SAGE Opens Center for LGBT Senior Citizens in The Bronx

imageAs a native born and openly gay Bronxite, it was truly moving and very personal to be present at the first LGBT center for seniors opened in the Bronx last night.

For the first time LGBT Bronxites do not have to travel to Manhattan or to other boroughs in order to relax in a comfortable and supporting atmosphere. SAGE Senior Citizen Center opened its doors with the fanfare, celebration, and jubilation it deserves. SAGE is the acronym for Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders. The acronym also stands for Senior Advocacy in a Gay Environment.

SAGE received $1.2 million from the New York City Council to open this needed senior citizen center in the Bronx and to enhance similar centers in other boroughs. In referring to this funding Councilman Ritchie Torres said, “It is the largest investment of support services for the L.G.B.T. elders in the city’s history. It’s hard to imagine a constituency that has been more invisible to city government and under-served by society at large” The funding came from the initiative created and sponsored by Councilman Ritchie Torres. In his first year on the NYC Council he has been instrumental in creating initiatives which greatly assist the LGBT community and many other communities. His leadership has resulted in great strides for seniors. His passion for affordable housing has already had a very positive impact in out great City.

The Bronx center is housed at the Union Community Health Center which is located at 260 West 188th street. It is located on the second floor in a very spacious area. There are many programs, activities and services for the LGBT seniors who attend.

The Program Director, Cherise Sherriffe,  holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and an MS in Gerontology from the

l to r: Greg Grinley, Director of SAGE Centers; Catherine Thurston, Senior Director, Services and Training; Michael Adams, Executive Director, SAGE; Lewis Goldstein; Jose Collazo, Site Manager, SAGE Center Bronx

l to r: Greg Grinley, Director of SAGE Centers; Catherine Thurston, Senior Director, Services and Training; Michael Adams, Executive Director, SAGE; Lewis Goldstein; Jose Collazo, Site Manager, SAGE Center Bronx

College of New Rochelle. Cherise specialized in Gerontology for the love and respect for older adults. Cherise also self-published a resource book for older adults to find services throughout all boroughs.

The site manager is Jose Collazo, who has been working in the LGBTQ community for over 15 years. He has developed, implemented, and evaluated outcome based health and wellness programs for both LGBTQ youth and the adult population. He has worked with a diverse population that has been impacted by a wide range of issues including substance use, homelessness, domestic violence, incarceration, unemployment, and HIV/AIDS.

In describing what is planned Jose Collazo said, “The new SAGE Center of the Bronx will typically be open 9-5, Monday thru Friday. As we begin to build attendance in the first few months we want to remain flexible and respond to what the older adults who come in are interested in each day. A sampling of the activities we’ll offer on this flexible schedule include: Trivia, Healthy Habits Workshop, Mind Games, Story Telling Workshop, Stretching Out with Cherise, Music and Memories, Chess/Dominos Club, Nutrition Label Awareness, Classic Movies & Discussion and Chair Yoga. We expect lunch service to begin in the coming weeks – some equipment delays have held us back. We know that is extremely important.”

It was great speaking to many of the SAGE staff members and finding out that they are very involved with LGBT veterans. The veterans’ program coordinator is Lee Albertorio. Lee advised me that, presently, there are 150 LGBT veterans involved in the veterans program, which many are from the Bronx. He looks foreword to many more men and women who have served our nation getting involved.

In speaking to Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE said, “We are so happy to be opening the SAGE Center of the Bronx so that LGBT elders in the Bronx can finally receive the services they need and deserve.” A graduate of Stanford Law School and Harvard College, Michael has authored numerous publications on an array of LGBT issues. He has taught law school courses on sexual orientation and gender identity and has served on advisory councils for AARP, the American Society on Aging, and the New York City Department for the Aging among others.  He has twice been named one of the “100 most influential gay men and lesbians” by Out Magazine.

I had the honor of speaking at this event and my speech emphasized my Bronx roots as an openly gay man during a time when violence and discrimination against homosexuals was more prevalent. Speaking about the earliest political LGBT organization that was founded by Tim Sullivan in the late 1970s or early 1980s and how he was one the first LGBT activists in the Bronx. He died of AIDS in 1989 to which I devoted a moment of silence in his remembrance.

I stressed that, although we have come a long way, there is much more to be accomplished. Housing for LGBT seniors is still difficult to find while being an important need. Before ending my speech, I suggested that the new SAGE center have one of its rooms named in memory of Tim.

During the years of his activity he worked closely with Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz a very strong advocate for the LGBT community. “I am very pleased to participate in the opening of this center. It will fill an important need and serve many people for years to come. I applaud everyone who made this possible. Coincidentally, my close friend Tim Sullivan would have been 65 years old this year. He was the number one pioneer here in the Bronx for LGBT rights and respect.” said Assemblyman Dinowitz, also a close friend of Tim Sullivan.

Deputy Commissioner for External Affairs of the NYC Department for the Aging, Caryn Resnick, spoke enthusiastically about the LGBT programs sponsored by SAGE and the funding from the NYC Department of Aging. Commissioner Donna Corrado for the Department for the Aging said that the increased funding was needed to meet the unique needs of the LGBT community in New York.

Joyce Banks speaking at the opening

Joyce Banks speaking at the opening

One of the most moving moments was when Joyce Banks, age 70 and a Bronx resident, told how she had been going to the SAGE site in Harlem after her partner of 32 years passed away from cancer in 2013. That site helped her with her applying for financial assistance. She said “It was my home away from home. I am not the friendliest person in the world but you can’t dwell and sit in the house and become a recluse. You have to get up and out.” She is thrilled that there is now a SAGE center in her home borough.

Elected officials present for the opening included: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assembly members Jeffrey Dinowitz and Victor Pichardo, Council members Ritchie Torres, Vanessa Gibson, Danny Dromm, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Annabel Palma and Andy Cohen.

I urge all to join and take part in the SAGE Bronx Center. All are welcome.

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