For Margaret Finnerty, life is South Queens. It’s where she met her husband, Bob, where she raised her kids – Bob and Margaret, where she works and where she has lived since birth. Finnerty has devoted her life to maintaining and beautifying the neighborhood she knows and loves – especially while serving as president of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association for the 20th time.
At her inauguration last week, numerous elected officials and community members showed up to sing her praises, and it was clear: South Queens loves Margaret Finnerty in equal measure.
However, Finnerty said she did not get into community service for the accolades; rather, she felt compelled to take the reins.
“I like to be the one that’s leading the charge,” she said. “I am not one to sit back and read about it in the paper.”
No stranger to headlines, Finnerty often finds her own name in print for the projects she has undertaken, including clipping over $1 million in coupons to help defray living expenses for soldiers overseas, obtaining funds for bicycle police officers in her neighborhood, and creating a memorial for a young man, Kelvin Debourgh, who died when a cinderblock fell on him during tests of JFK’s Air Train in 2002. The memorial is a dedicated signboard displayed in front of John Adams High School, informing passersby of upcoming events.
While each of these accomplishments have merited news stories of their own, the joy Finnerty finds in helping others and in spreading good will is also newsworthy. She spoke fondly of a party she hosted to celebrate the efforts of area senior citizens who helped clip over $1 million of coupons to send overseas for soldiers to use in their army stores.
“I made sure everyone got a certificate,” she said, remembering how proud the seniors were. “And you don’t realize how you touch people, sometimes it’s the little things. It’s really made people think about the soldiers that are in harm’s way and how they can help them.”
If there is a meeting or an event in her community, chances are, Finnerty is there. Her passion for community service is tested every day through her job as a family advocate for parents in school district 27, where she fields parental complaints.
“Basically I am like the 311 for this district,” she said.
Still, when her work day is done, and even when she has undergone dental surgery, Finnerty considers attending a meeting. She credits her family with allowing her to follow her passion for community service, a passion which may itself be credited for the thing she is most proud of in life: “The way my children turned out.
“They’ve learned that life is about giving and helping people,” she continued.
So what’s next for Finnerty? She is excited to find out.
“I often think, ‘OK, what’s going to happen next,’ and then things fall in my lap,” she said.
For now, the civic leader is busy welcoming new residents to South Queens and fielding summer noise complaints, trying to raise the gambling age from 18 to 21 so that students at John Adams High School do not, for example, spend their college funds at the nearby casino, and setting an example for members of her community and the world at large.
“People need to come out and get involved, and don’t just leave it to the next person,” Finnerty said. “By helping people you never know, maybe someday somebody will be there for you.”
By Elizabeth Daley