Whitestone Senior Center falls prey to budget

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Every Monday for the past 20 years Anne Kizneo has headed to the Whitestone Hebrew Center for lunch with other seniors.

For Kizneo, whose husband died almost a year ago, going to the center is about more than food: it is the highlight of her week.

Kizneo joins more than 80 other seniors every week for Monday’s lunch organized by the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged. The men and women play cards, socialize and once a month dance in what has become known as JASA Mondays.

“I became a widow,” said Kizneo, 80. “And this became my therapy.”

But for the Whitestone senior, JASA Mondays may soon become just another memory.

As part of the city’s attempt to close the $4.8 billion budget deficit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced $26.1 in cuts to the city’s Department for the Aging. The cuts include a $924,000 consolidation plan.

The consolidation plan calls for the closure of seven senior centers across the city. One of those centers is the JASA at the Whitestone Hebrew Center, located at 12-45 Clintonville St.

JASA spends close to $40,000 a year to serve weekly kosher lunches at the center, said Bob Weber, JASA’s director for group services.

Pat Wilks, a spokeswoman for the city Department for the Aging, said the agency struggled to cut 16 percent of its budget.

“This is the first time we’ve had to make sacrifices like this,” she said, saying the budget for the agency doubled under the Giuliani administration. “By doing this, we preserve our main functions.”

Wilks said many of the seniors attended a center about two miles away at 26th Avenue and Corporal Kennedy in Clearview on the other days of the week and the seniors who just use the JASA program Monday could also go to the Clearview center.

But many of the seniors said making the trip, which would require taking two separate buses from the Clintonville Street center, would be very difficult for them, according to Rebecca Grossman, the center’s president.

Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, which covers Whitestone, College Point and Flushing, said the board was worried about the seniors having to take buses to another center.

“Our concern is that the seniors that are at this particular center have access to another center if they need it,” she said.

Seniors at the center said they would miss the camaraderie of their Monday gatherings if it closed.

“I’ve been to the others,” said Geraldine Marohn, 73. “This is the best place.”

While many of the seniors have been eating meals at the Clintonville center since JASA began serving them nearly 20 years ago, others have been coming to the center more recently.

Rebecca Eng, 70, first came to the center only three months ago.

“The people here are very nice,” said Eng.

JoAnne Biswakarma, the director of the center, began working at the center two weeks ago. Within days of taking over, she found out that the center faces closure at the end of the fiscal year in July.

Millie Rigoli, a 78-year-old woman from Bayside, said she usually arrived shortly after 8 a.m. to play cards before the Monday lunch.

“It took so long to establish senior centers, and now they’re going to take them away,” she said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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