In addition to leading the tenants' association, Coger has advocated for the Astoria community for decades. Her son, now 65 years old, used to attend the after-school programs at Variety, where he was once awarded “Boy of the Year.”
“I’m a little emotional,” Coger said after she accepted the honor. “It’s been a long journey. I’ve seen many, many changes come to Astoria.”
Coger’s record of community activism ranges from fighting for voting and civil rights to gender equality. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. down the National Mall during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
On a local level, she helped push what was then the Boys Club to accept girls. Coger said the changes came at a time when people were fighting for equality for everyone.
“It didn't happen right away, it took years before the girls came in and used the facilities,” she said. “Girls and boys mixing and everything, that wasn't the general lifestyle then.
“I look at it as the taxpayers' money. We were taxpayers too,” Coger added. “The benefits all went to the male side as to what it was spent on.”
Coger said she valued Variety because it offered children like her son “the outlet to be involved and explore.”
“Coming into manhood, the challenges and the gifts, it was like a safe haven,” she said. “They could come and explore themselves and get a vision for their life.”
Variety Boys and Girls Club has historically served as the “safe, neutral ground” among the Astoria, Ravenswood and Queensbridge public housing developments, according to Variety executive director Matthew Troy.
Coger noted that other than the Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement, which is located in the Queensbridge Houses, other public housing developments don’t have a facility that provides after-school programming for youth.
“The average housing development does not have a facility that's capable of supplying the activities and learning sessions that it takes to make a young person's life whole,” she said. “[Variety] was the home for Astoria Houses youth.”
“All families need not just affordable after-school options for their kids, but also high-quality ones,” Troy added. “The benefits are so clear. Families and parents can work and make a living and know that their kids are in a safe, productive place.”
Variety launched the new initiative, Troy said, because he wants the club to serve as a central community space that recognizes people “for the good work they’re doing.” Each month will coincide with a theme, which will honor people who have made a difference in the community, he said.
Coger was selected as the honoree because of Women’s History Month.
“The work that Ms. Coger has put in to make this a better community is well known throughout Astoria and Long Island City,” Troy said. “For years, she has been a strong advocate of families.”
Next month’s theme will be Volunteer Month. Troy said Variety will honor local volunteers and organize a reception for honorees.
“We really want this club to be at the center of good, positive change in this community,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”