Thursday, July 8, 2010

Senior Center Saved Just in Time

By Tamara Best

Five days.

That's the amount of time seniors at the Glenridge Senior Center, which was in danger of closing due to lack of funding, had left to enjoy what many call their second home.

"If this place goes under, we all go under," said Marge Koehler, 76, said last Thursday. Koehler has attended the center for the last 10 years, serving as a volunteer. "It's a shame because we rely on these centers.”

But, just when the situation looked bleak, the center was saved after Councilwoman Diana Reyna secured funding in this year’s budget to keep the center open.

“Senior centers are essential to thousands of New Yorkers, even if they are treated as nonessential in the city budget,” said Reyna(D-Bushwick). “For community residents in Queens, Glenridge Senior Center is a welcoming community magnet for folks who rely on services, which improve their quality of life by providing a safe environment.”

Reyna thanked Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village) for the financial and moral support in saving the center.

On Wednesday, approximately 40 seniors braved the sweltering heat and greeted Reyna with hugs and teary eyes when she arrived outside the center for a press conference.

As she made her way through the crowd, Reyna told the seniors, “We’re not going to shed a tear. We’re celebrating today.”

On any given day, management estimates that between 60 and 98 local seniors spend time at the center. With their funding cut by the Department for the Aging for the 2011 fiscal year, the center located on Summerfield Street in Ridgewood was in jeopardy of closing its doors after 37 years of serving the community.

Although the center was initially going to close on July 2, seniors held a bake sale and flea market in an effort to raise funds. Though the sales were enough to keep the center on life support for a few extra days, it wasn’t enough to keep it open through the year.

"The fact that seniors fundraised to keep us open shows their commitment," said Thaisha Anglero, assistant director of the center.

Albert Juszczak, the Senior Center’s Executive Director, said, “It means she had to deny others in order to help us stay open and that means a lot. Council Member Diana Reyna has once again proven her high dedication to the cause of the poor, the helpless and the forgotten.”

***Home away from home***

At a table by herself, Patricia Consolazio, 65,methodically arranged six bingo cards before an afternoon game. As she arranged them, she moved her fingers slowly, a not so subtle reminder that her rheumatoid arthritis was once again rearing its ugly head.

"I used to play with boards covering half the table," she said with a smile. More important than the memories and countless wins she has racked up over the years at Glenridge, she said the center helps her remain in good health.

"It's difficult to cook, so I depend on the hot meals," she said.

Seniors at the center receive breakfast and a hot lunch, prepared by a former chef. Once a month they also have a movie night at which dinner is provided. Many of the seniors said the lunches are vital to them eating well, because physical limitations hinder them from cooking the way they used to when they were younger.

Aside from hot meals, the center provides something perhaps more important and priceless— fellowship.

"I have nothing else to look forward to," said Dorothy Hochreiter, 93. Hochreiter said with most of her family living in other states and being a widow, the other seniors have become part of her extended family. "It's very nice and very helpful.”

Many seniors echoed similar sentiments about the center and said they are happy that their extended family will be together for at least another year.

“I was just rejoicing and happy for everyone,” said Neireda Lopez. “The next thing is getting the staff back that was let go.”

***Saving Glenridge***

All around the cafeteria during lunch last Thursday, before the last-minute funding was secured, seniors sat talking in hushed tones. The main question at the center of most conversations: Is the center closing?

Towards the end of lunch, an employee addressed the seniors in an attempt to answer that question. The employee said that the center would not close July 2 as many had heard but remain open until July 13, just one day after the center would celebrate its 38th anniversary.

However, the announcement that there would be no breakfast or dinner and movie, among other services this week led some seniors to draw conclusions on the center's fate.

"All of this what we're hearing is not good," said Koehler, banging her fist on the table and shaking her head. "It's not good."At the beginning of this week, seniors were greeted with news that the center would remain open.

Yesterday, Koehler was all smiles. When asked how she felt about the center being saved, she raised her eyes to the sky, bringing her hands together as if to pray and mouthed a silent “thank you.”

For the 2011 fiscal year, senior centers will receive $33.8 million less than last year with the Department for the Aging proposing that 50 senior centers across the city be closed by the year’s end.

“The budget is not about numbers, it can’t be balanced on the backs of seniors,” said
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) who attended the conference.
“The next year will give us time to look for solutions. The city has to do right by its seniors.”

Reyna said that despite the center being saved, there is much work to be done.
“This is not the end of a victory, it’s only the beginning,” Reyna said. “It’s a battle, we have won this one but there are still more.”

And seniors at Glenridge said they are ready.

“I fought for this center and I will continue to fight for it until it closes,” said Consolazio.

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