Prolonged Funding Cuts Forces Senior Center to Get Creative

While he has only been running things for a short time, Mark Frey, executive director of the Howard Beach Senior Center, notes that the problem of finding new ways to finance the center on 85th Street without state funding and with operational costs rising is still a new, difficult challenge.

“It’s new, trying to figure out where we stand,” he said.

For several years, the center—which opened in 1973—has run programs for local seniors that include yoga, dancing, tai chi, holiday events and various other recreational activities with a big hand coming from local and state aid such as discretionary funds. However, in fiscal 2010, Frey said “things became a little tighter.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo said that while he used to receive $5,000 for the senior center in Howard Beach through discretionary funds from the state, that money dried up in the face of the current economic decline.

As a result, Addabbo said, there has been less money to dole out to senior centers like Howard Beach.

“It’s unfortunate, but we are in tough financial times,and when that money is taken away from elected officials, it makes it very tough for good programs like the one in Howard Beach,” he said.

Between those cuts and the rising costs of renting the Howard Beach facility as well as providing other services and utilities, the center faces a $25,000 gap in their finances,which has forced them to cut some programs and eliminate conveniences for seniors—such as niceties like small foods and totebags.

However, despite those cuts, Frey said the center was still determined to stay open without raising fees too high for seniors—some of whom are on a fixed income—who frequent their halls. To do that, the center has been looking at alternative ways to fund their five day operation for seniors.

One such way the center’s board of directors has been looking at is reaching out to the local business community. Frey said that the center has been offering the chance for local businesses to advertise in the center’s newsletter, as well as asking for their help in sponsoring center activities.

Some businesses have already expressed interest in doing so, Frey said.

In addition, Frey said local politicians have been helpful, noting that newly elected state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder had sponsored a holiday party for the center recently.

Donna Caltabiano, director of the Forest Park Senior Center in Woodhaven, knows what challenges the Howard Beach facility faces. With the absence of city and state funds, her center is left with a $10,000 hole that it needs to fill in order to avoid closure, and has already reduced their previous six-day operation of the center to four days.

However, she said, the center is now turning to local seniors for help. Joseph Paladino, president of the Board of Directors for the center, has recently offered a $5,000 fundraising challenge to local seniors, offering to match those funds with $5,000 of his own money to bring the total to $10,000—which would keep the center open.

“We’re hoping that we can have the support from our local seniors,” Caltabiano said.

On whether government funding will ever come back, Frey and Caltabiano share differing opinions.

Frey remains cautiously optimistic, stating, “As the economy improves, it might be possible for the city to  increase funding for seniors.”

Caltabiano, however, is doubtful. “Budgets get tighter and tighter,” she said. “Meanwhile, we just have to tighten our belts.”

By Jean-Paul Salamanca


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