Gingerbread Players to bring second edition of ‘Shakespeare-aoke’ to Forest Hills

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By Julia Moro

TimesLedger Newspapers

The Queens theatre company Gingerbread Players is preparing for its second edition of “Shakespeare-aoke! The Ultimate Shakespearience,” at St. Luke’s Church in Forest Hills on June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

The night features short performances from members of the community who wish to recite, read or act out one of Shakespeare’s many works.

The event was originally put on to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. With the huge turnout and the noticeable appreciation of Shakespeare, the Gingerbread Players decided to hold this event again.

“Open mike is such a popular thing these days, karaoke is really big, and I thought why should it only be for pop music. Why can’t we do something where people can come and perform without committing to the burden of regular rehearsal schedules?” asked Louise Guinther, co-ordinator of the event and a member of the troupe.

John Fallon, a member of St. Luke’s Parish, performed at the first “Shakespeare-aoke.” He said that he enjoys the freedom of the open mike since you get to choose what to perform and how to perform it.

“To me, it’s very New York” said Fallon.

On top of the Shakespearean performances, the food and refreshments will also follow the same Elizabethan-era theme. The refreshments are included in the admission price of $10 to reserve a spot to perform and $5 to come in and watch the show.

For more information, visit the website,

Reach reporter Julia Moro by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4574.

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With time running out in Albany, Peralta urges passage of school zone speed camera program

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

With the legislative session in Albany scheduled to end June 20, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) rallied with colleagues and Safe Streets advocates urging passage of his bill that would expand and extend the New York City school zone speed camera program. The proposal would add 150 monitoring devices to the current 140 speed safety cameras operating under a pilot program approved in 2013.

The program is set to expire next month unless the Legislature acts within the next five session days on the schedule. Only 7 percent of public schools in the five boroughs currently benefit from the life-saving technology, which reduces speeding by 63 percent and lowers pedestrian injuries by 23 percent at locations where they have been installed, according to the city Department of Transportation.

“This is about protecting children. Who does not want to protect children? Who does not want to save lives?” Peralta said. “We need to ensure streets are safe when New York City schoolchildren travel to and from school every day. My bill will make city street safer for kids. If we do not act, the cameras will go away in July and our kids will return to unsafe streets when they go back to school in September.”

Peralta’s bill would enable 290 speed cameras to operate within a quarter mile from a designated school, beginning one hour before and running until one hour after a school day. Devices would also be operational during student activities and up to 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after the activities. Additionally, Peralta’s proposal calls for the installation of warning signs within 300 feet of a monitoring device, and prohibits the installation of a camera within 300 feet of a highway exit ramp.

“The school year is about to end, but that’s no excuse for reckless driving that could end life,” state Sen. James Sanders (D-S. Ozone Park) said. “An expansion of the school speed camera program will cut down speeding, and save lives on city streets. Drivers will think twice about speeding and disobeying traffic laws by schools when they spot the cameras and the warning signs. Those that don’t … their vehicles will have cameras snap their picture and be finalized with a fine.”

On June 7, the City Council approved the home rule request required for the state Legislature to pass the bill. Peralta hopes his legislation is debated and voted on before the session ends. The bill has 33 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, which is more than enough for the Senate to pass the bill.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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The 2016 election shows how future presidential campaigns will be run

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By William Lewis

TimesLedger Newspapers

Most of our presidents in recent times came from state governorships or the U.S. Senate.

A governor, once elected, can get support from other states which will help him gain momentum toward achieving the nomination of his political party. It can also be said that a candidate elected to the U.S. Senate will have six years to work on getting his party’s nomination for president. Ronald Reagan served as governor of California and he was able to use that as a base of support for achieving support in other key areas. Barack Obama was elected to a six-year term in the U.S. Senate, so he had all that time to plan on getting the Democratic endorsement for president.

In the case of Donald Trump, he had huge financial resources at his disposal and excellent name recognition all over our country. He had the reputation as a successful businessman, although that was not always the case. Trump was also an excellent public speaker and had a type of political charisma that appealed to the voters. One thing that had not been looked into by the news media, it would seem, are the rallies that accompanied Trump’s campaign and appearances. He had these rallies at almost every major campaign appearance. We can say it started with his first political rally in Alabama when he had over 30,000 people attending the rally. It was noted then that Trump would be a serious candidate.

When we compare Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in terms of campaign appearances, Trump had thousands of people at every major rally, while Hillary Clinton had hundreds of people at her campaign rallies. For Trump, the last rally he had was in Pennsylvania the night before the general election. At that rally he had over 20,000 people and the following day he carried Pennsylvania, in addition to most of the major battleground states.

