Today, in honor of her birthday, we celebrate Christine Holowacz for her contributions to our neighborhood, and her leadership in the community.
When Holowacz landed in Greenpoint after emigrating from Poland with her mother in 1972, she was thrown into high school and had to teach herself English. After graduating, she attended Brooklyn College, met her husband Adam at the age of 20, and was married by age 22. The Holowacz’s residency in Greenpoint was solidified with the purchase of their first home not long thereafter.
As adjusting to life as homeowners brought its own challenges, Christine began attending community meetings with the Greenpoint Property Owners Association to learn more about managing homeownership. Over time, Holowacz became the president of the organization, during which she fought for housing advocacy and affordable housing.
If you don’t know Christine Holowacz yet, you’ll soon learn that this process is not a coincidence, it’s a pattern: she becomes involved, leads the charge, and thinks outside-the-box to find solutions for problems the neighborhood is facing in every nook and cranny.
“For as long as I can remember, my mom has been an active member in the community moving forward. From when I was a child, I remember this gavel that my mother had. It was small, a beautiful brown wood, and it seemed so important, because I was never allowed to play with it. I asked my mom one day what the gavel was for, and she replied that it was for her running the Greenpoint Homeowners Association meetings. Her passion for the community translated into her being a liaison for the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection], making sure the community’s voices are heard.”
Quite honestly, it’s challenging to pin down her entire resume! From leading GWAPP and the Open Space Alliance (now North Brooklyn [NBK] Parks Alliance); working over two decades for the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, and creating the Nature Walk; to acting as a liaison for the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) sewage treatment plant and ideating the open air space under the Kosciuszko Bridge, if you’ve been involved in the environmental wellbeing of Greenpoint, she’s probably had a hand in your project.
“When I was growing up I remember my mother dragging me to every meeting possible because we couldn’t afford a babysitter. I remember these large rooms filled with people always advocating for something. “No power plants! Less garbage, more cleanups,” but one phrase I always remember hearing is “Christine, can you help me out with this?”
She never said no.
As a full time mother my mom always made it a point that no matter what you have to work hard and everyone has a job. Our jobs as children were to go to school, work hard, and make sure we get good grades. My father’s job was to help raise us and to go to work every day to provide for his family. My mother’s job had no limits. She was lunch mom, she was a community activist, she was the cook, she was the cleaner, the landlord, the driver, the tutor, the handyman—she had no boundaries, basically, she did all!
Laura Hoffman recalls first meeting Holowacz at a community meeting of the Greenpoint Property Owners Association around 2000, and credits Holowacz’s continued success to her resourcefulness, friendliness, and impressive breadth of knowledge.
“I can’t think of a parks, waterfront, or environmental organization in the community or along the Newtown Creek that she hasn’t been a part of in some way… She’s got that knack for building bridges between people.”
Laura Hoffman, Environmental Activist
Rich Mazur, founder and director of the North Brooklyn Development Corp, also first began working with Holowacz when she ran the Greenpoint Property Owners Association. They continued their professional partnership co-chairing GWAPP (originally an acronym for Greenpoint/Williamsburg Against Power Plants) where they worked with others to fight (successfully) against the placement of a power plant on the waterfront (multiple times!), and which now stands for Greenpoint Waterfront Association of Parks and Planning. They also created the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, and worked together on the Newtown Creek Monitoring committee, among other projects.
In various interviews, Holowacz mentions how, as an immigrant, having a voice here was something she did not take lightly. She’s always been aware of her responsibility to the community, and she has never backed down. When asked about what he thinks motivates Holowacz, Mazur credits her staunch commitment to the neighborhood.
“She’s absolutely devoted to Greenpoint. There are some people who pop in and pop out, but she couldn’t see us losing the fight to preserve our environment.”
Rich Mazur, Executive Director of North Brooklyn Development Corp
For example, in the early 2010s, Holowacz was invited with other Greenpoint community leaders to the Attorney General’s office downtown to hear about the ExxonMobile settlement and ensure that the community’s needs were being met. As the manager for the Community Environmental Benefit Projects for the Attorney General’s office, Peter Washburn vividly remembers Holowacz’s aforementioned determination:
“She looked me up and down and made it clear, on no uncertain terms, that she expected that process be administered with the community and serve their priorities. From that moment, she set the bar, firmly establishing that the state’s obligation was to the community for this money, which was intended to provide some measure of relief for the suffering the community endured during the devastation of the Greenpoint oil spill. For over 10 years in implementing the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund… I never forgot that initial meeting.
She’s a true champion for the community and its residents.”
Peter Washburn, Policy Advisor, Environmental Protection at Office of NYS Attorney General
Despite appearing superheroic to some, Holowacz will be the first to acknowledge that she’s never worked alone. Working alongside fellow environmental activists such as those listed here, plus Laura Treciokas, Barbara Vitell, and others has made all the difference.
