Tag Archives: budget cuts

Bayside Beacon program saved


| mchan@queenscourier.com


A beloved Bayside Beacon program has survived yet another year of budget cuts.

The City Council fully restored next year’s funding to the after-school enrichment program at M.S. 158 Marie Curie.

It was slated for closure, just as it was last year when the Department of Youth and Community Development tried to shut down seven Beacons across the city.

“Our after-school programs are vital community resources,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, “and now Bayside’s children will be able to continue to utilize these valuable services.”

Martenia Miller, site director of the school’s Beacon program, called it a “support system” that has worked for 20 years.

She added it is the only such program within Community Board 11.

More than 100 students take part in the enrichment program daily.

“These cuts would have been detrimental to the safety and well-being of the children in my district,” said Assemblymember Ed Braunstein.

Beacon operates after school, on weekends, school holidays and throughout the summer. It provides help on homework along with leadership and skill growth for both youths and adults.

“We fought to ensure that our community was not short-changed,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic. “Together we will work to continue these invaluable services that every family deserves and make sure that our students’ education is always a priority.”

The Council maintained funding for the city’s 66 Beacon programs.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

 

State Legislature restores cuts for disabled services


| mhayes@queenscourier.com


It was a reversal of fortune.

A $120 million cut to the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) would have left programs shorthanded, officials said. But the state legislature eliminated the threat and voted unanimously to fully restore what was lost.

The Assembly voted last week to appropriate $90 million for OPWDD. That was in addition to $30 million already restored during the budget process. The Senate approved the funds the next day.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic, an OPWDD advocate, has worked closely with organizations such as the Queens Centers for Progress and said the need for services is “enormous.”

“There’s no reason to penalize this community, their families and their caretakers,” she said.
When the cuts were officially made earlier this year, Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder said the hardest part in passing the budget was accepting the OPWDD reductions.

“After passing the budget, we committed to doing whatever necessary to restore it,” he said. “This affects real people and real jobs.”

Goldfeder said he has seen firsthand how the cuts affect the disabled and their families even though he has been chair of the Autism Retention Committee for just a few months.

“It’s painful,” he said. “There’s no better role for the government to protect its citizens than the restoration of these cuts.”

The total $120 million restoration will go directly to facilities that provide services to the developmentally disabled, Goldfeder said.

Although the restoration went through, OPWDD funds still need to be increased in order to provide the best care, officials said. After an initial cut several years ago, OPWDD has seen no increase in funding.

However, Goldfeder said last week’s budget reversal was just a first step, and that there is a bright economic outlook for the future.

“This is the first place we have to look to restore a lot of the cuts that have taken place over the years,” he said.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

After budget cuts, legislative package aims to help disabled


| mhayes@queenscourier.com


In the wake of a significant budget cut to programs for developmentally disabled people, lawmakers are seeking ways to provide such individuals with more security.

A budget amendment enacted by Governor Andrew Cuomo cut 4.5 percent of state funding for organizations that help disabled individuals live healthy and independent lifestyles. Now, advocates both in and outside of the governor’s administration are fighting for legislation intended to protect the quality of support and services for these individuals.

“This legislative package will work to help remove unnecessary and discriminatory barriers that prevent many people with disabilities from living well-deserved self-reliant lives,” said Assemblymember Phil Goldfeder, chair of the Mental Health Subcommittee on Autism Retention.

One of several bills in the package is the People with Developmental Disabilities Restoration and Reinvestment Act of 2013. It would appropriate up to $90 million to fully restore state funding to services for people with developmental disabilities.

The bill would tap savings to implement an agenda focused on services for individuals, community integration and more. The legislature would make up for funds not covered by the savings through a contingency appropriation.

Another bill in the package would amend the state’s Human Rights Law to require state and local government facilities to remove barriers which limit access to transportation or government services and buildings.

An additional bill would establish an advocacy program to advise individuals about their rights and responsibilities. Other bills entail access to sign language interpreters, housing preferences for tenants with limited mobility, eliminating discriminatory practices and more.

“This legislative package will provide the necessary state funding to improve the behavior and growth of individuals with developmental disabilities,” Goldfeder said. “There has been significant progress in achieving mental and physical health parity in New York State.”

The Assembly and the Senate will vote on the package in the coming weeks.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Mayor’s budget could cut Borough President staff by half


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

Half the staff at Borough Hall could get pink slips if cuts proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg go through.

