BAY RIDGE – Councilmember Vincent Gentile, New York City’s Parks Department staff, and a team of community volunteers cut a ceremonial ribbon on Saturday to celebrate a renovated lobby and kitchen at the Fort Hamilton Senior Center in Bay Ridge.
Bay Ridge Cares, a grassroots volunteer group founded by Karen Tadross and Justin Brannan, coordinated a cleanup and renovation effort at the fifty-year-old senior center, in partnership with the NYC Parks Department, which operates the site. Over the course of two weekends in September and October, more than 100 volunteers painted walls, sanded down old furniture and installed new appliances and countertops.
“Originally, we were just going to paint,” said Tadross, but the need proved greater than that. She said the group and the Parks Department planned for nine months. In total, the project cost about $6500, and was funded by Gentile’s office and a grant from Investors Bank.
“I hardly recognize this place!” Gentile joked in remarks before the ribbon-cutting. The council member, whose tenure ends in January due to term limits, then presented an additional $1,000 grant for the senior center to Peter Lovett, the site coordinator.
Volunteers from across the neighborhood took part in the renovation, including students from Fort Hamilton High School and about a dozen people from Team Red, White & Blue, an organization that connects veterans with physical and mental health services, as well as community service opportunities.
“It was a really good time,” said Amanda Sancler, a civilian member of the Queens chapter of Team Red, White & Blue. “We felt gratified.”
“Like good military people, they did not leave the job undone,” said Tadross in her remarks.
Tadross also thanked local tradesmen who donated their time and expertise, John De Amicis of Staten Island’s Lighting Design Associates, who donated the light fixtures, and the “fairy godmothers and godfathers” – Gentile and Investors Bank – who funded the project.
“Seniors are very important to us in this community,” said Maria Tychi-Kefalas of Investors Bank. “Bay Ridge is my home forever, and it was my mother’s home…and it’s a community that is truly a community.”
After the ribbon was cut, attendees mingled in the freshly-painted green lobby while an exercise class went on in the next room. Fort Hamilton Senior Center serves 1200 members of all ages each year.
Vinny Aufiero has been a member for 18 years. He said he was excited about the renovated space.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “A joy to come to.”