Donald Trump ran against 16 different candidates in the primaries, many of them former governors and U.S. senators, and he was able to prevail and gained the nomination. That year was the time when some labor groups switched their support from the Democrat to the Republican candidate, and it showed in the final election. These rallies gave the impression of a winning candidate to the people watching. Again, these rallies were a mark of success and played a major role in Trump winning most of the important states.

These rallies also brought many campaign workers to Trump’s side. What was important about these campaign workers was that most of them seemed to have a high degree of enthusiasm for their candidate, and worked hard during the primaries. Hillary Clinton’s campaign organization did not have the degree of enthusiasm that Trump’s did. As indicated, we’ve had mostly governors and U.S. senators become president during the last 50 years. We now have elected a candidate who has a reputation for being successful in business and finance.

Trump has spoken about the social issues more so than has been done by other Republican candidates for president in the past. Campaign rallies will more than likely become a political fixture during presidential campaign appearances in the future.

The 2016 election is an example of what we will see in future presidential campaigns.

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Corona family celebrates life of infant son after his death

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By Tammy Scileppi

TimesLedger Newspapers

Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. A local mom who lost her baby to a prenatal condition yearned to help other grieving parents dealing with a newborn’s passing.

Through her grief, Corona resident Elizabeth Ortiz came up with a meaningful gesture to honor her beloved son Ellisander’s memory. She called her project “Ellisbearyloved” and is hoping to spread love and emotional support by sending special boxes filled with comforting items to those families across the United States this month to remember little warriors – babies who fought to meet their families and just couldn’t fight any longer.

The boxes will be filled with journals, pens, pencils, custom bracelets, candles, organic lotions and body scrubs that were donated by Moon Meadow Naturals — a Queens start-up — as well as a teddy bear, a book of quotes and a list of songs that helped Ortiz through the grieving process. Personal letters written to the families about her journey and story will be included.

Elizabeth trying to raise enough funds on GoFundMe, to help with shipping costs for the boxes. And a nonprofit is also in the works.

Coming home empty-handed from the hospital after Ellisander’s death left a permanent hole in his mother’s soul. Though her heart was broken, she was able to cope, thanks to her family’s support and her faith. She said she felt comforted by her belief that after her baby’s terrible ordeal, he would now rest safely and peacefully in heaven.

Born June 26, 2017, Ellisander came into the world with a prenatal defect called omphalocele. The tiny, four-pound infant fought hard to live, but was unable to do so. He died in his mother’s arms on July 4.

While the family grieved, their thoughts would gradually turn to helping others.

Elizabeth Ortiz was grateful for the opportunity to share her story. “At 13 weeks I went to my OBGYN and they informed me that my son may have gastroschisis,” she said.

Gastroschisis is a birth defect of the abdominal wall which causes the baby’s intestines form outside of its body, exiting through a hole beside the belly button.

“I was a bit scared but remained calm and saw a high-risk doctor. I asked God to please give me a sign that my son will be okay and that he will survive this,” Elizabeth said. “During the sonogram at 13 weeks, he flipped three times. I had been feeling movements since he was 10 weeks, but seeing him do backflips was amazing. I knew then and there that my boy was going to be OK.”

Then she got the news.

“They confirmed that my son had gastroschisis. They were very respectful and asked if I would like to terminate but supported me either way. I immediately said ‘no way’ and cried,” Elizabeth said.

She did some research and found some hope, as there were good survival rates associated with the defect. But after another few weeks, doctors told her the baby’s liver was outside the body, as well.

“They informed me that now it was called omphalocele, a type of abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, liver and occasionally other organs remain outside of the abdomen in a sac because of a defect in the development of the muscles of the abdominal wall,” Elizabeth said, noting that while the survival rate is less then that of gastroschisis, many infants do survive.

After 33 weeks, Ellisander was born.

“When they took my son out, I heard his cry. I was unable to see him immediately because of all his intestines being outside,” she said. “I had about 20 people in the room with me to take care of him and they told me they would try to do surgery to put his intestines back in, immediately, but I asked if I can see him first.”

When Elizabeth and her husband first saw Ellisander, he had a bag over his intestines to prevent infection.

“I was so happy to meet him and to know he was alive,” Elizabeth said. “On day seven, my son finally got to meet his little brother, who was sedated because they had to put his intestines in, but he kept pushing them back out of his body.”

Elizabeth had gone home to get some rest and found some comfort in a 1 a.m. phone call from doctors who let her know Ellisander was OK. She went back to sleep, but woke up later in a panic. She knew something was wrong and rushed to the hospital.

