Sandy struck so many in the course of her overnight wrath that it remains exceedingly difficult to measure the degree of damage levied against any one particular facet of the population. But undoubtedly there is no contest as to how devastating the occurrence is for the some of the most vulnerable among storm victims—seniors.
And for the pool of about 500 seniors who belong to the Howard Beach Senior Center, things have been just about as bad as they can get.
The center was in somewhat of a precarious position before the storm hit. Threatened like so many other facilities of its kind with drastic budget cuts , decreased funding and continually escalating expenses.
But when the storm came and destroyed the Rockwood Park Jewish Center, where the center was housed since the ’70’s, it was uncertain as to whether the center could survive.
“We had absolutely no means of communication,” explained Judy Ascherman, the center’s Asst. Director, “we had no idea where anyone was. When we had phones I took the book and started calling anyone I could get to.” Ascherman says to this day, they have still not heard about the whereabouts of some of the seniors, presumably they have gone to stay with family members or friends out of the area.
But days led to weeks and with no communication with anyone at the Jewish Center, the situation worsened.
That is until, Msgr. Al Lo Pinto at St. Helen’s stepped in to help. Hearing about the plight of the Howard Beach Seniors, the pastor of St. Helen’s decided to open up the doors of Father Dooley Hall to offer temporary facilities to the seniors. “There is no way that we could stand by and see the seniors displaced,” Msgr. Lo Pinto told The Forum.
The parish had been using the hall as a Disaster Center, serving food and distributing clothes, paper goods, cleaning supplies and a host of other provisions up until a few weeks ago. When the need for the daily operation ceased, the center closed down, making room for the seniors. Now they are using the hall Monday thru Friday from 9 am to 4 p.m. This week some of the classes formerly offered were started at their new home.
Although the set-up is not like the one they are used to, about 120 seniors at the Holiday Dance on Tuesday, say their new digs will do just fine for now. “Home is wherever your friends are,” said Hilda Kamil,91. “This is what we do,” she said arranging the cards for her Canasta hand. “I’m not ready to stop this. I operate a computer, I dance. I’m still driving. We need a place to go.” And for now they have just that.
Sources say that the Howard Beach Senior Center has taken legal steps to dissolve their long-standing arrangement with Rockwood Park Jewish Center and have entered into an assimilation process where they will now be united with Catholic Charities.
One especially attractive feature of that arrangement is that the center could possibly wind up with a brand new facility on the ground floor of the senior residences currently under construction at the former Bernard Fineson Center on 156th Avenue.
The proposed move represents opportunity for the center not only to move into a brand new setting, but to potentially reduce expenses dramatically by vacating their $13,000 per month rental agreement with the Jewish Center.
“That’s almost a third of our budget,” said one Board Member of the rental costs at Rockwood Park. “Perhaps we will find a silver lining to this cloud hanging over us.”
And for the seniors, the change has been difficult but they look forward to playing cards, having a bite and some good conversation with friends.
“We’re gonna hold it all together,” said Rosalie Hawk, administrative assistant at the Center. “We could have lost everything but Msgr. Lo Pinto has taken care of that. Now all we have to do is to keep praying.”
Father Dooley Hall is located on the corner of 84 th street at 83-09 157th Ave.
By Patricia Adams