Community House seeks help

Eliazer Chapman, 14, dances to try and save after-school programs at Queens Community House. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

Some Queens kids may face unemployment before they land their first job.

Budget cuts from the federal, state and city governments will likely cause a Forest Hills nonprofit to cut back on its popular summer employment program, which offers many 14-to-24-year-olds in the borough their first foray into employment.

“You can’t just cut your way out of budget deficits,” said Irma Rodriguez, executive director of Queens Community House, the organization that runs the program. “We’ve been trying to do more with less, but you get to a point eventually where less is just less.”

The nonprofit, headquartered at 108-25 62nd Drive with 11 locations throughout Queens, placed roughly 300 youths into paid internships last year, even though 2,400 applied.

“Every year more youth are coming here to get employment and jobs,” said Sean Reyes, director of youth employment.

Each participant is required to attend a training program where they learn information about conflict resolution and communication skills along with how to manage their finances.

“The kids get working internship experience and work habits for a lifetime,” Reyes said. “Without it, they might not be as successful.”

In the face of budget cuts, Queens Community House is seeking to make up some of the money through the mayor’s office and private donations.

On June 8, one of the 75 businesses that had participated in the program in the past gave its own small donation to the community.

The owner of a Forest Hills yoga studio called Bamboomoves presented the organization with money collected from customers.

“I think it’s really important to be part of the community,” said owner Suzanne Schotten.

The intern who was provided to Schotten’s business did more than make copies and answer telephones, she said.

The intern helped think up and implement creative advertising for the business and surveyed customers about how to improve the business, Schotten said.

But in addition to private donations, Queens Community House has also tried other ways to combat program cuts.

On June 5 it held a breakdancing competition to draw awareness to city budget cuts that would affect after-school programs.

The dancers, some as young as 8, faced off for a series of two-on-two battles, showcasing the flips and moves that were honed at the community house.

But the larger battle was with the program that funds the nonprofit’s programs, called the Out of School Time funds from the mayor’s office, which would eliminate all of the after-school programs at Queens Community House.

“Cutting these programs might save money in the short term, but the loss of local resources for youth can’t be measured financially. Many of our participants come for an after-school dance or basketball program, but come back for counseling and job placement services they find out about while they’re there,” said Mike Zevon, who runs the athletic program and the evening teen center.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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