Borough President Helen Marshall’s office is expected to receive about $3.14 million in funding for the 2014 fiscal year—nearly $1.8 million less than last year—officials announced at Marshall’s Borough Board meeting on Monday, May 13.

If the budget is approved, the cuts will result in half the staff’s dismissal, according to Chief of Staff Alexandra Rosa.

There were roughly 88 employees when Marshall was first elected in 2002, according to spokesperson Dan Andrews. If this year’s cuts go through, the current staff of 54 could be reduced to fewer than 30.

“This has somehow become a discretionary item,” Rosa said. “Funding for the borough president’s office should not be a discretionary item.”

Marshall said she is concerned over many of the cuts proposed in Bloomberg’s budget, particularly to her staff and to after school programs.

“We have to justify everything we ask for,” she said. “Our responsibility is to spend the people’s money.

We’ve got to spend it carefully and we have got to make sure that it’s going to really help our people. And that’s what we do.”

Cuts to discretionary funds would also result in the reduction or elimination of services to the elderly and the disabled. Five senior centers would have to close, according to Marshall’s office.

The facilities include the Kew Gardens Senior Center, the Forest Park Senior Center in Woodhaven, the SAGE/Queens Senior Center in Jackson Heights, the Korean American Senior Center of Flushing and the LeFrak Senior Center in Elmhurst.

Andrews said the borough president’s office was still performing the same functions it did in 1989, when its role was last updated in the City Charter, but with a significantly smaller staff.

“We are not a city agency,” he said. “We are the office of an elected official with charter-mandated responsibilities.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Officials to fight Queens Library cuts


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s executive budget includes $100 million in cuts to libraries across all five boroughs, slashing $29.6 million from Queens libraries alone.

“If that proposal were to become reality, the impact [is] unthinkable,” said Thomas Galante, president and CEO of Queens Library.

The cut marks a 35-percent decrease from current funding, will cause 428 layoffs, close over half of Queens Library locations and slash weekly hours from 40 to 21.

“The proposed cut is enormous,” Galante said.

Advocates tout the library as a sanctuary for quiet reading, research and computer use along with opportunities to sharpen job skills. With the proposed cuts, 1.9 million children and teen visitors will lose library access after school and during vacation time, and 28,000 job seekers will lose access to help with job searches, resume writing and interview skills, according to Queens Library.

“These cuts, if they do take place, would be devastating,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. “But we still have a little time left. We haven’t given up yet.”

However, Marshall said that even if the cuts are restored, there will still be no enhancements for library programs.
Galante said there needs to be a stable funding stream for the future. Additionally, for services to remain as per usual, libraries must stay open at least five days a week.

Visit www.savequeenslibrary.org to sign the electronic petition. You can also email your elected representative to help.

“You need your library,” said Galante. “Right now, your library needs you.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Program directors say restored funds for disabled not enough


| mhayes@queenscourier.com


The looming cuts to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) have been restored, but only by a fraction.

Initially, the state’s budget called for a total slash of $240 million from OPWDD services, but the final budget gave back $30 million. Program administrators say this is still not enough.

“The challenge our industry faces is a growing demand with a diminishing revenue stream. The work force now has to shrink,” said Peter Smergut, executive director at Life’s WORC.

Life’s WORC, a program geared towards assisting developmentally disabled individuals lead active and independent lifestyles, has a 76 percent cost of labor. Now, because of the cuts, they have had to “freeze” employee positions, not fill other positions and also look to reallocate resources in ways they would not have traditionally thought to do, Smergut said.

Disabled services organizations rely heavily on funding from OPWDD, and without it, some groups find it difficult to make any concrete adjustments in their spending.

“It’s tough to be in an environment when you’re relying on this funding, and the funding is constantly changing,” said Dr. Susan Provenzano of The Shield Institute.

Initially, the State Senate and the Assembly voted to restore $120 million to the OPWDD budget. Assemblymember Nily Rozic said that along with community groups such as the Queens Centers for Progress, they attempted to bring the necessity of a full restoration to the forefront.

“Through subsequent negotiations, we were able to secure $30 million for these critical services, but not nearly enough,” Rozic said. “I will continue to speak out on the need for a greater restoration to avoid program closures, staff layoffs and irreparable harm to some of our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

Rozic did say however that the state budget provides a balanced spending plan that addresses fundamental issues facing families, including increasing the state’s minimum wage and providing schools with the funding needed for children to receive a quality education.

