Fearing the city will eliminate the Parsons Beacon program in Flushing, youngsters, their parents and elected officials came out on a rainy Thursday night to protest the potential closing.
Organized by Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), the rally was held early enough so that kids from the after-school program could participate before going home. Several parents and community leaders also joined in.
Due to budget constraints, the mayor’s FY 2013 budget calls for eliminating an estimated seven Beacons in the city. Queens has 20 such programs, and elected officials indicated that eight of them could be among those chosen for closure, including the Parsons one.
Each Beacon program costs about $330,000 a year, and the city estimates it could save $2.46 million if seven of them are shut down.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who participated in Thursday’s event, noted that the Parsons Beacon serves more than 1,000 people a year.
Lancman wrote in a letter to the Department of Youth and Community Development commissioner that the Beacon helps students in the fourth through eighth grades get homework help and recreation time. High school students volunteer and develop leadership skills through internships. Lancman urged the commissioner to protect the program.
The Parsons Beacon is located at R.F. Kennedy Community Middle School and the Queens School of Inquiry, both located at 158-40 76 Road. Participating youngsters held up homemade signs asking the city to keep the program open. Gabby, a sixth grader, called the program fun. “I get homework help and people take care of me,” she said.
Sylvia Wilson, whose son, Collin, 11, has been attending the program since September, says he looks forward to it. “He takes part in basketball, football, does his homework and gets help if he needs it,” Wilson said.
She added that Collin stays until 6:30 p.m. almost every schoolday. “He loves everything about the Beacon,” she said. “It means a lot to the kids.”
Gennaro called the rally, “the first salvo,” saying, “We have to tell the good story of the Beacons and they will be saved.” “There is an effort to cut back, but we are pushing back.”
Lancman, who got involved with youth issues when he served on Community Board 8, called the program “a terrific organization that is well run.”
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) noted that the program is like a “beacon of light that attracts older and younger people.” Although as a state legislator, she has no direct control over cityspending, Stavisky said “we speak out on issues all the time. The Beacons provide resources that are essential to working-class people.”
Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said that even though these are hard economic times, there is fat in the city budget that can be eliminated, although he did not elaborate. “The Beacon programs are not fat,” Simanowitz said. “They are essential. We have to stop the mayor from using kids and seniors as bargaining chips.”
A total of 16 Beacon programs were to be eliminated this year, but money was found to extend them to the end of this fiscal year.
Marva Dudley, chairwoman of the Parsons Beacon Advisory Board, asked where the youngsters would go if the program was eliminated, especially for those whose parents work and count on the program for watching their children. “I hope our voices are heard,” Dudley added.
Ken Cohen, president of the Flushing Suburban Civic Association, said that if the Beacon is closed, “it would be an atrocity.”
Officials at the rally said that the city has refused to release the names of the Beacons on the chopping block, which makes it difficult to organize protests. But Gennaro said: “No one wants to lose a Beacon.”