2009-04-10 / Letters

Why KidsmART Is Needed

A version of this letter was sent to Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, District 31 Councilman James Sanders and District 32 Councilman Eric Ulrich. I urge all community members invested in the creative health and well-being of Rockaway to join the RAA's campaign to save its KidsmART programs. For more information on how to get involved, please contact Marina Callaghan, RAA Education Program Director at marinarockart116@ aol.com.

Dear Editor,

As I am writing this, I am sitting inside the glorified library of Brown University far and away from the torn-up Far Rockaway middle school where I first attended an RAA KidsmART program.

When I think back to that first day, I remember the shock of seeing Sean, a ruddy-haired local Irish boy with a black-eye and bruised lip, who was suspended from the local Catholic grammar school for fighting, painting a sunny landscape for his mom. My teen assistant, a former Crip named Chris whose lanky arms were a dark canvas of tattoos, walked me to a seat next to Sean and the rest, as they say, is history.

I stayed in KidsmART programs for five years, three as a student and two as a teen assistant like Chris. I painted silly pictures for my own mom, a Polish immigrant like many in the community, and developed not only an appreciation for art but met staff whose life's work served those who most needed their guiding help. RAA, as an organization whose presence has transformed a derelict last-stop beach town into a budding haven for arts and culture, has in its programs given hope and the opportunity to succeed to thousands of local kids like me.

Through an apprenticeship KidsmART helped arrange, I had the opportunity to work and study under a local stained glass artist. This experience

proved invaluable throughout high-school, where I continued in the example of those who had inspired me and began my own community service by working with this artist to bring more local kids together to build a memorial commemorating those who gave their lives on 9/11 - a large percentage of whom hailed from this tiny beach town.

As a second-year student at Brown, I am teaching creative writing workshops at the local prison and studying hard to make good for the community and people who raised me. We are all products of our limited experiences, but for many in Rockaway those experiences are truly limited.

That is my story; but for lots of other local kids not graced by the good fortunes of empowering programs like KidsmART the story is a lot different. Doing good work is not a zero-sum game, and for every student that winds up at Brown there are many more that succumb to the pressures of a culture that values getting plastered every weekend and slanging drugs over legitimate hustling through study and due work.

Eliminating Option II Out-of-School Time funding and closing programs like KidsmART is not only neglectful of RAA's role as a beacon positing good values in a community that desperately needs any ray of light it can get. It is short-sighted and non-sensible, for in a community already riddled by gang violence, drug and alcohol abuse and a dearth of educational opportunities the elimination of KidsmART will inevitably increase expenditures on policing, welfare services and lastditch efforts to get kids to graduate once their worldviews and values are firmly set in the opposite direction.

Rockaway's children are geographically and financially isolated from the many opportunities afforded to areas of the city where Option II funding may seem redundant. The workingclass families of the 500 children served by KidsmART's programs know that it is the only after-school alternative of its kind in the area. The sad fact of Rockaway is that if their sons and daughters were not developing lifelong creative skills and engaging in collaborative learning at KidsmART, they would be far more likely to fall into the many cracks that cut our community so deeply.

I greatly appreciate the experiences afforded to me through the kindness and unflinching commitment of RAA and KidsmART to making Rockaway a better place to grow up.

Rockaway needs RAA and KidsmART to continue on facing its many challenges. As a community, we must stand against the elimination of Option II funding and urge our elected representatives to do the same in supporting programs that genuinely set kids like me off in good directions.

ARTHUR MATUSZEWSKI

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