Tag Archives: Friendship Center

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.”

 

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.