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March 4, 2013

The SAGE Center Celebrates its First Anniversary

Charles O’Connell is currently an intern in Marketing and Communications at SAGE. He wrote this piece in honor of the one-year anniversary of the opening of The SAGE Center.

It’s hard to believe, but on March 1st, we celebrated the one year anniversary of the grand opening of The SAGE Center. The past year has definitely flown by; it’s been a whirlwind of activity for staff and participants alike. When we opened a year ago – as the nation's first full-time, innovative center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older people – we were pretty confident of our future success and are now pleased to report…we were right. Today we have more than 1000 registered participants and a full calendar of events related to arts and culture, fitness, food and nutrition, health and wellness, and lifelong education for LGBT elders.

Richard Burnside & Charles Fatone have dinner at The SAGE Center between activities.
On a recent week night, I chatted with several participants during the early dinner at The SAGE Center. Almost everyone I spoke to said The SAGE Center is the first senior center where they have truly felt at home. They seemed delighted a senior center had opened that was dedicated specifically to the LGBT community – a place where they feel welcomed, respected, and free to be their most authentic selves.  As SAGE participant Alston Green, 62, puts it, “This place does wonders for your self-esteem!”

I asked the participants how the SAGE Center had impacted their lives and here’s a sampling of their thoughtful responses.

William Kushner, a Chelsea resident and SAGE Center neighbor, just starting coming to The SAGE Center a month ago and reports, “So far it’s been a good experience: nice people, good food and I’ve taken an art class in collage.” [This class is our weekly, popular Art Class w/Visual Artist & Theater Designer Thom]

Randy Bishop works nights at the New York Times. He comes for dinner before heading off to work. He says the early dinner hour suits his active lifestyle and he enjoys The SAGE Center where he has met many new friends.

Alston Green
Alston Green, a graphic designer, said that for his generation – the baby boomers – there was a lot of ambivalence about aging, but that despite this, he started coming to The SAGE Center last July. He told me he was pleasantly surprised to find the atmosphere vibrant and welcoming – he now comes for dinner several times a week. Alston has enjoyed meeting his seniors – the folks a few years older – who have shown him how much he has to look forward to. He says The SAGE Center makes him feel privileged: “I’m getting what I deserve. I’ve paid my dues. [At The SAGE Center] it feels like someone is taking an interest in me.”

Pat Sloane, a longtime member of the SAGE Singers, said she and her partner of 37 years, Barbara Police, spent many happy years going to the SAGE drop-in room at the LGBT Center on 13th Street, but now she loves the new location – especially the Cyber Center and beautiful new dining room.

When I asked Charles Fatone and Richard Burnside how The SAGE Center had impacted their lives, Richard said, “Remember, when I was young there was nothing [for gay men and lesbians] and you could be arrested, just for being gay.” Indicating the SAGE dining room with its beautiful view, he marveled at how far we had come as a community. Both Richard and Charles started coming to The SAGE Center as soon as it opened last year. They obviously enjoy each other’s company and were having a lively conversation during the early dinner, which they squeezed between an afternoon class of “Sharing Your Story through Video” and an evening class, “Creative Writing Intensive.”

Alejandro Castro from the Bronx is also a participant at SAGE Harlem. He said since October he’s been coming to The SAGE Center several times a week and had nothing but praise for the beautiful space, great food and people who were mature, respectful and friendly. He seemed a little shy to me so I was pleasantly surprised when he said his favorite activity was Karaoke with Katie, “every Tuesday night!”  And Kwang Kim, who loves the evening meal, is also a big classic movie fan. She attends ‘Dinner & a Movie’ at The SAGE Center every Friday night.

Almost all the folks I talked to started coming to the SAGE Center on the advice of a friend – proving that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. We are thrilled with the great responses on our one-year anniversary and look forward to many more years of fellowship, education, community and fun!  As Alston repeated to me several times, “This place is pretty cool!”


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