Youth organization relieved after restoration of funds

SAYA was slated to lose half its budget

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

South Asian Youth Action, or SAYA, is a 501(c)3 youth development organization headquartered in Elmhurst, whose primary mission is to provide immigrants and students of color with exposure to new opportunities.

It is among several other organizations funded by the New York City Community Schools Fund, which is essentially a partnership between school staff, families, youth, and the community to ensure that students have the tools they need to learn and succeed.

According to the Community Schools website, these services include “health care, mentoring, expanded learning programs, adult education, and other services that support the whole child, engage families, and strengthen the entire community.”

For a brief period of time these organizations and their respective school communities were worried, as they were slated to lose about $9.16 million of their allocated funds from the city.

But on Friday, the city reached an agreement on a $101 billion budget for the 2023 Fiscal Year, which will restore the funds and add an additional $14 million to support the initiative.

Youth organizations like SAYA, whose most expansive program serves the South Asian student population at Richmond Hill High School, were overjoyed by the news that they’d be able to continue their services.

“I think it made us a lot more hopeful about the advocacy that we do on behalf of our youth, and that as a coalition of organizations, when we work together, we’re able to affect change on a larger scale,” Saphia Najafee, chief development officer at SAYA, said.

“We’ll certainly be doing advocacy work to make sure that we’re all set for next year,” she continued. “We’re obviously really thrilled by everything, but we also know that there’s a lot more work we need to do.”

Richmond Hill High School houses SAYA’s largest program

SAYA is part of the Coalition for Community Schools Excellence, which rallied in front of City Hall in early June to call for the restoration of funds.

They were joined by City Councilwoman Shahana Hanif, Councilwoman Alexa Avilés, Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, and Councilman Lincoln Restler.

“Community schools in my district have become the cornerstone of our community, providing much-needed health, mental health, and family services,” Nurse said at the rally.

“The fact is, our schools alone cannot provide the full support that students and families need for our youth to get the most out of their education. These schools need partnerships to help address the life challenges that our students and families are going through: homelessness, housing insecurity, poverty, and lack of access to health care,” she continued. “The community school model has proven to increase attendance, graduation, and college acceptance rates. We need the mayor to invest the $9.16 million in funding to the 52 community schools that are facing major cuts that will completely undermine their success.”

Through this funding, SAYA receives about $900,000 to carry out their work. With the proposed cuts, they were at risk of a $400,000 total decrease.

In addition to its programming at Richmond Hill High School, SAYA also serves local schools including Thomas Edison High School, P.S. 124, and J.H.S. 202 Robert H. Goddard, where they provide mental health services, outreach for student attendance, college access programming, and after school clubs.

Sonia B. Sisodia, executive director of SAYA, said that the reason for the proposed cuts was given last year when the funding formula was changed for Community Schools by the Department of Education.

“It was framed that the DOE had created a more equitable formula, but the formula is not very equitable when it results in cuts in a high need neighborhood made up of many immigrants and mostly folks of color. Richmond Hill High School is a large high school that really relies on partnership with SAYA and the services that we’re able to provide.” she said. “Fast forward to this year, we were under the assumption—given the focus of the city on things like mental health, getting students back into the school building, and enrichment offerings as students continue to get accustomed to school and life post-pandemic—that the cuts were not likely, since these are all the various services that the Community Schools model actually supports.”

Until more details about the city’s budget become available to the public, Sisodia did not comment on the restoration of funds.

She does, however, want people to remain aware of the situation and the overall goal of SAYA, which continues to offer essential services to students since its founding in 1996.

“Our mission is to really affirm our students and our young people who don’t typically have spaces that center them, that are for them. As a South Asian myself, who went to public schools, I never had that affirmation from my school community,” Sisodia said.

“It’s so important that folks have mentors and role models that they connect with … and I think that New York City really needs to invest more in nonprofits that are led by people of color,” she continued.

“There’s not enough investment in true community based organizations.”

