Curtis Turney-Rentas is quick to credit his mom’s influence when asked what prompted him to give back to his Far Rockaway community.
“It’s something that’s always been at the forefront of my heart,” said the 28-year-old native. “My mom instilled a sense of service in me to always do for others, whether that means helping one person, two people or 100, the reward is the same.”
His drive to serve took root when he left home to attend Delaware State University in 2010, where his idea to organize campus clean-ups grew into a full-fledged organization that he dubbed Future Leaders In Progress, an initiative that drew members from various fraternities and sororities at the university. Seeking out like-minded Samaritans who want to make a difference is a concept Rentas said he was determined to bring back to Rockaway after he graduated in 2014.
He started small, enlisting the help of his mom and a few friends to do community clean-ups, holiday toy collections and a Thanksgiving Day drive–courtesy of his mom’s cooking– to feed those who otherwise wouldn’t have a meal.
In 2019, Rentas amplified his efforts when he became a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first intercollegiate Greek letter organization that was established for African Americans on the campus of Cornell University more than 100 years ago. Its mission aimed to bond brothers through serving those in need.
“I wanted to bring that exposure to the peninsula and join forces with other Greek letter organizations,” Rentas said. He began with members from nine other fraternities and sororities and eventually included six additional multicultural Greek groups. The Far Rock Greek Council was born.
“Our purpose is to unite the youth of the peninsula through service, civic engagement and scholastic opportunity,” Rentas noted. “We aim to change the narrative and trajectory of our community because Far Rockaway has little representation of college education, let alone Greek life. But through community care, we organize other community members who want to be the catalyst for change.”
Since its founding, The Far Rock Greek Council has broadened the scope of annual events that Rentas began years before. Together, members and volunteers now help a growing number of families through their Back to School Cookout; Tides of Joy Toy Drive and Operation Feast, a Thanksgiving Day celebration that served more than 300 residents last November with plated meals, a feat accomplished through the relationships the Council forged with local businesses like Cuisine By Claudette, Batesy’s and the Rockaway Tiki Bar.
Members also deliver weekly supplies of fresh fruits, vegetables and additional food items to 150 families through their “No Family Left Hungry” food drive while their “Clean My City” initiative regularly collects upwards of 50 bags of trash from beneath the Rockaway Freeway.
The Council collaborates with other Rockaway-based groups as well to host social events like the Rock the Block Fun Day at Bayswater Park, which Rentas co-founded, and the recent Forever Young Skate Party, which took place at the Roller Hockey Rink on Beach 109th Street earlier this month.
“I think we bring a different type of energy and grit to our work,” Rentas added. “We try to encourage people to join us and invest more time into the improvement of our community.”
His service to better the peninsula isn’t limited to the Council he founded. Two years ago Rentas joined the staff of the Rockaway Development Revitalization Corporation and took a seat on the board of the 101st Precinct Community Council.
In September, Rentas and his fellow Far Rock Greek Council members plan to roll out a mentorship program for middle school and high school students that will educate them on Greek life and the mission of community service. “Greek life is a collegiate level goal, so we’d be promoting higher education at a younger age while instilling the value of serving others,” Rentas said. “I’m really looking forward to creating more educational programs,” he added. “Our goal is to be one of the most prominent organizations in Rockaway and leave a legacy for years to come.”