Bloomberg hears plea for help on Flushing senior center tour

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (c.) spoke about the Innovative Senior Centers program at the Selfhelp Ben Rosenthal Senior Center with Selfhelp Community Services CEO Stuart Kaplan (l.) and city DFTA Commissioner Lillian Barrios-Paoli. Photo by Nykeema Williams
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An 89-year-old Queens woman begged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help bring her son back from the Dominican Republic to the United States during a news conference Tuesday at the Selfhelp Ben Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing.

Norma Alvarez, a Flushing resident, said she had no money to help her son, Gregory Roman Alvarez, who came to the United States when he was 10 but was deported in the 1990s. She said both she and her son were poor, but she wanted to see her son back in the States before she dies.

“He’s a resident, legal,” she said, “but they deport him because he was in a group — not selling — of people taking drugs.”

Bloomberg said it was a federal issue, but directed her to a staff member for help.

The mayor had come to the senior center, at 45-25 Kissena Blvd., to announce that it had become one of the city’s first eight Innovative Senior Centers. These centers have special programming and new technology geared toward better meeting the needs of the communities they serve.

“Seniors today are very different,” Bloomberg said. “They are much more mobile. They are much more interested in the world.”

In addition to the Flushing center, the other Innovative spot in Queens is SNAP of Eastern Queens, at 80-45 Winchester Blvd. in Bellerose.

As part of the initiative, Selfhelp will be open alternate Sundays, implement a program for managing arthritis, offer wellness coaching and have vegetarian meals available in the kitchen for the Hindu population.

It is also boosting its technological capability not only in health management, but in programs and social activities that visitors to the center can use out of their own homes through Skype, a program that allows people to observe and communicate through live feeds over the Internet.

Stuart Kaplan, chief executive officer of Selfhelp Community Services, said this technology will allow seniors to take classes without coming to the center.

“We know that old adage that you can learn something new every day,” he said. “Well, these seniors are doing it.”

The Bellerose center’s new features include vegetarian meals, programs designed for the South Asian population, a guest chef program, a coffee club and more mental health and cognitive wellness programs.

Bloomberg said the city needs to keep pace with the evolving needs of the senior population, which now stands at 1.4 million in the city and is expected to increase by 46 percent throughout the next 25 years.

“As I become older I get more interested in senior programs,” the 70-year-old mayor said.

City Department for the Aging Commissioner Lillian Barrios-Paoli said she was grateful for the new initiative.

“If you allow the centers to be more creative and you give them a little more funding, the sky is the limit,” she said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 5:05 pm, April 4, 2012
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