“Save Our Beacon! Save Our Beacon! Save Our Beacon!”
The chant could be heard loud and clear around the block as hundreds of concerned parents and brokenhearted children crowded into the courtyard of JHS 190 in Forest Hills on Tuesday afternoon in protest of the scheduled closure of the school’s Queens Community House Beacon Program.
“Since my mom died, all the women staff are like my mom,” said 11-year-old Miriam Fink, a Forest Hills resident who attended the rally with her father, Warren, and spoke on behalf of the dozens of youngsters who take advantage of the program on a daily basis.
“Beacon is a large part of my life,” she said. “Beacon is a second family. I don’t know where I’d be without them.”
Patrick Pinchinat, Beacon director at the Forest Hills school, said closing the program, which offers educational opportunities as well as activities ranging from sports and drama to arts & crafts and mentoring, would be “impactful. This is probably the only free program in this area. There are a lot of working families in Forest Hills. They need the services.”
Pinchinat said residents in the immediate area are not the only ones who participate in the program, which welcomes families from Rego Park and Elmhurst and surrounding neighborhoods.
The Beacon program operates six days a week year round. Pinchinat estimated that 100 youngsters participate in the daily after-school activities, in addition to approximately 50 older teens and adults who benefit from the program’s evening hours. He said that, in total, approximately 1,300 families have children who attend the program annually.
Beacon programs are operated at schools throughout the city by the Department of Youth & Community Development at a cost of approximately $340,000. The program at JHS 190 is one of severalscheduled to close as of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Throughout the rally, speakers called on Mayor Bloomberg to prevent the closures.
“While I understand that the task of planning the yearly budget requires difficult decisions, I ask you to not cut funding to this program based solely upon its operation in an area that is zoned as a low needs ZIP code,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills). Council member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) agreed.
“We must stop determining service cuts based on ZIP codes,” she said. “The program is an asset to our community because it provides, through educational and social components, a safe place for kids to go after school. I needed after-school programs for my children. I would have been on welfare and food stamps” if not for such programs. “I am pleading with the administration to cross off 11375 from your list because we are not a rich community. Enough is enough,” she said.
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) said, “Like its lighthouse namesake, the Beacon program has been a guiding light in the community.Beacon is out there helping navigate difficult waters. There is a safe harbor. While resources are scarce, it is important not to close community-based programs. To close the program is irresponsible and insensitive to those who are in need.”
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who is running for Congress, said, cutting Beacon programs would be harmful to students and families.
“As a working mother of two, I know and understand the challenges that need to be met to keep families healthy” Meng said.
The mayor’s plan, which would have to be approved by the City Council, calls for $2.1 million to be cut from the DYCD, leading to the closing of seven of the city’s 81 Beacon programs.
Nicole Kitiashwili, 12, has been participating in the program for three years.
“Beacon has taught me lessons I will remember all my life, she said.”
Lena Polt, who lives in Rego Park, has two children in the program.
“Thanks to Beacon I am able to work and I’m off public assistance,” Polt said.
The Campaign for Children has been urging New Yorkers to take action by calling city leaders to express their dissatisfaction with the planned closings and to ask for the restoration of the funding to save the endangered programs.
A partnership of The Emergency Coalition to Save Child Care and the NYC Youth Alliance has planned a rally in City Hall Park on Tuesday, April 17 at 3:30 p.m.