Executive Director Eileen Reilly of Maspeth Town Hall is aware of this, and that’s the reason she is so concerned that the City’s Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) has decided to cut Town Hall’s funding for fiscal year 2011 for its after-school program at I.S. 73 in Maspeth.
“This is a group of young adults that sometimes are forgotten,” said Reilly. “They’re not kids anymore and they’re not adults. They’re exploring, they’re experimenting.”
Five days a week, for three hours a day, youth get the opportunity to participate in activities like outdoor sports, chess club, martial arts, and even special programs such as cosmetology and twirling club.
“We’re not a babysitter; we’re teaching these young adults, we feel, skills that they’ll have the rest of their lives,” said Reilly.
She pointed out that in the four years since the inception of the after-school program, former program participants have returned as high school seniors and college students to work as counselors and serve as role models to the younger kids.
“We’re hoping they will understand that the community is here for them,” said Reilly, “and they in turn should be there for the community when they get older.”
She beamed with pride when she mentioned that the kids give over 500 hours of service back to the community. A group even raised $500 to send to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“Officer Bill” Dobranski, a former police officer who serves as the site coordinator for the I.S. 73 program, estimated that between 150 and 160 kids regularly come to the program, but more are expected to show up as the weather gets warmer.
“I can understand that they have to cut somewhere,” said Reilly, “but I would hope that they would consider either taking a percentage across the board,” instead of completely cutting funding for one of Town Hall’s four programs. (The other three are located in Elmhurst and Woodside.)
Ryan Dodge, DYCD deputy chief of staff, said that an across-the-board reduction would require DYCD to reduce contractual requirements and lower expectations in terms of the number of days and hours of deliverable services, weakening the entire 500-program system and impacting tens of thousands of children.
The I.S. 73 program, he said, was selected as one of 33 to be cut based on two criteria: first, it is a school year-only program instead of a year-round program, and secondly, Maspeth’s 11378 zip code is not on the list of 77 targeted “high need” zip codes.
Town Hall representatives made a very good argument, pointing out that about 80 percent of I.S. 73 kids are bused in from these “high need” areas, but DYCD stood firm.
“Programs located in target zip-codes serve a significantly higher percentage of high-need youth,” responded Dodge.
Despite the fact that the I.S. 73 program is losing over $160,000 in DYCD funding, Reilly emphasized that there will continue to be an after-school program because a portion of the federal funding that Congressman Joseph Crowley secured for Town Hall will be used to keep the program running.
However, she warned, the program would be significantly downsized, with programs, hours, and even days slated for elimination.
"It's just not a good time,” said Reilly. “We have to look at our expenses and still offer the best program that we can within the dollars we're given, and we will."