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Community hub needs funding

Ninety-five-year-old Anna Luongo wouldn’t know where to go if the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center were to close.
Luongo, of Woodhaven, has been a member of the center for at least 20 years, sits on the Board of Directors, and even signs people in at the desk.
“It would be terrible, the worst thing that could happen,” she said. “I come here every day. When I’m here I’m happy.”
Luongo, who lives alone, is like her “family,” in that she depends on the center for meals, recreation – and interaction.
“I come here to mingle, to be with people, with friends,” said Luongo.
But, with budget cuts and funding either being slashed or drying up (as in the case of former Assemblymember Anthony Seminerio, who founded the center over 30 years ago and provided $30,000 a year), executive director Donna Caltabiano has said, “I don’t see us surviving a year.”
In fact, she’s hoping to make it through June.
“We’re looking at $70,000 for a program that runs $200,000,” she said. “[Before] as the money dwindled, Anthony Seminerio was always there. He petitioned then-Borough President Claire Shulman in the early 1990s to keep us open.”
Caltabiano explained that current funding for the Forest Park Senior Center, which serves between 40 and 50 a day in the summer, decreased by $40,000 from Borough President Helen Marshall; the $20,000 from the Department for the Aging (DFTA) stopped four years ago; and monies from veteran lawmakers like State Senator Serphin Maltese have not been matched.
Christopher Miller, DFTA spokesperson, told The Courier that back in August 2009 the mayor and DFTA launched “innovative” senior centers, which could be new or pre-existing facilities, and would have a larger budget.
Right now, said Miller, they are asking centers to prequalify, “so we’re really at the beginning.” After that there is a solicitation period, during which, he said Caltabiano could try to become qualified as a “neighborhood center,” and as such, she could get a contract with the city.
But, he noted, this process does take time – which Caltabiano said the center does not have.
“It’s very disappointing news, given the fact that so many seniors rely on the center not only for food, but for interaction,” said City Councilmember Eric Ulrich. “Donna does a terrific job of doing as much as she can with the little money she has, but no amount of discretionary funding will make up [for the cuts].”
Last week, Caltabiano said that some of the seniors pledged money, including member Joseph Palladino, to help the center keep its doors open.
In the meantime, she said, hours will probably be cut (currently the center is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), the music program was stopped, and there may be more to come.
“We’re hoping that somewhere along the lines things change,” she said. “We have to hold out until next June, but I don’t see that happening.”

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