When Kye Weaver was asked to be a mental health counselor for at-risk youth, he wasn’t too sure if he could make the jump from the Parsons Beacon program to helping teens navigate the troubling waters of adolescence.
He was told, “You’re going to be a professional,” and proceeded to help teens and young adults in the DMH Adolescent After-School Program, which works hand-in-glove with the Parsons Beacon Program at 158-40 76th Road in Flushing.
Weaver went on to mentor teens of all ages through turbulent days brought on by an adolescence filled with few options, some tough times in the classroom and trouble at home.
Hundreds have been helped by the likes of Weaver at the after-school program since its inception over a decade ago. But as of June 30, these youth may have to look for help elsewhere, if the just-over $100,000 needed to keep the program going on gets cut by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The program was created and is run by the Child Center of New York to offer structure and support to teenagers in the community that wouldn’t find it anywhere else.
A letter from DOH to CCNY states the agency will eliminate the $100,993 in funding for the program.
“These cuts have been truly difficult choices,” read the letter, signed by Deputy Commissioner Adam Karpati. “As resources become scarcer, the city has been obligated to make these hard choices about the services we provide.”
“Due to budget cuts, we made the difficult choice to not replace the services in question,” the agency said in a statement. “The Health Department is working with the Child Care Center of New York to help find alternative programs.”
It’s known as “The DMH Program” within the halls of the JHS168/Parsons Ed. Complex. Its participants, kids between the ages of 12-21, seek out and even laude the help they receive for problems both personal and academic — all the more unusual when you consider they’re at an age when getting help from pretty much anyone could lead to bullying and jeers.
Started in 1998 by CCNY’s Deep Ghosh, the DMH Program began around a focus on the neediest kids, often found acting out within the classroom and outside of it. It’s become vital in a diverse community that doesn’t always offer the best choices to its kids.
“We started with this strong foundation for the Beacon Program,” Ghosh said. “We learned very quickly that if you leave the gym open, the basketball players come in pretty quickly.”
The program has since branched out to offer confidential counseling from trained mental health professionals and peer group support services to youths with varying degrees of need; kids like 10th-grader Christine Mathieu, who has spent nearly two years with DMH and says she has benefitted immensely from the program.
“They offer you with help and support and various activities,” she said, recalling an overnight retreat upstate that was earned by the program’s members.
The program’s very name speaks to its longevity. “DMH” harkens back to the days when the city still had a separate Department of Mental Health, which was then merged into its current iteration.
The DMH program goes beyond counseling, giving the kids a sense of purpose by giving tasks to participants, such as planning events for the broader community, or helping set academic goals. Those are usually followed with rewards, such as trips to cultural institutions within the city.
Weaver, who has moved on from counseling but is still a familiar face at the program, remembers a time when he held a movie night — by projecting the film onto a handball wall. Anyone was welcome to enjoy the show.
The kids and teens he’s helped have now gone on to have fulfilling careers as attorneys, military members, and even Verizon workers — all because they were kept off the streets at a vital time in their lives.
“It all came from being in Beacon, being in DMH,” he said. “They have a sense of purpose here.”
The DOH places family support, vocational services, school-based services and case-management services ahead of programs like DMH, according to the letter sent to CCNY.
The program’s supporters take issue with the DOH’s priorities, and wonder if the cost-benefit analysis on a $100,000 in savings could really spell the end of the DMH.
“Keeping it running requires just a little bit of money,” Ghosh said. “It’s a pittance.”