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Commonpoint Queens Senior Centers: The Last Safety Net for Seniors

Queens, NY – Since the coronavirus pandemic hit and each of the three Commonpoint Queens senior centers were forced to close their doors to in-person programming, they have been busier than ever with ensuring every participant is safe and has the resources they need. The organization’s most vulnerable seniors receive frequent check-in phone calls every week from staff. In addition, the Center offers an array of virtual programming from exercise classes to music therapy, and from discussion groups to special lectures on topics such as elder abuse, hygiene, nutrition, concerts, and most importantly they have been delivering prepared meals twice a week.

Commonpoint Queens – formerly known as the Samuel Field Y and Central Queens Y – operates three senior centers (at their Sam Field Center, Central Queens, and North Flushing Senior Centers) and three Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities in Little Neck, Whitestone, and Northeastern Queens. According to the Older Americans Act (OAA), senior centers are a community focal point and are one of the most widely used services among older adults.

Barbara Becker Bruno, Assistant Vice President of Older Adult Services for Commonpoint Queens said, “It is more important now than ever since our seniors are homebound that we are in contact with them by phone and Zoom. We can gauge their health and provide an immediate response to any situation that may arise.” She continued, “We are the last line of defense for many of our clients. Our meal deliveries are often the only hot meal they have during the week. Many clients have also shared that they are busier than ever trying new classes and programs using Zoom and other virtual platforms.”

Yu Yan, 78, has been attending the North Flushing Senior Center for years. Originally, Yu Yan came to the lunch program while she was caring for her husband. Since her husband passed away last year, she came daily to play mahjong and sit and chat with her friends. “I have been in my apartment for so long but I get to see my friends on the Zoom so I’m not too lonely,” she shared.

Marcy, 92, began coming to the Central Queens Adult & Senior Center as a way to keep busy and she praised it for helping improve her quality of life. “After I came here, I felt happier and not so lonely. I was eating better and stopped losing weight. I made many new friends so if I miss a day, six people call to make sure I’m alright,” she said. “Thank god for the center. They taught me to use a smartphone so I haven’t missed one of my chair yoga classes! Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” she quipped.

However, due to state budget cuts, Marcy, Yu Yan, and the hundreds of other Senior Center members may have to find another “second home”.

“During COVID-19, our senior centers may have closed their physical doors, but providers have been working around the clock to offer more services, virtually and remotely, than ever before,” said Council Member Paul Vallone, who serves on the Council’s Committee on Aging. “Here in Queens, hundreds of older adults depend on the North Flushing Senior Center every day for vital health, educational, and social services to maintain their physical and mental health. The shuttering of the Center would present a profound loss to our local seniors, who deserve every resource to age in place within their communities with dignity.”

New York City Council Member Peter Koo stated, “Every year, my office provides direct funding to the North Flushing Senior Center so that it may continue to serve as a place where seniors citizens throughout our community can engage in programming for the arts, education, socialization, health and wellness. As we begin to emerge from lockdown, shutting down this important senior center would do a great disservice to our seniors who have already been hit so hard by the COVID-19 crisis.”

The loss of funding “would profoundly affect hundreds of seniors,” said Becker Bruno. She continued, “Since the pandemic began, we have tripled the number of older adults served in Central Queens, more than doubled the numbers in the North Flushing and Sam Field Senior Centers. Without our eyes and ears, many are completely alone.”

With almost 1 in 5 of those who visit the North Flushing Senior Center and 1 in 10 in Forest Hills and Little Neck living below the poverty line, the services provided are “a matter of life and death,” Becker Bruno said. “We must support the people who need our help the most.” Becker Bruno continued, “Without these centers, socially isolated seniors are at greater risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and a decrease in cognitive functioning, as well as increased risk for falls, which may lead to hospitalization and  placement in long term care facilities.”

Commonpoint Queens CEO, Danielle Ellman said, “Senior Centers aren’t daycare for older adults. They are places that enable people to age in place with dignity, to stay healthy in body and mind as they age.” Ellman continued, “We are committed to serving our most vulnerable seniors and we look to our government partners to be there with us. We know that closing these programs will immediately and disastrously impact the senior community. It is quite literally a matter of life and death.”

Marcy looked to a future without the North Flushing Senior Center, “I don’t want to think about it. If I can’t see my friends or do my exercise, who will I spend my day with? Will I spend my last years alone? I hope they listen to one little old lady and don’t close our center.”

Senior Center participants have lower levels of health issues, higher rates of social interaction leading to lower levels of isolation and depression. Research shows that older adults who participate in senior center programs manage and delay the onset of chronic disease and experience measurable improvements in their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, mental, and economic well-being.

Commonpoint Queens’ Senior Centers connect older adults to vital community services that help them stay healthy and independent. Each Center is a hub for multiple services including meal and nutrition programs, information and assistance, health, fitness, and wellness programs, transportation services, public benefits counseling, employment assistance, volunteer and civic engagement opportunities, social and recreational activities, educational and arts programs, and intergenerational programs.

More About Commonpoint Queens

The social services organization Commonpoint Queens helps individuals and families of diverse backgrounds find support, connections and opportunities during all stages of their lives. Guided by the Jewish values of service and justice for six decades, the agency has a range of programs at 52 sites across Queens, assisting 50,000 people each year. To learn more, go to www.commonpointqueens.org.