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Sunset Park senior center ramps up the enthusiasm for 40th anniversary

Every weekday is a festive affair inside the United Senior Citizens Center (USCC) of Sunset Park at 475 53rd Street, where around 200 seniors gather each day for games of pool and dominoes, salsa and merengue dancing, and conversation with friends over a hot meal. So on the occasion of its 40th anniversary celebration on Friday, September 26, the senior center community went all-out.

In addition to a six-tiered cake from La Gran Via Bakery, hot food from local restaurants and bright yellow T-shirts sponsored by Sunset Pharmacy for everybody, there was also an outdoor ribbon cutting ceremony for the center’s brand new concrete entrance ramp and security cameras.

“This is very good because I have to take the elevator [to the center’s third floor space] and it’s very difficult to take the stairs” up to get there,” said Manuel Acevedo, 67, who walks with help from a cane. “I appreciate the ramp because it was dangerous before.”

The ramp was built in two and a half months with approximately $50,000 in funds allocated by the Department for the Aging (DFTA) for Fiscal Year 2014 in response to the danger that a visibly damaged decades-old ramp posed to the elderly participants, many of whom use walkers and canes to stay mobile.

“We’re so happy the ramp was completed to coincide with the program’s 40th anniversary,” said Lee Boyes, director of facilities management at DFTA. “The previous ramp had deteriorated over 30-plus years and posed a tripping hazard. We decided to do a very solid, structured ramp that will last over 30 more years.”

Boyes noted that the USCC is one of the city’s most well-attended senior center programs, a fact that the center’s executive director, Grisel Amador, is proud of.

“We have around 5,000 members, but we get money for breakfast and lunch [and recreational and educational programs] for 200 seniors,” said Amador, noting that members comprise a broad spectrum of Sunset Park’s diverse community, including Hispanic, Chinese, Caucasian and Indian.

The new ramp is also something to celebrate because “senior centers have been hit very hard” in recent years, said USCC board member Maria Roca, whose 91-year-old mother has been attending the center three times a week for 25 years.

“We as a community need to do a better job investing not just in our children, but in our seniors, as well,” Roca said, “because they hold our history and family.”

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