For Marsha Shirley, 67, of Queens Village, coming to the Friendship Center, a senior facility in Jamaica, gives her a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It provides her with a place to socialize with people her own age and to participate in a myriad of activities.
But Shirley and the more than 100 disabled or frail people, ages 52 to 95, who utilize the center may have to find another place to go. The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to eliminate its total budget of $221,671 for the Friendship Center as of July 1, which will effectively close the facility since that money is used to cover staffing and mental health services.
Founded in 1979, the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults Friendship Center at 92-33 170 St. has exclusively served mentally and physically frail older adults.
The DOHMH funds a rehabilitative program for individuals with severe mental illness that is located in the senior center, while the actual facility is funded by the Department for the Aging, which will provide $277,480 this year, a spokesman for the agency said.
“While we were able to prevent a funding cut to this center last year, budget issues have made us unable to do so this year,” a DOHMH spokeswoman said in an email, adding, “We will work with the center to find alternative services for clients.”
The loss would be devastating because even if closure could somehow be avoided, the number of clients would have to be reduced and that would put the staff in the awkward position of choosing who stays and who goes, according to Stephanie Zevon, who has been the director of senior services at the center for the last six years.
Shirley started coming to the facility three years ago after she was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. When she was home alone, she said she felt depressed.
“I was sent here after the treatment, so I could have something to do every day,” Shirley said. “I love coming here. We play games. We go on trips. We have parties, and we have arts and crafts, and we play bingo and dominoes. I look forward to coming here every day.”
Dennis Trotter, 73, of Jamaica, has been coming to the center five days a week for the last six years. He said his favorite activities include arts and crafts, exercise classes and being able to engage in conversations with other older adults. Trotter suffers from dementia, a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.
Asked how he would feel if the center were forced to close, Trotter said, “I don’t know what I would do. I guess I would watch TV, maybe go for a walk. I would go to the store when I needed to. It wouldn’t be the same.”
Dorothy Sparks, 75, of Jamaica was introduced to the center by a member of her church. After having a look around and speaking with a social worker at the facility, Sparks knew she would be coming back.
“You could just feel the love when you walk in,” she said. “The staff is just beautiful. Everybody here — we get along like a family. It breaks up the time when you are at home and have nothing to do. I enjoy it very much.”
Sparks, who is hard of hearing, has an aide who comes to her home five days a week, and she lives with family members, but she said it’s not the same as being able to converse with people her own age. She added that if the center were to close, she would just probably sit around watching soap operas.
“We are helping the entire family unit,” Zevon said. “Five days a week, you know mom, dad, your spouse, is going somewhere safe, where they will be stimulated, where they will be observed, where they will be fed, where they will be transported.”
Recently, Zevon said a 74-year-old client had a stroke while he was at the center. Staffers caught it very quickly and were able to get him medical attention right away.
“The medic said we probably saved this gentleman’s life,” Zevon recalled. “We spoke to his wife the next morning and she said he was already speaking and moving his legs.”