Volume 73, Number 50 | March 14 - 20, 2004

Caring Community may take over the Greenwich House senior center

By Albert Amateau

Senior residents of the Village, who almost lost their center at Greenwich House last year, are facing another period of uncertainty this spring.

The Department for the Aging’s contracts for most of the city’s nonprofit senior centers, including the one at Greenwich House, expire on June 30 and the winners of the 2004 contracts will be announced by May 15, according to a department spokesperson.

The Caring Community, a community-based agency that runs four senior centers in the Village and Tribeca, is exploring the possibility of taking over the senior program that Greenwich House runs at 27 Barrow St. and moving it to another location, said Lester Bates, Caring Community executive director.

“We’ve been requested by the Department for the Aging to compete for the funding for the program because our specialty is running senior centers — we’ve been doing it for 30 years — and Greenwich House specializes in a host of other wonderful programs,” said Bates. If Caring Community is granted the funding, the program now at Greenwich House might move to the newly renovated basement of St. Joseph’s Church, Bates said.

But many seniors who attend the Greenwich House center do not want to move. “People don’t want to leave Greenwich House,” said Tony Porpora, a member of the Greenwich senior center who runs a theater tickets program for seniors at the center. The Greenwich House breakfasts and lunches attract an average of 50 seniors and sometimes as many as 90, Porpora estimated.

Gerri Matusewich, assistant director of Greenwich House and interim director its senior program, said the settlement house does not want to loose the senior program. Greenwich House has also submitted a proposal for funding in the new city budget and hopes to keep the center at 27 Barrow St., she said. City funding for Greenwich House seniors was about $280,000 last year, Matusewich said.

“We have a lot of other programs funded from the outside that feed into the senior center,” said Matusewich. “We have a grant to do an enhanced arts program for seniors, a pottery program in the first part of the year and a music program in the second half of the year,” she said. “If we don’t have a senior center, those programs are at risk,” she added. A proposal to expand substance-abuse counseling to include elderly men and women also fits in with the Greenwich House senior center, said Matusewich.

The senior program at Greenwich House was suspended for two years during the renovation of the third-floor space at 27 Barrow St. and was slated to resume in April 2003. But the Bloomberg administration omitted the $280,000 to fund the program from the city budget and the center did not reopen until October after funding had been restored.

Uncertainty about the senior center has encouraged a spate of rumors. Matusewich was quick to deny a report that the settlement house intended to transform the senior center into a gay and lesbian center. “We want to have a senior center here,” she emphasized. “If there are people out there who think we don’t, they’re mistaken.”

At the same time that it is considering taking over the Greenwich House senior program, Caring Community is also contemplating moving the senior center that it runs at First Presbyterian Church on W. 12th St. at Fifth Ave. back to St. Joseph’s on Sixth Ave. at Washington Pl. Bates said current city funding does not meet the rent at First Presbyterian. “We’ve had to raise funds separately to cover the cost,” Bates said, adding, “It’s a great financial strain both for the church and Caring Community.”

Four years ago, Bates recalled, the senior center Caring Community ran at St. Joseph’s moved to First Presbyterian when the basement center at St. Joseph’s was being renovated. “The new pastor, Father John McGuire, has opened the door to the idea of Caring Community coming back to St. Joseph’s,” said Bates. Moreover, Caring Community’s weekend volunteer “meals on heals” delivery program to homebound seniors is located at St. Joseph’s.

Caring Community’s senior centers currently are located at Independence Plaza North in Tribeca, Our Lady of Pompeii Church on Carmine St., First Presbyterian and 20 Washington Sq. S., where Caring Community has its administrative office.

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