Two women are eager for the Village of Southampton to have its own senior center, and have even launched a petition to advance their cause.
So far, longtime friends Audrey Welte, 88, and Josephine Forestano, 94, both of whom call the village home, have obtained the signatures of 65 fellow senior citizens.
“I’ve been paying taxes here in the village for 65 years, and they gave me nothing,” Ms. Welte said on Friday, referring to the lack of a senior center run by the municipality. “We give back to the community, so what is the community doing for us now when I need them?”
According to Ms. Welte, she and Ms. Forestano have frequented the senior centers in nearby Bridgehampton and Hampton Bays, both of which are run by Southampton Town. The town also operates a third facility on Flanders Road in Flanders.
The friends note that they prefer to go to the Bridgehampton Community Center, explaining that they have discovered that there are “cliques” at the Hampton Bays facility, which is on Ponquogue Avenue. “You go there, and you want to sit down, and they say, ‘You can’t sit here—it’s my friend’s seat,’” Ms. Welte said.
As for Bridgehampton, both ladies complained about the traffic, especially in the summer, which makes the trip to the facility that sits off the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike stressful at times. However, they say it is fun and enjoyable when they get there: They get to play games, socialize with their friends and eat a nutritious meal.
“For us to get around to meet people and do things, it’s very difficult,” Ms. Welte said, explaining her reason for requesting a meeting with Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley so she could explain her idea.
When they met in August, Ms. Welte said she suggested that the village transform the old post office building, located on Nugent Street and currently vacant, into a new senior center. After never getting a response on her suggestion, Ms. Welte said she decided to take matters into her own hands and start a petition. The document states that anyone who signs the petition supports the purchase of a building to be used as a senior center, and in particular, pinpoints the old post office.
It also says, “We are against having to travel to the Bridgehampton Center and/or the Hampton Bays Center. Traveling these distances is not fair to us. We request this matter to be taken up with the appropriate village officials expeditiously.”
When reached Monday, Mr. Epley confirmed that he had a meeting with Ms. Welte over the summer and recalled suggesting to her that she help form a senior committee in the village, which does not currently exist.
Mr. Epley added that village officials are not opposed to a senior center and are in the process of forming a senior committee. The committee wouldn’t just include senior citizens, however; in fact, he said it would be nice to have a couple of people in their 40s and 50s to possibly help do some of the legwork.
The mayor also noted that while the former post office could be a good location for a senior center, the village does not own the property, meaning it would have to inquire about renting it. The owners, listed as 39 Nugent LLC, recently put the old post office back on the market for $4.25 million, and, according to a representative at Brown Harris Stevens, are not looking to become landlords.
Mr. Epley also said that the rent for a senior center could prove to be too costly. His recommendation is that a senior center be set up at Veterans Memorial Hall on Pond Lane in the mornings, when nothing is currently scheduled. Mr. Epley suggested that the idea is for the senior center to start out small, and eventually build it up to something that can be operated like the centers in Hampton Bays and Bridgehampton.
Janet Galante of Roslyn, Ms. Welte’s daughter, also lamented the lack of a senior center and related programming in the village.
“I think my mother’s main thrust is that they spent somewhere over $50,000 to make a dog run in the village—a statue of a dog in the village—and a children’s park in the village, and yet they have nothing for senior citizens,” Ms. Galante said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Epley said that the dog park and statue were paid for using money raised by the Dog Park Committee, and that the village did not put any money into the project.
Still, the two ladies are committed to making a senior center a reality in the village.
“[Ms. Welte] has formed this grassroots movement and really has talked to a lot of people and is very serious about this,” Ms. Galante added.