UPPER WEST SIDE — A group of "feisty" neighborhood seniors is celebrating a promise by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to restore funding for their beloved center and prevent it from permanently closing at the end of the month.
Club 76, a 25-year-old center that serves about 200 seniors, did not have its funding renewed by the Department for the Aging (DFTA) this fiscal year and is set to close its doors on June 30.
The dedicated seniors say the club, which sits between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues on West 76th Street, wrote countless letters to DFTA, elected officials and supporters in the area to prevent what they described as a "fiscal cliff."
"You can’t give up," said Stu Lahn, president of Friends of Club 76, a group he and other members formed to try to save their beloved center.
Last year, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer was able to carve out room in her budget to support the center, and said she is again urging the council to support Club 76, which offers the only kosher lunch for senior between the Lower East Side and Washington Heights.
But when the 11th hour came and the funding had not been secured, the group went to Quinn, who is running for mayor. They delivered a hand-written letter, hoping the gesture would make their request memorable.
It worked, Lahn said.
"She did say she was really touched to say we hand-delivered the letter," he said of Quinn.
The letter included an invitation to a birthday party for all the members born in May. Lahn said he was stunned when five days later, Quinn made it to the party, with her own aging father Larry in tow.
The visit had all 80 seniors in attendance aflutter, he said.
"In the process [of her visit] she said to us: 'As God is my witness, you will not close and you will receive funding,'" he said. "You can imagine the applause...It was a very special moment. We were all excited."
The leadership at Jewish Association Serving the Aging, or JASA, which manages Club 76, is not celebrating just yet, however.
"We have received verbal assurances from City Council that the funding will be forthcoming for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2013," said Elaine Rockoff, director of community-based programs for JASA.
But, she added: "We do not yet have formal notification, as the Mayor's budget has not yet been passed."
Quinn's office did not confirm that the funding would be allocated but said the speaker made the promise because "it’s an important, well-used center that was facing closure due to lack of funding," a spokeswoman said.
Lahn said he and other seniors are celebrating Quinn's assurance and Brewer and other leaders' tenacity, but that they see the fight as far from over.
"We can all pat ourselves on the back, but now we have to fight for base-lining because otherwise we’re going to go through this every year," he said.
Rockoff said she expects to hear whether Club 76 will be funded again by July 1 at the latest.