Doctors told Elizabeth that Ellisander’s intestines and liver turned entirely black and there was no chance of survival.

“I dropped to the floor and screamed. It was the worst moment of my entire life,” Elizabeth said. “My husband arrived a few minutes later, and he had to tell my son, Elias, that his brother is passing away. Hours passed, and doctors kept giving Ellisander medications and eventually several blood transfusions because he was bleeding out. Everyone left it up to me to pull the plug on my little baby boy.”

Elizabeth remained hopeful, but at 8 p.m., she decided to pull the plug.

“I have no clue how I survived that day, or the next,” she said. “I think about it and say to myself, ‘How did I get here? How did I not have a mental breakdown?’ All those times I just wanted to die. I woke up every day without one of my sons, but the only person who kept me whole was Elias. He kept me alive.”

Elizabeth said she will always hold a special bond with Ellisander, even with his death.

“Since the day he passed away I felt some kind of peace for about two months,” she said. “Something told me he was here with me, something kept me so peaceful. It was amazing the way I felt. I couldn’t explain it.

But moving on has proven to be difficult. Elizabeth had trouble leaving her home for a while, as going outside and seeing other babies served as a constant to reminder about her fallen angel.

“I felt lonely, sad and depressed,” she said. “Eventually as time passed, I kept picking myself up and began doing projects to honor Ellisander. I just did things day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I have no idea how.”

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. Now Elizabeth has new babies to look after. She gave birth May 2 to healthy twin baby girls.

“God blessed us twice more,” Elizabeth said.

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State Senate approves bill to create grant program for municipalities to hire veterans

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

Legislation that would create a grant program for municipalities that hire veterans has been approved by the state Senate.

The bill, S.3879, co-sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), would encourage local governments to hire former military members by creating a state grant program to cover parts of their salaries.

“New York has made progress in encouraging private employers to hire former servicemen and women through its Hire-A-Vet program, which provides tax credits to businesses that provide jobs for veterans,” said Addabbo, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs. “This new legislation goes further: offering state grants to municipalities that hire vets for local government jobs.”

Under the proposal, local governments that hire veterans for at least one year and for up to 35 hours a week would be eligible for the funding. Grants would range from up to $5,000 for a qualified veteran and up to $15,000 for a disabled veteran. Qualified veterans are those defined as those who served on active duty in any branch of the armed forces or state militia and who were honorably or generally discharged any time after Sept. 11, 2001. Eligible veterans must also begin working for the municipality between Jan. 1, 2019 and Jan. 1, 2021.

“While the employment picture has improved for many of our veterans, there are still many former servicemen and women seeking employment,” Addabbo said. “We already offer incentives to private businesses to hire veterans, and it makes good sense to provide grants to local governments that would benefit from the many talents and skills these military men and women bring to the table.”

Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it is under review by the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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Lefferts Boulevard Bridge Study Bill passes in state Legislature

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By Naeisha Rose

TimesLedger Newspapers

The Lefferts Boulevard Bridge Study Bill introduced in March by state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D-Flushing) passed in the state Legislature last week.

If the bill is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and enacted, it would direct the MTA Long Island Rail Road to conduct a feasibility study of rehabilitating the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge, which is in the heart of Kew Gardens between Austin and Grenfell streets, according to the elected officials.

“The Lefferts Boulevard Bridge is a gem of our borough and the epicenter of a thriving neighborhood,” Comrie said. “The LIRR will be held responsible for their mismanagement of the bridge structure.”

The Long Island Rail Road bridge was built 90 years ago and had become unsafe for residents and the 13 businesses surrounding it, according to the lawmakers. For years the community has criticized the lack of maintenance of the bridge and its crumbling infrastructure.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s initial reaction to the concerns of the residents was to knock down the organic food store, a fish market, Chinese takeout place and the other businesses in order to make room to rebuild the bridge, but community members want repairs instead of a demolishment, because they fear developers could get a hold of the space, pushing their favorite shops out.

The community fears that if the local businesses are destroyed, greedy developers will try to buy up the empty business lots instead of allowing the local businesses to return.

“The MTA felt it was better to replace it than to repair it,” said Murray Berger, the executive chairman of the Kew Gardens Civic Association.

After a May 24 meeting with the LIRR’s new president, Phillip Eng, Berger hopes that a possible study of the bridge could result in the MTA changing course with demolishing the bridge and the community’s request for a repair would be heard.

“After our last meeting with the new President Phillip Eng, we felt a lot better and we are hoping that he comes up with the right answers,” said Berger, but “I’m not optimistic until we accomplish our goals. We know we have the Senate and the Assembly behind us. We now need the governor and the MTA.”

