State Assemblywoman−elect Grace Meng (D−Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D−Whitestone) rallied with Latimer Gardens residents Saturday, fearing the city would be closing the Flushing housing development’s community center.
But a spokesman for the city Housing Authority said Tuesday the agency will not be shuttering the community center as originally planned.
“The center is open and it’s remaining open while NYCHA continues to work on a plan with other mayoral agencies,” NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder said.
At the rally outside the community center, elected officials and skeptical residents from the development urged the agency to keep Latimer center open.
“Where are the kids from Flushing going to go? To the streets? I hope not,” Stavisky said.
She noted that the community center for the nearby Bland Houses was closed in May.
“We want our kids to grow up and become part of the community,” she said. “The center here at Latimer is so important.”
Victor Hogans Sr., a Latimer center volunteer who has been involved with the facility since 1978, said hundreds of children and seniors use the facility.
“I didn’t think I’d see the day where this can happen to the community center,” he said. “This was a good foundation for them to start.”
Hogans said the center gives the children a place to play basketball, softball and baseball. But he said he also teaches social skills at the center, including how to relate to others and tips to avoid getting into trouble.
“We keep them busy for hours, where they would [otherwise] be on the street,” he said.
“We’ve done many things in the past years for the youth in the community,” Hogans said. “We’d like to keep youth involved in positive activities.”
Although Latimer Gardens residents said there were notices around the development saying the city would not be closing the community center as planned on Jan. 2, they said nothing was given in writing and they were preparing as if the center would close.
“Housing is looking to make their ends’ meet over the backs of our children,” said Ken Cohen, the chairman of the northeast Queens branch of the NAACP, which is based in Flushing. “This center has a history in this community.”
Meng said it was vital to keep the center open because it enables Latimer children to stay out of trouble between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on school days, which she called “prime time for kids to be crime victims” or be participating in criminal activity.
“This is important for our future,” she said of the center.
Lorna Dotson, a Latimer resident for 38 years, said she feared the kids would not have a place like the community center to be safe.
“They’ll be in the lobby,” she said. “There’s no other place to go.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.
©2009 Community News Group
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