A senior center in Woodhaven that had been in financial straits for some time has shut its doors.
The Forest Park Senior Center closed for good last Thursday due to ongoing budget issues.
Donna Marie Caltabiano, the center’s executive director, said she decided to close the center because $60,000 in city funding allocated by Borough President Helen Marshall was being held up due to the ongoing budget fight and will not be given to the center until after June 30.
“I just can’t do it anymore,” Caltabiano said, noting that the issue of securing funding is one she often has faced in the 19 years she has been the center’s executive director. “I’m still going to be there to answer the phones and look for mail and close the place up in the next few weeks, but as of Thursday, we are closed.”
She said the closure came as a shock to the three dozen or so seniors who regularly come to the center, which is located at 89-02 91 Ave. in the Woodhaven Post 118 American Legion Hall.
“There were a lot of tears last week,” Caltabiano said.
Most of the center’s funding comes from allocations from Marshall and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who disbursed $50,000 to it. The center used to rely on state money as well, but no funding has come in from the state level in the last few years because of the hold on member items in the Legislature. One member of the center, Joe Palladino, donated $10,000 and loaned the center thousands more.
The center had a program, called the VIP Program, in which seniors who attended the center donated money, but Caltabiano said the city forced them to stop because the program allegedly violated regulations on nonprofits.
The center operates on a $115,000 annual budget, which is down from $200,000 when it first opened in 1980.
The delay in receiving money from the city is not uncommon, Caltabiano said, and has occurred nearly every year since she took over as executive director in 1994.
“We typically don’t get our money for six months, sometimes a year later,” she said.
The Mayor’s Office has held up money allocated to the Department of the Aging from borough presidents in every borough in recent years during budget negotiations.
The center has three full-time employees, including Caltabiano, who will be officially without a job at the end of the month, and is the American Legion Hall’s main tenant. She said the center owed the veterans group rent money for six months.
“They’re going to be hurting too now,” she said. “They’ve been really understanding about the rent. They don’t want to evict us.”
Ed Wendell, President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, said he was sad to see the center close.
“It’s always a problem when you lose a senior center,” he said, noting that the neighborhood’s other facility, the Woodhaven Senior Center, has had issues, especially after a building collapse in April damaged the Woodhaven Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps building on Jamaica Avenue, where the senior center operates.
Ulrich said budget issues have caused a number of senior centers around the city to shut down.
“It’s not just them,” he said of Forest Park. “A lot of senior centers across the city have had to close.”
The Howard Beach Senior Center, for example, faced financial difficulty for years until it was taken over by Catholic Charities last fall.