods often forgotten. Zone 126 executive director Dr. Anju J. Rupchandani said she was thrilled to make the announcement with Abergel during Long Island City High School’s Family Night on Sept. 28
“I cannot thank CHPE and Hydro-Quebec enough for their commitment to supporting our organization and our local schools in combating chronic absenteeism,” she said. “To have these two groups see a challenge such as clean clothes being a barrier to student attendance and commit to being a partner in this work and look to expand what works, is the definition of partnership success. I could not be more thrilled today to be announcing the expansion here at Long Island City High School, our flagship school where we have close to 2,000 young people, a quarter of whom reside in NYCHA public housing or local shelters. This is going to be a game changer we feel in terms of student attendance for our young people and their families.”
Zone 126 is partnering with 14th Street Laundry owner Demetrios Vasiadis to expand the service.
“This will extend the program’s mission by ensuring that laundry is one less thing for their students to worry about,” Vasiadis said. “With the addition of Long Island City High School, Laundry Zone 126 is now serving an even broader and more diverse community and we look forward to building lasting relationships with the students, staff and families of this outstanding school.”
Long Island City High School Principal Vivian Selenikas added that the extension of the initiative — now officially known as the SUDZ for School Success Laundry Program — will have a profound impact on the community.
“Civil rights icon John Lewis said, ‘When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up.’ I am so thrilled that Hydro-Quebec and Champlain Hudson Power Express have joined the Long Island City High School family to speak up and support our students and families,” Selenikas said. “As the principal of a large comprehensive high school located in Long Island City with three large public housing developments and more than 30 shelters within the area, the committed investment to support the SUDZ for School Success Laundry program is to be applauded. HQ and CHPE have committed to the northwestern Queens community and to championing the importance of every student attending our school every day. I know this critical resource will help to alleviate the stress some of our families might feel due to the current unfair economic conditions. Thank you to our lead Community Based Organization, Zone 126 for hearing the needs of our families through our home visits and working to eliminate the barriers that can prevent our young people from attending school.”
Urban Upbound co-founder and CEO Bishop Mitchell Taylor applauded CPHE and Zone 126 for taking a “crucial step toward building a more equitable and inclusive educational environment” with the expansion.
“This expansion represents a commitment to breaking down barriers to education and supporting our community’s most vulnerable students,” he said. “We understand the power of dignity and how it can transform a child’s educational journey, and increase their chances for future success. Every child deserves an educational path unburdened by the challenges of clean clothes.”
Champlain Hudson Power Express involves the construction of a 339-mile underground transmission line that will bring clean energy from Canada to Astoria.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards praised the partnership between CHPE and Zone 126.
“Ensuring our kids have the tools they need to succeed in school goes far beyond the walls of the classroom. It means helping students overcome whatever hard times their families may have fallen on and still feel ready to take on the school day,” Richards said. “That’s what the Champlain Hudson Power Express and Zone 126’s free laundry service program has been doing for months, and I’m thrilled to see the program expand to include 75 more local families. Efforts like these improve educational and emotional outcomes for our students more than we can quantify and I look forward to working with our partners to ensure that continues.”