Top 15 Kickstarters

In this issue of It’s Queens, we rank the Top 15 Kickstarters in the borough. What exactly is a Kickstarter? It’s a person who takes an idea – whether it be for a nonprofit, a worthwhile after-school program, or a community minded business – and takes it upon themselves to get the proverbial ball rolling. Their drive and passion has a ripple effect on the people around them, motivating and helping others to better their lives or search for ways they, too, can make a difference. Everybody on our It’s List this issue is pushing themselves to make Queens a better place.

#15 Have Van, Will Tour

Doris Rivera del Valle
Borough Excursions Founder
After moving to Flushing five years ago from Boston, Doris Rivera del Valle was amazed by all the interesting and fun activities Queens had to offer. After taking weekend exploratory trips with her daughter to the Queens Zoo, other parks, and museums around the borough, del Valle decided she wanted to become a tour guide. “I was new to Queens and was really amazed by all
the cool things there are to do,” del Valle recently told It’s Queens. She took a course to learn how to set up a business plan and a website and entered a contest hosted by the Queens economic Development Corporation. Upon winning first prize in April 2011, del Valle was awarded money to start up her own tour guide business, along with a membership to the Queens Chamber of Commerce. After taking some more classes as
part of the competition and navigating her way through business law jargon, Borough Excursions was born. Armed with a 14-passenger van, del Valle takes groups of visitors and inquisitive residents to different sites in Queens. For example, she takes them to shop in Rego Park, to check out Kauffman Studios in Astoria, or to see the Panorama at the Queens Museum of Art. She said participants get a kick out of seeing
George Costanza’s fictional boyhood home in Astoria and other celebrity sites. Her business is advertised to tourists at their hotels and on her website,

#14 A Dream Come True

Delicia Davis Burrell
Dream Dance Studio Owner
Delicia Davis Burrell’s dream came true when she cut the ribbon on Dream Dance Studio in St. Alban’s earlier this year. For the 25-year-old dancer and Laurelton resident, who grew up in the performing arts arena studying not only dance, but also drama, it was a proud moment. After consulting for various dance groups around New York, Burrell felt it was time to bring it all under one roof where she could build young talent. “When I was growing up taking dance classes it was very, very competitive and if you weren’t already at the top, you just were shut out,” she said. “This is a place where you can strive for excellence whether you or someone else thinks you have it or not.” Every December and June, students will star in their own choreographed shows. Burrell also plans to form core groups that do high-profile performances in the future. For this kickstarter, there was no doubt she would follow her “dream.”

#13 Tattoo You

Lisa Nikolopoulos
Tattoo Shop Owner
From her Astoria-based shop, Bleeding Image owner Lisa Nikolopoulos is starting a tattoo revolution in New York City. She opened her shop, located at 42-17 35th Avenue, to give herself space to explore her own artistic style, Nikolopoulos said. Now she focuses mainly on new-school, brightly-colored tattoos, portraits and realism. Although, she fulfills a lot of surrealistic requests, as well, she said. Her colorful art sets her apart from the rest of New York City’s artists, who focus mainly on old school, black and white styles. In addition, she said there is a problem with many tattooers not being artists in the first place, which results in poorly done work, leading to the hatred of tattoos by confused and disconcerted parents. Many artists are also only interested in the money, Nikolopoulos said, which is not her style. “I think that if you really wanna make money you have to make a difference,” Nikolopoulos recently told It’s Queens. “And if you’re going to be an artist, you really have to take a stance and really put your 100 percent into it.” Nikolopoulos wants to bring the color usage that’s more common in California and the South to the greyscaled tattooing world of New York City. She said her goal is to be known as a color specialist. “I want to show people that there are different possibilities, they just haven’t seen it,” she said. “That’s what drives me, really.”

