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Funday Monday in North Hempstead brings senior residents out to play

From left, Valerie Watkins of Westbury, Joan Ortiz

From left, Valerie Watkins of Westbury, Joan Ortiz of New Hyde Park and Regina Larson of Westbury share a laugh as they meet for the "Books at the Beach," book club during FunDay Monday at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington Monday, July 13, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Once a week hundreds of seniors settle on North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington -- flashing Hold'em cards, stacking Pokeno pennies and clacking mah-jongg tiles -- while a line for coffee grows.

This is Funday Monday, where town residents 60 and older have gathered for 31 years. Some hurry in at 8 a.m. to stake out seats and tablecloth-covered picnic tables.

"It's our cruise ship that doesn't leave port," said Kimberly Corcoran-Galante, North Hempstead's director of town departments for community service and aging residents.

What started as a small gathering has drawn crowds of about 1,000 seniors each Monday this summer.

The program takes place in July and August, a period when many leisure and social clubs do not hold events.

Town staff members start brewing pots of coffee at 7 a.m. Participants arrive as early as 8, taking over the "hill" -- a grassy incline touching the white sandy beach -- or other areas in the park.

They gather at the tables to play games or just talk. Manhasset has a table. There's a Great Neck area. Roslyn meets up in another spot. The Elks and Does of local lodge clubs mix. If the weather's bad, they try again on Thursday.

"It's like a high school lunchroom," Corcoran-Galante said of the tables full of people.

The groups also reflect the town's changing demographics. North Hempstead, with 225,000 residents, has seen a growing immigrant population from Asia, particularly South Korea and China, and from Pakistan and India in South Asia, in the past few decades.

"I see an amalgam of cultures," Supervisor Judi Bosworth said at last week's Funday Monday.

Participants said the program provides a way to see all their friends at once. "Every week we are so lucky to live where we do and to have this available to us," Jean Williams, 82, of Mineola, said.

While some participants carpool, others take buses from the town's Project Independence transportation program, which also provides social workers, nurses and other services to keep seniors in their homes. However, Project Independence is in danger of expiring unless a $1 million federal grant is secured.

The Funday Monday programming appeals to a variety of interests, including a book club held away from the beach so guests can hold quiet discussions. Others dance to Latin-inspired Zumba classes or live music.

"The only thing that is the same: We're all seniors," said Elaine Caligiuri, 81, of New Hyde Park.

The event is also a pivotal stop for town lawmakers. Stopping by on a recent Monday were several members of the town council, the elected clerk and a Nassau County legislator, among others.

"It's bringing government to the people," said Bosworth, who is running for re-election in November. But chiefly, she said, Funday Monday "is like a big family reunion" every week.

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