East End Matters...
Once again the boys and girls of the peninsula are about to come out on the losing end of a budget crisis. Usually it’s the youngsters on the east end of Rockaway who are affected. This time, the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development
DYCD) plans to cut off funding to the kidsmART after-school program, which serves all of Rockaway.
Run by the Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA), kidsmART is a free program with sites at P.S. 104 in Bayswater and at Fort Tilden. It combines education and the arts. According to its website “in addition to the visual and performing arts curriculum we offer, we are proud to announce that we also offer homework assistance, a multimedia library with a computer workstation, organized sports and outdoor recreation and a relaxed space for kids to discuss what’s on their minds.”
Other after-school programs provide homework assistance and games or a visit to the gym. The activities at kidsmART are unique, which may be the reason it is on the chopping block.
The Out-of-School Time (OST) Program, will be reduced by $7.5 million in fiscal year 2011. As The Wave reported recently, DYCD is eliminating the OST Option II programs – which are not offered to participants full-time – and keep the ones that, according to a DYCD spokesperson, “meet five days a week, making them more valuable to working parents who rely on OST for high-quality after-school programming.”
More Valuable? High Quality? There are parents, such as three on the RAA kidsmART website, who testify to the program’s value and quality.
“How lucky our community is to finally have such a great program. I wish kidsmART was around when I was a child growing up here,” said Gina Machado.
“Thank you for this great program, said Patricia Moule.
“Thank you for this wonderful service and taking such good care of my son,” said Sharon Kalnberg.
Youngsters on the east end are familiar with these types of cuts. In June 2008 the Sorrentino Recreation Center lost their little league affiliation when Health Plus, who sponsored the program, pulled out because they no longer had the money to support it. If it weren’t for Sorrentino’s Ray Desmarets holding informal clinics for the kids, there would have been no baseball for the past two summers. Yet, with no formal league, the youngsters were still disappointed.
“Other people get the privilege of playing the game,” said Kevin Cifuentes, who was 13 when The Wave spoke with him in 2008. “We deserve more than what we’re getting. We practiced hard and are getting no reward.”
Chances are that Sorrentino youngsters will have clinics again this year, unlike the children on the west end who have a formal league.
As for kidsmART, Christine Mullally, the executive director for RAA, told The Wave that for the fall “The RAA is looking at all of its funding to see if some of that money can be allocated to kidsmART. We’re also looking at the possibility of partnering with other organizations and at the possibility of charging parents to keep the program open.”
That last option is worrisome. It would be parents on the east end who can least afford it. Barring a change of heart by DYCD, organizations such as Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, Community Board 14; and elected officials, who include Councilmen James Sanders Jr. and Eric Ulrich, and Assemblywomen Audrey Pheffer and Michele Titus, should use their influence to gain funding to keep kidsmART open. Parents let your representatives know how you feel. It is programs like this one that will help keep our youth from turning to crime and gangs. Youngsters need more positives in their lives like kidsmART. Let’s help them keep what they already have.