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Women’s center undaunted after Totten eviction battle

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Members of the Queens Women’s Center celebrated in the face of adversity last week despite being forced out of their Fort Totten home by the city and having to raise nearly $300,000 to renovate another building on the Bayside fort.

The center’s founder, Ann Jawin, a Douglaston resident, presided over the group’s 15th anniversary party at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in East Elmhurst, during which she announced a new name and mission for the center. In the fall, Jawin said, the Queens Women’s Center officially will become the Center for Women of New York.

“It’s not bad when things happen that you don’t want,” she told the 150 or so people who turned out for the fund-raising dinner. “Maybe that’s the opportunity you need to get out of where you were and into a better place. Maybe it was meant to be.”

Jawin, who founded the Queens Women’s Center in 1987, made the group’s future seem rosy as she spoke to the crowd and recognized the organization’s honorees, including the women of Ground Zero and community activists. The Queens Women’s Center, which also has some space at Borough Hall, has been fighting the city over its eviction from Totten since November.

In a deal worked out in State Supreme Court last month before Judge Duane Hart, the Queens Women’s Center was required to vacate Building #401 by Saturday in exchange for another space at the Fort — Building #207. The city has told the group it must raise the $475,000 needed to renovate the dilapidated Building #207 before the group can resume operations at Fort Totten.

State Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside), a longtime supporter of the Queens Women’s Center, has pledged $200,000 to the fund-raising endeavor.

Carrozza was one of several politicians who attended the dinner, and called the resolution of the center’s recent troubles “a new beginning.”

“We know that Ann Jawin does a lion’s job leading the Queens Women’s Center,” Carrozza said. “The Queens Women’s Center is promise for all women.”

Borough President Helen Marshall made an appearance at the dinner, as did U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing). Several current City Council members also attended, including Tony Avella (D-Bayside), David Weprin (D-Hollis), John Liu (D-Flushing) and Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights).

Marshall pledged to assist the Queens Women’s Center by finding more room for the group at Borough Hall.

“I will do all that I can to help Ann with this,” Marshall said. “When they told her to leave the building, I told her ‘come, we’ll find some space at Borough Hall.’ ”

The U.S. Army decommissioned the Civil War-era Fort Totten in 1995, and the property was due to become city parkland. Once under city control, the fort was to be split between the Fire and Parks departments.

The city was to take over Fort Totten from the federal government earlier this year, a move city authorities contend was delayed by the Queens Women’s Center’s refusal to vacate its Fire Department-controlled building. The Fire Department said all buildings had to be empty for the transfer to occur.

Jawin maintained a positive attitude about the center’s upcoming struggle.

“All we can do is stand together and say ‘go for it,’ ” she said. “It’s only money.”

The group, which serves between 100 and 150 women a week and provides a range of services to women and families, including job training, domestic violence programs and counseling, was inspired by its new building to expand its mission, Jawin said.

According to the program handed out during the anniversary dinner, the new Center for Women of New York will be designed as a research and conference center and serve as a “living” museum chronicling “women’s struggle to achieve full equality in our society.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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