By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A popular after-school program that serves hundreds of kids from Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights is on the chopping block due to city budget cuts. But supporters of the Beacon program at McKinley Intermediate School said they’re not going down without a fight.
Supporters mounted a rally outside the school at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway on May 10 to protest the impending closure of the 18-year-old program. The Beacon site at McKinley is sponsored by HeartShare Human Services of New York, which provides a share of the funding. But without city funding, the site will close. The program offers free homework help, sports, drams classes, and other after-school activities.
Children who take part in the program’s activities held up homemade signs reading “Homework Not Home Alone,” and chanted “If you care, save HeartShare!”
The rally was organized by state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island).
“We want to save this program because it’s the right thing to do. Where else do we want our children? We want them in Beacon schools,” Golden said. “We stand here today with you to say no to the city. I’m sure the city of New York is listening,” he said.
Two weeks ago, the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, the agency that oversees the Beacon programs, announced final plans to terminate the program McKinley. The Bay Ridge school is one of seven Beacon programs targeted for closure. The Beacon after-school programs were created by the city 18 years ago to keep kids off the streets and out them in a productive environment.
Malliotakis said the program offers an opportunity for kids to take dance lessons, get homework help, and meet new friends. “All these things are extremely important to our youth,” she said.
The program also teaches kids how to be good citizens, according to Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D-Bay Ridge-Coney Island). “In this case, the city is forgetting places where kids can be taught morality,” he said.
Two other lawmakers, Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D-Bensonhurst-Sunset Park) and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights) laid the blame for the impending closure at the mayor’s doorstep.
“I have a message for the mayor. Keep the school open and you go away!” Abbate said. “Don’t play games with the neighborhood. There’s enough money in the budget to keep this site open,” he said.
Gentile vowed to work to put funding in the budget. The budget is currently being negotiated between Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council. “Every year, the mayor takes money out of the budget for after-school centers and it is the City Council that puts the money back in,” he said.
Joe Impedgulia, the McKinley program’s director, said the Beacon site has served 20,000 kids over the years.
“Our kids count,” said Bill Guarinello, president and CEO of HeartShare Human Services. The city often targets middle class communities for cuts out of belief that children in those neighborhoods don’t need the services the same way youngsters in low-income communities do, Guarinello said. “I am getting sick and tired of being the first on the chopping block,” he added.
Eve Gillis, whose daughter, a sixth grader, takes part in the Beacon program, said she hopes the programs remains open. “She likes it. She gets help with her homework. And it gives her something to do. She takes drama classes. I’d rather her be here than out on the street with nothing to do,” Gillis said.
Adam Allan, who has been coming to the Beacon program for three years, said he enjoys being in the gym and playing basketball. “They also help me with my homework. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this place,” he said.
Mark Zustovich, a spokesman for the Dept. of Youth and Community Development, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that said the decision to close the McKinley site was a painful, but necessary one.
“This difficult decision was made in the spring of 2012 following 12 rounds of gap-closing actions and a significant loss of federal and state funding incurred during the past several years. Throughout this time, Beacon providers and their dedicated staff helped preserve core services through a variety of cost-cutting actions. Given limited options to meet a $2.1 million financial gap, it was determined that seven Beacons would close,” Zustovich said.
“This is not a decision taken lightly, and we appreciate how valuable our 80 Beacon programs are to families across the City. To ensure that communities are not disproportionately impacted, DYCD used objective measures, including population and poverty data and program distribution, to determine which sites to close. This resulted in the seven sites identified across all five boroughs. We will work closely with residents to identify other youth services available in the community,” he said.