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Friends rally for senior center

Seniors hold up signs supporting the Friendship Center, which is facing a devastating budget cut. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Advocates for a Jamaica senior center that provides unique services for adults with special needs throughout southeast Queens are decrying the city’s plan to cut its funding, reasoning that the small amount of savings does not add up.

The city Department of Health informed the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults that it would be eliminating its $400,000 in funding.

JSPOA Executive Director Beverly Collier said last week at a rally to restore the program’s funding, “$400,000 is a lot of money to us, but in terms of the city budget, it is a drop in the bucket.”

JSPOA operates three senior centers in southeast Queens, but the Friendship Center, at 23-33 170th St., is the only one that serves a population of mentally and physically disabled older adults with conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and schizophrenia.

“Friendship is the only geriatric psycho-social club in southeast Queens,” Collier said. “The others that are available have waiting lists, they’re not in our area and if family members have to pay out of pocket, it can be quite costly.”

Collier spoke to a crowd of dozens of seniors who held up signs imploring the city to restore the center’s funding. She said a number had been bused in from a neighboring senior center, which is concerned it will not be able to properly care for Friendship’s clients should the center close.

Caregiver Minnie Barriteau, 70, said she had to retire in order to take care of her husband of 35 years, 86-year-old Joe Barriteau, when he was stricken with multiple illnesses several years ago.

“Previously, he would have been up here speaking,” she said. He was very socially active — a union activist, politically active — and he would have been up here speaking on behalf of the community, but because he can’t, I am here in his place.”

Barriteau said the center helps stimulate her husband’s mind, and its effects are clearly apparent.

“Every day my husband comes through the door, telling me a joke he remembers from the program, somebody he bumped into,” she said.

JSPOA President William Collins Jr. said the cut is yet another blow to seniors in the name of fiscal efficiency.

In recent years, he said, there have been reductions to services provided by meals on wheels, other centers have been closed outright and Friendship’s case management program has been outsourced.

“By the way, Catholic Charities recently asked for more money to do case management. So much for the efficiency of outsourcing and centralization,” he said.

State Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-St. Albans) questioned the value of the budget cut.

“You know, government can do many things that are penny-wise and pound foolish, and so they will take away this $400,000 and think they’re saving money, but there will be people who use this center who will then have to go into a nursing home, or an institution or ... [stay] home because these services will be taken away.”

Collier said the Queens delegation, led by City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), has pledged to restore some of the center’s funding, but that would still leave it short more than $200,000.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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