Velazquez gets $230K grant for Glenridge

Nereita Lopez (l.) and Harold Simonetti enjoy the music during Glenridge Senior Center's 37th anniversary party Sunday. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Anna Gustafson

There was much cause for jubilation at the Glenridge Senior Center’s 37th anniversary party this week, when U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) announced she had landed a $230,000 grant that will help to ensure the center will not close.

Glenridge faced being shuttered by July 1 after the city Department for the Aging said at the end of May it would eliminate all funding for the Ridgewood center.

Borough seniors and center staff and volunteers spent their anniversary celebration dancing the afternoon away at a fete Sunday that was emotional for an institution that did not know its fate just weeks ago. After DFTA told the center it would not renew its contract for next year, center officials scrambled to find funding and ultimately received $300,000 from City Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Brooklyn) in addition to the $230,000 from the congresswoman.

“The city wanted to close this center, but we have fought very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Velazquez said. “If you look at the seniors, you see how happy they are here. At home, these seniors may feel isolated and for some this center is the only place they’ll be with friends and have a good meal. It gives meaning to their lives.”

DFTA spokeswoman Jeanette Reed said Glenridge was one of 50 senior centers the agency had not renewed contracts for because of cuts in state funding. The city agency had given Glenridge about $575,000 last year.

Center administrators said they were notified by DFTA that it was cutting their funding because of a dispute between center management and the landlord, and Reed said they closed Glenridge because it “fell into the category of centers that had chronic management or fiscal problems.”

“The landlord dispute was one of the issues that contributed to the decision,” Reed wrote in an e-mail.

Glenridge is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and certain hours on weekends, serves about 70 seniors for each meal and has approximately 400 members, according to its executive director, Albert Juszczak.

“The assistant commission told us this was not about money,” Juszczak said. “They made a charge of mismanagement and said there was a dispute between us and our landlord, but that dispute had been resolved.”

While there had been a disagreement over whether the landlord would renew the center’s lease this year, the executive director said they were able to resolve the issue. Despite the agreement, Juszczak said the DFTA refused to reinstate their funding.

Reed said she knew nothing about the landlord disagreement.

Velazquez, Reyna, state Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven), state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) had asked the city to reconsider its decision to close Glenridge.

“This center has operated for 37 years and served the community very well, and that’s why the elected officials went to bat for us,” Juszczak said.

Paul Kerzner, president of Glenridge’s board of directors, said he was ecstatic that they had received money from the politicians.

“For most of the seniors who come here, this is their life,” Kerzner said. “Many have lost a spouse, friends and they come here for socialization and to stay active.”

John Simonetti, a 62-year-old from Ridgewood who received the center’s volunteer of the year award Sunday, said the center has played an especially important role in his life since his wife died in 2007. His wife, Susan, was once the center’s director.

“Seniors are very happy going to this place,” Simonetti said. “It’s like home. They don’t feel comfortable going somewhere else.

Frances Falzetta, 84, of Maspeth also lauded the center, saying it provides much entertainment — from bingo to dancing — for seniors who have formed important friendships with others at Glenridge.

“This is where they socialize, meet with their friends, dance together, tell each other our problems,” said Falzetta, a member of the board of directors. “We lean on each others’ shoulder for support. This center means so much to all of us.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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