2015-11-18 / Front Page

Sunnyside Community Services Holds Annual Dinner

By Thomas Cogan

Sunnyside Community Services’ annual dinner was held last week at M. Wells restaurant on Crescent Street in Hunters Point. SCC’s Executive Director Judy Zangwill welcomed a full house that was there to celebrate the continuing success of what might principally be considered a seniors’ center but is much else too, ranging from caregiving to the aged and Medicaid enrollment to college readiness courses and scholarship funds for youth.  City Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Daniel Dromm, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan were the political figures showing up to praise SCC and the two dinner honorees, former Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley and M. Joseph Levin, attorney and SCC board member, who each received a Neighborhood Visionary Award.

M. Joseph Levin, SCS secretary, and board member, is a native of Vermont.  He has been in New York since coming to Cornell Law School in the 1960s.  (One might imagine him coming down and passing Bernie Sanders on his way up.)  As an attorney he was with Legal Aid before joining a private practice in Elmhurst in 1971.  He is active in the Queens Bar Association and joined Sunnyside Community Services as a board member in 1997.  He has said he is gratified by the establishment of the Center for Active Older Adults and other programs serving persons of various ages in Sunnyside and beyond.

Joseph Conley has been a member of Community Board 2 since 1985 and served as its chairman from 1991 until he announced at the monthly meeting in December 2014 that he was stepping down.  In his time as CB 2 leader he was remarkably active, presiding over not only the monthly meetings but also a large number of extraordinary meetings that dealt with issues and incidents in all parts of the CB 2 district. In Long Island City, for example, there were several meetings over several years dealing with the building of the Hunters Point South residences; in Sunnyside, a meeting about the electrical power failure in the summer of 2006; in Woodside and Maspeth, meetings about zoning and flooding.  He’d turn up anywhere and anytime there was a matter of concern in the district.  Director Zangwill, recalling the “arduous process” she was going through in 2001 to get the Sunnyside senior center built, said that Conley was attentive to it in a way that was “instrumental” in its completion.  All that and he still had, and still has, time to devote himself to the American Cancer Society and other organizations.

Zangwill introduced Councilman Van Bramer by praising him for gaining “millions of dollars in capital money” for SCS, an amount that he, with a broad smile, said was exaggerated.  But he suggested that she and the staff were worth that much and more, saying that SCS reaches “far beyond” the bounds of his 26th District, with such an effect that “you are literally saving lives every day.”  He cited Levin as an attorney and SCS board member and recalled Conley from his days on the CB 2 board, before he ran for office in 2009, saying that then and at all times when he was chairman, Conley exuded “energy and passion” in what could be called “a thankless job.”  State Senator Gianaris said that Conley was already CB 2 chairman when they first met in the mid-1990s.  Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan marveled that for her activities she gets paid, but for his, Conley does not.

Gianaris was hailed by Zangwill for securing $250,000 for SCS.   She said also that the state has awarded SCS a $5 million caregiving grant.  Such caregiving would include Medicaid enrollment for seniors.  She had an anecdote about enrolling an 88-year-old woman with dementia, an example of caring for someone who couldn’t care for herself.  Care for the old and the young are both important; for the latter, college readiness and scholarship money are available, a point Joe Levin, one of the night’s honorees, said he was proud to be associated with.  “We impact 14,000 people,” Zangwill said.

This year’s participant speaker, Ann Horata, is as active as she can be at the Center for Active Older Adults, one of her causes growing from the fact that, as she noted, nearly one elder person in five in New York City is impoverished.  She said that these days she appreciates the center as “a place to go to,” but there was a time when she was reluctant, even unwilling, to try it.  She said she was “carried kicking and screaming” into it, but since has assumed a status there that makes her “a senior that they roll out when they need money.”  The wry observation aside, her closing declaration was impressive.  “My name is Ann,” she said, “and Sunnyside has made me a person.”

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