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Flushing Chinese center awaits its new home

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A Flushing Chinese senior center with hundreds of daily visitors has found a temporary home in a Murray Hill Buddhist Temple after the center lost its lease.

The Queens Nanshan Senior Citizen Center, the only city-funded center in the borough run by a Chinese organization, moved into the four-story International Buddhist Progress Society at 154-37 Barclay Ave. on Aug. 19.

The move allows Nanshan’s members to continue attending the center as they await renovation on their new permanent home.

Established in 1989, Nanshan opened with about 600 members. Since then the center has ballooned with about 7,900 members and 250 visitors using its services everyday.

“Booming, just like Flushing, booming,” said Michael Wang, director of the center.

With the increase in its membership, which is almost entirely Chinese, Nanshan found itself severely short of space, operating out of the third floor of the Social Security Administration building at 136-65 37th Ave.

Then Nanshan’s lease ran out at the end of last year.

The senior center stayed in its old space on a month-by-month basis. In April, Wang found a larger location several blocks away at 133-12 41st Ave.

But at the end of July, Nanshan was finally forced to leave its 37th Avenue site, although it was still allowed to use part of the building for its offices, Wang said. The renovations at the new location were still months away from being completed.

Nanshan’s seniors had to go without their usual lunches, Tai Chi exercises and English language classes.

But on Aug. 6 Yiheng Shih, the abbess of the International Buddhist Progress Society, read about the plight of the senior center in a Chinese newspaper and called up Wang.

Shih invited Nanshan to use space in its temple.

“The reason we have a temple is to offer a service to the community, to the society,” Shih explained through a translator.

Wang then contacted the administration of the Chinese-American Planning Council, the international social service agency which runs the Nanshan center. The CPC and the city Department for the Aging approved the temple for Nanshan’s use. Nearly three weeks after it closed, Nanshan opened up its doors in the temple.

So far, the move has been well received by both the seniors and members of the temple.

“I like it here much better than before,” said Maria Leung, 70, who has been taking Tai Chi classes at Nanshan for seven years. “There’s more space.”

Shih said the seniors provided a good balance for the temple, since most temple members are either middle-aged or children.

“It’s very good, everything goes well,” Shih said. “They show their respect to us and that’s really touching.”

Since its move, Nanshan has provided shuttle service from downtown Flushing to the Buddhist temple about a mile to the east.

“Most of my seniors are new immigrants,” Wang said. “They are transportation disabled.”

Nanshan, which receives $450,000 from the Department for the Aging and raises nearly $100,000 every year, provides all of its services free of charge, requesting only a $1 donation for seniors eating lunch.

The organization is planning to stay at the Buddhist temple for several months, depending on how long the renovations on its new space take.

For Wang, whose parents are members of Nanshan, the move to the Buddhist temple allowed an essential service to remain intact.

“Senior services, especially the minority senior services, they are much needed,” Wang said. “I always tell my social workers, ‘We are just like a bridge for the seniors.’”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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