John Abi-Habib honored by the Bay Ridge Center for his community service

Bay Ridge Center Executive Director Todd Fliender presents John Abi-Habib with a Special Congressional Recognition Certificate from U.S. Representative Nicole Malliotakis. Photo by Jaime DeJesus

It was a big turnout as the Bay Ridge Center’s annual Summer Celebration of Giving honored Bay Ridge civic leader John Abi-Habib on Saturday, June 25.

The event, held in the backyard of Lutheran Elementary School, 440 Ovington Ave., featured live music, food, raffles and remarks. It also unveiled plans for its new center slated to open this fall.

“John has done so much for the Bay Ridge community,” said Bay Ridge Center Executive Director Todd Fliender. “We are so happy to celebrate him and all the great things he has done for the community.”

“We decided to honor him because he is spearheading the campaign for a new building,” said Gerri Brooks-Cassone, a member of the center’s Community Advisory Board. “He has been a pillar of the community and has been so generous to Bay Ridge for the past three decades. He is an entrepreneur. He is just the epitome of service. He’s involved in so many different things and he’s a credit to our community.

Kings County Conservative Party Chair Frances Vella-Marrone was also happy to be there.

“John couldn’t be a better winner,” she said. “He is someone who has been in the community, generous with his time and funds. It’s something we should all celebrate. I know the work he has done in all kinds of organizations.

Assemblyman Michael Tannousis spoke about his memories of Habib before Tannousis began his political career.

“I’ve known John since I was a kid,” he says. “When I was fresh out of college, he helped me find a job for then-member of the city council, James Oddo. John helped me get that first taste of politics, which I am eternally grateful for.

Habib, who had family and friends present, spoke about the history of Ovington Avenue and the importance of senior centers.

“I thank Todd and the team who trusted me and thought I was worthy of this award,” he said. “I do my work in the community because I like doing it. I just like to be there and be part of the activities. Thank you for your commitment and this award.

He also looked to the past, as he helped the center when he was part of the Fifth Avenue Chamber of Commerce.

“The Bay Ridge Center came to the Chamber of Commerce and said we have this vision where we’re giving out meals to those at home who might not be able to come here,” Habib said. “We committed to providing them with the first Meals-on-Wheels van and the story continues for over 25 years. Right now it covers thousands of Bay Ridge residents unable to get out.

The event also featured renderings of the new Bay Ridge Center building slated to open at 15 Bay Ridge Ave. It will be two stories, 21,000 square feet in size and will include several other activities for seniors.

Currently, the center is located in the basement of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, which is approximately 5,000 square feet.

“It’s going to change the lives of our elders,” Fliender said. “It’s going to be amazing. Bethlehem Lutheran has been a wonderful host to us for 46 years now. But unfortunately, being in a church basement with only about 5,000 square feet has really limited the type of programs we can do for our elders and the services we can provide.

He added that last year, the New York State Office of Aging gave the facility the funds for the new site.

“This will allow us to provide the kind of programs and services that our seniors want,” he said. “Everyone in southwest Brooklyn should have an interest in the new Bay Ridge Center; they will either be old people there or their family members will be old people. We are talking here about the future of our elders. Let’s do something really amazing.

“The new center will offer many services and programs to keep the senior population active,” Habib added. “I’m proud to be part of this program and to lead the campaign to make sure the center gets what it wants, because it deserves it. We deserve all services. We’ve been hard at work for over 40 years, and it’s time for nonprofits to make sure we get the service business we deserve.

Norma P. Rex