Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cash Crunch Leaves Senior Center Fighting for Life by BY Clare Trapasso - NY Daily News

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It seemed like a fairy tale ending to a hard-luck case.

A Woodhaven senior citizens center was in danger of closing while its funding was caught in limbo between two city entities.

So Serphin Maltese - the district's state senator at the time - stepped in. He presented the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center with a ceremonial check for $75,000 in October as he smiled for a photo that got widespread play in local weekly newspapers.

The dispute between the city Department for the Aging and the Queens Borough President's Office has been resolved.

But the center has yet to receive any of the approximately $250,000 in state and city money it was promised, including the $75,000 Maltese had so publicly pledged.

The center's longtime director, Donna Caltabiano, said she'll be forced to close within the next few weeks if the center doesn't get a quick cash infusion.

"I just can't believe that after 28 years, it's come down to 'We may have to close the doors to this place,'" she said.

To keep the place running, Caltabiano has borrowed nearly $30,000 - most of it from the 250 or so people who use the center, she said.

In addition, she hasn't cashed any of her paychecks since October.

"I don't know how I'm going to pay these people back," Caltabiano said.

The thought of losing the center terrifies folks like Gary Delancey, 60, a widower from Howard Beach.

He said he comes to the center at 89-02 91st St. three days a week for the dancing, bingo and companionship.

Many of the seniors there have become his second family.

The center is running out of time as it waits for the release of promised funds - including Maltese's emergency award.

"I don't know what's going on," Maltese, a Republican who failed to win reelection in November, told the Daily News.

The state Senate's finance committee assured him in October that the money would be awarded to the center, Maltese said.

Caltabiano said she fears what may happen to the seniors if the center closes.

"Some of them are going to die," Caltabiano said bluntly. "This place keeps them alive."