Jacob Riis Senior Center in Long Island City became $750,000 richer Friday when City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) hand-delivered on a campaign promise to get much needed funds for the aging facility.
In a ceremony outside the center's main entrance, Gioia presented an oversized check that will be spent immediately to pay for extensive renovations.
The center, which serves the elderly of Queensbridge Houses, was spared from Mayor Bloomberg's proposed cuts to senior spending, said Gioia. Hailing it as "a big day for the Queensbridge Houses," the councilman said he had to fight like "a hungry dog" to secure city council capital funding for the long-awaited renovation.
"I think one of the ways society should be judged is by the way it treats its senior citizens," Gioia said.
Queensbridge Tenant Association members were on hand for the official presentation of the check. Nina Adams, the association's president, had nothing but praise for the young councilman.
"He's not like the other politicians, he's always out here. Everybody knows him, he's always around," she said.
Adams' husband, Clarence, said Gioia had inspired him to vote for the first time in 35 years. "He looked like he wanted the job," the retired caretaker said.
While everyone applauded Gioia's commitment, Ray Normandeau was even happier the presentation was being publicized. "The people in the center can never say they never got the money," he said.
Normandeau, whose wife Rita is the tenant association vice president, publishes the Normandeau News wire, a news service specializing in New York City Housing Authority items from a tenant's point of view.
According to Normandeau's latest release, the seniors have questioned just where the center's $1 million annual budget has been allocated.
He also said the tenant association paid for a new radio as well as a television and donated several computer programmable sewing machines after the senior center said it lacked money to do so.
Now with the cameras flashing, Normandeau said, "it makes it very hard for them to deny they have the money."
William Newlin, executive director of the senior center, made it a point, however, to point out that the check "goes to contracts" for the planned renovations and strictly for that purpose.
Normandeau also spoke of a dilapidated piano the center could not afford to replace. But Gioia announced that a separate $5,000 grant was secured toward the purchase of a new piano.
That was good news to Robert Gottlieb, who lives adjacent to the Queensbridge complex. Gottlieb, a retired doctor who is a frequent visitor to the center, is also a Julliard-trained pianist anxious to share his love of music.
"If we get a decent piano here, I'd be glad to give piano lessons," he said. Gottlieb described the currently out-of-tune piano as "used and abused."
The renovations planned for the center include refurbishing the kitchen, creating more dining room space, adding a patio to the backyard, installing new access ramps for the disabled, and various general improvements to the entire center.
For Rosalie Jacobs, 77, who has lived in Queensbridge for more than 40 years, the senior center offers her different activities, and she loves it. She welcomed Gioia's contribution with open arms.
"We deserve it, the seniors deserve it," she said.
The senior center is named after the pioneering photojournalist, Jacob Riis, who is famous for photographing the poverty-stricken tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 19th century.
©2003 Community News Group
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