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Lifetime environmentalist from Queens runs Going Green to teach good habits

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Fred Kress speaks during Going Green in Queens. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Going Green organizer Fred Kress (l.) stands with city Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe (c.) and Ralph D'Onofrio, vice president of advertising for Community Newspaper Group, which includes TimesLedger Newspapers, a sponsor of the event. Photo Phil Corso
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Going Green organizer Fred Kress is surrounded by volunteers. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Tables are lined up in the gym for Going Green in Queens. Photo by Christina Santucci

Back when he was searching for a service project to help him earn his Eagle Scout award in 1976, Rosedale’s Fred Kress looked no further than his local park to make a difference in his community.

He hit the nearby Veterans Square at Francis Lewis Boulevard and South Conduit Avenue to to volunteer his time picking up litter and keeping the scenery pristine. He has gone back every year since.

“It was an Eagle Project that never ended,” said Kress, who was born and raised in Queens and has become a known environmental advocate throughout the borough. “That park has some beautiful monuments to veterans, but has had its fair share of vandalism and neglect over the years.”

Just like his local park, Kress said he keeps a close watch on the environmental landscape of his home borough on a more-than-regular basis. When he is not plugging away as an insurance broker, he said he volunteers most of his time planning events, working alongside the city Parks Department and other environmental groups, and organizing the annual Going Green in Queens conference.

“It’s a labor of love,” Kress said. “If I don’t do it, then who the heck is going to?”

Applying that same mentality, Kress said he was a founding member of the Queens Coalition of Parks and Green Spaces and has served as the group’s president for more than 13 years, overseeing hundreds of borough natives who keep an eye on the environment. That can mean tree pruning, watering or working to curb graffiti in their communities.

“We’re all out to make Queens cleaner and greener where the city cannot or will not,” Kress said of the coalition. “We teach people how to take care of their environment.”

According to Kress, one of the most lucrative ways of teaching his neighbors new and innovative ways to recycle and conserve is through the annual Going Green in Queens conference, which has become an environmental trade show of sorts since it was launched in 2003. With this year’s event slated for March 23 at Flushing’s Al Oerter Recreation Center, Kress said he hoped to see more attending the available workshops, which will be spread out throughout the day.

Kress said the event was initially inspired by similar conferences in neighboring boroughs, but he took their ideas further with the goal to stage the most dynamic and interactive environmental event in the whole city.

“We’re doing what everybody is talking about doing, but just putting it in the form of practical education,” Kress said. “I would love to see a Going Green like that in every borough.”

In order to make the event possible, Kress said he recruits other volunteers, but mostly manages the fund-raising himself to keep the program afloat. He said he started to plan for this year’s event more than six months ago, devoting as many as 20 hours a week coordinating with groups to collect vendors and community partnerships. The TimesLedger Newspapers is the media sponsor.

“It doesn’t run in the red, but we come pretty close to just breaking even,” Kress said. “You get some volunteer help, but I need to be the guy to make the hard decisions.”

And he would not have it any other way, Kress said. With more than 50 years in Queens, the Rosedale native said he was only a little boy when he first started growing vegetables in his own garden to beautify his surroundings. As he got older, Kress said he could not help but look for more - and bigger - ways to make a difference.

“You need to be very independent with work like this,” he said. “Don’t always depend on other people. If you need something done, you need to do it yourself sometimes, but the idea is to encourage people to want to lead and make a difference.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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