“Any cuts are devastating,” said Provenzano. “We have to provide stability. We have to constantly be advocating, and it leaves a lot of questions for us approaching the future.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Thursday: Overcast with rain showers. High of 46. Winds from the WSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%. Thursday night: Overcast with a chance of rain. Low of 36. Winds from the WNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 20%.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Comedy Show Featuring Lisa Corrao

Middle-school-teacher-turned-comedian Lisa Corrao, who has recently participated in the Women in Comedy Festival, the Boston Comedy Festival, the She-Devil Comedy Competition and Comedy Central’s South Beach Comedy Festival, will headline a show at the Laughing Devil Comedy Club with NYC comics Gabe Pacheco, Lucas Connolly, Miguel Dalmau, Scott Sharp and special guest Gene Harding. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

MLS commissioner Don Garber sets time limit for deal to build soccer stadium in Queens, says league will explore other cities if necessary

Don Garber, commissioner of MLS, warned the city on Wednesday that his soccer league will look elsewhere to expand if it can’t cut a deal with officials for a new Corona Park stadium in a relatively short period. Read more: New York Daily News

Hurricane Sandy aid registration deadline extended

New Yorkers who were affected by Superstorm Sandy now have another 30 days to sign up to get help from FEMA. Read more: ABC New York

Rockaway organizations are calling for farmers markets following Superstorm Sandy

When Superstorm Sandy tore through Rockaway, shuttering grocery stores for months, many locals were left without many food options. Read more: New York Daily News

Kindergartener walks out of school, no one notices

Little Angelo says that no one said anything to him as he walked out of school. It’s very hard to say exactly how Angelo Geremia left his school all by himself Wednesday, but what we do know is that some time after 10:30 a.m. at P.S. 229, the 5-year-old kindergartener pushed open the big doors and walked outside. Read more: ABC New York

Benedict says goodbye to cardinals, promises obedience to successor 

Pope Benedict XVI promised his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday, a poignant farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. Read more: CBS New York

U.S. Army says it faces “dire” financial situation as cuts loom

A senior military budget officer said on Wednesday that converging financial pressures could leave the U.S. Army with just $2 billion to spend on operations, maintenance and training this year after it has funded the war in Afghanistan and other security needs. Read more: Reuters

Queens hit hardest by food bank cuts


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the River Fund

Soup kitchen and food pantry cuts, spread across the five boroughs, may leave less-fortunate New Yorkers hungry.

Due to federal budget cuts in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city lost 11 million meals over the past year. That is a 40 percent decrease in the amount of food available to low-income residents.

Congress is also considering cutting several billion dollars from the food stamp program over the next 10 years — an initiative that nearly half of those reliant on food pantries depend on.

Of the five boroughs, Queens saw the highest decrease in the amount of available food, shrinking by roughly 41 percent from fiscal year 2011 to 2012.

“On a normal basis, we’re scurrying to get enough food. With cuts, it makes it that much more impossible to keep up with the clients we’re dealing with,” said Swami Durga Das, executive director of the River Fund, a Richmond Hill-based food pantry and social services agency that assists about 600 families weekly.

“The government sees this as a place where they can make cuts without repercussions,” said Durga Das. “I think no one particularly feels the ramifications from cuts except the people we’re serving.”

Triada Stampas, senior director of government relations for the Food Bank For New York City, said the number of New Yorkers relying of food banks has increased dramatically since the start of the recession, bringing unfamiliar faces into soup kitchens and food pantries. Nearly 1.5 million city residents rely on the Food Bank For New York City – the main supplier of food across the metropolitan area.

According to Stampas, 35 percent of New Yorkers struggle to afford food.

Many of the 850 centers in the Food Bank For New York City network have been forced to limit their hours and access while turning to private donors for assistance and stretching their resources as far as possible.

According to Stampas, TEFAP was a mainstay of many food pantries, which used other sources to supplement their inventory. Now TEFAP only supplies a few items. Stampas said a south Queens pantry received only beans, milk and cereal from TEFAP last week.

“Find me a chef who can make a meal out of that,” Stampas said.

Stampas said that while it’s difficult to predict future trends in government spending, her organization has budgeted for its TEFAP supply to drop by another third.

