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Senior center faces shutdown after cuts

Seniors, staff members and supporters protest outside the Friendship Center in 2011.
TimesLedger Newspapers

After lawmakers set aside $2 million to build a new home for a Jamaica program that provides services to adults with special needs, the city told the Friendship Center it would eliminate its funding next fiscal year — a move the center said will force the operation to end after more than 30 years in the neighborhood.

“This is devastating to our center, our staff and the community,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults, which operates the Friendship Center at 92-33 170th St. “There’s no one else like us in southeast Queens.”

Since 1979, the Friendship Center has been serving adults over the age of 60 who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and schizophrenia as well as a host of other mental and physical disabilities.

The center provides transportation to the elderly from as far as the Queens-Nassau county border and Far Rockaway and gives them two full meals as well as services from an art therapist, social worker and case manager.

Collier said she was blindsided last week when the city Department of Mental Health and Hygiene told her the center’s funding would be eliminated, effective June 30, due to budget cuts.

“We were shocked,” she said. “We didn’t know this was coming.”

Collier said the community stepped forward to fill a funding hole when the city slashed the center’s budget in half last year, and that the center was in the process of finalizing plans for a new facility to be built with $2 million provided by borough, city and state lawmakers.

“Last year there was a lot of community support, so why is the city saying they’re going to close it again?” she asked.

Collier said that without the DOMHH funding, the center will still be able to operate as a senior center serving able adults, but the Friendship Center as the community knows it now will cease to be.

“What’s most important is that this is a very vulnerable population,” she said. “If the center closes down, the participants won’t have a place to go.”

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

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