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January 13, 2015

New Bronx Senior Center Aims to Provide a More Welcoming Atmosphere

New York Times
By Winnie Hu

Tom Esola has become a regular at a senior center in Midtown Manhattan, where he drops by two to three times a week to see friends, sit down to shepherd’s pie dinners, volunteer in the computer room and even try a tango lesson.

But to get to the center, Mr. Esola, 64, has to take an hourlong ride on the D train from his home in Norwood, the last stop in the Bronx. Though he has tried senior centers in his own neighborhood, Mr. Esola, who is gay, said, “I didn’t identify with the people there,” and has always returned to the Midtown center, which specifically serves people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Now Mr. Esola will have an option closer to home. Services and Advocacy for G.L.B.T. Elders, or SAGE, the organization that operates the Midtown center, is opening its first senior center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Bronx on Wednesday as part of a $1.5 million, cityfunded expansion of L.G.B.T.­focused senior programs and support services across the five boroughs. The Bronx center will operate five days a week from rented space on the second floor of the Union Community Health Center on East 188th Street. It will offer a range of social, cultural, art and health
programs, as well as hot lunches.

“It is the largest investment of support services for L.G.B.T. elders in the city’s history,” said Ritchie Torres, a Bronx city councilman who is gay and who led the effort for city funding. “It’s hard to imagine a constituency that has been more invisible to city government and underserved by society at large.” Mr. Torres and other supporters of the expansion contend that these people are more likely to be in need of help or support because they are often single, have no children and may be estranged from their families. About 100,000 of New York City’s 1.5 million residents who are 60 and older are believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to SAGE leaders and other advocates. Nearly one­third of that group is estimated to live in poverty.

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