“We need a policy change so we don’t end up in this boat again where our single biggest source of food cannot be counted on at all,” said Stampas.

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| lguerre@queenscourier.com


 

Intrepid-Bound Space Shuttle Enterprise Sails Through New York Harbor

The Space Shuttle Enterprise set off on a barge Sunday morning from John F. Kennedy Airport to sail to New Jersey. The shuttle prototype was lifted from a JFK hanger onto a barge on Saturday, and the barge set off from the airport just before 8 a.m. Sunday. Read more: [NY1]

 

2 Mets fanatics charged for running on field to celebrate Johan Santana’s no-hitter

A pair of super-zealous Mets fans who barged onto Citi Field on Friday night after hurler Johan Santana’s no-hitter were charged with criminal trespass on Sunday but released without bail. Read more: [New York Daily News]

 Man Wanted For Attempted Kidnapping By Queens School 

Police were searching Sunday for a man who allegedly tried to kidnap a young boy last week in North Corona, Queens. Authorities say Mark Synclair, 33, tried to grab the seven-year-old child outside P.S. 92 on Tuesday morning. Read more: [NY1]

 

Queens Library looks for new ways to battle budget cuts 

An army of strollers lined up outside the Broadway branch of the Queens Library to enlist the latest foot soldiers in the annual budget battle — toddlers and their caregivers. The borough library system is facing $26.7 million in proposed cuts under the Bloomberg Administration’s fiscal year 2013 budget. And library advocates are searching for new ways to get their message across. Read more: [New York Daily News]

 

Tourist, cabby die in 3-car LIE horror

A Utah woman and a Queens cabdriver were killed and the woman’s grandson was seriously injured early yesterday in a three-car smashup on the Long Island Expressway. Suzanne Nicholson, 60, and her grandson Gabe Larsen, 11, were headed from Kennedy Airport to a Manhattan hotel at about 12:30 a.m. when their cabby, Mohamed Hussain, rear-ended a 1995 Porsche near 66th Street in Queens, cops said. Read more: [New York Post]

 

Maher purchases stake in Amazin’s

He’s not joking — comedian and lifelong Mets fan Bill Maher now owns a piece of the team. HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” host made a surprise announcement that he’s a minority owner before last night’s win against the Cardinals, after a VIP tour with Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon. Read more: [New York Post] 

Queens firehouses in danger


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

Politicians, civic leaders and firefighters rallied recently in Queens to prevent 20 fire companies from going up in smoke.

Dozens gathered on Tuesday, May 29 outside Engine 294 in Richmond Hill, one the 20 fire companies that may close due to budget cuts, including students from nearby P.S. 273.

The children, brandishing signs, led the crowd in chants of, “Save our firehouse and you save me.”

This is the fourth consecutive year lack of funding has threatened to close firehouses. Twenty also faced the chopping block last year, but were saved in the final budget.

“We need to make sure that when a budget is passed in New York City, it is a budget that keeps our residents safe,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Council’s Fire and Criminal Services Committee.

No official list has been released of the fire companies that may close, but last year’s list included four in Queens: Engine 294, Engine 328 in Rockaway, Ladder 128 in Sunnyside and in Engine 306 in Bayside.

“Hopefully, no companies close,” said an FDNY spokesperson. “Right now, it looks like it will go that way.”

The city’s budget will be finalized by the end of June.

If Engine 294 is eliminated, it would be the third time in its history it has closed.

The first closing lasted six years – from 1975 to 1981 – and the most recent was in 1991.

Two men were killed in a fire shortly after the closing in 1991.

“If [Engine 294] was here that day, those two men may still be alive,” Crowley said.

Though Engine 294 directly serves Richmond Hill and the surrounding communities of Woodhaven and Ozone Park, closing any companies affects every neighborhood in the city, said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

“If they close 20 fire companies it will affect every neighborhood in the city of New York, not just the ones they close them in, every neighborhood,” Cassidy said.

“If you take Engine 294 out of the equation, response times will rise for medical emergencies and fires.”

Engine companies also provide emergency medical attention, in addition to responding to fires.

“We’re playing with fire, and what happens when we play with fire. We get burned,” said Senator Joe Addabbo. “This is not a game we should be playing. We shouldn’t be playing with fire.”

New York City is ranked last in the number of firehouses per capita, said Eddie Boles of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

“This is our life we’re talking about,” said Maria Thomson, president of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “This is life and death.”

