The program accepts children on a first-come, first-serve basis and this year space was limited to 45 spots. It is the only free program around, and worth its weight in gold to working parents.
So the ones like Schiacca who knew the program had limited space arrived at the hall the night before registration day began, set up comfortable chairs, brought a thermos full of coffee, and set out to wait.
On the following morning of September 16 (registration day), a line of parents had formed stretching halfway down 72nd Street towards Grand Avenue.
“Every year its getting worse and worse,” said Schiacca, a Maspeth resident who waited for registration day to begin with her friend Connie Partinico, also hoping to sign up her child in the program. “People are in desperate need of this.”
Partinico, from Middle Village, said last year she got to Maspeth Town Hall to wait online in the early morning hours of registration day. This time, she said, with higher demand for the 45 spots expected, she decided to come the night before.
“We rely so heavily on” the hall’s after school program, she said. To land a spot, “this is what you have to do.”
The overnight wait, which has become an annual tradition in the past few years, is at once a reflection of the popularity of Maspeth Town Hall’s after-school program, and the lack of after-school programs in the area.
“The last couple of years have proven that there are even more families who need those services,” said Eileen Reilly, Maspeth Town Hall’s executive director.
She said the hall’s after-school program, which provides children with a snack, recreation time ,and help with homework, operates on a budget of approximately $60,000 a year. Reilly said this year the program was funded through contributions from Assemblywoman Marge Markey, State Senator Joe Addabbo, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. “Without [their help] we would not be able to offer what we do,” Reilly said on registration day.
Outside, parents braving an unseasonable chill called on elected officials to fund more programs, or at the very least establish a more organized enrollment system.
In an interview, Crowley said funding after-school programs is a priority. She said this year she funded five after-school programs in schools in the 30th District, a 25 percent increase over her predecessor.
This is true, though in 2009 all council members received an equal amount of $100,000 in funding for five after-school programs through the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Cultural After School Adventure (CASA) initiative.
Schools must meet an income threshold to participate in the program. P.S. 58 on Grand Avenue, down the street form Maspeth Town Hall, does not qualify as a needy school and could not receive CASA funding for an after-school program.
It currently does not have one, driving parents to Town Hall, where many say they wait longer and longer each year to enroll their children.
“I’m going to speak with” Eileen Reilly about the day-long wait times at Maspeth Town Hall, Crowley said. “I hear [about the lack of after-school programs] every day from parents.”
This year, Town Hall ended up enrolling 45 children, Reilly said. She said 60 parents waited until registration opened at noon, while many others left after arriving and realizing they would not get a spot.
Reilly said she understood parent concerns, but due to the building’s size the program can only accept so many children. “Some people are not going to get in and I feel bad for them,” Reilly said. “But I can’t make the building bigger.”