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College Pt. senior center saved by $100K in state funds

By Alex Robinson

For the second time in as many weeks, a northeast Queens senior center in danger of shutting down got a reprieve Tuesday.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) announced he secured $100,000 in funding in this year’s state budget to prevent the North Flushing Senior Center in College Point from closing its doors.

“I was very concerned about the fact you may have to close,” Avella told a room full of seniors at the center. “So I made that a priority of mine in this recently passed state budget to get the funding that you need to operate.”

The center, at 22-38 College Point Blvd., was set to close by the end of the year if it did not receive funding. The situation had gotten so dire that the center did not even have enough cash in the last two months to pay the woman who runs the weekly exercise program.

“We were just about squeaking by,” said Betty Faraone, the center’s director.

The College Point senior center was not the only center in the area that was facing an impending closure. The Greater Whitestone Taxpayer’s Community Center was set to be shuttered in June before Avella announced last week he had obtained the funds for it to stay open.

More than 40,000 people who are 65 or older live in Queens Community District 7, which includes College Point, Whitestone and Flushing, according to a 2010 Community District Profile compiled by the Department of City Planning.

Seniors make up more than 16 percent of the district and constitute the area’s third largest age group behind 44- to 64-year-olds (29.2 percent) and 25- to 44-year-olds (28.6 percent). From 2000-10, the senior population grew by 5 percent, meaning an increasing number of seniors likely need places to congregate.

The College Point senior center is one of only two in the neighborhood and the other center, the Angelo Petromelis Senior Center, is at capacity. If it had closed, the center’s 130 members would have nowhere else to go, Avella said.

“[For] a lot of these old ladies, this is all they have,” Faraone said.

The center is open Tuesday and Thursday from noon until 3 p.m. and offers seniors trips, exercise programs and a place to play games, but most importantly it provides a sense of community.

“I live alone, so I come here to socialize,” said Dorothy Urban, 81, who has been visiting the senior center for at least 15 years. “It’s like an extension to my family. Many of the people in this room are always here for me and just a telephone call away.”

Avella left the mainstream Democrats in February to join the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a governing majority with the Senate Republicans in Albany. He attributed his ability to get funding for the two centers to his switch to the IDC.

“I did that so I could be in the majority in the Senate and make things happen. One of the things I wanted to make happen was keep this senior center open,” he said to applause.

The monies will go to rent and operating costs and should be able to fund the center for two to three years.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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