Friday, February 18, 2011

Forest Park Senior Center Faces Closure by Anna Gustafson - Queens Chronicle

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The proposed state budget cuts to senior services could force the Forest Park Senior Center to shutter its doors for good, leaving older residents from throughout southern Queens without a place many said gives them a reason to get up in the morning.

“It’s very dismal,” said Donna Caltabiano, executive director of the center located at 89-02 91 St. in Woodhaven. “We’re looking at closing in June.”

Forest Park Senior Center, which relies primarily on funding the borough president’s office typically gets through the state, is one of about 110 centers city officials said could close if state legislators approve Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget.

Cuomo has called for about $25 million to be carved from monies usually allocated for the city’s senior centers, which represents about one-third of the city’s funding for the programs, according to officials from the city Department for the Aging.

“Any senior center that gets state and city funding has to be concerned at this point,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). “Forest Park is a snapshot of other centers who will find themselves in dire circumstances.”

Addabbo said he is pressuring state officials to cut elsewhere and restore funding for seniors.

“I don’t care if a center has 300 or three people,” Addabbo said. “That center is needed, certainly in these tough times.”

Seniors gathered for lunch and to play their daily round of bingo at Forest Park on Tuesday said news about the potential closure was devastating.

“It really keeps us alive to come here,” said Anna Luongo, 95, of Woodhaven. “The center means everything in the world to me.”

Many of those who attend the center are older seniors in their 80s and 90s and said the support they receive from friends and employees there is crucial, particularly because many of them have lost spouses and friends.

About 55 seniors come to the center for lunch four days a week.

“We need each other,” said Evelyn Yantis, 88, of Richmond Hill. “This is what makes me happy, coming here. I wake up, I get dressed, and I want to come here.”

Joseph Palladino, a decorated World War II veteran who lives in Woodhaven, echoed others’ sentiments and said the center provided a much needed support base after his wife of nearly 60 years died in 2004.

“It gives people an incentive to get up in the morning and go out and be with people,” Palladino said. “If they didn’t have this place, they’d just stay home, put the television on, skip lunch and just rot away.”

For Palladino, the center has become not just a place to play bingo and cards but to do what he has become quite adept at — flirting.

Nicknamed the “kissing bandit,” Palladino noted he is legally blind so he has had to pursue hobbies other than reading or watching television.

“I’ve had to take up catching girls,” Palladino said and winked.

Other senior center officials said they were unsure as to whether or not the facility would have to close, but Howard Beach Senior Center Director Ike Albala said any cuts to funding for elderly residents in the borough would be a harsh blow to a vulnerable population.

“If they don’t have a place where they can go and interact with their peers, where they can go for meals and access services, it becomes a stifling kind of existence,” Albala said. “It would be quite a shock if we closed. A lot of our members are within walking distance, and there’s no other center within walking distance.