VIP youth program end in Jamaica

Professor James Blake sat with supporters of the Varied Internships Program, based in downtown Jamaica, one of the about a dozen nonprofit youth programs that recently lost state funding.
Photo by Sadef Kully
By Sadef Ali Kully

After a long battle with the state for public funding to keep its doors open, Varied Internships Programs, a Jamaica-based nonprofit youth program, shut its doors on the eve of the new year.

Varied Internship Program, better known as VIP, provided workshops, mentors and employment for more than 100 participants annually while providing a stipend and travel costs. The deadline to file a request for state fundingwas Dec. 31 and the annual cost to run the program would have been an estimated $250,000.

“VIP really cemented the relationship between public service and private businesses. It is really sad to see our doors close after 25 years of services to the community,” said James Blake, founder of VIP.

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

Last year in an email interview, a spokeswoman from the state office said all programs that “did not win a new contract under the Prevention [Request For Proposal] were awarded an additional six months of funding until Dec. 31 to allow time for transition planning and for seeking alternate funding sources.”

According to Blake, the program would cost a bare minimum of $50,000 to continue until May 2016, but the deadline came and went.

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

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

Blake did mention the continued support and effort he found with the office of state Sen. Leroy Comrie’s (D-Hollis) office. “They kept checking in and that meant something,” he said.

In mid-December, Blake realized the program would not be able to stay open and decided to tell his staff.

“We fought until the very end — we are still very necessary. VIP keeps kids off the streets and away from gangs,” he said. “It has been very sad to close our doors.”

Blake said his group will continue to look for other public and private funds.

“I tell my students all the time words plus action equals results. My psychology is not a period but a comma that continues into the next phase,” he said.

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

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