“Every year we go through this”


They are done with the dance.


Chanting “Don’t be a bummer, save our summer,” public school students and service providers assembled at City Hall on March 28 to urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to protect summer camp funding for middle school youth in the latest budget – and fiercely criticized the perennial need to push for youth resources.


The city’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposes to cut summer programs for over 34,000 middle school youths throughout the city.


“We’re doing the dance that’s unnecessary,” said City Councilmember Debi Rose, Chair of the Council’s Youth Services Committee. “We are pitting our young people against other things in the budget.”


Nelson Palacios is Coordinator of Children and Youth Services for Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers. The group runs summer and afterschool programs for middle school youths in the McKinley Houses and other locations. Palacios said retaining the funding is crucial.


“This is life and death for us, especially in the Bronx. It’s life and death,” he said. “These children, without summer camp, there’s nothing to do, and they then become idle. And some of them won’t make it. They’ll end up on the streets, doing things they’re not supposed to be doing.”


For the past several years, the de Blasio administration has threatened to slash money for summer camps, though the funding has been rescued by the City Council each time and included in the budget.

“We need to make sure that [kids] have educational opportunities, that they have fun, but safely, and that parents have peace of mind during the summer,” said Rose.

Advocates said that low-income families would be hit the hardest.

Founded in 2011, the Campaign for Children is comprised of over 150 coalition member groups – including early childhood education and after-school providers throughout the city.

In a survey conducted by the organization, 91 percent of parents said they relied on summer programs to be able to go to work or school. In addition, 64 percent of respondents said they rely on summer programs for free, healthy meals for their children.

And it is not only families and children enrolled in the programs that are affected.

Raysa Rodríguez, Associate Executive Director for Policy and Advocacy, of the Citizens’ Committee for Children, a nonprofit and nonpartisan child advocacy organization, said that the late inclusion of summer camp funding in the budget creates problems for some service providers.

Last year, funding was not restored until June, only a few weeks before summer camps were starting.

“Oftentimes the money is made available too late, and programs can’t plan effectively, keep the staff that they need,” Rodríguez said. “This time we want to see the changes and investments made now, early on, to make sure we can plan accordingly for these kids.”

Student Mark Anthony, who attended a Beacon summer program, said it had a profound effect on him.

“It was way better than me staying cooped up in my room watching TV,” he remarked. “I met friends, had activities, learned about engineering, and now I’m thinking I might even apply to MIT when I grow up.”

Many at the rally also called on the city to expand funding for afterschool programs for elementary school students.

“We would have to let students go if more funding doesn’t come through,” said Lizzette Mejía, Program Director of Sunnyside Community Services, which runs an after-school program that offers homework help, dance, sports, STEM classes and other activities. “We operate in the community, and it’s a safe haven for them.”

Palacios explained that summer camp also helps bridge an educational gap during the summertime, and helps kids engage in constructive activities in the community. He said that summer camp funding should be baselined in the city’s annual budget.

“Every year we got through this. This is the same political dance that goes on year in, year out,” said Palacios. “Every year we come here and beg for money, hold these rallies. At the very last minute, the City Council usually bails us out, but we have to go through this process, which is very difficult, and at times a lot of kids fall through the cracks.”

Read the full story here. 


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