On October 10, the Queens Chamber of Commerce will honor four remarkable individuals at its annual Business Person of the Year awards at Terrace on the Park.
This year’s Hall of Fame honoree is John Catsimatidis, president and CEO of Red Apple Group.
“I ran for mayor in 2013, and I don’t know if I’ll run for mayor again, but the one thing I found out when I was running was how many neighborhoods there were and how many great people there are in the outer boroughs,” Catsimatidis said of being honored. “Once in a while, I’ve got to get out of this ivory tower and go to the outer boroughs and hug a few people.”
The other honorees are Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, founder and executive director of Hour Children, Nick Tziazas, president of Lyons Mortgage Services, Inc., and Christopher Horch, associate partner at JB&B.
Fitzgerald said she’s humbled by the recognition, but ultimately, “it’s not about me.”
“It’s for the mission,” she said. “I will stand there representing all of the people here who make life go and work. Especially the women whose lives are serviced, I do it for them.”
Horch said he has a fast-growing relationship with the chamber and fits well with their culture.
“I grew up in the Midwest, so we’re not used to accolades and things of that nature,” Horch said. “To be honest, it’s humbling. It’s very exciting, and I’m very appreciative of it.”
Tziazas credited the support of his family for helping him achieve everything he has for the community.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “My wife, Kalina, and two kids, Nicholas and Kristal, have been great supporters for me.
“It makes me feel good, but I don’t want to make this award all about me,” he said. “I’m a strong believer in teamwork. I owe a lot to my partners George Sophocleous, Edith O’Donnell and the entire staff, many who’ve been with Lyons for a long time.”
BY BENJAMIN FANG
Tucked away in the basement of a nondescript building across the street from the Ravenswood Houses is the modest but welcoming office for Hour Children.
The Long Island City-based nonprofit organization provides comprehensive services for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children, with the goal of achieving independence. Their programs range from mentoring and social work to housing and job training.
Hour Children’s reach goes well beyond the borders of Queens. The organization, which started in 1986, was born out of a need to house children who were not able to visit their mothers at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison for women in Westchester County.
Sister Tesa Fitzgerald and four other sisters of St. Joseph worked with Sister Elaine Roulet, a trailblazing prison reform leader who created programs connecting incarcerated mothers and their children at Bedford Hills.
Fitzgerald, the founder and executive director of Hour Children, left the formal world of education, where she was a principal and a teacher, to make this work her life’s mission.
“I couldn’t imagine what happened to children when their mother’s taken suddenly out of their lives,” she said.
Fitzgerald took a vacant convent, cleaned it up and brought in several young children whose mothers were at Bedford Hills. Three of the children were just one year old, and their pictures still hang on her office’s walls today.
Eventually, the house took in more children, including teenagers. During the week, and sometimes on weekends, the sisters brought the kids up to Bedford Hills to visit their mothers.
It was during those visits that Fitzgerald decided to take the next step, and incorporated Hour Children as a nonprofit in 1992.
“When I met the women, their mothers, face to face, and talked and heard their lives, I said I have to do more,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s one thing to feel empathy, but I really believed in doing something.”