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Returning to 'home away from home' at Sandy-ravaged Oceanside Senior Center

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray helps reopen the

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray helps reopen the renovated Oceanside Senior Center, which was heavily damaged during superstorm Sandy. (May 6, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

When superstorm Sandy ravaged the Oceanside community, Corinne Puglisi, 82, was not only displaced from her house in Bay Park, but also her “home away from home,” the Oceanside Senior Center, which was shut down for six months.

Like Puglisi’s Oceanside Harbor Drive home, the Town of Hempstead’s Oceanside Senior Center,  at 2900 Rockaway Ave. and 40 neighboring senior housing units had significant damage from nearly four feet of water during the Oct. 29 storm.

The town first focused on renovating the apartments so those residents who were displaced could return home, but then, officials turned their focus to the center. All the furniture, ceilings, cabinets, shelves, and appliances had to be replaced and the plumbing and electrical systems repaired.

“We literally ripped everything out to the studs here,” explained Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.

On Monday, one week after the six-month anniversary of superstorm Sandy, the center reopened and Murray welcomed its patrons back.

“Welcome home,” she said to about 30 people who joined her at a ribbon cutting outside the center and then, at a catered reception inside that included live music and dancing.

“It’s bricks and mortars, but it means so much to our seniors,” Murray said of the center, which serves more than 250 senior citizens from Oceanside and surrounding communities. “Many of our seniors live by themselves, so the sociability they receive here is so incredibly important to them.”

Charles Avella, 90, of Bay Park, has been coming to the center almost every day for the past 22 years.

“It’s a lovely place to go,” said Avella, a widower who enjoys playing games, watching TV, and listening to music at the center. He also assists with running some of the programs, adding, “I’m a gofer, I go for this and go for that.”

Avella has been living in Bay Shore with his son, Francis Avella, and sleeping on his couch since the storm destroyed everything on the first floor of his home. He finally moved back home three weeks ago after the renovations were completed and his furniture and appliances were replaced.

“Everything is fitting into place,” said Avella, adding that thanks to generous donations from community members the center’s piano, Ping-Pong and pool tables have also been replaced.

The Ping-Pong and pool tables came from Elisa and Al Hinken, of Inwood. When the ground floor of their home flooded during Sandy, the couple had to move the possessions they could salvage to their second floor. To make space, they decided to give away with the tables from their family room, donating them to the center.

“We didn’t want to see it go, but it ended up coming to the right place,” said Elisa Hinken, 54, of the pool table.

Al Hinken, 67, said he plans to visit the center to play pool. “I had daughters, they don’t play pool, so I had no one to play pool with it,” he said. “There’s a couple of men who come regularly every day and play. I’m going to come by and join them.”

While sitting with friends at the grand reopening reception, Puglisi said the center gives her a place to hang out with people her age.

She added, “It’s a nice change of the day for everybody, because when you're home and you're alone in your apartment .?.?. at least you know you were out for an afternoon of niceness."

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