#12 Healthy Outlook

Kevin Charlotten
Q Care Affordable Owner
In a world where the relationship between doctor and patient is often detached, Doctor Kevin Charlotten offers residents of Elmhurst and surrounding areas an alternative option: a “’medical home.’” Charlotten started Q-Care Affordable Medical Care PLLC, located at 47-50 78th Street in apartments 102 and 103, which serves as a clinic and local doctor’s office. The center combines a personal feel with budget-abiding care for uninsured and partially insured patients, while maintaining a respectful and culturally-conscious environment. Q-Care provides physical examinations, vision screenings, EKG’s and other routine procedures. It also offers cancer screenings for men and women along with family planning options. To further serve its Western Queens community, Q-Care provides services for the whole family. Infants and children can receive immunizations and other basic care, along with physicals for school and camp, treatment of minor skin conditions and assessments of growth and development. The company prides itself in its relationships with patients. It often asks for feedback after visits and the staff recognize that their patients come from different backgrounds and walks of life. In addition, Q-Care takes a range of insurance providers, including GHI, HIP and Medicaid. Charlotten started Q-Care after finishing up his position as medical director for AHRC medical care, which provides health care for adults and children with disabilities, in 2008. He has more than 10 years of experience caring for adults and children.

#11 We “Like” This

Dave Daraio
Maspeth Federal Savings
Dave Daraio, the vice president and marketing director at Maspeth Federal Savings Bank has found a way to make the bank’s presence grow on Facebook – and it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. “This year, we’re trying to build up some steam on our Facebook page, we’re trying to push the whole social media package and we want to let people know what we’re doing in the community,” Daraio said. The bank runs a Young Savings Club program at two local schools in Maspeth where students could open up a savings account and deposit money every week. So he decided to employ the help of students to make the bank’s Facebook page more popular. If a school enables the bank to reach 1,000 “Likes” on Facebook, Maspeth Federal will donate $3,000 to that school. The bank already donates money to the schools involved in the three-year-old program but Daraio, who has worked at Maspeth Federal for 17 years now, thought it would be a nice challenge to spruce things up. So far the Maspeth Federal Savings Facebook page has 480 “Likes.”

#10 On a High Note

Lisa Terry
European Renaissance Musician
Woodside native Lisa Terry is on a mission to introduce 16th and 17th Century music into the lives of high school students at LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts in Manhattan. The Renaissance Music Club began this fall, and Terry is responsible for securing the $1,000 start-up grant from Early Music America, the national service organization that represents historical performance groups. This first of its kind after-school organization focuses on teaching students the recorder and the crumhorn, a curved woodwind instrument that produces a strong buzzing sound. Terry, an early-music performer who arrived at LaGuardia last year to lead some workshops on the viola da gamba (which she is playing in the picture), says that the European Renaissance music she has a passion for was popular at the time of Queens Elizabeth I. Terry also received a $1,500 grant from the Viola da Gamba Society of America to purchase a viola de gamba to start a Renaissance Viol Consort program for children at the The French-American School of Music.

#9 Brand of His Own

JP DiTroia
U.S. Columbarium
J.P. DiTroia is a master brander for the U.S. Columbarium in Middle Village. Meet with DiTroia and within minutes you will yourself in the bowels of the crematory atop Mount Olivet Crescent. DiTroia is a serial networker who has mastered the art of tackling the sensitive issue of death and making sure people know that cremation is a viable option. “Plenty of quite important people have been cremated here and have a nook in our facility,” DiTroia told It’s Queens. But his passion doesn’t end with his occupation, DiTroia is an active member of the Kiwanis Club – recently starting one from scratch in Middle Village – and a strong advocate for Project Eliminate, a program that provides a tetanus shot for expecting others, a simple act that could prevent the needless death of 40,000 infants each year.

#8 Coming Attractions

Steve Rahaman
Creator of Falling Leaves Productions LLP
After shooting his own films for six years and pulling all-nighters editing them, Kew Gardens resident Steve Rahaman felt it was only necessary to take the next step: create a production company. From there, Falling Leaves Productions was born. Falling Leaves Productions aims to provide a centralized medium to integrate the movie and music industry. His goal is to utilize talent in the movie and music industry to develop a one-step entertainment production company for independent film makers as well as artists. Rahaman always wanted to be filmmaker. His penchant is in the horror-gore realm. So far, he has made four feature films and is working on a fifth. His recent independent film, “To Be King,” has risen through the ranks at film festivals, local and international. It was the most popular film at the Long Island Film Festival this summer, raking in the most ticket sales ever in the history of the film festival. The film also made its way to the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and it was made Official Selection of the Chashama Film Festival and the New York International Film Festival, among others. The film opens in three cities on November 10, including New York. Rahaman makes it a duty to shoot scenes in Queens. Any Queens resident won’t miss the familiar streets of Woodhaven or Richmond Hill making their appearance in his films.

#7 “Tasty-Crafty”

Lucy Palacios
Agora L.I.C. Market Founder
Lucy Palacios did the corporate thing all of her life. But after being in that world for so long, she decided last year to explore her more creative side. She started a market in Jackson Heights that ran from May to November last year, which didn’t last long. But with the longtime dream of hers to bring local, handmade goods to people, like a true kickstarter she didn’t give up after the flop. “I knew I wanted to do something like it again, but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be,” she said. She decided to try the market model again, and this year the Agora L.I.C market officially launched at St. Mary’s church parking lot on 49th Avenue in Long Island City. The Peruvian-born Palacios wanted to create a space that blended wholesome food and creative crafts. She calls it the “tasty-crafty market,” a new kind of meeting place that she feels will soon catch on. “Anything you make by hand, you put your heart and soul into it,” she said. “I wanted to bring that whole energy and appreciation of handmade goods to people.” For more information, visit

#6 She Says “I Do”

Nancy Ma
New York Wedding Plaza Owner
Nancy Ma has been designing wedding gowns in Queens for almost 30 years. What makes Ma one of our Top 15 Kickstarters is her unrivaled reputation as an official gown designer for Miss New York, Miss New Jersey and Miss USA Pageants for the past 28 years. Walk into her studio at 43-18 Main Street in Flushing and you will see pictures of Ma with famous beauty pageant winners lining the walls. Come pageant time, she goes to work on these beautiful women and shows no signs of slowing down. “I have designed more than 1,000 gowns for these high-profile beauty pageants throughout the years,” she told us. “And you never get tired of doing it because every girl has a different look that inspires something new in the gown. It is quite fun and fulfilling to bring out the beauty in each of my subjects.”

#5 A Tender Side

Yolanda Vitulli
Tender Care Human Services
Yolanda Vitulli, a native of Haiti, founded Tender Care Human Services in 2001 after her son Michael was diagnosed with autism. Michael was gradually able to learn to speak through music therapy, as many other children with autism have come to do, the kind of improvement that provides some very personal – and critical – evidence to Vitulli as to why arts programs dedicated to children with autism are so important. And it is the whole reason behind the Jamaica-based agency, which was created in 2001. It is an exemplary non-profit that provides educational, behavioral, residential and recreational services to individuals with autism, pervasive developmental disorders, and other developmental disabilities, and serves the entire New York City community. “Because of the love I have for my son, I saw the way that he learned and I wanted to share that experience with other families who were going through a similar situation,” Vitulli said. Lately funding from the state and private donors has been low due to the economic downturn and Vitulli has been forced to cut the art and music therapy programs from once a week to once a month. But she still pushes on. In June, she decided to open up a thrift store in efforts to keep their music and art therapy programs alive for the children and adults they serve. The aim is to raise funds for the at-risk programs while providing low-income families with affordable products and providing autistic adults a place where they can find a sense of purpose.

