Opponents Rally Against Closing of Senior Center at Town Hall Meeting

By Nicholas Rizzi on September 26, 2012 3:54pm 

STATEN ISLAND — Residents voiced their opposition to the closing of the Forever Young Senior Center at a town hall meeting for seniors in St. George on Tuesday.

A large portion of the 80 people in attendance at Brighton Reformed Church, turned their attention to fight against the closing of the Forever Young Senior Center next door.

"We got to fight for this place," said Bill Johnsen, 63. "We need a senior center in the New Brighton, Tompkinsville area period. It's up to the people sitting on the panel, the people in this audience, not to give up this fight."

The center is scheduled to close in November, and attendees of the center worry that it will be hard for them to visit other centers farther away.

Johnsen, who started going to Forever Young a year ago, said the center helps gives seniors a sense of community and family and hopes it will remain open.

"We need these types of places," Johnsen said. "For the elderly to go and maintain a social life."

Nikki Odlivak, president and CEO of Community Agency for Senior Citizens, who sponsors Forever Young, told the crowd the reason for the closing was that not enough people attended the center.

"There are many seniors in this neighborhood, but they're not coming to Forever Young," she said.

To receive funding from the city, senior centers need at least 65 seniors in one room for at least one meal a day, Oldivak said. The numbers for Forever Young averaged at around 29 a day, Oldivak said.

City Councilwoman Debi Rose, who hosted the meeting, said she understood why seniors were upset over the closing of the center, and wants to work on another senior center in the neighborhood.

"Now what was become the norm for them has now been disrupted," she said. "It's very anxiety producing. I really plan to have a conversation with the agencies, to see if we can interest someone in sponsoring a senior center here in the St. George area."

Aside from the center, other issues addressed by seniors to the panel of 16 organizations, including the city's Department of Aging, included problems with Access-a-Ride service and cracked sidewalks in the neighborhood.

Sharon Valentine, 55, part of the tenant association of Castleton Park Apartments, said she has been trying to get repairs on sidewalks in the neighborhood.

"Unfortunately we've been talking about this since 2007, asking for help," Valentine said. "When is something going to be done?"

One of the worst in the neighborhood Valentine said was one on Hamilton Avenue near a bus stop, which she tripped on while walking to the meeting.

She said because of the conditions, a neighbor in a wheel chair is forced to wait for the bus in the street instead of on the sidewalk.

"It's very, very dangerous," she said.

Rose said she would talk with the Department of Transportation.

"We cannot risk the safety of pedestrians," she said.

Judy Montanez, 64, who also lives in Castleton Park, has been using Access-a-Ride since 1999. She complained that drivers regularly block driveways for long periods of time, and leave her waiting outside sometimes for over 30 minutes in cold or bad weather.

"We're all out there waiting in the cold," she said. "We're freezing."

Rose praised the large turnout of seniors to the event, and said she will contact relevant city agencies about the concerns brought up at the meeting.

"We had a great turnout," she said. "Our seniors are active, they're engaged and they're good advocates for their issues."

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