By Sheri ArbitalJacoby and Mimi Hu
The Great Neck Chinese Association (GNCA) board announced the first winners of the Lily Wang Community Service Award to honor people making significant contributions to the community through time, actions, talents and dedication at its Annual BBQ. The committee was so impressed by two candidates that they selected both Betty Leong and Lori Beth Schwartz as the first recipients of this special award. The honorees will serve as role models for compassion and service and be people who strive to make Great Neck a better place.
The award was made possible by a generous donation from Lily’s husband, YinFang Wang, after Lily passed away in September 2015. YinFang believes that the award would have been Lily’s wish since it combines two things she devoted much of her life to—community service and the GNCA.
According to YinFang, when the Wang family first moved to Great Neck in 1992, there were few Chinese Americans in the community and things were “difficult” because they had little voice in the community.
Lily’s involvement in the community started with her desire to provide a better learning environment for her children, Victor and Franklin. In 1999, she founded the Chinese American Parents Group (CAPG) to bring people together. The group was later integrated into GNCA, for which Lily served as a board member for many years.
“Lily purposely named this organization a ‘group’ instead of an ‘association’ because she wanted to connect either horizontally with other groups, or vertically with other associations,” said Joanne Chan, copresident of the United Parent-Teacher Counsel (UPTC). “She wanted this organization to avoid conflicts and integrate into the regular PTA.”
In 2002, Lily became cochair of the UPTC Total Community Involvement (TCI) committee and, in 2006, she was named chair of the UPTC TCI.
“Lily was the model of total community involvement both at UPTC and at GNCA,” said Chan, who was previously chairperson of UPTC’s TCI committee and had the opportunity to “pick Lily’s brains about her experience with TCI” and learned about the GNCA’s background.
“Lily was always encouraging parents to be involved in schools and to vote, to exercise our rights as U.S. citizens,” Chan continued. “Her enthusiasm was contagious, her smile will never be forgotten and her spirit of total community involvement will remain in our hearts.”
To many in Great Neck, Lily was best known for her community activism.
“I was inspired by Lily’s devotion to bringing the culturally diverse communities in Great Neck together,” said her friend Lori Beth Schwartz of Lily’s participation with Temple Beth-El’s Sisterhood retreat. “My friendship with Lily ignited our passion to work together to promote closer and deeper ties between our communities and we brainstormed events together, such as the powerful Yom HaShoah night of Remembrance for Holocaust victims between Temple Beth-El and GNCA. I hope that my actions will promote other friendships that will result in other poignant events.”
Alice Ngai-Tsang, a current GNCA board member, often fondly recalls receiving her first call from Lily after moving to Great Neck. “In her world, there is no color, age, religion or culture attached to faces,” said Ngai-Tsang. “There is only pure love and friendship.”
At GNCA board meetings, Lily’s name is still brought up often, which makes people feel that she has never left. With the Lily Wang Community Service Award, the GNCA board hopes that her name will continue to inspire and be remembered by many generations to come.
Betty Leong is a tireless individual who enjoys being involved in community affairs, is passionate about maintaining cultural traditions and serves the members of her community enthusiastically. She’s always there to pick you up, drive you home, lend a hand or play some mah-jongg.
Moving into the suburbs from Queens, Betty’s first volunteer work was with the Nassau County Girl Scouts. She started a Brownie Troop for Lakeville School students. Since retiring from teaching high school, she has dedicated her time to volunteering for many community organizations.
As copresident of the Great Neck Chinese Association, Betty led the group to participate in voter-registration drives, Lunar New Year celebrations and family-night parties. She organized adult and youth teams from the Great Neck School District to support the American Cancer Society’s Stride for Life and Relay for Life.
As a board member at the Chinese Center on Long Island (CCLI), she shares her cultural heritage with the youth in our community. She organized the CCLI Dragon Boat Youth Team, which included some teens from Great Neck. She is a strong supporter of the CCLI Lion Troupe and dance group. At each annual Chinese American Night and Asian festival, Betty demonstrates her skills in Chinese arts and crafts for the children.
Betty is devoted to the seniors in the community, too. She is a volunteer coordinator at the Joy Fu Senior Program at Michael J. Tully Park, which is sponsored by CAANH (Chinese American Association of North Hempstead) and the Town of North Hempstead. Her responsibilities include organizing activities, such as line dancing, jewelry making, karaoke, mah-jongg lessons and conversational English. For AARP, Betty volunteers to help with the food drive for veterans.
Betty is also a member of the Town of North Hempstead Ethics Committee and an officer on the North Lakeville Civic Association. Plus, she is an active member of a dragon boat racing team that competed in South Korea in September.
Betty is a caring person who is committed to making sure that everyone is informed about happenings and events, and encourages them to come out to enjoy all of the activities that this great community has to offer. She said, “In my generation, I grew up believing in the melting pot concept.”
Betty’s Acceptance Speech
I am honored to be chosen for this award. Many people have helped me along the way, including many Great Neck Chinese Association (GNCA) members. I thank you for your support.
This award will go to the American Cancer Society in memory of Lily Wang, one of the GNCA founders. I’m sure Lily would be happy to see that this organization is strong and under good leadership.
I will continue to assist in any way and wish continued success to the GNCA—and the best to all of you.
