Keep afterschools open, advocates say

Children stand on the steps of Borough Hall with one message: keep their afterschool program open. 

Dozens of children spent their Thursday afternoon singing in front of Borough Hall to have their voices heard.

The message of their songs? Keep their afterschool programs open.

Seventeen afterschool organizations, including four in Queens, are due to close this June to a lack of funding — which those gathered at Borough Hall said would hurt the quality of life for students and their parents.

“That would mean 400 people in our borough without a safe and educational place to go after school,” said Pat Pininchat, co-director of Queens Community House, one of the programs slated for closure. “We have to make sure we make the proper changes to make sure this does not happen. This is a very important moment for us.”

Miguel Cubrero, whose daughter attends Queens Community House, said the program allows him to know his child is safe while he is at work. It also allows her to learn “social and educational skills that I know she will be able to use in the future.”

“Children are our future,” Cubrero added. “We cannot mortgage our future on budget cuts.”

According to the Campaign for Children, a coalition of education and afterschool organizations, $5.9 million is needed in the city’s budget to keeps the programs open across the city.

The Queens programs slated to shut their doors are the Child Care Center of New York at PS 273 in Richmond Hill and PS 96 in Ozone Park; the Queens Community House at PS 117 in Briarwood; and New York Junior Tennis League at PS 148 in Woodside.

One of the groups fighting to keep them open is the Woodside-based Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation — a group that provides visual arts education and physical activities to children across the borough.

Jim O’Neill, the CEO of SASF, said afterschools are necessary because they kept children’s minds and bodies active.

“They’re not just sitting in front of a screen,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill added that many of the programs help children with their homework when their parents are not around to do so.

“These kids need extra help after school,” he said.

The Sunnyside native said he was proud to see the dozens of children lined up screaming and shouting for their favorite programs to be kept open.

“We’re very proud of all the kids,” he said, pointing out the group from his alma mater, IS 125, in Woodside, which does not have a program closing but came to support those who are in danger.

Manisha Singh, program director for the afterschool program at PS 273 in Richmond Hill, said she has heard very little since the initial news of the anticipated closure.

“Parents are calling like crazy but we have no information,” Singh said. “We’re fighting as hard as we can but there’s not much we can do.”

Cheri Williams, whose children attend afterschool at PS 96 in Ozone Park, said if the program were to close she might not be able to work anymore.

“With afterschool, I was able to go out to work,” Williams said. “It was convenient for me because I knew my kids were safe. It’s better for the parents and the children.”

Trevor Trotman, a staff worker at PS 96, also said the programs help to keep the children safe after the final bell has rung.

“They’re not around the streets,” Trotman said.

Trotman said that he, too, benefits from working with the program and being around the children.

“I grow from the kids and the kids grow from me,” he said.

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