A Home for Polish Seniors in Greenpoint

Because Pete McGuinness Senior Center is located in Greenpoint, most of its patrons are Polish immigrants. Each day some 130 people visit the center. (Photo by Marta Kustek via Nowy Dziennik)

Because the Pete McGuinness Senior Center is located in Greenpoint, most of its patrons are Polish immigrants. Each day some 130 people visit the center. (Photo by Marta Kustek via Nowy Dziennik)

The Pete McGuinness Senior Center in Greenpoint is a place where patrons are not asked about their immigration or financial status. They can instead have lunch for a dollar and participate in various activities. The only condition they have to meet is being over 60 years old.

I visited the senior center on a day when it was inspected by a representative from the New York City Department of Health. “We haven’t received a single notice, everything is great here,” said the center’s program director, Polish-born Zbyszek Semczyk. For two months ago now he has had an assistant, also a Polish immigrant, Marta Kustek. “There is a sizable group among the elderly Polish community that needs to be taken care of. They immigrated to the United States in the ’70s or ’80s and have grown old here. Some of them thought they would return to their home country to retire so they never bothered to take care of their immigration status, or they didn’t put aside extra retirement money. As a result, those who stayed have little Social Security money to live off each month. Some people don’t even get that because they are here undocumented,” says Kustek. There are, however, also patrons of the senior center who are well-off, but feel lonely with their closest family members living overseas.

No matter their personal situation, they all come to the Pete McGuinness Senior Center to interact with others, confide in friendly souls or to seek assistance, like filling in applications for benefits offered by the city, food stamps or transportation subsidies. The center already has a library with books in English, but is creating another one for its Polish-speaking patrons. Recently, the center also started offering computer classes. “Everyone can take advantage of them. We are currently covering the basics in computers, such as how to download pictures, how to send an email or use Skype. We are also providing guidance for those who want to use the internet, [e.g.] how to find information on health issues and news from Poland and Europe,” says Kustek.

(Photo by Marta Kustek via Nowy Dziennik)

(Photo by Marta Kustek via Nowy Dziennik)

Since the center is in the process of furnishing the computer room, it welcomes donations in the form of used, but still working, computers and laptops, as well as books for its libraries. The center is also looking for volunteers who would like to come and perform or present a lecture in front of the seniors. “We are looking for anything that could brighten up the lives of seniors, which at times are not that colorful but filled with sadness. Many of our patrons no longer have the support of families, while the longtime friends they met here have either returned to their home country, moved to Florida, or died,” says Kustek.

The Pete McGuinness Senior Center has operated in Greenpoint for more than 30 years and is part of a program offered by Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens. Because of its location in the traditionally Polish neighborhood, its patrons are mostly immigrants from Poland. Each day, more than 130 people visit the center, the majority of them during lunchtime. Apart from computer classes, they participate in lectures given by various professionals, [e.g.] psychologists. Once a month the senior center organizes bus trips, with the most recent one being to the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan.

“New York lacks a Polish-American organization focused on seniors, especially those who do not have a legalized status and federal financial help. They are left on their own. Some of them are homeless, some are living at friends’ places, but that never lasts forever. People judge them, but nobody has a right to do that. Instead we should help them,” says Kustek.

The Pete McGuinness Senior Center is located at 715 Leonard St. in Greenpoint (between Greenpoint Avenue and Clayer Street). It is open from Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 4 pm.

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