The Campaign for Children, an advocacy group formed last year to protect afterschool programs in the city, met at the J.H.S. 190 in Forest Hills to build a base and spread awareness of the school’s Beacon Program, an afterschool support system for kids and young adults.
The group, made up of members from the NYC Youth Alliance, After School Alliance and Queens Community House, is looking for a long-term solution from the city to prevent another wave of cuts like those proposed last year under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which called for $70 million in reductions to afterschool and early-childhood services.
Irma Rodriguez, executive director of the Queens Community House and an advocate for securing afterschool programs, spoke on behalf of the Campaign of Children.
“We were very concerned that without affordable and quality childcare and afterschool programs, that our children would miss out on learning opportunities,” Rodriguez explained. “Just as importantly, our parents would not be able to work.”
With a focus in leadership development, education and civic integration, she emphasized the necessity of the Queens Community House, which serves nearly 25,000 children in the Queens.
It is also one of the borough's largest employers of young people between the ages of 14 and 21, according to Rodriguez.
“We are a lot of young persons' first jobs and they learn a lot about what it means to work with others and become good role models,” she said. “Programs for children take a lot of different forms, but the thing they have in common is the notion about developing young people to be the best that they can be.”
Rodriguez added that while one in five children in the borough lives in poverty, families depend on the Beacon and programs to support their livelihood.
Along with a number of other parents and children who spoke at J.H.S. 190 in support of protecting the Beacon program, Warren Fink, a single working parent, says the program allows him to maintain his current hours at work.
“I don’t know what I’d do without the Beacon program,” Fink said. “Closing the Beacon programs will put more pressure on the parents, put these kids out in the street, and they will find themselves in the prison systems.”
While programs like the Beacon offer courses in nutrition, arts, dance, recreation and literacy, Fink and other parents rely on the community-based staff.
“I feel that my daughter is surrounded by very good people, controlled children, a very good environment and she’s learning as she’s growing,” he said.
With two kids of her own, CouncilwomanKaren Koslowitz spoke in support of a long-term solution to protecting these programs.
“I’m here tonight to tell you I am going to fight for you,” Koslowitz reassured the parents, children and members of the Campaign for Children. “If it wasn’t for the afterschool programs, I would have had to go on welfare and food stamps to stay home with my children.”