Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Queens Senior Center at Risk: State Budget Cuts Could Close Lifeline by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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Eleanor Errante (left), 89, and two pals socialize at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center

The neighborhoods of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill are so close that their borders often blur.
But when a senior center closed in Woodhaven nearly two years ago and residents were offered the chance to go to a facility in Richmond Hill, many opted to stay home.
Thanks to an unusual partnership, a new senior center opened on Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven - also providing a steady stream of income for a struggling volunteer ambulance corps.
"This has made my life much happier," said Stella Pyatok, 89, who played cards at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center last week with friends while waiting for lunch. "I'm here practically every day."
The center celebrates its official opening on Friday. It serves more than 70 seniors a day at its renovated space at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps site.
The cash-strapped corps gets a monthly rent check.
"I'm just so glad to see they have somewhere to go," said Kathy Sexton-Dalbey, chief operating officer of the ambulance corps. "People don't realize how much these senior centers mean. I see what happens when they live alone and don't get checked on."
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and other elected officials came up with the funds to renovate the facility so it can be used as a senior center.
Everyone is hoping those efforts weren't for naught. Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, which operates the facility under a contract with the city, just found out that it is one of 22 centers that could close if vital state funds aren't restored.
Eleanor Errante, 89, who has lived in Woodhaven since 1933, said the center is a safe place for seniors to get a nutritious meal, companionship and mental stimulation.
"Sometimes this is the only hot meal some seniors have for the day," Errante said.
Debbie Hoffer, director of field operations, and site manager Pat Critelli said the center also focuses on senior health with exercise classes, including yoga and t'ai chi.
"The number of people coming grows every day," said Hoffer. "And all we keep hearing is 'wait until the weather gets better' because even more will be here."