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Photos courtesy of the Bay Ridge Center
Photos courtesy of the Bay Ridge Center
Walter Ochoa, Brian Chin and Andy Morales bartending at last year’s Night at the Races.

On June 8, folks will gather for an old-fashioned evening of horse racing. Not at Belmont or any other racetrack, but rather at the Bay Ridge Center where they will place their bets on televised horse races with a chance to win some nice prizes for their wagers. And it’s all about racing for a good cause! There’s food, carnival games, a wheel of fortune and beer and wine for those so inclined.

The Bay Ridge Center at 411 Ovington Ave. has a noble mission – to help seniors in the community stay active and maintain their quality of life. In order to do this, they host events like this to raise money for senior citizens.

Contracted by the New York City Department for the Aging, the Bay Ridge Center serves thousands of adults aged 60 years and older in Bay Ridge and its surrounding neighborhoods. The center provides hot meals, exercise classes, trips, seminars and recreational activities. Marianne Nicolosi is the executive director of the largest and most active program serving seniors in southwest Brooklyn.

Todd Fliedner, outreach and development director at the Bay Ridge Center, told this paper that 89 percent of the center’s 2017 revenue was spent directly on services and programs for seniors. “Within non-profit circles, it is a tremendously high percentage and one which speaks volumes about this organization,” Fliedner said.

The center’s fundraising efforts include March for Meals, that takes place at the end of March, the recent Senior Tech event which was held at Brooklyn Borough Hall on May 2 and attracted over 400 seniors boroughwide, and its annual Night at the Races and Spring Raffle, this year taking place on Friday, June 8.

March for Meals, formerly known as the Bay Ridge Center Walkathon, is held each year to raise awareness about and financially sustain the center’s provision of home-delivered meals in Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Gravesend.

Jim McHugh manning a table at last year’s Night at the Races.

Jim McHugh manning a table at last year’s Night at the Races.

This year’s walkathon, organized by community leader Peter Killen, raised $20,000 to help support the center’s Meals on Wheels program that helps feed seniors throughout the community.

The Meals on Wheels program provides a vital service for frail, homebound and elderly residents. The center currently delivers more than 650 meals a day, seven days a week, to more than 600 homebound seniors.

Night at the Races brings together elected officials, community leaders and seniors for a night of friendly wagers on live horse race telecasts as well as other games and chances to win prizes.

Tickets are $35 which includes dinner and dessert with beer and wine available for purchase. Last year’s event raised $10,000 and the center is hoping to raise more money this year. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the first race starting at 6:30 p.m.

Fliedner is excited about a new volunteer initiative the Bay Ridge Center is planning for the coming year. “When people retire, they lose their primary social connection,” Fliedner said. “The workplace was their community, sometimes even their surrogate family.”

Fliedner explained that the Bay Ridge Age Friendly Volunteer Initiative will allow recently retired residents to help address community priorities for Bay Ridge seniors (food security, housing, transportation and digital inclusion).

The goal of this initiative is to help keep young seniors connected to their neighbors and neighborhoods. “The Bay Ridge Age Friendly Volunteer Initiative will allow us to cultivate the strong volunteer base necessary to establish Bay Ridge as a prototype for Age Improvement Districts in New York City,” Fliedner said.

Among the center’s major sponsors are Connors and Sullivan, Grimaldi and Yeung LLP, John Abi Habib and MSI.net, Community Board 10 and District Manager Josephine Beckmann, Sure Step, and Bethlehem Lutheran Evangelical Church and Pastor Paul Knudsen, who have accommodated the center for the past 42 years.

The importance of fundraising cannot be overstated according to Bobbie Sackman, former director of public policy, LiveOn NY. She told this paper that fundraising to fill budget gaps means survival for the Bay Ridge Center and other human services nonprofits in Bay Ridge.

“Government funding has fallen way behind in keeping up with inflation and the growing number of older residents in the Bay Ridge neighborhood,” Sackman said.  “The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) has been underfunded over the past 15 years or more as the number of older New Yorkers skyrockets. Living longer is a success story the city should be proud of as older adults continue to be active and contribute to their communities.”

But instead, she explained that senior service organizations have to advocate every year for their fair share of city funding. “Less than half a percent of the city’s budget, or under two percent of its human services funding, goes to DFTA, while older adults comprise about 18 percent of the city’s population and growing,” Sackman explained.

Due to the increased demand for services, there is heightened pressure on local nonprofits to raise private funds just to keep the doors open. “City Hall must hear the drumbeat and adequately fund these nonprofits that are anchors in communities like Bay Ridge,” Sackman added.

According to Fliedner, of all community districts in Brooklyn, Bay Ridge has the third-highest percentage of seniors with more than 20 percent of its population being 60 or older.

“All these people would not be able to continue living in their homes if they didn’t have home delivered meals,” Fliedner said. “So it’s a really important service. We’re very proud of what we do. It’s grown from 400 clients to 650 clients in just five years.”

One of the center’s biggest advocates is John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff to State Sen. Marty Golden. “I know how important their work is in providing a home away from home for our seniors, or providing meals on wheels to hundreds of seniors at home. I support the Bay Ridge Center because simply, they take care of so many people every day who have helped make our community what it is today,” Quaglione said.

“The center surely is a leading neighborhood cause, and I encourage others to learn about what they do, and support them where possible,” Quaglione added.

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