By Harry Keaney
Seven years ago, a group of children, among them two of Eileen Moloney’s sons, Séamus and Seán, strolled into the 55-acre Juniper Valley Park, in Middle Village, Queens, to play roller hockey. As they whirled around on their skates, the clash of hockey sticks against the asphalt echoing through the urban din, a park maintenance man approached. Without a permit, their game wasn’t allowed, he told them. And so, before their wheels had even warmed, they were out.
Much has happened in Eileen Moloney’s life since then, including the death on Easter Sunday last year of her 49-year old husband, Martin, the one-time proprietor of the Everglades Bar on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood.
When Eileen was 16, she and Martin, natives of Ennis, Co. Clare, went to London. She spent five years there, working as a chambermaid, a waitress and a hotel housekeeper. In 1969, the couple returned to Ireland, got married in Ennis and, after six months, returned to London. They eventually went back to Ireland again before finally emigrating to the U.S. in 1974.
Having grappled with the trials and tribulations of adolescence herself, both personally and as a parent, Eileen Moloney, 49, instinctively empathized with the youngsters sent packing from Juniper Valley Park.
But she didn’t get mad. She got even.
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In 1995, she helped found the Middle Village Roller Hockey Organization, and began lobbying local politicians, not merely for permits to play hockey but for funds to build a hockey rink. She traipsed around seeking the signatures of supporters. There were objections to counter, and five public hearings.
But, thanks to Moloney’s persistence, roller hockey is, from this month on, officially permitted in Juniper Valley Park, and not in some remote corner but on a brand new $750,000 rink that is testament to her determination.
Moloney herself praises local Queens Councilman Thomas Ognibene for helping secure the funding for the rink. Indeed, so dogged was she in pursuit of the hockey rink that she angered Ognibene on one occasion. "It came from discretionary funds, from the city’s taxpayers," she said. "The politicians think it’s their money."
"I praise her because she was persistent," Councilman Ognibene said on Monday. "She had a definite goal, she had the interests of the kids in mind, and she worked very hard to achieve that, and that’s very important when there are competing interests.
"You’ve got to have citizens who are willing to persist. It’s important to be the squeaky wheel because that’s the one that’s get oiled — and she was a squeaky wheel."
During all this, Moloney attended Adelphi University, graduating with a master’s degree in education. That in itself is a major achievement for Moloney when one considers that she had to begin studying for a general education diploma in 1975, the year after she arrived in the U.S.
In 1990, she began studying at Queens College for a liberal arts degree, leaving in 1993 for Long Island University in Brooklyn, from where she graduated in 1995 with a degree focusing on speech and hearing handicap. She’s now a teacher for the New York Board of Education’s speech services as well as working with emotionally handicapped children and young adults in Bedford Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn.
Helping young people, particularly those experiencing trouble finding their place in school or society, is something close to Moloney’s heart. Buoyed by the success in obtaining the hockey rink, she had the idea of setting up a youth center.
"My ideas are never just ideas for long," she said. She has rented space for the center on Dry Harbor Road, in Middle Village, and has canvassed local business people in an effort to obtain the first three months’ rent, which is $500 a month, as well as insurance, which is more than $800 a month.
"I think it would be nice if there was a place for programs for kids who were having trouble at school and work with them, a place where people feel they could go in, sit down and get tutoring and bring them up to par," she said.
"Not every program that’s out there suits every child’s needs," she said.
Although Moloney has signed a three-year contract for the Dry Harbor Road premises, she hopes to, eventually, "get something bigger," she said, to accommodate more people.
She hopes that, in the youth center, people will help by volunteering their services as counselors, GED teachers, instructors, and as volunteers to network within the community to assist teenagers obtain after-school jobs.
"We are looking for volunteers, and for funding from anyone who would like to make a contribution," she said. "We do not have youth centers out there to target teenagers. There is nothing out there for adolescents who may have problems. Everybody complains that kids are hanging out but nobody does anything to help them with alternative programs."