Budget may force senior centers to close

Budget slashes may force closure upon the Korean-American Senior Center, leaving hundreds of hungry, homebound Asian seniors in Queens without a hot meal.

The Corona-based senior center — along with five others in the borough — is up on the chopping block if Borough President Helen Marshall is not able to restore $1.6 million in discretionary funding to keep them up and running.

Marshall and the Borough Board — made up of the borough president, district council members and chairs of each of the borough’s 14 community boards — approved a $258.6 million budget priorities package on March 13.

“This priorities package, which will now be sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, is meant to build our borough,” Marshall said.

Heading the top of the list is restoring funds to save the Forest Park Senior Center, the Kew Gardens Senior Center, SAGE/Queens Senior Center, Korean-American Senior Center, Bell Park Senior Center and LeFrak Senior Center, said a spokesperson for the borough president.

“We need the funding. Without it, our center would be in jeopardy, and without the center, the seniors’ lives would be very hopeless,” said Helen Ahn, director of the Korean-American Senior Center in Corona. “It really worries me.”

Ahn said her center is currently supported by the borough president’s discretionary funds, although it has already seen up to 50 percent in cuts. The Korean-American Senior Center used to receive $215,000 in funds, but now only gets about $110,000, she said.

“Our senior center is the only one — the only unique homebound program for Chinese and Korean homebound seniors in Queens. If we cannot sustain the senior center programs, we don’t have any place to prepare these meals,” said Ahn, who added that the mobile meal program reaches close to 100 homes.

The budget cuts also mean the Forest Park Senior Center will face the ax once more, after it narrowly escaped closure last year, receiving $120,000 in funding — half from the City Council and the other half from the borough president — at the last minute.

“Every year at this time, I feel like I’m Chicken Little,” said Donna Caltabiano, the center’s executive director. “If it wasn’t for the borough president and Councilmember Eric Ulrich, we wouldn’t be open this year, and we won’t be open next year if they don’t help us again. We need them even more than ever.”

Caltabiano said the center — which has been in existence since 1979 — is home to the 40 to 45 seniors who use the center daily.

“They will not go to another place. They will not. This is their home,” she said.

Ulrich said he would try and pull through for the center again this year.

“This is déjà vu all over again. Every year, we seem to be in the same predicament,” he said. “The Forest Park Senior Center does a wonderful job of providing services to the senior population in Woodhaven and Forest Park. I’ll do everything I can to fight and keep it open.”

Meanwhile, Caltabiano said she and the seniors can only cross their fingers and hope for the best.

“I’m hoping for another miracle. I’m hoping for Christmas in June,” she said.


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