Boro braces for another Beacon battle in Bayside

By Phil Corso

Battle cries to save Bayside’s beloved Beacon program echoed throughout the community last year, but not for the last time.

Those who work closely with the coveted after-school program said they were bracing for another fight with the city to remove it from the budgetary chopping block.

“Once again, we are fighting for funding,” said Alan Stark, coordinator of Beacon Services at Little Neck’s Samuel Field Y, which oversees the Bayside program. “We have been in this community for 20 years. That should be the story. Instead, we are in the same boat as last year.”

In 2011, the City Council saved seven of 81 citywide Beacon programs with more than $2 million in discretionary funding. But that money is set to run out by the summer, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg again neglected to include them in his annual budget proposal.

Beacon programs are academically driven community centers that operate after school, during summer vacation and on weekends and holidays to provide activities for children and families. They include sports, counseling, vocational training, dance, drama and more.

Samuel Field Y Executive Vice President and CEO Dr. Steve Goodman said losing his Beacon would be a detrimental blow to the Bayside community after decades of success.

“I think we have done a tremendous amount for this community,” Goodman said. “We have been very proud to serve and bring kids together with our positive and productive community-building activities.”

The seven programs slated to be shut down last year included Queens’ Samuel Field Y, at MS 158 in Bayside and Forest Hills’ Queens Community House, at JHS 190, along with the Tottenville High School Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, Phipps Community Development at IS 192 in the Bronx, Heart Share Human Services at IS 259 in Brooklyn, the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center at PS 198 in Manhattan and the Hudson Guild at MS 414 in Manhattan.

If they want to survive past the summer, the only hope rests with the Council, according to David Slotnick, director of community-based programs at the Samuel Field Y.

“Unless we can convince the Council to fund this program once again, the money to continue will not be there,” Slotnick said. “Once again, we will start soon to hit the pavement, form letter-writing campaigns and organize phone calls to have our voices heard.”

In light of the new (old) news, Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) vowed he would work to make sure the Council acts.

Weprin said he hoped to avoid yearly dances over the programs in the future when Bloomberg’s successor assumes the role in the upcoming mayoral election.

“As we move forward in the process, we will work very hard to make sure these programs are restored,” said Weprin, who was one of many elected officials to throw support behind the cause last year. “Beacon and after-school programs are essential to our community because without them, families would have a much harder time keeping their jobs.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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