For numerous compelling reasons, as told in the story presented below, I am requesting that the Nassau County Legislature and the County Executive, the Honorable Bruce Blakeman, present a new long term lease to the 5 Towns Community Center under the same terms of the original lease and immediately cancel any other offerings.
The County’s lack of open communication and assistance with funding issues started well before the current Nassau County Administration, but the issues and conditions seem to be the same and/or getting worse year after year. Even after many requests made by the local County Legislative representative, Carrié Solange, that Nassau County renew the lease for the 5 Towns Community Center (“5TCC”), it has all come to no avail. Now it has recently been found out that the County is offering the Community Center’s property out for lease.
I want the local, state and federal political figures to know, that I demand the cancellation of the Request for Proposal (“RFP”) and that the County of Nassau provide the 5 Town Community Center the long term renewal of the lease.
In 1907, a contribution of 5.7 acres of land and an endowment fund was made by Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, the widow of financier Russel Sage, to establish the Sage Industrial School. The mission was to help the growing immigrant population in the nearby communities to learn the English language and skills such as woodworking, plumbing, and masonry, laundry work, basketry, cooking and sewing. Both parents and children took advantage of the facilities provided for hygiene and recreation. In 1942, the name was changed to Five Towns Community House and the agency joined the Settlement House Movement. In 1964 the Economic Opportunity Act was passed. This Act allowed the establishment of community based agencies to help fight the war on poverty. In 1969, the Five Towns Community Center House, Inc. and Economic Opportunity Council for the Five Towns, Inc. merged to become the Five Towns Community Center, Inc. and was established as a multi-service, anti-poverty agency servicing the Five Towns community. To this day, the 5TCC is still a “safety net” that serves more than 5000 people every month by providing services, programs, supplies and food to those in need.
In the 1970’s, Nassau County offered to improve the 5TCC and used taxpayer dollars to create and build a new facility, however, in order for this new building to be built, the County required that the land be “donated”, for free, to the County. At that time, the 5TCC Board, acting in good faith on behalf of the people, perhaps did not realize that they were dealing with shrewd county officials. They couldn’t possibly have imagined that sometime in the future, the County would try to remove the 5 Towns Community Center and its ever present and beneficial people based operations, services and programs; leaving the Center’s employees, numerous volunteers and, most importantly, its at-risk community stakeholders without a place to turn to for help by not renewing their lease. This is the property they relinquished to the County for free and whose programs and services were paid for by the general public’s tax dollars. Now there is an attempt by certain parties to alienate the community and its people by taking away their legacy.
The 5TCC has continuously fulfilled their required task of providing programs and services to the community while the County was defaulting on their part of the agreement. The agreement the County made was to provide maintenance and upkeep on the facility and grounds, and to continue to assist with various programs and services, which they have failed to do on a consistent basis.
Why has the County now come out with a new “RFP” requiring a $5 million dollar investment into the project? This requirement eliminates any possibilities for the current organization that owned and “donated” the property to the County. This “investment” will still cost taxpayers one way or another and will limit the possibility of the 5TCC to go forward, but the Center has and will continue to provide and maintain operations and services until clearer minds come forth.
To an outsider, the offering seems as though some of our elected government servants have already come to an understanding with an unnamed group and have already created plans to move forward with said group. Strangely, after many years of requesting and pleading that the County come in to fulfill their required tasks of maintenance, upkeep and repairs of this facility (using taxpayer dollars), the Center now is experiencing a sudden surge of work and improvements being made to the building before the “RFP” was offered. This is not a case of promises made and promises kept—it is a case of empty promises made and promises ignored.
For years, the County has promised to renew the lease, however, the County, by the recent “RFP”, has denied the lease renewal stating that the property, programs and services have not been “properly maintained” or offered. This incorrect and fraudulent statement is being promoted as part of the County’s public relations campaign to smear the 5TCC, even though the 5TCC has continued to offer numerous services, programs and food supplies for more that 5000 people every month with families and individuals coming from all over Nassau County and the Borough of Queens for assistance of all kinds. There has been a noticeable effort by the County to starve out the 5TCC by slowly deferring events and programs, removing or limiting funding, cutting access to youth and adult programs and not filing for governmental grants. These efforts have even gone as far as ripping the roof off of the building to “make repairs” right before a well publicized hurricane hit the area, turning a deaf ear to the pleas and common sense requests by the people to stop the clear destruction of interior sections of the building. This negligent action by some from the County caused indoor flooding and damage to the building and its contents. This very questionable action has subsequently allowed ceilings to leak and collapse and mold to grow in some areas, however it did nothing to stop the dedicated, hard working staff and volunteers of the 5TCC and Gammy’s Pantry from providing much needed services and assistance. These services, programs, supplies, and life saving foods were and continue to be available to anyone who calls or comes through their doors. Now, some in the County’s Administration want to evict them under the vague claim that services and programs have not been “properly maintained”, however no one knows what this means because the County has never communicated openly and/or stated what this entails. Please let us know what “properly maintained” means, in regard to the 5TCC. Why is the Center’s current landlord, who is very much aware of all of the exhaustive effort that the 5TCC does to help the people, desire to kick them out, preventing them from assisting people and cutting short their legitimate and positive community legacy? I am not asking nor do I desire that the County relinquish title to the property, as I believe it is safer with a just ownership, but simply renew the lease with the 5 Towns Community Center. It was always their property, and the county taxpayers paid for the building, so give them a lease so they can go forward into the next century and continue to help people.
The current argument against the renewal is hollow and pathetic to where it harms the reasoning of any person. So many of our public servants throw around the saying “no cost to the taxpayer” as if there is no cost to the taxpayer. Please don’t try to snowball anyone by saying that any new group will not cost taxpayers, as all not-for-profits have a taxable impact on the general public. It is the way the Tax Code is written.
During the COVID-19 shut downs, not many centers were open and available to assist people. Despite these widespread shutdowns, Gammy’s Pantry, the 5TCC staff and community volunteers continued to work through the shutdown as essential workers to provide services for the community stakeholders by providing necessary life-giving food and basic supplies such as diapers, baby formula, clothing, soap and personal hygiene products, adult incontinence supplies, pet supplies, and most importantly hope and support to those in need. Gammy’s Pantry and the 5TCC were enabled by hard work of its volunteers and staff, cooperation, and partnerships with other organizations and businesses including Long Island Cares, Rock and Wrap It Up, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Gourmet Glatt, Target, Wall’s Bakery, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Boar’s Head, CVS, and ICNA (Islamic Council of North America); which enabled it to continue its work of assisting and servicing the community.
The center also became a hub for COVID-19 testing and vaccination services through Nassau County, Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital and the Five Towns Community Center, Catholic Charities and St. John’s Hospital. The 5TCC provided transportation and assistance, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to help get people to and from life-saving doctors appointments.
The County is well aware of the fact that the 5TCC has never stopped providing assistance to the community and those in need.
I want to make it clear that if the 5 Towns Community Center is not given a new lease and their historical property is given to another interloping group, I will work diligently to bring attention to this matter by alerting the many forms of media. I will work even harder to remove any political figures from office who have turned their back on this community and its vital Center. The decision to accept another group who has other interests in mind will be a very clear slap in the face to this community’s residents and voters.
I am requesting a new lease and that every level of Government makes every effort to help the existing members of the community with taxpayer assistance. It is vital that the 5 Towns Community Center is able to continue its mission of providing services to the local community, as the Russel Sage Foundation intended when it created the Center and donated the property to this community and its people.