By Paula Katinas
Dyker Heights — The McKinley Beacon Center, an after-school program for kids in School District 20, is on the chopping block due to city budget cuts. But local officials are vowing a fight to keep the center open.
“It would be terrible if it closed. Everyone would feel it, particularly working parents who need a place for their kids to go after school,” said Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council of School District 20.
Councilman Vincent Gentile has started a petition drive online to force the city to keep the site open.
“I am absolutely outraged that the city would even think of closing this center,” Gentile said.
The petition reads, in part, “We know that the economic recession of the past three years has made budget reductions a reality — tough choices have to be made. That said, closing the McKinley Beacon program will deal a devastating blow to our children and families.”
As of Tuesday, more than 225 people had signed Gentile’s petition.
Located in McKinley Intermediate School (I.S. 259) at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway, the McKinley Beacon Center has been operating for 15 years, according to Bill Guarinello, president and CEO of HeartShare Human Services, the nonprofit agency that is the center’s sponsor.
“We have sports programs, we provide homework help for kids, we have a summer camp — we do a lot at that site,” Guarinello said.
The program is open to all children in School District 20. The city came up with the Beacon school concept in the 1990s as a way of keeping kids off the streets and out of trouble. The idea was to have public schools serve as “beacons” for youngsters. There is at least one beacon center in each of the city’s school districts.
The New York City Department of Youth and Community Development oversees the city’s Beacon Centers. The plan, which was announced by the department last week, calls for the closure of seven Beacon centers, including the one at McKinley I.S.
Officials at the Dept. of Youth and Community Development have stated that the closures are an unfortunate necessity because of city budget problems.
Guarinello said he is angry and puzzled at the idea of the center closing.
“It seems like every time the city has budget issues, it’s either the aging or the youth that gets cut,” he said, referring to the fact that senior citizen centers were threatened with closure last year. State funding helped keep the senior centers open.
“And the southwest end of Brooklyn always gets the short end of the stick,” Guarinello said. “It’s assumed that since it’s a middle-class community, we don’t need the services from the city.”
Gentile also hinted that the city is hitting middle-class communities hard.
“The neighborhoods I serve don’t qualify for many city services and I’m not going to stand for the city taking away funds for the few we do qualify for,” he said.
The McKinley Beacon Center serves between 100 and 225 youngsters a day. The center, with a staff of 20, is open after school during the week and on Saturdays.
The center also operates a free summer day camp in July and August that is so popular, it has a long waiting list, officials said.
“It’s wonderful for single parents and couples where the husband and wife both work,” Windsor said. “You can take your children to a place that you know is safe.”
Closing the center will hurt local families, Windsor said.
“It’s going to be hard for parents. The summer is going to be difficult. You don’t want your kids roaming the streets with nothing to do,” she said.
“It would be devastating if it closed. I’m hoping smarter heads will prevail,” Guarinello said.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis spoke out against the closure of the McKinley Beacon Center.
“The closure at I.S. 259 alone will impact over 800 New Yorkers who count on Beacon programs that teach valuable career skills, encourage civic engagement and work to fight dropout rates among high school students,” she said.
Gentile’s petition can be found at http://bit.ly/McKinleyBeacon. For more information, call Gentile’s office at (718) 748-5200.