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Sunnyside senior center plans expansion, renovation project

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In September Sunnyside Community Services will begin work to convert a one-time auto repair shop adjacent to its 39th Street headquarters into a state-of-the-art facility for its senior programs.The $1.77 million project - to be financed through a combination of city funding, foundation grants and donations from private individuals - will give the center the elbow room it has been looking for.As part of a simultaneous capital campaign to help finance the renovations, Sunnyside Community Services will host a fund-raising art auction Oct. 14 at Citigroup's Long Island City building at One Court Square. The event, which will feature artwork donated by artists from all over the borough and beyond, will run from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m."SCS will use this event to do more than celebrate our past successes," said Judith Zangwill, executive director of Sunnyside Community Services and Sunnyside Home Care Project, which runs the home-care program independently. "At our anniversary celebration we will officially kick off SCS's capital fund-raising campaign to expand and renovate our home at 43-31 39th St."Planners said the new senior facility, slated for completion around February, will be able to accommodate about 275 seniors a day, up from the fewer-than-200 who currently use the second-floor space in Sunnyside Community Service's headquarters at 43-31 39th St.It will feature among other amenities a restaurant-quality kitchen to prepare the daily hot meals served to area seniors, a dedicated area for the golden-age exercise classes whose attendance has skyrocketed and four sound-proofed classrooms."We have so many programs and not enough space," said Gertrude McDonald, a lifelong Sunnysider who saw the center founded in 1974 and now uses it daily. As a member of the center's advisory committee, McDonald said she is excited to see the new senior facility become a reality and pleased that planners took the clients' suggestions to heart.Once work is done and the seniors have moved to their new digs, Sunnyside Community Services will move youth development and tutoring programs into the vacated space and expand its cramped administrative offices.Since the organization was founded in 1974 - as little more than a group of seniors meeting in a cramped church basement - it has grown by leaps and bounds.Today the community organization is the largest of its kind in western Queens, serving more than 12,500 residents a year with youth, senior and home-care programs. The center also provides training for caregivers and operates an adult day care facility, which is decorated to mimic a home environment as much as possible, for elderly people with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.In addition to its Sunnyside headquarters, the organization also operates a satellite center just off Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, where it helped build 77 units of senior and disabled housing.Over the years, McDonald said, one of the biggest changes has been the changing ethnic makeup of the center's clients, which were predominantly of Irish descent when it opened."Now we have people from every nationality and I feel that we're very fortunate because everyone seems to get along," said McDonald, who in 1968 became the first Democratic woman to run for the state Assembly.She did not win, but she broke down a barrier."At that time, the women could be seen and not heard," she said. "But I have a big mouth."Despite the changes, however, Sunnyside Community Services also proves the old adage that the more things change the more things stay the same.As a so-called "settlement house" - a term first used in New York at the turn of the 20th century - an integral part of Sunnyside Community Services' mission is to help newcomers acclimate."The wave of immigration during the turn of the last century is similar to what we've got now," said Sue Fox, assistant executive director for development. "If our mission has changed, it has gone back to what it was."Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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