Rain didn’t ruin the rally — parents, students, teachers, and community leaders came to the Queens Community House Pomonok Center in Flushing on a rainy Monday night to protest budget cuts to its after-school program.
Parents and students joined in the chant “They say ‘Cut Back,’ we say ‘Fight Back,’” over Mayor Bloomberg’s impending budget cuts, which would result in a loss of about $400,000 in funding for the center, according to Sheena Sukhraj, Queens Community House youth services director at the Pomonok Center.
The Pomonok after-school program helps 155 children, most of whom are children of working parents. Officials there say the center plays a vital role in the children’s development by offering homework review, health and fitness activities, counseling and character building, which in turn helps the parents.
“Working parents are faced with many time constraints. If the budget cuts go through, we are taking away the support that parents have to help children grow and be self-reliant,” Sukhraj said.
Kimberlee Farrell, 32, is a working mom, seventh-grade teacher, and parent of a student who attends MS 201. Farrell gushed at how much support the program has given her and her son, Kai Brison, 8. “The center is a blessing. It’s true that it does take a village to raise a child,” she said.
Farrell and her son live in Jamaica. She works as a teacher in South Ozone Park, and her son attends school in Flushing. “I don’t know where my own child is going to be after school,” she said. “I have no idea what the safety of my child is going to be if these budget cuts go through.”
The working mom says she operates at a monthly deficit of about $600, but despite her financial situation, she contemplated taking a year off to ensure her son received a proper education and life skills before applying to be a part of the Pomonok Community Center. Luckily, Pomonok made a spot for her last year.
“Coming from Jamaica, I’m telling you if this center closes down it affects more than just the surrounding Pomonok community,” she said. “They are very understanding even if a child has had altercations or issues … counseling the child through any situation. It’s a loving environment and they work with the parent.”
This is her son’s first year in the program, and he too would be sad to see it go. “If it shuts down, then I would just have to walk home, and I don’t want to do that … it’s educational for us and a good experience for us,” he said. “Mayor Bloomberg, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
The budget cuts come in Bloomberg’s proposed budget, which would reduce funding for after-school programs in all five boroughs. Approximately 400 letters expressing the importance of the Pomonok Center have been sent, packages to council members have been mailed, and weekly calls are being made to the Mayor’s Office. A final budget must be passed by the end of June.
“We need Mayor Bloomberg to hear us, not just listen. The city is calling you in a 911 manner for help. Please answer,” said Gwendolyn Lucus, a parent of one of the students at Pomonok Center.