If the bill passes, the MTA would have to do a feasibility study that weighs the costs and benefits of rehabilitating the bridge as an alternative to demolition and the economic impact of rehabilitation. They would also have to come up with a plan for preserving businesses above the bridge and the economic impact a demolition would have on other business near the bridge, according to the legislation.

“We would rather go right to repair and restore,” said Sylvia Hack, the president of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association. “We are happy our elected officials have done this and moved to make it clear to the MTA they are behind us — the bill passed 61 to nothing in the Senate and in the House 131 to four.”

The improvement association has already spoken to its own engineers about repairing the bridge without a demolition, according to Hack.

“Right now the Long Island Rail Road engineers are looking at different options and the bridge itself and we are going to be meeting with them at some point…to find out what they can do and how,” said Hack. Comrie and Rosenthal “worked hard to get this bill passed and written and… our issue is that we know what has to be done and we know what the issues are, we just want the [MTA] to go ahead and do the repair and restoration.”

Rosenthal wants the repair to get done, too.

“The future of the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge is of vital importance to our small business owners, residents and the entire Kew Gardens community,” said Rosenthal. “I look forward to continuing this fight to ensure that LIRR takes active measures to keep our bridge and neighborhood intact.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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From prisoner to CEO: Ex-con heads nonprofit organization

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By Julia Moro

TimesLedger Newspapers

John Valverde, of Woodside, was incarcerated at the age of 20 for manslaughter after killing a man who had allegedly raped his girlfriend. Valverde spent 16 years in prison. Now, he is the CEO of YouthBuild USA, a nonprofit organization, and has been awarded the Brian S. Fischer Achievement Award from Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison.

In honor of the former commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, the Brian S. Fischer Achievement Award is given annually to a leader who makes great strides to improve their own life and their community after being incarcerated. Fischer bestowed Valverde with the award at Hudson Link’s 20th anniversary event on May 17 in New York City.

In 1991, Valverde, at the age of 20, confronted Joel Schoenfeld, a photographer who reportedly raped his girlfriend. At point blank range, Valverde shot the man and killed him. Schoenfeld was on probation for two other sex offenses, according to police. Valverde’s girlfriend, who was 19 at the time had answered a newspaper ad in 1990 where Schoenfeld supposedly raped her at his studio. The assault was not reported at the time, the police said.

However, despite his mistakes, Valverde decided to transform his own life.

While Valverde spent over a decade in Sing Sing prison, he earned his master’s degree in Urban Ministry from the New York Theological Seminary, taught fellow inmates how to read and write and worked as an HIV/AIDS counselor. He also co-founded Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison in 1998 to provide support for individuals to make a positive impact on their lives, their families’ lives and the community. Hudson Link believes that in providing this support, it will result in lower rates of recidivism, incarceration and poverty.

“It is so special to us that we’re honoring John Valverde at this milestone in our organization’s history,” Sean Pica, executive director of Hudson Link, said. “Hundreds upon hundreds of Hudson Link students are directly connected not just to the work John did to launch this program 20 years ago, but also to the work that he is doing today for young people and the communities they live in. He truly inspires us by being a living example of what formerly incarcerated people can do to change the world for the better.”

Valverde was appointed to the role of CEO of YouthBuild USA in October 2016 and became the first previously incarcerated individual to lead a nonprofit with a global mission. At Hudson Link Valverde provides uneducated, unemployed youth from ages 16 to 24 in different countries an opportunity to rebuild their education to become skillful in the professional world and give back to the community.

“It is a true honor to receive the Brian S. Fischer Achievement Award from Hudson Link, an organization that is close to my heart,” Valverde said. “We must do all we can to create pathways that lead to a positive future for our leaders of tomorrow. Access to opportunity, a caring support system and commitment to self-development can help young adults overcome any barriers to rebuild their lives and their communities. While I have helped to address this need, there is plenty of work to be done.”

Reach reporter Julia Moro by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4574.

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Two Queens theaters receive grants from Shubert Foundation

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By Merle Exit

TimesLedger Newspapers

This year, the Shubert Foundation has awarded a record total of $30 million to 533 nonprofit performing arts organizations across the United States, including two from Queens.

Queens Theatre, located at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, received a grant of $40,000, while the Thalia Spanish Theatre, located at 41-17 Greenpoint Ave. in Sunnyside, was the recipient of a $10,000 grant.

