Seniors and residents, past and present, at New York City Housing Authority celebrated the long-awaited unveiling of the senior fitness center on the grounds of the development last Wednesday, Oct. 13.

The area the fitness center rests on is newly refurbished with a running track and exercise equipment. It was previously a dilapidated playground.

“To find out that this particular project was created by some sisters who put their minds together in partnership with elected officials,” said Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Ingrid Lewis-Martin, who stood in for Eric Adams, “it’s magnificent. When government and residents work together, this is the product.”

Every facet of the fitness center project was led by Black women, from the East New York Restoration Development Corp and Pink Houses Tenants Association to the contracting and architect companies, Studio 397 and Equest Builders Corporation.

The actual building of the center took about six weeks to complete from the end of August, said Equest Builders Corporation Founder Joan Sanderman-Brown.

“It’s an outdoor senior facility, specifically for seniors because a lot of times seniors aren’t thought of,” said Studio 397 founder Samantha Josaphat, who designed the space.

Colette Pean, executive director of East New York Restoration Development Corp, was incredibly excited and proud of the project finally coming to fruition. As a resident of Pink Houses, she and her fellow seniors have been the driving force behind it.

“We came from this conversation of ‘we deserve more,’” said Pean. “The continual struggle was to find people who could do it and the funding to do it.”

There’s a total of 530 out of 3,569 residents who are seniors, or 62 years of age and older, living at Pink Houses, said NYCHA.

The conception of the idea for the fitness center was about three years ago, well before the pandemic fatally threatened the lives of seniors living throughout NYCHA developments, said Pean. Pean called the previous playground area “a mess.” She said it was a hard fought battle to get the fitness project funded and off the ground, so to speak.

Pean said that she was thankful for those who came together to provide free legal help navigating NYCHA’s complicated paperwork and who advised the group on how to find money.

“This is a part of the favor that this community has garnered,” said Councilmember Inez Barron, “because we are a community that’s talking about moving forward, reclaiming our culture, and getting it back to how it was when people our age were growing up. The community would help to raise you.” 

NYCHA Health Initiatives leader Andrea Mata said that Pink Houses really is a “crown jewel” in engaged outdoor spaces in NYCHA because of its urban farm, garden, and senior fitness hub.

Mata said the project is under the umbrella of NYCHA’s Connected Communities Initiative, which strives to transform underutilized open spaces into amenities for residents.

The $230,000 project was made possible through support from the Department of the Aging (DFTA) and Maimonides Medical Center, said NYCHA in a release. Barron worked to get $120,000 in discretionary funding from DFTA and Maimonides Medical Center pledged $76,700. Assemblymember Charles Barron and Brooklyn Borough President Adams also contributed to the funding for the senior fitness hub.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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