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NE Queens honors seniors’ volunteer group

For Terry Blank of Little Neck, the volunteers from the Northeast Queens Senior Services are “angels” who have made a huge difference in the wheelchair-bound senior’s life.

“In plain language, you guys are just wonderful and I know that for a fact,” Blank told about 35 volunteers at the group’s annual Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 3 at Douglaston Manor. “In here we have special angels streaming down from heaven, and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. I’ll remember you until my dying day.”

Last week’s Thanksgiving dinner honoring the volunteers is an annual event, during which residents and program officials recount the history of a program that has changed the lives of not only the clients but the individuals who take the mainly homebound seniors on shopping trips or help them with chores around the home.

“It’s not just me helping her — she helps me, too,” Floral Park resident Jim Moreno said of Blank, for whom he does food shopping. “It’s more than just going shopping, it’s a chance to have another relationship with an amazing person.”

Blank, who gets around in a wheelchair, noted she could talk for “hours and hours” with Moreno, who has volunteered with Northeast Queens Senior Services for the past two years.

Northeast Queens Senior Services began about seven years ago and has quickly grown from having a handful of volunteers and one senior to an organization that has helped hundreds of seniors and now has a hardcore group of 45 volunteers, according to Chris Schneider, the NQSS program manager. It serves communities throughout Queens, including Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Whitestone, Jamaica, Hollis, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks and Flushing.

“The clients we help I call the invisible generation,” Schneider said. “Many are living behind closed doors, and nobody knows they’re there. But the volunteers go into their homes and they’re not invisible anymore. This program breaks down invisibleness and brings hope and companionship into lives.”

Judy Kleve, vice president of older adult services for Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, which sponsors NQSS, said the program does wonders for the mental health of seniors.

“These seniors are isolated,” Kleve said. “Their friends or family have passed on, and this means someone in the community cares about them. It wards off depression. When you get older and you’re isolated, it’s hard to have hope in your future, but this gives them hope.”

Many of the volunteers and seniors become good friends, or “even like family members,” said Vivienne O’Neill, director of volunteer programs at City Meals on Wheels, which funds NQSS.

“The volunteers often don’t want to go on vacation because they want to be with their seniors,” O’Neill said. “Or if they do go on vacation, they’ll call their seniors. It makes a big impact on our volunteers, and for the seniors, I think it makes them happy, I really think it makes their lives longer.”

Anne Carson of Glen Oaks, who also spends time with Blank, said she has been elated to help the program.

“You really learn from these people,” Carson said. “We can help them with mobility, but they help you because they’re so positive.”

For more information, call Chris Schneider at 516-641-7541.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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