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Budget cuts threaten Queens’s youth programs

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The Queens Community House faces having much of its youth programming wiped out should preliminary city and state budget proposals be approved, officials from the Forest Hills-based nonprofit said.

The nonprofit, which annually serves about 20,000 people throughout the borough, faces losing seven programs for young people because of potential budget cuts, director of the teen outreach hot spots program Steve Pullano said last week.

“We’re looking at this as the doomsday budget,” Pullano said. “Last year they weren’t talking about elimination. This year they’re talking about elimination.”

Dozens of individuals involved with the community house rallied against the proposed budget cuts earlier this month, and nonprofit representatives said they were working hard to let elected officials know of the ramifications of losing programs like the free after-school program that gives 80 children in kindergarten through fifth-grade homework help, healthy snacks and creative playtime.

The majority of the 80 students receive free or reduced lunch at school, meaning they come from poorer families, and Pullano said their parents often rely on the program to take care of their children while they are at work.

“The parents need this program more than anybody,” said Diana Aguirre, a Jamaica resident who works for the Queens Community House. “They need to know their kids are somewhere safe and they need help economically. The kids are learning and they’re safe at the same time. It helps them socially because they’re making friends, too.”

Pullano said the nonprofit’s evening teen center and athletic, counseling, leadership, employment and beacon programs face elimination because of budget cuts. Those programs serve about 600 students annually.

All the programs attempt to offer services to students with a wide variety of interests, from break-dancing to SAT tutoring classes.

In the athletic program, for example, Community House officials create programming based on feedback they receive from teenagers. Once the teens are involved in the events they enjoy, Community House employees will then speak to them about other services they may welcome, such as counseling, GED and SAT classes and college trips.

All the programs are free.

Charles Parker, a Jamaica resident who works at the after-school program, said program eliminations would prove to be bad news for employees who would have to look for jobs in a rough economy.

“I love the kids and what I do here,” Parker said. “It’s not easy getting a position like the one I’m in now.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:54 pm, October 10, 2011
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