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Tolentine Senior Center Handed Last Minute Reprieve

July 2, 2010

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SENIORS PLAYING BINGO AT TOLENTINE SENIOR CENTER LAST WEEK (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Last month, staff at Tolentine Zeiser Senior Center in University Heights began clearing out their offices.

They took the pictures off the walls; they filled several cardboard boxes with Christmas lights and other supplies they’d accumulated over the years; and they readied themselves for Wednesday, June 30, which was scheduled to be the center’s last day of operation.

Tolentine was one of 50 senior centers in the five boroughs that the Bloomberg Administration had slated for closure, because of cuts laid out in the city’s 2011 budget.

When they heard the news last month, seniors at Tolentine were devastated. “I was very sad,” said Migdalia Granado, 76, of Sedgwick Avenue. “A lot of the women were crying.”

On June 24, however, the unexpected happened, when approximately half of these centers, among them Tolentine and R.A.I.N Bailey, a center in Kingsbridge, were handed a reprieve when Bloomberg and City Council speaker Christine Quinn struck a deal to restore funding.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera says he convinced Quinn and her staff that the two local centers should not be shuttered. “To be honest with you, when it came down to it, I was just stubborn about it,” Cabrera said.

There are only five senior centers in his west Bronx district, while some Council districts have several times that number, said Cabrera, recalling the argument he made. Plus these centers pull in good numbers, with 60 to 70 seniors attending each day, he said.

Cabrera said about $140,000 was restored for Tolentine for the next fiscal year.

State Senator Pedro Espada also had a hand in ensuring that funding for area senior centers wasn’t cut off, his spokesman said. “The prospect of one senior center being closed was bad enough, but the threat of two centers being closed in the same district was very disturbing to me and the seniors,” Espada said in a statement.

One recent morning, a group of about 50 were sitting at tables inside Tolentine, chatting amongst themselves, or playing bingo, dominos or cards. The center, which is open weekdays, offers a $1 lunch, as well as various workshops and activities, from health informational sessions to belly-dancing lessons. Many talked of the relief they felt on hearing that their center was to stay open. “This is like a second home for them,” said the center’s director, Elizabeth Sanchez.

“The way to defeat loneliness is through meaningful relationships, and that’s what these senior centers provide,” said Cabrera, adding that he’s already concerned about 2011.

“Next year is going to be the real challenge because next year’s budget is going to be even worse.”

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