The optics of Thursday afternoon’s rally outside JHS 190 on Austin Street are familiar: signs asking to “Save our Beacon” and calling on the city and its voters to think of the children.
But this time, the Queens Community House Beacon program at the junior high school isn’t at risk of being closed — at least not now. Despite protest signs and a march that took the children around Forest Hills for about a half hour, Thursday’s rally was more a celebration than a call to action.
One by one, the dozens of children who take part in QCH’s after-school Beacon program stood up and said why it is important to them and to their parents.
“The Beacon is important because I learn things I don’t learn in school or at home.”
“The Beacon is important because it allows me to make friends.”
“The Beacon is important because my parents both work and I would be home alone without it.”
From homework help to robotics workshops, the kids listed programs and services that they enjoy at the Beacon program.
It was all part of the center’s participation in a nationwide event called “Lights On Afterschool,” focusing on the importance of the programs aimed at children of working parents who have no place to go after school lets out except home or the streets. After-school programs are often at the top of the cut list when municipal budgets are strained.
“We know the positive impact after-school programs have on children and families,” said Patrick Pinchinat, program director of the QCH beacon at JHS 190. “It keeps kids safe. It inspires them to learn. It helps all of our working parents by giving them the confidence that their kids are under the watchful eyes of caring adults in the afternoons.”
The QCH Beacon, which combines an after-school center with other services, including a teen center, was one of three QCH facilities that held rallies on Thursday to spotlight the importance of after-school programs. The other two were at PS 86 in Briarwood and PS 82 in Jamaica.
In recent years, the Beacon — along with many of the city’s after-school programs — faced cuts or elimination entirely whenever the mayor proposed his preliminary budget. The Forest Hills Beacon has repeatedly been on the chopping block, sometimes having to wait until the last day of the fiscal year — June 30 — to know if it survived.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) has vowed to protect funding for the center in the last few budget debates and attended annual rallies at the Beacon calling for funding to be saved.
In the past, she has said the Beacon’s funding was proposed to be cut because of its location in middle class-to-affluent Forest Hills, despite the fact that the Beacon serves kids from as far away as Jamaica and Long Island City.
Koslowitz said in 2012 that she would like to see service cuts determined by ZIP code end because after-school programs do not necessarily serve only members of the specific community.
In recognition of Koslowitz’s help, Westine Leung, 13, who attends the beacon, did a portrait of the councilwoman, which she presented to Koslowitz’s chief of staff, Vicky Morales, at the Thursday rally.