After finding out that her 9-year-old daughter’s after-school program in Jamaica may be closed this summer because of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts, Janet Guerrero has spent many sleepless nights wondering what she will do if the site is shuttered.
“I don’t have many choices,” Guerrero said. “I work full-time in Manhattan to pay the mortgage, to support my family.”
Guerrero was one of dozens of parents and students who crowded into the auditorium at JHS 190 in Forest Hills on Tuesday evening to attend a protest sponsored by Queens Community House and urge the mayor to rethink his plan to cut youth programs, which, if approved by the City Council, could slash the number of after-school opportunities in Queens by 40 percent. Among those that may be shuttered include an after-school spot at PS 82 in Jamaica, where Guerrero’s daughter, Janel, goes; the Beacon program at JHS 190, and others sites in public housing developments around Forest Hills and Pomonok —all of which are run by the Queens Community House, which is based in Forest Hills but operates programs around the borough.
“Every day I come to this wonderful program,” said Nicole Kitiashwili, 12, of Rego Park, who attends the Beacon at JHS 190. “Where else are kids like me going to go if it closes? We can’t all go home, and the paid programs are too expensive for working parents.”
Because of proposed cuts to the city Department of Youth and Community Development Bloomberg has outlined in his preliminary budget, what are known as Out of School Time programs would shrink from 83 to 51 sites in Queens. The cuts to the free after-school programs, which would have to be approved by the City Council to be implemented, would impact thousands of Queens students from all corners of the borough.
Besides the Beacon in Forest Hills, the mayor has also called to shutter a Beacon at MS 158 in Bayside.
Representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said they are fighting to ensure that funding is restored for youth programming.
“It is unacceptable they’re thinking of closing these programs,” said Alex Schnell, communications director for Hevesi.
Schnell noted that the mayor’s administration selected which Beacons to close based on Zip codes — meaning wealthier areas like Forest Hills are targeted, despite the fact that the program at JHS 190 serves low-income students from throughout the borough.
“I may have to quit my job because of this,” said Christine Ferreira, a Rego Park mother whose two sons attend the JHS 190 site. “I just don’t feel it’s safe for children after school right now. It’s a peace of mind for working parents, knowing their children are here.”
Jamaica resident Elaina Feliciano, whose son, Justin Sanchez, attends the PS 82 program, reiterated Ferreira’s concerns, citing the case of Leiby Kletzky, a Brooklyn boy who was murdered after being kidnapped while walking home from day camp last July.
“Do you want to see children walking home alone, sitting home alone after that?” Feliciano asked.