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YMCA, MetLife to open LIC family center Partnership with School District 30 produces venue where youth, parents can learn together

The YMCA of Greater New York joined forces with MetLife and School District 30 Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the creation of a new family center at PS 111, a public-private partnership heralded for bringing resources into a needy community and giving students a chance to meet their potential.

Long Island City’s new Youth and Family Center is one of three around the city funded by a $135,000 grant from the MetLife Foundation. The other two are in Chinatown and the Bronx.

The announcement was made as part of a brief ceremony in the auditorium at PS 111 at 37-15 13th St. in Long Island City, which was attended by dozens of YMCA campers clad in red T-shirts as well as numerous parents and students.

“Having a program such as this is extremely important to us,” School District 30 Superintendent Angelo Gimondo said before describing the targeted neighborhood as “one of the neediest communities” in the district.

The private support is especially critical at a time when public funding for extracurricular activities is being slashed, Gimondo said.

“Every young person throughout this city has a special gift,” said Paula Gavin, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York. The goal of the YMCA, she told the students assembled, is to “help you fulfill your potential and discover that gift.”

The center at PS 111, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on 26 Saturdays between October 2002 and April 2003, is envisioned as a place where parents and children can better themselves through classes and recreational activities. Classes will range from English as a Second Language to reading and math enrichment, while other services will include a drop-in homework help room, a Leaders Club Character-Development Program and an American Culture Club program to help immigrant families adapt to life in the city.

The initiative follows the move of nearly 1,000 MetLife employees into a Queens Plaza loft building, which is being expanded with the construction of a major addition on which ground has already been broken.

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) described the family center as a sign that the company was fulfilling its promise to be a good neighbor.

“They really were pioneers in coming to the neighborhood from Manhattan,” Gioia said. “They saw in our neighborhood something special — they saw the future here.”

To that end, MetLife Foundation President and CEO Sibyl Jacobson described the grant as “an investment really in Long Island City and in your futures,” talking directly to the campers gathered for the event.

Assistant Principal Judy Rios said she hoped the center would bring the community together and prompt it to “go back to the old days where everybody’s parents look after everybody’s children.”

The center is part of the Long Island City YMCA’s efforts to expand beyond its Queens Boulevard facility by adding services in other areas, such as the Queensbridge Houses, a public housing project located blocks from PS 111.

The YMCA is scheduled to kick off the first season of the LIC Youth Baseball League, which was organized in partnership with Gioia, at a celebration in Queensbridge Park Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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