“This year we are delighted to be offering support to 533 performing arts organizations all around the country,” Shubert Foundation President Michael I. Sovern said. “Our longstanding practice of providing help in the form of general operating support remains unchanged. We are convinced that talented artists and administrators are best able to decide how to use the funds we grant.”

Foundation Chairman Philip J. Smith said the foundation wants to help lift the financial burden to help organizations across the country focus on the production of “thought-provoking, relevant work for the widest possible audience.”

Funding from the Shubert Foundation is not by “invitation only” but rather on an open door basis. Nonprofit theaters are given an application and must meet their guidelines. Queens Theatre has been the recipient of funding since 1999, which has totaled $277,500.

“We are thrilled to have received this generous grant from the Shubert Foundation,” Queens Theatre’s Executive Director Taryn Sacramone said. “They have been a supporter of our Theatre Season for many years. The foundation is truly invested in the work — and impact — of their grantees; we are fortunate to be among them.”

Sacramone said funds are being allocated to the Mainstage Theatre Series, plays that Queens Theatre presents or produces.

Thalia’s executive director, Angel Gil Orrios, was thrilled to hear about the grant given to the theater, which has received a total of $140,000 in grant money since 1999.

“Shubert Foundation has always been supportive,” he said. “We are the first and only bilingual Hispanic theater in Queens and have already celebrated our 40th anniversary. Every month is Hispanic Heritage month.”

The company produces five productions each year. They have special events planned throughout June.

“During the month of June we host free outdoor festivals from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays at Noonan Playground, located a block away from the theatre,” Orrios said. Each year, guests visit the theatre from far-off locales as diverse as Spain, Uruguay, Per?, Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala.

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Mayor includes half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers in upcoming city budget

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By Mark Hallum

TimesLedger Newspapers

Mayor Bill de Blasio pleased transit advocates Monday by including Fair Fares, a half-priced MetroCard for low-income New Yorkers, in the upcoming city budget.

Up to $106 million from the Fiscal Year 2019 city budget will go toward providing reduced fares to people from households making less than $25,000 for a family of four.

“We need a city if someone strives to better themselves and get an education for their future that they can actually afford to get on the subway and get to that school, right? We need a city where a parent who’s making sure that their child gets the very best education can actually afford to take their child to school on the subway. That’s what we are going to work for,” de Blasio said. “The people of New York City pay and pay and pay for the MTA. It’s time for the state to come up with a real solution for the MTA and that’s what we are going to fight for next.”

Riders Alliance, the transit advocate group, has been rallying for the city to adopt Fair Fares since April 2016 and celebrated the allocation of $106 million, although the original call was for $220 million in funds for the program.

“The Fair Fares program is a huge achievement, not only for the hundreds of thousands of people who will benefit directly but for every New Yorker who cares about living in a fair and inclusive community. In our city, geographic mobility is economic mobility, too,” Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said. “New Yorkers can get ahead, but only if they can get around. For too long, our transit system has been priced out of reach for the New Yorkers who need it most, and our entire city has suffered as a result. Fair Fares is an enormous step toward addressing that problem.”

Carl Stubbs, a community leader at VOCAL-NY, which advocates for low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs, mass incarceration and homelessness, said the program will also help him get to doctors’ appointments and stay connected with his family.

“Everyone should have access to public transportation. I live in Flushing, Queens, and many of my neighbors are struggling just to get by. New York City is a big place and I have to use the train to get around. I actually already have a discounted MetroCard that I receive because of my disability. It’s helped me and more people should have access to this benefit. I use the train and buses to go to doctors’ appointments, visit my daughter and grandkids in the Bronx and to go to VOCAL-NY to build power for change. If it wasn’t for my reduced fare MetroCard, I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things,” Stubbs said.

City Council Speaker Cory Johnson (D-Manhattan) supported the plan alongside City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).

“Fair Fares will open up this city to New Yorkers living in poverty and allow them to take advantage of professional and educational opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them. This is an investment in our friends and neighbors who struggle between paying the rent and commuting to work,” Johnson said.

The budget is expected to be passed in the coming week.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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Bayside teen has been missing since Friday: NYPD

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By Steven Goodstein

TimesLedger Newspapers

The 111th Precinct is on the lookout for a teenager from Bayside who has been missing since Friday.

Mare Andre, 17, was last seen leaving her Bayside home on 215th Street at about 1 p.m. Friday, June 15. Police described as Andre as Hispanic, 4 feet 11 inches tall and 150 pounds.

She was last seen wearing green pants and a green shirt, according to authorities.

Anyone with information pertaining to Andre’s whereabouts is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at (800) 577-TIPS or (888) 57-PISTA for Spanish.

Reach Steven Goodstein by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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