By Madina Toure
For the past 12 years, Mazeda Uddin, a self-proclaimed “hungry community activist,” has been pressuring elected officials to form a senior center for the elderly Muslim population.
“Nowadays, our children do not want to take care of their parents because they are not comfortable and moreover, they are working day and night,” said Uddin, the national women’s coordinator for the Alliance of South Asian American Labor. “They cannot support their parents. I’ve been working on this issue for almost 12 years. I gave all the elected officials this message: We need a South Asian senior center.”
All that pressure and hard work paid off. On Monday afternoon, City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) announced the official opening of the Desi Senior Center at the Jamaica Muslim Center. The center is the first and only full-time senior facility serving the South Asian population.
“It means that every community within the family of New York City has the right to participate fully in government, in political life, in social life, and that the needs of every single community should try to be met to the extent that’s possible,” Lancman said before a crowd of South Asian and Muslim residents and elected officials.
The Desi Senior Center, which whose goal is to serve the growing South Asian community in Jamaica Hills and Briarwood, will be housed at the Jamaica Muslim Center on 85-37 168th St. in Jamaica.
It will operate three days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and include a halal lunch, arts and crafts, exercise classes, speakers and socializing. The center is open to people ages 60 and up. Members of the Darus Salaam Masjid can also sign up for the senior center.
Lancman — whose district has the largest Bangladeshi population in New York City and has more than 23,000 residents of South Asian descent — provided $100,000 in discretionary funds to support the center.
“It’s open to everybody and so we expect people who are affiliated with other mosques to come here as well as people who are not affiliated with any mosque or are not of the Muslim faith,” he said. “It’s really designed around the South Asian community broadly.”
India Home, a Glen Oaks-based nonprofit organization that serves the Indian and South Asian senior citizen immigrant community, will run the center.
Dr. Vasundhara D. Kalasapadu, India Home’s executive director, said she was surprised when Lancman reached out to her.
“We all come from, whether it’s India, Bangladesh or Pakistan,” Dr. Kalasapadu said. “We run behind our politicians there, we request them, but do they do anything? We’re not sure about it. But here, the council member is running behind an organization saying ‘Please, do solve this community,’ which is amazing.”
Uddin first wrote a letter to Judy Coyne, deputy commissioner for the Albany County Department for Aging, in 2009 and 2010 and to Kathleen Otte, regional administrator for the Administration for Community Living, requesting the creation of a public Muslim senior center.
Senior centers have to have a location and be run by an organization, Lancman explained. He selected India Home because of its track record of running senior programs and its ability to provide culturally sensitive and relevant programming. He gave the $100,000 grant to the organization.
The center will allow the Jamaica Muslim Center to better serve its senior population, said Dr. Mohammad W. Rahman, the center’s president.
“This was our dream, and this dream came true today, and this is a historic event for us,” Rahman said. “More than 100 seniors already registered. People will hear about it and they will come. We will try to accommodate as much as we can.”
Because the center is government-funded, anyone can participate. But state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who has worked with India Home for many years, said it is still beneficial to have a center that caters to the community.
“It’s nice to know that there’s a particular senior center that has a certain appeal to the South Asian community, to the Muslim community,” Weprin said. “We feel comfortable knowing that you can eat all the food and also … the culture, particularly in the Bangladeshi community.”
Lancman also announced the creation of a five-member community advisory committee that would work India Home to ensure that the needs of area seniors are addressed adequately.
The committee consists of one Alliance of South Asian American Labor representative, Mazeda Uddin, who will serve as chair, as well as three Jamaica Muslim Center representatives and one Darus Salaam Masjid representative.
Lancman said they are aiming for the center to eventually receive funding, expertise and official recognition from the city Department of Aging.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.