VIP prepares to fight back

Photo by Sadef Kully

The meeting for Varied Internships Program, a nonprofit youth program, brought a dozen parents, former VIP participants, business participants and supporters to downtown Jamaica last week to figure out a way to save the program after it lost federal funding this year.

VIP is one of the dozen or so nonprofit youth programs across the city that found itself without funding from the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Policy changes forced understaffed and overworked nonprofits such as VIP, which has served its community for 25 years, to apply for funds through a request for proposal — something no one at VIP knew how to do.

Varied Internships Program has workshops, mentors and employment for more than 100 participants annually while providing a stipend and travel costs.

The deadline is Dec. 31 and the annual cost to run the program is $250,000.

According to Professor James Blake, VIP’s founder, said it would cost $50,000 for the program to continue until May.

“For 25 years, we have been serving different youth over the years. We were approved funding,” Blake said. “Most people are hired to write grant proposals and are trained. We started writing it , but we had never done anything like this before.”

VIP applied and got the proposal rejected by a few points, then appealed the rejection. The appeal was also denied.

A spokewoman from OASES said all programs that “did not win a new contract under the Prevention RFP were awarded an additional six months of funding until Dec. 31 to allow time for transition planning and for seeking alternate funding sources.”

Blake said the fight to bring back funding has been nothing short of complete frustration. In the last few month, he reached out to elected officials and the Cuomo administration for help, with little to no response.

“We really took a big hit. I am really disappointed in our elected officials. I do this because what I want for these kids is what I want for my kids,” he said.

Blake said he has not registered any participants because the program might shut down.

Sitting in on the meeting was state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who does not have jurisdiction over Jamaica, but could help find resources in Albany.

“I cannot make any promises, but I am going to try my best,” said Weprin, whose brother Marks works as deputy secretary of legislative affairs in Gov. Cuomo’s office after giving up his City Council seat.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) did visit VIP office in August and promised to help with finding a solution, according to Blake.

For former VIP participants, the loss of the program was deeply felt.

Andre Sterling, 18, from Springfield Gardens, said, “This is was my path to my first work experience. It may seem like a small program, but it impacts lives.”

Sterling is a senior at Thomas Edison high school and plans to attend CUNY’s City College to pursue a degree in computer science. Through VIP, he realized his love for software engineering and passion for community activism.

Blake said VIP office was looking into private and public funding resources.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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