After budget cuts threatened a possible closure, the Forest Park Senior Center will keep its doors open for at least another year.
According to Executive Director Donna Marie Caltabiano, the Woodhaven-based senior center will receive $120,000 in funding. Half of that came from the City Council and Borough President Helen Marshall is expected to fund the remaining amount.
Paola Miceli, the director of Health, Human Services and Senior Services for Marshall, told The Forum her office will give discretionary funds to the center, but she noted that the process is “long and time-consuming.”
“We are committed to giving them the same allocation [$60,000] as last year,” Miceli said.
News that the center has another year’s worth of operating funds comes as a relief to Caltabiano and the seniors, as they weren’t sure if the center would remain open.
“We were just so convinced that that was it,” said Caltabiano. “They [the seniors] all just came crying to me, ‘You have to find a way to stay open.’”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said that the senior center faced an uphill battle a week before the New York State budget was released in March. The state budget cut all discretionary funds, reducing vital money many local non-profits depend on.
“The fight to keep the center open really came down to the wire,” Ulrich said while campaigning on behalf of Republicans Bob Turner and Jane Deacy, who visited the center last Thursday. “I really didn’t know if this would be open after July 1.”
Ulrich said that it was important to keep the center open as it gives seniors a place to go during the day and allows them to check up on each other in case they’re not feeling well.
“Where would you be right now?” Ulrich asked the crowed of seniors. Most yelled out “home!” in response to his question.
With the future of the center hanging in the balance, Caltabiano said the center had to function through most of the spring without knowing if they would be open next year . She added that the uncertainty was heightened more this year than in previous years. Caltabiano even received a phone call from Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) congratulating her on the 18 years as director because he was convinced that the center would shut down.
She also told her employees, who usually take their vacations in the summer months, to go on vacation in June because she could not guarantee that the center would be open on July 1.
But a few days before the budget was passed, she got word from Ulrich that they would be getting funding from the City Council and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.
Although the funding will keep the center from shutting down, Caltabiano said she will not actually see the money until early next year. Ulrich has secured loans from some local banks at reduced interest rates to help keep the center running, she said.
It will also have to rely on people like Casey Rios, the house chairman of American Legion Post 118 and the building’s landlord, for donations.
Rios has loaned up to $1,000 to the center before and is willing to do so again if needed. He said that the center had trouble paying the rent last year and he let up to five months of the money go because he wanted to see the senior center stay open.
“We would look like the Grinch if we tried to throw these people out of here,” said Rios, who has lived in Ozone Park for 36 years. “She’s very thankful that we let the seniors stay here.”
By Luis Gronda