NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
October 11, 2004
THE CLACK-CLACK of mah-jong tiles in a South Brooklyn senior citizen center not long ago would have meant a roomful of Jewish grandmothers. No more. At the Homecrest Community Services senior center, the grandmothers and grandfathers are nearly all Chinese, and their numbers are growing.
The elders sitting at folding card tables in this homey Brooklyn church basement are enjoying the rewards of family sacrifice. Many toiled long hours in the restaurants and garment factories of Chinatown so their children could go to school, get good jobs and buy houses in Homecrest. Their children have repaid their elders by sharing their comfortable homes all under one roof, the grandparents - when they're not taking a well-deserved break at the center - baby-sit grandchildren whose parents work to pay the bills. "Both parents are required to work. Who better to raise children than grandparents?" said Carlton Mitchell, director of the International Center in New York. "Taking in and caring for aging parents is the cultural norm in China, and that way of thinking hasn't died out for the newer immigrants," Mitchell said.
Homecrest's mah-jong circle includes grandmas like Kwe Pou Chow, who was racing home the other day to care for her 12-year-old grandson and 10-year-old granddaughter. "My daughters have to work," said Chow. She said her daughters, who publish a Chinese daily newspaper, bought a house in Homecrest in 1995 and brought her here from China.
Until seven years ago, the 500 seniors who come to the center in the basement of the Homecrest Presbyterian Church each day had to travel to Chinatown for the company of other elderly Asians. Now, the need for Asian senior services in this part of Brooklyn has become so strong that Homecrest opened another center nearby expecting to sign up no more than 200 seniors. Instead, more than 600 people have signed up. "To me it means there is a huge need in the community, a hunger for these services," said Don Lee, Homecrest Community Services chairman. "It also means they are not thinking in the old way, 'Let's go to Chinatown for our services. They want to stay in the community. This is home for them. The seniors' numbers also show they are part of the thriving Chinese community in Homecrest, a community large and important enough to merit attention from City Hall.
On a recent summer night, Mayor Bloomberg held a town hall meeting in the center, where he answered questions about everything from potholes to local schools. "For the first time we had a mayor who reached out to the Asian community in a formal way," said Lee. "I think it showed he recognized the growth and changes in [the neighborhood's] demographics.
Daily life in the Homecrest center is not all that different from what goes on in senior centers everywhere: There are ballroom dancing classes and Fourth of July barbecues. Grandparents brag about their offspring's achievements. At Homecrest, there are also tai chi classes and karaoke. On a recent day, lunch was classic Chinese fare - pork, rice and cabbage. It was served with a fork.