2009-02-06 / School News

Middle Schoolers Protest Center Closing

Participants display their signs. Participants display their signs. Recently, students of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA) Environmentor After School Program at Ocean Bay Community Center (OBCC) decided to do something they all felt strongly about; advocate for the NYCHA Ocean Bay Community Center and staff.

Due to limited funding, many of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) centers may soon be closed and the Ocean Bay Center will layoff most of their staff. The Police Athletic League (PAL) will likely take over the programs there, but many of the parents, who have their kids attend the program, agree that the center is a safe and fun place for their kids to go and wish that the PAL and NYCHA would ensure that there is some consistency in keeping the current staff.

Upon returning to the first class of the year the students told RWA educator Devona Sharpe that they wanted to do something about the impending loss of some of the OBCC staff. The very purpose of the Environmentor program is to engage local students in environmental advocacy and sustainability, but the dire need for youth programming and places to lead such programs has become such a serious concern that many of the students themselves have become distraught over the thought of losing the staff who have been there for them each day after school.

Students take a break to let their paintings dry. Students take a break to let their paintings dry. OBCC Director Ken Layne has been a tireless supporter of the local youth and knows firsthand the challenges of running a community center. While Layne is likely to remain at the center, most of the staff have already been informed to expect layoffs in mid February.

"To find a community center that is functioning well, bringing in large numbers of kids to engage in after school programs and now losing their staff is unfortunate," said Jeanne DuPont, director of RWA. "But the fact that the students themselves wanted to do something was clear that they had become advocates for their community and were doing what they could to protect the safe haven they have."

"During the past year the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance searched the Rockaway peninsula for a location to lead an after school program. Ocean Bay Community Center has been one of the few places that have welcomed RWA with space and a supportive and dedicated staff. Whether establishing a recycling program, planting bulbs to beautify the center or doing art related projects, the staff have all been enthusiastic and gotten involved in encouraging the kids' participation; while setting examples as mentors and role models that many of these kids are in great need of. We can only hope that PAL and NYCHA would consider helping to keep some of the same staff for the kids' own benefit."

OBCC middle schoolers painted signs to protect their staff from layoffs. OBCC middle schoolers painted signs to protect their staff from layoffs. Many of the staff members have worked at OBCC for many years; they know the kids, know the daily routine and have stood strong through times like this before. But at a time when so many local youths are turning to gang violence and inactivity, which has led to high rates of childhood diabetes and obesity, one would think more could be done to keep some consistency in a center that is working and should be praised for its work.

Students create slogans using paint and cardboard. Students create slogans using paint and cardboard.

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