It was a widely mixed group of fishermen, girl scouts, parents, politicians and students who rallied Tuesday night to save a beloved Beacon program in Bayside.
About 100 participants gathered outside MS 158 on Oceania Street on a blustery evening to ask the mayor to save the 20-year-old after-school and evening program that draws close to 400 youngsters. In addition, the Beacon offers a mentoring program for high school students, an evening adult basketball league and provides a meeting place for the scouts and the Bayside Anglers.
But Mayor Bloomberg is calling for the elimination of seven Beacons throughout the city and two in Queens — at MS 158 and JHS 190 in Forest Hills — as part of his next fiscal year budget.
Kim D’Angelo, MS 158 PTA president, who led the rally, said that the decision to close the Beacon was based on the income levels of the ZIP codes the program serves, adding that Bayside is diverse economically and that it’s an “insult to base the program on income. Our kids deserve this program.”
D’Angelo added that eliminating the program will mean no computer classes, no talent show and more. “The loss of this program will be devastating to our community,” she said. “How can the mayor do this?”
Peter Pabon, president of the Bayside Anglers, a fishing club established in 1994, didn’t speak at the rally but attended and told the Queens Chronicle that his group has been meeting at the Beacon for 16 years. “We’re a nonprofit, where would we go?” Pabon asked.
Maria Shulman said her son got tutoring at the Beacon when he needed it and now he tutors others. “If there wasn’t a Beacon, I wouldn’t be able to keep my job because I’d have to watch my child after school,” Shulman said.
MS 158 Principal Marie Nappi called the program “part of our family” and she “doesn’t want to have our family broken up.” Nappi pointed to the Beacon programs that augment the school’s curriculum, such as music and art.
Linda Manginaro, leader of Girl Scout Troop 4510, indicated her troop has met at the Beacon for eight years. “It’s a safe and secure location,” Manginaro said that can’t be replaced.
Perhaps the most heartfelt speech was given by 13-year-old Brian Ross, a seventh grader, who said he’s been going to the Beacon program since the third grade. “I have been tutored by friendly staff,” Brian said. “It’s hard to cope with the fact that it’s closing.”
The youngster added that he finds eliminating the program sad. “The mayor says kids are the future so why is he putting us out on the street?” Brian asked.
Leana Papandreau, a student at Cardozo High School, said the Beacon was her second home. “My friends were shocked to learn it’s closing,” Leana said. “It needs to be here another 20 years more.”
Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece drew the most applause with his criticism of the mayor. “I’m sick and tired of Bloomberg closing things down in Queens,” Iannece said. “We don’t have the options like a millionaire such as Bloomberg has.”
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) believes the mayor is playing brinkmanship with the funding. “The budget cuts don’t need to be made this year,” Halloran said. “This program is the heart and soul of Beacons.”
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) said, as a former councilman, he headed the city’s Finance Committee, and knows that the Beacon allocation is not a lot of money in the budget. “I think we will prevail,” Weprin added.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) called the budget cut “purely a political move” and promised that the elected officials would do all they can to keep the Beacon open.
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said the program is an important investment for working families in Queens. “I pledge our support because the state already puts money in the budget so these kinds of programs can be saved,” Meng said.
Martenia Miller, director of the MS 158 Beacon, said she appreciates all the support shown, calling the Beacon “a love program” and that “we’re all about family.” She had one message to Bloomberg: “Mayor, get your act together.”
That too, brought lots of cheers and applause to a woman who is apparently well-liked and respected by those in attendance.
Prior to the rally, youngsters held up homemade signs and placards and stood on the corner, garnering honks of support from passing motorists.
If the Beacons are not funded, they will close at the end of June, right before the summer programs are set to begin.