Afterschool Ambassador Deepmalya Ghosh is the director of youth development programs at the Child Center of New York, Inc.
Every spring, the mayor and city council do their annual dance over budget, but this year the dance is unlike any other. Those of us on the front lines of youth services have been forced into a painful and contentious environment where we are joined by parents, school administrators and even children to voice deep concern over a process that is projected to close more than 170 afterschool programs throughout the city. This means that come September approximately 25,000 children will be left without safe and enriching activities after school.
At the Child Center of NY, where I have worked for almost 20 years, two of the programs that were deemed “not eligible for award” first opened their doors in the late 1990s. Since then, they have never experienced a year where participation in the program did not exceed expectation, always with huge waiting lists. They are both well known and very popular. Still, the recent process of renewal applications adhered to “competitive bidding rules” and didn’t reward organizational commitment or proven ability to sustain successful programs for such a long time. The process also failed to include community or youth input in the decision-making process.
Furthermore, The Child Center of NY raised hundreds of thousands of dollars at these two schools so that we could provide richer offerings in academics, enrichment and recreation than what the city budget afforded. In doing so, we ensured that the programs became part of the community fabric. And yet there seems to be little recognition for this tremendous value proposition we offered to these schools. I can’t imagine why the city wouldn’t chose to invest in an afterschool program that brought in diverse funding streams and demonstrated ongoing connection to the local neighborhood and its families.
It’s a shame to see how the role of local communities has diminished in the award process. Section 733, Item 2 of the New York City Charter specifies that the government has a responsibility to “plan for and coordinate neighborhood youth services in conjunction with community boards and youth services planning committees,” and for the better part of the last decade was actually able to embrace this expectation and expanded its portfolio in the afterschool realm. Somewhere in the current process, though, this fluidity has been lost. This makes little sense because the root of what makes our work so special is its collective impact. Communities are strengthened when local neighborhoods share in the decision processes as to where programs should go, or when they are closed. This allows tough decisions, like closures, to be shared and new commitments to grow among locals when opportunities unfold.
As a professional in the field who has honorably served youth and families in different neighborhoods in Queens, I am hurt (and sometimes dumbfounded) by daily images and news clips showing our children taking to the streets in protest of cuts to programs that have helped them thrive, and that they love. I know that I can speak on behalf of many colleagues across the city when I say that if this budget goes through, we will truly fail them.