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Boys, girls club to build senior housing in Astoria

Officials at the Variety Boys and Girls Club stood enthusiastically in front of a large hole in the ground as they broke ground last week on a low-rent senior housing center in Long Island City.

Construction on the Astoria Senior Center, which will stand 11 stories tall and provide 98 new units for low-income seniors, had begun before the June 11 ceremony and is expected to be complete between July and September 2004, Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Mel Campos said.

Officials from the Boys and Girls Club have been planning the project and forming partnerships to aid the construction for four years, and the center will stand in a former corner of the Club's large parking lot.

"The Club has served the families of Astoria for nearly 50 years," said Tom Nowierski, president of the Boys and Girls Club board of directors. "We wanted to find a way to use the assets of the organization to secure the future. We also felt compelled to find a way to do it that would benefit the community. The Astoria Senior Center fills all of our goals."

Campos said the project will benefit the community by improving the Club's fiscal health, offering educational opportunities to children by establishing relationships with seniors in the housing center.

"We will be working with their activities co-ordinator to plan programs together. I think seniors and kids are a great combination that doesn't get used enough," Campos said.

Community seniors have been involved with the Club for several years, using the facilities on 30th Road as a social center during school hours and volunteering their time when the children arrive in the afternoon. Seniors involved at the club have started classes to teach chess and musical instruments, among other activities.

Senior Tena Vallone has been teaching the flute to children in grades one through five once a week for six years.

"It's hard to pull (the children) away from the video games and other distractions," Vallone said in a statement. "But once they start, they love the challenge of new songs."

Funding for the project came from a variety of sources including grants, construction loans and state tax credits to leverage private investments.

A sluggish economy and an increased demand for housing due to a growing population in the Long Island City area are among the many factors contributing to a shortage of affordable housing for low-income seniors, Campos said.

"On the whole, Astoria is a community where people want to be, where people want to come and where people want to stay. As the population increases, the need for housing gets higher and the need for affordable housing goes way up," Campos said. "We want the seniors to be able to stay in the community where they want to be."

Reach Reporter Dan Trudeau by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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