Community center closing after 35 years

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T minus two days.

That’s how much longer the One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center has before it shuts down – and ends the free programs on which many neighborhood residents have come to depend for 35 years.

“Any kind of problems you have you go there,” said Laura Murphy-Lesko, 55.

The Ozone Park resident, who is disabled, with six children and a granddaughter, lives on Social Security Insurance supplemental income, and depends on the free information, advice and help, especially the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), the center provides.

“Them closing that office is like cutting off an arm,” she said. “It’s a disgrace.”

Joan Bachert, program director, explained that the center’s operational budget dried up when disgraced former Assemblymember Anthony Seminerio tendered his letter of resignation and pleaded guilty to one count of honest services mail fraud last year.

He used to provide them with $150,000 in funding. Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn additionally provided $50,000.

Since then, Bachert said, they have been subsisting on the Richmond Hill Block Association’s (RHBA) administrative account, which was really their own money, since the One Stop pays rent to the RHBA.

“We had to take a $40,000 loan from the account,” she said. “We thought we’d have the grant money by now, but the account has been covering rent, pay for three employees, supplies, even a trip to NASA.”

When they do figuratively shut their doors on Friday, June 18 – the RHBA, a not-for-profit, volunteer organization, will remain open, as they own the building at 110-08 Jamaica Avenue — the One Stop will cease its summer program for community children; its after school computer technology and videoconferencing program; and the Mommy & Me program.

“We will be unable to provide HEAP, Heartshare and Energyshare grant assistance for low-income households or help with community quality-of-life issues,” added Bachert.

“I’ll be sad to see it go,” said Michelle Byrn of Rego Park, who has been bringing her 21-month-old daughter, Madison, to the Mommy & Me program.

She was referred by a friend, and the mom, originally from Texas, feels the program affords her the opportunity to meet other mothers in the neighborhood, and has helped Madison to grow and flourish.

“The staff is so good,” she said. “They try so hard and come up with wonderful activities for the kids.”

Byrn told The Courier that she wouldn’t be opposed to paying a small donation to help fund the program.

But even magnanimous contributions may not help.

“When you look at the whole situation of the state, it doesn’t look promising,” said Wendy Bowne, RHBA president.

“They are victimized by a lack of government funding,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo, who has put aside $25,000 “in the hopes of keeping the doors open.”

Addabbo pointed out that grant monies allocated last year may not have been received.

“Allocating money and realizing it are two different things,” he said. “Groups throughout the city and state are struggling to merely exist. It’s a shame, but the bottom line is that we’re still fighting for One Stop funding. I like to be optimistic that we haven’t seen the last of the One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center.”

But Bachert does not share the same sentiment.

“We’re definitely closing, there’s no way about it,” she said.