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Country’s First Full-Time LGBT Senior Center Opens in NYC

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Friday March 2, 2012

More than 200 seniors, elected officials and community members came together in Manhattan on Thursday for an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony for the country's first full-time center for LGBT seniors.

Among those lending their support to the SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) Center were New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, New York City Department of Aging Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and LGBT City Councilmembers Daniel Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer and Rosie Mendez.

"This center is going to change the lives of LGBT elders here in New York City... and it is going to be a beacon of light all across the country, because it's the first center of its kind anywhere," said SAGE executive director Michael Adams.

The SAGE Center at 305 Seventh Ave. near 27th Street in North Chelsea, will offer hot meals for a suggested donation of $2 ($4 for those under 60,) comprehensive social services, fitness programs, computer classes, social activities and a wide range of programming to address the needs of underserved elder populations.

It is part of the city's Innovative Senior Center program, an initiative that Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched that provided resources to 10 of the city's leading aging organizations to develop ways to better serve older New Yorkers. The SAGE Center will also act as a model program for other senior centers across the country through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-the Administration on Aging will establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

Ensuring longevity for the senior center, SAGE purchased 8,200 square feet in their building for $2.7 million. An $1.8 million renovation included the installation of an audio induction loop for hearing aids and a special ventilation system for the exam room. Financing came from the city with the help of the Calamus Foundation and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

"This is a home for our LGBT elders that will never go away," said Adams. "That would not have been possible without the nearly $3 million in funding that the City Council helped provide us to purchase and renovate this space."

He specifically thanked Quinn, describing her as an extraordinary friend and ally to LGBT elders.

"Having this center sends a clear message about what the city of New York thinks about LGBT seniors: that we want to support you, that you're an incredibly important part of our community, that some of us want to be one, one day," said Quinn. "On behalf of Jimmy, Danny and Rosie I say, save us a chair. We can't wait to be here someday ourselves."

Quinn spoke about how her own grandmother's life was positively impacted by the Long Island senior center she visited every day after her husband died.

"That senior center made all the difference in the world," said Quinn. "Otherwise she would have sat home alone a lot of days. She didn't know how to drive. That senior center wasn't just a place for a meal; she could have had lunch at our house. It was a place where she had friends, community and new life created for her. That's what is going to happen here."

Barrios-Paoli added the center is "long overdue."

"I am so happy and honored, and can't say how much it means to me that we finally managed to make it happen," she said. "We knew there were populations that needed their own space, and certainly the LGBT community was one of them. We are beyond thrilled."

SAGE members Phyllis Siegel and George Stewart also joined representatives from the offices of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, state Sen. Liz Krueger and state Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Linda Wilson.

Many of those LGBT seniors at the ceremony said they had already been enjoying meals that Health Heart Food Service has prepared since last month.

"I think it is just fabulous," said 14-year SAGE member Betty Weems. "People who are gay may want to go to a senior center, but might not be comfortable being who they are. This is the first of its kind in the nation, and that's wonderful. Most of the programs look like they are going to be great, and it is inspiring to be a part of this."

Other seniors, however, feel that the SAGE Center is just another way to warehouse the elderly.

"I liked being at the LGBT center on 13th Street. I preferred it," said 81-year-old Marlene Feingold. "You had the opportunity to meet more people, not just SAGE members, and there was more diversity of people of all ages."

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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