Large rally in Queens protests attack on Asians

Amid rising attacks on Asians, more than 1,000 people took to the streets in Flushing calling for an end to Asian hate crimes.
The event was organized by the Borough President’s Office.
Mayor Bill de Blasio reminded everyone of the important role Asian Americans have played in shaping the city.
“If you love New York City, you can’t take the contribution of the Asian-American community out of it,” he said. “The only way we are New York City today is because of what Asian Americans have done for us.”
Senator Chuck Schumer spoke of a city of diversity, immigrants and unity and discussed the recently passed “COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act,” which among other things will make the reporting of hate crimes easier.
“We want to tell those evil few who propagate the Asian hate that you are not new Yorkers, you are not Americans and under the new law we passed we will prosecute you and give you the punishment you deserve,” he told the crowd.
Calling for a unified front against the attacks, Reverend Al Sharpton urged all community leaders to speak out and stop the violence.
“When Blacks attack Asians, Black leaders need to stand up,” he said. “When whites attack others, whites need to stand up.”
State Senator John Liu became emotional discussing reports of passersby refusing to intervene in some of the attack. He said it made him wonder if Asians are seen as less than human.
“We are not dogs,” he said. “We are not the coronavirus. We are people, we are human, we are Americans.”
According to the NYPD, in 2020 there was a 1,900 percent increase in attacks on Asians. But a presentative from the Asian American Federation said the statistics represent a huge undercount because many attack go unreported by the victims out of fear of retaliation or that they won’t be taken seriously.
The office of Attorney General Letitia James created a Hate Crimes Task Force to combat the crisis.
“Please do not be silent because you are not alone,” she said. “All of us stand with you against Asian hate.”

Large rally in Flushing protests attack on Asians

Amid rising attacks on Asians, more than 1,000 people took to the streets in Flushing calling for an end to Asian hate crimes.
The event was organized by the Borough President’s Office.
Mayor Bill de Blasio reminded everyone of the important role Asian Americans have played in shaping the city.
“If you love New York City, you can’t take the contribution of the Asian-American community out of it,” he said. “The only way we are New York City today is because of what Asian Americans have done for us.”
Senator Chuck Schumer spoke of a city of diversity, immigrants and unity and discussed the recently passed “COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act,” which among other things will make the reporting of hate crimes easier.
“We want to tell those evil few who propagate the Asian hate that you are not new Yorkers, you are not Americans and under the new law we passed we will prosecute you and give you the punishment you deserve,” he told the crowd.
Calling for a unified front against the attacks, Reverend Al Sharpton urged all community leaders to speak out and stop the violence.
“When Blacks attack Asians, Black leaders need to stand up,” he said. “When whites attack others, whites need to stand up.”
State Senator John Liu became emotional discussing reports of passersby refusing to intervene in some of the attack. He said it made him wonder if Asians are seen as less than human.
“We are not dogs,” he said. “We are not the coronavirus. We are people, we are human, we are Americans.”
According to the NYPD, in 2020 there was a 1,900 percent increase in attacks on Asians. But a presentative from the Asian American Federation said the statistics represent a huge undercount because many attack go unreported by the victims out of fear of retaliation or that they won’t be taken seriously.
The office of Attorney General Letitia James created a Hate Crimes Task Force to combat the crisis.
“Please do not be silent because you are not alone,” she said. “All of us stand with you against Asian hate.”

Rally celebrates guilty verdict in Floyd murder

Floyd in Minneapolis, Borough President Donovan Richards held an event praising the guilty verdict, but added there was “little cause for celebration.”
“While we breathe a sigh of relief, this fight is not over,” Richards told a small gathering at Borough Hall, pledging to “see this fight for accountability through.”
Richards, the first Black man to hold the post of Queens borough president, read the names of victims of police violence in New York City, including Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner and Sean Bell.
He reflected on how the decision to convict Chauvin of murder could easily have gone the other way.
“We’ve always felt that our lives did not matter,” he said. “Every time one of us lost our lives and there was no justice served, we felt devalued.”
Richards urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and said that the Black Lives Matter movement should not be seen as a threat to the police or other communities.
“This is not an indictment of an entire department,” he said. “We want the bad apples held accountable.”
He was joined by District Attorney Melinda Katz, Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, State Senator John Liu, Assembly members Jenifer Rajkumar, Khaleel Anderson and David Weprin, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
Katz said she hoped that last week’s verdict was a step toward positive and systemic change, adding that with police accountability comes community trust and “a safer environment for everyone.”
Liu said that when he heard the verdict for the first time he felt elated, but that joy quickly turned to sadness because he realized the work was “not over, with a lot to do.”
Although Van Bramer, who is challenging Richards in the June Democratic Primary, has called for defunding the police, the controversial measure was not mentioned at last week’s event.
Richards told this paper afterwards that defunding the police “means a lot of different things” to people.
“Everybody gets caught on that word,” he said. “I believe we should make sure equitable resources are going into many communities to make sure they are safer.”
Anderson said to truly tackle the issue of systemic racism in the police force there needs to be “clear lines of engagement and accountability” within the police department.
“Not fluff,” he said, “but people losing their jobs.”

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing