Current president Barbara Stuchinski recently announced that she will be stepping down from the position, and Chris Collett, a member of the civic’s Board of Directors, will take her place. Stuchinski will serve as vice president.
Collett was approached about possibly becoming the next president of the civic months ago. But it was at the Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade, where his participation included carrying the civic’s banner, that he found out he was chosen.
“This is my community,” Collett said, adding that his granddaughter is the fifth generation of his family to call Forest Hills home.
Collett is also chairman of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, where he has been a member since 1983. For decades, he has been a math teacher at Holy Family Catholic Academy in Fresh Meadows.
Like Stuchinski, Collett is a member of Community Board 6, where he has served on several committees, including Planning and Zoning, Education, Beautification and Economic Development.
Public service isn’t new for Collett. At 17 years old, he was told by his grandmother to join a club or party to make a contribution to his community.
Collett will wait to voice his ideas until he is officially sworn in on September 12, but he did note that there would be some changes, such as working more collaboratively.
“It was the only way I was willing to take the job, because I can’t hit the post office box everyday myself, so I’ve got to delegate some of it,” Collett said. “I physically can’t do all of the things Barbara did during the day.”
There are a lot of citywide issues that affect Forest Hills, and Collett is hoping the civic can affect change in a way that best serves the community. Issues include the redesigning of the streets and the proposed Queensway, as well as development and zoning.
“A lot of things that make this such a beautiful community to be a part of, if overdone or done incorrectly in terms of development, can have negative impacts,” Collett said.
Beyond aesthetics, “thoughtful” development will take into consideration smaller details, such as available school seats.
“And that’s where a civic organization can play a vital role in the community,” Collett said.
He stressed that while he will be the president, he will remain just one voice among many.
“It’s an important thing about being a leader of an organization, it’s not about me,” he said. “The organization is an organization of many different people with many different interests, and I have to keep my ears open and do the best I can to represent the general best interest of the area.”
While it’s easy to get people involved when they’re riled up about an issue, he said, it’s much harder to have people stay involved beyond a couple of weeks or months.
To retain and grow the membership, Collett hopes to make meetings “more fun,” with the potential addition of a social event like an annual barbecue or block party where neighbors can meet and get involved.
With the younger members of the community, joining the civic would convince them that it’s their neighborhood too.
“They should be just as interested in their own property values, the quality of the schools their kids are going to, the shopping area, and what the quality of life issues are in their area,” he said. “I want to groom people to take over eventually.”
Though there will be serious discussions about the neighborhood, it’s important to Collett that the civic remains an engaging, enjoyable organization for the community.
“Get involved, stay involved and let’s have some fun along the way,” he said.