Last Tuesday, elected officials and hundreds of community members rallied outside of the Russell Sage Junior High School, demanding that the mayor reconsider cutting funds for what many call an imperative program to the community.
“It is unbelievable that the city continues to justify the closure of the Queens Community House Beacon at JHS 190 using a completely flawed methodology,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who threw his support behind saving the program since it was first announced that it was on the chopping block.
“The decision to close this Beacon will displace more than a thousand students who travel from all across Queens, and leave parents in the awful position of choosing to leave their kids alone after school or quit their jobs,” he added. “From a policy standpoint of considering the short and long term costs, and the potential harm to children and working adults, this is an incredibly bad policy decision."
The program, which is the temporary home for dozens of children from across Queens in the after-school hours, is hosted by the Queens Community House.
Hevesi and Councilwoman Karen Kowslowitz say that the justification for closing the program is because the Forest Hills zip code where it is located is financially more well-off than other parts of the city.
They say that is unfair.
“Forest Hills is a working-class community,” Koslowitz said.
Her statement was echoed by many parents and Patrick Pinchinat, the program's director, who noted that the program's popularity has allowed it to serve on average over 1,100 students each year, despite its contractual obligation with the city only requiring the enrollment of 950 students.
The cuts to the program are part of the $2.1 million in cuts to the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), which Mayor Bloomberg has called for in an effort to save the city money for Fiscal Year 2013.
The Campaign for Children recently became involved, urging Bloomberg to reconsider his plans to cut not just the J.H.S. 190-based Beacon program, but another at M.S. 158 in Bayside, and five others across the city.
“This is not a decision taken lightly, and we appreciate how valuable our 80 Beacon programs are to families across the city,” said DYCD spokesperson Cathleen Collins.
It's not a decision parents are taking lightly either. One parent, Tonia Calvo, whose 11-year-old son participates in the program, said she doesn't want to lose the “safe and educational place” for her son.
“The Queens Community House Beacon program provides my son with opportunities I couldn’t give him otherwise – help with academics, exposure to arts and music programming and other activities that help him succeed in school,” Calvo said. “I’m losing a safe and educational place for my son to be while I work, and that’s a tragedy.”
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblywoman Grace Meng were also on hand to show support. They promised that they would also continue to actively fight for the program until June, when the city's budget is finalized.
At the rally, Beacon mentors who were once Beacon students continued to pledge their support to saving the program. Pinchinat said that his staff, as well as the students who benefit from the program, will not give up fighting to save it.
“It’s disheartening, you never want to see your program on the list, but we will continue to advocate,” he said. “We have proof and evidence to support what we do.”