Lori Beth Schwartz
Lori Beth Schwartz has committed herself to bringing the residents of the Great Neck community closer together in meaningful ways and promoting cross-cultural dialogue. She’s helped organize events that featured Chinese-American youth participating at a Yom HaShoah service at Temple Beth-El; a Sisterhood retreat that included voices from Latina, Chinese, Taiwanese, Russian and Persian women; a Forgiveness event that brought together relatives of the Charleston Shooting victims with clergy from churches, mosques, synagogues and schools; and the first-ever civic association Meet and Greet, where the GNCA had the opportunity to introduce itself and describe its core mission to many other local organizations.
Lori Beth was born in Queens. After attending SUNY New Paltz, she started her own manufacturing company to produce cast and crew jackets for the entertainment, corporate promotions and sports industries, which she sold to a large manufacturing company in 1996. For the next five years, she was senior VP for the firm, presiding over the integration of her company as well as another large business, and was recognized as a major force in merging corporate cultures. In 1996, she married David Schwartz, a financial consultant based in Great Neck, where the couple is raising its two children, Kalli Ruth, 15, and Reuben, 11.
While working and living in Manhattan prior to moving to Great Neck, Lori Beth started traveling to Harlem twice a week to tutor young children, and eventually served on the board of The East Harlem Tutorial Program for 18 years, serving predominantly Hispanic families.
She is active in Hadassah, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County and Temple Beth-El. She has served on the PTA executive boards of Saddle Rock Elementary School, where she also chaired the Shared Decision Making committee; John F. Kennedy; North Middle School; and North High School; and was president of United Parent Teacher Council of Great Neck, where she now chairs the Total Community Involvement committee.
While vacationing in Maine during the summer, she serves on the host committees of Life Flight of Maine, a medical helicopter that quickly transports sick and injured people from remote locations to larger hospitals; Pen Bay Hospital; and St. George Land Trust.
Earlier this year, Lori Beth was inducted into the May W. Newberger Women’s Roll of Honor in the Town of North Hempstead and dedicated her award to Lily Wang.
“I love bringing smart, passionate people together around a common goal, then stepping back and watching the magic begin,” said Lori Beth, who thanked the GNCA members for helping create so many magical moments together.
Lori Beth’s Acceptance Speech
Thank you Alice, members of the GNCA board and the Wang Family. I can’t tell you how very touched and honored I am to be recognized by the Great Neck Chinese Association in this very meaningful way. I stand here delivering these words with Lily standing at my side, and in her honor.
My father’s family came to New York from Poland in the 1920s, when he was 4, after an extremely difficult boat trip with my grandmother, penniless and alone, who emigrated with her six children in 1924. At Ellis Island, she had to say goodbye to her oldest son, age 16, who was not being let in due to a limp. My grandmother never learned English, and never integrated into American society. She could have used an organization such as the Great Neck Chinese Association that helps all newcomers and fosters a sense of cultural pride in your community.
As we have seen this week in Orlando, and last year in Charleston, hate and prejudice are passed down from generation to generation. Nationally and locally, we have seen politicians try to fan the flames of prejudiced-based fear to drive a wedge between our cultures just to bring out the vote.
Our individual commitment to community-building efforts are more important than ever, and I can’t tell you how honored and pleased I am to be recognized for those efforts. It is a proven fact that if you change one heart, you have the chance to alter the hate trajectory for generations.
I would love if we discussed the fascinating and interesting things we learned about each other’s cultures around our dinner tables instead of bringing up negative stereotypes which our children could then repeat. Let’s continue to come together in meaningful ways, not just as committee members, but as friends, as neighbors and as human beings who have touched each other’s hearts in very personal ways, as Lily Wang has touched me.
Let’s build harmony by sharing our stories, voicing our hopes, our dreams and our fears for our children and our families, inviting each other to events at our places of worship, at our schools and creating forums where we can learn something new together, side by side.
I thank all of you who have attended any of the community-building events I have helped organize, and hope to see much more of you at Temple Beth-El and our UPTC functions. Without your participation, these events would not have been as successful as they were.
Today, let’s renew our pledge to cross the cultural divide. How hard can it be, really? Our beloved Lily has to cross a much larger divide to be with us, as she does, today, and every day. Thank you.
1975: Graduated from Taipei First Girls High School
1979: Graduated from National Chung Hsing University
1979: Worked at Institute of Economics, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
1982: Enrolled in graduate school at State University of New York at Stony Brook
1985: Married YinFang Wang
1987: Graduated with master of art in economics and master of science in public management
1987: Worked as computer analyst for the New York City Sanitation Department
1988: Joined Allstate Insurance Company
1988: Founded Chang Agency Inc.
1988: Gave birth to her first child, Victor
1991: Named Allstate Market #31 Agent of the Year
1992: Moved to Great Neck
1993: Gave birth to her second child, Franklin
1993: Joined the PTA at Lakeville Elementary School
1994: Became an Allstate Quality Agent
1999: Started the Chinese American Parents Group (CAPG) at Lakeville School
2006: Became chair of UPTC Total Community Involvement Committee
2007: Diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer
2011: Victor graduated college
2014: Became adjunct professor at New York City College of Technology
2015: Franklin graduated college