Facing cuts, seniors rally for Friendship Center


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Friendship Center

Outraged senior residents rallied to protect their center from what they call a city attack on the young and the elderly.

The Friendship Center of the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA) is facing about $400,000 in cuts from the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene as part of the city’s budget for the 2013 Fiscal Year, which, if not restored, will phase out programs for members — many of whom are mentally and physically weak.

“Tell him [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] if he’s closing these centers like he’s closing the schools, he’s doing the wrong thing,” said Reverend Charles Norris at the rally on May 24. “He’s killing us from the top and he’s killing us from the bottom.”

With public officials in attendance, members carried home-made signs and chanted, “Hell no, we won’t go” as Norris — the former pastor of Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Jamaica — continued his tirade.

“He flies around in his own personal helicopter and lands it at the heliport that’s closed and not supposed to be used, but since he’s the mayor he thinks he can use it and he’s above the law,” Norris said.

“We must tell that lousy mayor that he can go in his pocket and find $400,000 and give to the center to keep it open.”

The Friendship Center, which is one of three centers within the JSPOA organization, services between 65 and 75 challenged seniors with daily programs ranging from arts & crafts and Wii exercise to music and board games, keeping members active and healthy. The center also provides transportation, meals and a place for locals to socialize.

“I’ve been here for three years,” said Harold Williams, a member of the JSPOA Friendship Center. “You could see some [members] come in sad, but they leave happy. If they take our [center] away many of these people will be lost.”

Last year the center also faced cuts, but funds were restored through support from the community and public officials, who said it is one of the few free sites in southeast Queens.

“We need to stand together, we need to say ‘no you cannot do this to this community,’” Assemblymember William Scarborough said, promising to fight for the center. “If you’re closing this, tell us where we are going to go.”

Friendship Center representatives urged supporters to send letters to the mayor’s office and contact local officials to compel Bloomberg to restore the funding.

“Four hundred thousand dollars is a lot to us,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of the JSPOA. “But in terms of city funding it’s a drop in the bucket.”

One resident just issued a warning to the city and the mayor.

“They forgot they’re going to be old one day,” 80 year-old Helen Mattis said. “And they don’t know what shape they’re going to be in.”

 

Children rally to save Pomonok after-school program from shutting down


| sarahyu@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Sarah Yu

Children, parents and politicians rallied recently against the closing of after-school programs at the Pomonok Center at the Queens Community House.

The center offers a free after-school program for children from grades kindergarten to sixth that includes homework help, arts and crafts, fitness, character development and team-building games.

“I worry that without such a program in Pomonok, our youth will begin to fall behind academically and socially, which is something we as a community simply cannot afford,” said Assemblymember Michael Simanowitz.

The Pomonok Center is funded by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development’s Out-of-School Time Program, which had its funding cut in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget.

“I call on the city to stop balancing the budget on the backs of our children and young families,” Simanowitz said.

According to Sheena Sukhraj, the youth services director for the Pomonok Center, they are currently collecting petitions and sending it out to the mayor and local officials.

“I think it’s a shame because the majority of our children come from Pomonok Houses which is a low- income housing development, so we know that the parents can’t afford after-school programming,” she said.

They only have six more weeks to fight to keep the after school programs running at the Pomonok Center.

“I’m very devastated because it is right now the only option that I have for child care for my son,” Kimberlee Farrell, a parent and educator said.

Farrell added that she’s always looking for options so that she is ready to face what might happen if their protests aren’t heard.

“I’m touched,” she said. “It takes major issues to bring it out in these communities, but you see from these children, six and seven years old, up to the adults — 50s, 60s 70-year old grandparents — all rallying together for what is right.”

Families devastated by cuts to Jamaica senior center


| mchan@queenscourier.com

FRIENDSHIP CENTERw

Some seniors in southeast Queens may soon lose their “friends.”

The Friendship Center — a program under the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA) — relies heavily on funding from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to support its rehabilitative programs. However, due to fiscal constraints, the agency said it could no longer support the program after July 1.

“It’s devastating. I just can’t even believe that they did this,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of JSPOA.

The Jamaica-based senior center offers free services to mentally and physically frail elders, who commonly suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and depression. In addition to providing meals and socialization activities, the center hosts psychiatric clinics once a week.

