Tag Archives: Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults

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.”


Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center celebrates 41 years

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan Seniors celebrated the center’s 41st anniversary by dancing and sharing their memories.

The Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center — the home away from home for close to 200 of its members — blew out its 41st birthday candle on Thursday, October 13.

Located in South Ozone Park, the center first opened in October 1970. Since then, it has achieved national accreditation status from the National Institute of Senior Centers and has become “the place to be” for hundreds of seniors in the community.

“This anniversary means so much to me,” said member Leonie Alert. “I have been here for 17 years and I’m so glad that we have happy times here all the time.”

Alert, 75, teaches two dance classes during the week. She also heads the center’s dance group, the Rockaway Revue, which performed several dances during the three-day long celebration.

“I just want everyone to keep having fun even if they don’t know how to dance,” she said.

Seniors and center officials found a way to enjoy the anniversary despite the threats they face from city budget cuts.

“Senior centers are up on the chopping block,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA), under whose auspices the Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center operates. “If these places no longer existed, people would be at home, and the isolation could breed a whole other set of problems that are not evident right now because they’re here, and they’re out and about.”

Collier said JSPOA originally ran six centers — now cut down to three.

“This anniversary means being part of an organization that has had its roots here in Queens and has been serving seniors for a very long time,” she said. “I’m looking forward to another 41 years.”

The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It offers daily breakfast and lunch, along with an array of activities, including arts and crafts, sign language, billiards, computer training, tai chi, line, African and interpretive dance.

Nelli Hayes started coming to the center close to 35 years ago. The 99-year-old member said her earliest memory of the center is first coming in with her sister.

“I’m not well and my back is giving me a lot of problems, but I have been coming here and I’ve made up my mind to keep coming,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people here.”