Wills calls on city to boost funding for youth

By Rich Bockmann

City lawmakers have about one month to pump up funding for anti-violence initiatives so they are in place when summer comes, City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) said last week.

With the June 30 budget deadline approaching, Wills and community leaders gathered outside the South Jamaica Houses’ community center, calling on the city to increase funding for several initiatives they contend will help curb the annual spike in violent crime that accompanies the warm summer months.

“We would like these programs to be done now … so our children have a familiarity with these programs before the summertime comes,” he said. “We don’t want them running to the programs because they’re running from a violent episode.”

A few days before the gathering, shots rang out at the corner near the community center, which is run through a partnership between the city Department of Youth and Community Development and the Southern Queens Park Association.

“The reason that we wanted to have the press conference here at this community center is not so much as the close proximity to the violence that happened last weekend, but it was also because this is the community center where many of us grew up in,” Wills said. “I remember going downstairs and getting training, lifting weights, learning how to box and different things from this very community center.”

Wills wants funding so that several sites in southeast Queens — including PS 40, the Police Athletic League center in South Jamaica and Richmond Hill High School — can participate in a program spearheaded by the Manhattan district attorney’s office called Saturday Night Lights.

The initiative opens the buildings to youngsters during certain hours of the day when the risk for juvenile crime is highest.

The councilman is also seeking to expand the Cure Violence pilot program started in South Jamaica and called on the city comptroller to conduct a study on the fiscal impact of violence ahead of the budget deadline. The program targets areas with high incidences of gun violence and — through preventive outreach — tries to stop shootings before they start.

Those who work with the youth said the extra funding would go a long way.

“We have to reach out to the youth and get back in touch with them. There is a big disconnect between us and the youth,” said Talib Bey, who runs a mentoring program at nearby Rochdale Village.

“When I was growing up, we had community centers. We were able to play basketball,” said Bey, 50. “We did a lot of stuff children do and today those things are not provided in our communities. For some reason it seems like they disappeared.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.