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Helen Keller senior centers to be closed

Violet Pollack, top center, assists Helen Johnson, left,

Violet Pollack, top center, assists Helen Johnson, left, and Maureen Connolly with a quilt they are making to raffle off at Helen Keller Services for the Blind in Huntington. (July 12, 2012) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Due to lack of funding, Helen Keller Services for the Blind has announced it is closing its three senior citizen centers, two on Long Island and one in Brooklyn.

By the second week in August, the nearly 120-year-old organization will cut their senior center programs in Huntington, Hempstead and Brooklyn, said Frank Primeggia, managing director of rehabilitation services for the agency.

About 170 seniors are served at the locations -- 145, or 85 percent, at its Long Island sites. Primeggia said the cuts are part of an effort to reduce the agency's $800,000 budget deficit.

Primeggia said the senior centers' roughly $200,000 budget has been predominately paid with state grants, but that funding has dried up.

Helen Keller will continue to operate its other services at the three sites, including its rehabilitation, employment and student services. For now, the senior centers are the only programs being cut. Primeggia said the organization will have to make more cuts, which he said will impact Long Island residents and employees, but he wouldn't elaborate.

Many of the clients, staff and volunteers at the Huntington site were distressed when they heard the news and now worry about where they will be able to get the care and socialization they did at Helen Keller.

Vita Bellino's vision started to deteriorate rapidly about two years ago. Now, she can only see some shadows. She had always loved to work with her hands, especially knitting and crocheting. When her sight went, she thought she would have to give up those hobbies.

About a year ago, Bellino, 60, of Ridge, started going to the Huntington center. With the assistance of staff and volunteers, she was able to make her new grandson a blanket and his mother a shawl. "I was so glad to be able to do that," she said, with a smile.

The center's clients crochet, quilt, read and do crosswords and puzzles together at the New York Avenue center. They also have a garden.

"This is a place for me to add quality to my life," said Cynthia Andrews, 69, of Deer Park, who has been a client for four years.

The Huntington center has operated for about 15 years, but the organization has run senior centers for decades.

Violet Pollack, the Huntington center's director, said the staff there are trying to find another place for the group to meet. Her position is being cut, but she plans to volunteer. She said they hope Helen Keller allows them to use the room they currently occupy three times a week, if they financially support themselves.

"It has made a big difference in my attitude," said Peggy Sheerin, who was at the center Thursday with her husband, Bob.

Bob Sheerin said the services help the members overcome feelings of isolation and despair, but its closure has taught him something. "If they can face it courageously, then I can."