BY JAMES FARRELL
Flushing’s Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center celebrated the grand re-opening of its kitchen and dining room on Thursday, Oct. 20, after a 15-month renovation. The renovation, funded by the Department for the Aging through a federal grant, expanded the dining room size and provided the kitchen with resources and equipment to be more efficient.
SelfHelp Community Services, the non-profit who runs the center, celebrated the re-opening inside the new facilities with a ribbon cutting ceremony. SelfHelp officials, leaders from the center, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), and Assembly Members Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) and Ron Kim (D-Flushing) were on hand. The re-opening was part of SelfHelp’s ongoing 80th anniversary celebration. SelfHelp provides senior-oriented programs across six senior centers and also provides seniors with numerous affordable housing options across New York City.
“The seniors, this dining room is a place where they come to socialize and sit with each other and talk and exchange that social interaction, which everybody has,” SelfHelp CEO Stuart Kaplan told the Queens Tribune. “And so they get to sit and enjoy each other, now, in a beautiful new environment.”
The Department for the Aging funded the project through a federal grant, and the finished work increased the dining room’s capacity by 24 seats. The kitchen received all new equipment and resources that, in addition to increasing efficiency, are expected to expand options for seniors with specific dietary preferences. These resources include new built-in woks, which will help kitchen staff make more culturally appropriate food, and a walk-in fridge and freezer. The center is contracted to serve 340 meals a day, and has over 3,500 members. Members and officials say that the center is constantly crowded, and any addition to capacity or efficiency is vital.
“It’s somewhat larger,” said Kaplan. “I mean, we didn’t stretch the walls, but we did expand it into another room. And the kitchen itself is much more efficient, which makes it feel bigger as well.”
Jane Qiu, the director of the Benjamin Rosenthal Center, praised the renovation, but also spoke of the need to continue expanding.
“The kitchen has a good capacity to cook, but for the seating, still a problem,” she said. “Even though someone says, ‘oh this is a big senior center,’ yes it is, but it’s still not enough.”
Cynthia Chou, a board member at the center, agreed that continuing to expand was necessary, even beyond the kitchen. She said that with the center’s busy operations, members would love to add a second floor one day.
“Our center is great, that’s the number one sentence,” she said. “We have at least over 30 different programs happening every day, including culture, including exercise, including music, including dancing, including Tai Chi, all kinds of things, you name it. Any day no matter what time you come here it’s very crowded.”
The project took 15 months, beginning in June 2015, and put a strain on the community, as food operations moved into the auditorium, cutting down on activity space.
“The members of the center and their volunteers are what made the program run so smoothly,” said Mayer Waxman, SelfHelp’s managing director. “We factored in an assumption with DFTA that we’d have a 10 percent drop [in member participation]. And I think in the end, it went up like one or two percent.”
Member I-Hsi Chen said that the project took a long time.
“It was supposed to be built in five months first,” he said. “But unfortunately they extend it to 15 months.”
But he said it was worth the wait. When asked what he thought of the finished product, he responded with one word.
“Beautiful!” he said.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.