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Queens Chronicle

A stellar program in need of real funding

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Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2009 12:00 am

On Monday, the 40th anniversary of the day Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took an unparalled leap for mankind, 30 children sat cross-legged in a Richmond Hill classroom, ready to take their own small steps to follow in their heroes’ spaceboot prints.

It’s the first day of summer camp at One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center. While other kids are perfecting their jump shots at camp, this group is preparing to quiz astronauts on the appearance of the thermosphere, the sensation of weightlessness and what, exactly, constitutes a balanced meal in space.

But back on earth, One Stop is struggling to receive the necessary funding needed to keep this and other programs that serve the Richmond Hill community from fading into the ether.

“It’s always been difficult, but we’ve never had to struggle like this for funding,” said Joan Bachert, director of One Stop.

Bachert has worked at the center for nine years and has watched it grow into one that offers a bevy of free services, including after-school tutoring in reading and math for children in grades 2 through 5, a Mommy & Me program for parents and their children ages 12 months to 4 years, an ESOL and immigration program for residents over 18 and the five-year old computer and videoconferencing program that gives children in grades 3 through 5 a one-of-a-kind opportunity to talk with NASA astronauts.

The latter program, which was started with the help of teachers at P.S. 56 in Richmond Hill and with key funding from former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, former state Sen. Serphin Maltese, former Councilman Dennis Gallagher and Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing), also teaches children to create their own space-themed websites and design mission packages using personal laptops.

Local educators, including Christine Miller, a fifth grade teacher from P.S. 66 and Robert Malchow, a fourth grade instructor from P.S. 62, are paid to run the videoconferencing program.

“It opens a window for the children to learn about things they don’t learn about at school,” Miller said before turning the children’s attention to a huge flatscreen television in the front of the room, where Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham was lamenting the lack of investment in NASA at a press conference held that morning.

One Stop relies on funding from both the city and state to survive. The Department of Youth and Community Development allocated $12,000 in discretionary funding to the City Council and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) approved the amount for One Stop, according to Lydon Sleeper, a spokesman for Crowley. This amount, however, has taken a longer time to reach the center because the city now has a more rigorous policy to make sure funding goes to legitimate groups. What’s more, DYCD does not pay up front and Bachert has to offer the program, pay for its costs and then hope funding is allocated.

The money One Stop expects to receive will help keep its Mommy & Me program in operation at least through fall, Bachert said, but there is still a lack of funding to pay the center’s everyday bills, not to mention salaries. This program serves the same important role for the diverse community as its videoconferencing classes serve for the children.

“These people would never meet and get to know each other without the program,” she said. “Children and parents mingle and become friends and the learning experience helps ease them into school.”

The astronaut program is funded by the state and Bachert has been told she can count on this money, though she has yet to receive it. The loss of money from Seminerio, who Bachert said was a big supporter, is deeply felt here and the current lack of Assembly representation is a major concern.

One Stop workers were told Mayersohn asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to release Seminerio’s discretionary funding so a portion could be used to help fund the center. Despite repeated calls, Assembly press officers were unable to confirm whether Seminerio was stripped of his funding and if it would be reallocated once the District 38 Assembly seat is filled.

Welcome to the discussion.