The city’s proposal to close two Beacon programs in Queens would be devastating for thousands of families from throughout the borough, including many working parents who rely on the free afterschool activities to keep their children busy while they are at their jobs, youth advocates and elected officials said this week.
“People are really upset about this,” said Patrick Pinchinat, director of the Beacon program at JHS 190 in Forest Hills. “I had one of the worst days in my career when I had to announce the mayor’s plan to my kids in the program. Kids were crying, and they’re speaking out about it.”
Mayor Bloomberg has called for about $2.1 million to be cut from the Department of Youth and Community Development, which resulted in officials proposing to shutter seven of the 81 Beacon programs throughout the city, including the one at JHS 190 and another run by the Samuel Field Y at MS 158 in Bayside. Each Beacon program costs approximately $334,000 to operate annually.
The JHS 190 site serves about 1,100 families, and MS 158 serves approximately 2,800 families annually, providing a variety of activities, including sports, mentoring, homework help, arts and crafts, dance and volunteer work.
The mayor’s plan would have to be approved by the City Council, and a number of Queens legislators have slammed the proposal which, if implemented, would go into effect July 1. That, Steve Goodman, the executive vice president and CEO of the Samuel Fields Y, pointed out, would be when the Beacons’ summer programs would normally be beginning.
“City Hall bureaucrats must think we’re flush with services here in Bayside,” Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said. “They are wrong. If they came out to see what is happening in our schools in northeast Queens, they would realize that we need Beacon programs. Instead of closing programs and hitting specific neighborhoods it deems privileged, the city should trim costs from each Beacon program to make them more efficient.”
The Campaign for Children, a partnership of the Emergency Coalition to Save Child Care and the NYC Youth Alliance, pointed out that Beacon programs operate after school, on weekends and school holidays, and throughout the summer, and the free programs give children of working parents a safe haven.
“These closures mean that thousands of young people will be left without the educational, enriching afterschool environments that help them succeed in school, and thousands of parents will be forced to scramble to find safe places for their children while they’re at work,” said Emma Woods, a Campaign for Children spokeswoman.
Tania Calvo, the parent of an 11-year-old boy who attends the Forest Hills program, echoed Woods’ sentiment.
“I can’t afford to pay the fees of the afterschool and childcare programs in the area,” Calvo said. “The Beacon program offers me a safe and nurturing place where my son can learn, be kept off the streets and influenced by positive mentors.”
Like Halloran, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she’s frustrated the city has targeted the JHS 190 site because it’s in a wealthier ZIP code.
“They have to get rid of the idea that Forest Hills is a place that doesn’t need help,” Koslowitz said. “I’m going to fight very hard to keep the Beacons open.”
Goodman noted that his program has been successful and draws students not only from the immediate Bayside area, but from throughout the borough.
“When that neighborhood was chosen to get a Beacon, it had some real needs the program was designed to address,” Goodman said. “We’ve successfully addressed many of those issues, including at-risk youth, youth that weren’t achieving their potential and a need for childcare and safe havens for kids.”
Without programs to help students at risk of dropping out or working with students to boost their attendance records at school, Goodman said he is “deeply concerned the the loss of this Beacon will destabilize this neighborhood and erode the important accomplishments that now characterize it.”