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Friendship Ctr. to stay open as city reverses cuts

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One of Jamaica’s popular centers for senior patients with mental health problems avoided closure by the city last week and administrators are looking forward to a brighter future.

The city Department of Health announced that it reversed its plans to cut the budget to the Friendship Center, at 92-33 170th St., and eliminate its $443,343 in funding all together in July, according to Carol Hunt, executive director of the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults, which sponsors the center.

“Over the holidays I got a call from the Department of Aging, saying that the Department of Health would not decrease funding. It was a great Christmas gift,” she said.

Hunt credited support from the commissioners in the city Department for the Aging, who heard her concerns about the cuts, which could have led to the center’s closing. The Friendship Center has been serving the community since 1979 and provides a space for people with health issues, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, to congregate and get help from specialists.

Last month dozens of supporters rallied outside the center to urge the city to reconsider the cuts, including several elected officials like state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), whose grandmother was a frequent user of the center.

“We’re just happy for the support we got and the people who came,” Hunt said.

Although the cuts would not be coming this winter, Hunt said the center was far from the being out of the woods. The city plans to slash 50 percent of its funding to the Friendship Center in the new fiscal year in July, based on its current budget model, the executive director said.

A fund-raising effort is being considered to raise $20,000 in funding for the center, according to Hunt.

“It gives us some breathing room, but it keeps us on our feet,” she said of the decision to partially cut the funding later in the year.

In the meantime, Hunt said the nonprofit is gearing up for a move into better facilities at the newly constructed Moda building at 153-50 89th Ave. The Friendship Center and JSPOA are set to use two floors of the mixed-used building sometime this year and will be getting support from the city Economic Development Corp.

“We were pleased because it gives the center a burst of life,” Hunt said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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