When speaking with Holowacz’s friend and colleague Dewey Thompson (former president and founder of the North Brooklyn Boat Club), he recalled some of the more significant work they’ve done together, including the many years they spent as co-chairs of GWAPP.
During this time, Thompson said Holowacz realized there was a grant available called the Newtown Creek Environmental Fund created by fines for violations incurred during construction of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. With a vision to build a boathouse, the pair found a building within the proper radius, won the grant with community votes, and GWAPP merged with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) to create another organization called North Brooklyn Neighbors (NBN). They then passed off the grant to the North Brooklyn Community Boathouse in the process of providing this amenity to the community in partnership with Broadway Stages.
“She has a brilliant insight to connect the dots and realize that something’s here that’s otherwise seen as an incredible maze of complexity and bureaucracy, and figures out how to do it.”
Dewey Thompson, former president and founder of the North Brooklyn Boat Club
In a similar example of this testimonial in play, former State Assembly Member who served the community for 48 years, Joe Lentol, pointed to her work on the reconstruction of the Kosciuszko Bridge. “She was so good that the DOT [Department of Transportation] decided to make her the community liaison because she was so involved in such a strong way to get more improvements.” In addition to overseeing the conclusion of the bridge, Holowacz also helped obtain a statue of Thadeus Kosciuszko created by Polish artist Marian Szajda. Considering that she oversaw the development of the formerly known Cherry Street Park which the DOT had to tear down to complete the reconstruction, she was the ideal person to conceptualize the possibilities for that space. At the time, Thompson was a member of the North Brooklyn Parks Association, and recalls Holowacz coming to him to inquire about the possibility of a park underneath the Kosciuszko Bridge. As you fellow Greenpointers likely already know, Holowacz’s vision for an open space Under the K Bridge became a reality after years of work and advocacy.
“These are all the big things. I’m not even counting all the times there were issues in the community where things would happen and she would call me, come to my office, speak to my assistants if I were in Albany, and just get things done.”
Joe Lentol, former State Assembly Member for the community
“There is no community activist who’s contributed more to the environmental health and protection of North Brooklyn. Period. Full stop.”
Judge Adam Perlmutter
“When we think of Greenpoint, Christine immediately comes to mind. Her commitment to community, the environment and family is evident in all she does. Her passion is contagious, and her determination has helped to bring demonstrable change to our community. Happy Birthday, Christine! We wish you a wonderful journey around the sun.”
Gina and Tony Argento, Broadway Stages, Ltd.
Furthermore, Holowacz’s involvement in the community goes beyond her work in the environmental sphere. In addition to her activity with her church, St. Cecilia’s, her family celebrates her leadership, too.
“Ms. Christine is our family. Growing up in Greenpoint together our parents did not have any biological family in the area. Ms. Christine became our family. We lived next door from each other and the type of community we were in, everyone looked out for each other. As a Mom now, I know the large amount of trust that comes with placing your children under the guidance of another person and my parents knew they could rely and would want their children to be guided by someone so sweet and nurturing as Ms. Christine.”
Dena Elbroody, Holowacz’s godchild
“If I had to describe Christine in three words, they would be nurturing, positive, and independent. Christine is truly one of a kind! She is always helping others in need, including her community! She is an outstanding mother, aunt, and godmother! As we celebrate Christine, I would like to wish her a very happy birthday! May you have many more years of happiness and success ahead!”
Sabrina Elbroody, Holowacz’s godchild
Conditioned for community involvement from a young age, her children now follows suit.
“Her dedication rubbed off on me, and I am currently focused on making the community better as well. I am proud to have Christine Holowacz as my mom and as an amazing influence to the person I am today. Happy birthday, I love you, Mom.”
“What was most important growing up through all of this is she taught me to never limit myself. If there is a will, there is a way. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of an impact all of these meeting experiences and activities she involved me in would have, but they’ve led to my career as a community representative too. 30 years later I find myself falling into her footsteps. She laughed one day because I was no longer “Christine’s daughter” but she became “Monica’s mom.” At first, I was shocked that someone would say that, but she was happy and laughed because she knew she did that. She raised me right, and I could never thank anyone more than my mother. She is the kindest, funniest, loving woman I know. She will be my favorite little old Polish lady forever and my best friend! Love you, Mom!”
On October 20, Holowacz will also be honored by the Newtown Creek Alliance at their 20th-anniversary gala. If you’re interested in getting involved with the NCA, visit their website or mark your calendar for their next neighborhood clean-up on September 24th.
Surely, there are many others who can offer equally uplifting testimonials as those featured here, but on behalf of the Greenpointers community, we all would like to say: thank you, and happy birthday, Christine!