The Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center — the home away from home for close to 200 of its members — blew out its 41st birthday candle on Thursday, October 13.
Located in South Ozone Park, the center first opened in October 1970. Since then, it has achieved national accreditation status from the National Institute of Senior Centers and has become “the place to be” for hundreds of seniors in the community.
“This anniversary means so much to me,” said member Leonie Alert. “I have been here for 17 years and I’m so glad that we have happy times here all the time.”
Alert, 75, teaches two dance classes during the week. She also heads the center’s dance group, the Rockaway Revue, which performed several dances during the three-day long celebration.
“I just want everyone to keep having fun even if they don’t know how to dance,” she said.
Seniors and center officials found a way to enjoy the anniversary despite the threats they face from city budget cuts.
“Senior centers are up on the chopping block,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA), under whose auspices the Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center operates. “If these places no longer existed, people would be at home, and the isolation could breed a whole other set of problems that are not evident right now because they’re here, and they’re out and about.”
Collier said JSPOA originally ran six centers — now cut down to three.
“This anniversary means being part of an organization that has had its roots here in Queens and has been serving seniors for a very long time,” she said. “I’m looking forward to another 41 years.”
The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It offers daily breakfast and lunch, along with an array of activities, including arts and crafts, sign language, billiards, computer training, tai chi, line, African and interpretive dance.
Nelli Hayes started coming to the center close to 35 years ago. The 99-year-old member said her earliest memory of the center is first coming in with her sister.
“I’m not well and my back is giving me a lot of problems, but I have been coming here and I’ve made up my mind to keep coming,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people here.”