Jamaica allies slam senior center closing

Jamaica allies slam senior center closing
Disashi Link, a native of the Congo and current Jamaica resident, protests the planned closure of the Friendship Center. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

Dozens of advocates for elderly southeast Queens residents with Alzheimer’s disease who use the Friendship Center in Jamaica rallied outside the building last week after the city Department of Health decided to cut the center’s funding so drastically that it will most likely be forced to close.

The center, at 92-33 170th St., has been sponsored by the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults since 1979 and is a haven for elderly southeast Queens residents who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other mental conditions associated with old age.

The Health Department notified the center last month that it would be cutting the center’s budget by $114,781 in March and discontinuing the facility’s $443,343 in funding by the beginning of the upcoming fiscal year in July, according to the area’s elected officials.

The center said the Health Department would be closing the center by Feb. 28.

“The future of this center is in jeopardy,” said Carol Hunt, the JSPOA executive director. “These folks will end up in our hospitals or our nursing homes.”

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said the shuttering of the center “simply cannot happen. This is completely wrong.

“The Friendship Center and these types of programs are something that our communities cannot do without.”

City Councilman-elect Ruben Wills said his grandmother used to go to the center.

“Because of that center, it alleviated a lot of burden on my family as a whole,” he said. “The level of care that my grandmother got was unparalleled.”

Ann Wilkinson, chairwoman of the JSPOA’s board of directors, said the potential closure of the Friendship Center “means that clients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and mental illness would not be able to continue living at home and have a safe place to spend some time each day in activities designed specifically for them and have a hot lunch.”

Lorrean Graham, 65, said she went to the center when she was diagnosed with depression two years ago and said the facility helped her get better.

“Just knowing I had somewhere to go to be among other people and that there was a program of activities and things set up to help toward my healing and wholeness” got her out of depression, Graham said.

Yvette Clark, whose 88-year-old husband has gone to the center for more than five years, said the facility was “a burden lifter.”

She said although her husband has dementia, he recognizes the Friendship Center building, which makes him smile.

“Friendship Center is my source of strength and support,” she said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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