Friendship’s mental health programs originally received $443,000 annually from the DOHMH, Collier said, but funds were cut in half last year. While the other half was restored through community support and discretionary funds, Collier said rallying to raise 100 percent of funding this year would be near impossible.

“It would be very difficult to maintain Friendship for this population without the department’s money. And sending this population to your average run-of-the-mill center is not an alternative because they are not able to participate and socialize with mainstream seniors,” Collier said.

The center — which has been in existence since 1979 — is home to the 65 to 75 seniors who use the center daily, according to the executive director.

The decision to strip the center’s funding has devastated caregivers like Brenda Lacey, whose 93-year-old mother has been going to the center for close to 14 years.

“This has been our lifeline. This is [my mother’s] livelihood,” Lacey said. “I feel terrible because this might be my mother’s demise. For her not to have those people in her life, it would be like losing a family member for her.”

Lacey said she plans to look into other mainstream regular senior centers, but fears her mother will not adjust well to the changes.

“She might not be able to cope. The people wouldn’t understand her like they do at Friendship,” she said. “I’m just praying. It really needs to stay open.”

Eleanor Williams said she’s nervous her 73-year-old husband, Harold, may revert back to depression if the center closes.

“Before Friendship, he was at the point where he was suicidal. He was at the hospital several times at months on end,” Williams said. “Once he got to Friendship, it really brought him totally out of his shell. If you had seen this man a year ago, you would say it wasn’t the same person. Right now, I don’t know where to go from here.”

Meanwhile, Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Ruben Wills said they are “aggressively working” to make sure Friendship keeps its doors open.

“This program is something we should be duplicating throughout the city — not cutting,” said Wills, whose grandmother used the center before her passing. “I don’t know what it is with these budget cuts, but the city seems to always target the most vulnerable population. It’s going too far at this point.”

Wills said he will be posting an online petition on his web site — www.rubenwills.com — later this week in addition to targeting different ways to secure funding.

“This is really unjust. This is really crazy,” he said.

Will Forest Park Senior Center close its doors for good?


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Another round of budget cuts may force the Forest Park Senior Center — along with five others in the borough — to close its doors for good.

The Woodhaven-based center narrowly escaped the chopping block last year, after it received $120,000 in funding — half from the City Council and the other half from the Borough President — at the last minute.

But it faces the threat of potential closure once again this year.

“Every year at this time, I feel like I’m Chicken Little,” said Donna Caltabiano, the center’s executive director.

Marshall and the Borough Board — made up of the borough president, district council members and chairs of each of the borough’s 14 Community Boards — approved a $258.6 million budget priorities package on March 13.

“This priorities package, which will now be sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, is meant to build our borough,” Marshall said.

Heading the top of the list, Marshall said, is restoring $1.6 million in discretionary funding to keep the Forest Park Senior Center, the Kew Gardens Senior Center, SAGE/Queens Senior Center, Korean-American Senior Center, Bell Park Senior Center and LeFrak Senior Center up and running.

“If it wasn’t for the borough president and Councilmember Eric Ulrich, we wouldn’t be open this year, and we won’t be open next year if they don’t help us again. We need them even more than ever,” Caltabiano said. “Last year, we really felt like it was the end. We were actually in a closed-down mode, and we already broke the news to our seniors.”

Caltabiano said the center — which has been in existence since 1979 — is home to the 40 to 45 seniors who use the facility daily.

“They will not go to another place. They will not. This is their home. Their friends are here. They even have a certain seat that they sit in every day. For the majority of them, this is their center,” she said.

To keep their home, the seniors — and Caltabiano — are prepared to fight for it once more.

While Caltabiano has personally lent the center $20,000 — until it receives Marshall’s secured funding from last year — seniors, like one who goes by the name of “Joe,” gave the center $5,000 and lent $30,000. The others also raised $11,000, thanks to Joe who matched the donations, Caltabiano said.

“That’s how much they want to keep the place running,” she said.

Ulrich said he would try and pull through for the center again this year.

“This is déjà vu all over again. Every year, we seem to be in the same predicament,” he said. “The Forest Park Senior Center does a wonderful job of providing services to the senior population in Woodhaven and Forest Park. I’ll do everything I can to fight and keep it open.”

Meanwhile, Caltabiano said she and the seniors can only cross their fingers and hope for the best.

“I’m hoping for another miracle. I’m hoping for Christmas in June,” she said.