#4 Pieces of History

Michael Ragsdale
9/11 Collector
To say that Maspeth resident Michael Ragsdale had a hobby capturing memorabilia from events following 9/11 is an understatement. Ragsdale, whose work involved videotaping public and private events throughout New York City for CSPAN, figured the biggest names in the world would all come to New York to in the wake of 9/11, and he decided to chronicle it. So for the next seven years, Ragsdale attended and amassed items from 220 post-9/11 events. He saved a program from an event on June 1, 2002, at West Point, where then-president George W. Bush first spoke publicly about a preemptive strike. On October 18, 2001, when Dick Cheney came out of hiding and spoke at the Alsmith Dinner at the Waldorf, Ronin Tynan sang God Bless America. In Ragsdale’s collection is the program from the event, complete with Tynan’s autograph. “Attending 220 events is not as easy as it sounds,” Ragsdale told It’s Queens, “but I think, more than anything, it kept me focused in a way to address my own sadness and worry about 9/11. I just kept getting sucked in deeper and deeper to the collection. “ In September, Ragsdale’s collection was on display in the Rosenthal Library on the campus of Queens college. Images from his collection can be seen at

#3 Keeping it eSafe

Edward Abel
eSafe Docs Founder
It might be the years of nursing training mixed with the savvy business entrepreneurial track record that allowed Edward Abel, a Forest Hills resident, to create the website Regardless of which background helped, his website makes it easy for people to store their important documents all in one secure place, especially for those with elderly parents who cannot keep track of documents such as their will, insurance, deed and other valuable information. The idea for the site stemmed from Abel’s own personal experience. He was in a meeting last December when he received a call from his elderly mother’s doctor stating that her health was rapidly deteriorating. “He started to ask me all of these questions: ‘Does she have a will?’ ‘Does she have a “do not resuscitate” form?’” he said. “All of these questions, and I really was not able to give an answer to any of them.” Luckily, Abel’s mother made it through, but the experience was a lesson learned. The next challenge he faced was overseeing her documents to make sure her bills were being paid on time and appointments were maintained. Once that was accomplished, he created eSafeDocs. For a fee, the service enables users to send documents to eSafeDocs, where they will then sort them, scan them into the account and categorize them on the website. The service can be done once a month. To find out more information, visit

#2 Taste Guide

Jeff Orlick
Jeffrey Tastes
Jeffrey Tastes loves food. And he loves Jackson Heights. So it was only fitting for him to merge the two. The 29-year-old Jackson Heights resident decided to start food tours a couple of years back and since then it’s been a hit. From midnight crawls in his nabe checking out the food vendors, to sometimes halloween tours (not this year) and all new, “Taste of the World” tours on weekdays around noon, Orlick (his real last name), leads other foodies and tourists on tours through Queens’ intriguing neighborhoods to try out the local, ethnic food. In high demand, he is now starting to do individual tours of Roosevelt Avenue. “It’s become apparent that somehow I’m the foremost expert on the food here,” he said. “How this happened I don’t know.” He blames it on his “everlasting” quest to learn more about where he lives, combined with a “strange schedule which preserves me from hanging out and keeps me up at 1 a.m.” Orlick feels that he eats so well in Queens, he has a responsibility to share. Orlick also runs Roommates Wanted NYC, a more attractive alternative to Craigslist or normal classifieds that connects like-minded potential roommates and takes out the hassles of dealing with broker fees. See more at his blog,

#1 Silicon Borough

Jukay Hsu
Coalition for Queens Founder
Jukay Hsu thinks big. Hsu is the man behind the vision to turn Willets Point into what he calls Silicon Valley 2.0, a plan to lure a science/engineering university to the gritty industrial area and turn it into a tech hotspot. In fact, Hsu’s inspiration combines two city initiatives: the first to transform Willets Point, the second to build an applied science and engineering school somewhere in New York. Hsu, a Harvard graduate who served in the Army during the Iraq War, just put the two together. So far the city is dismissing the plan, but thanks to Hsu’s tireless energy, he is starting to get some big names on board with the plan, namely several Queens politicians who see the economic potential for the borough.

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