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Queens Community House rallies against cuts

More than 150 people from the Queens Community House swarmed the steps of Borough Hall last week to protest city and state budget cuts they said would decimate many of the nonprofit’s programs serving thousands of individuals throughout the borough.

“We’re facing cuts in every area, from our adult literacy program to senior services to youth cuts, all of which would be disastrous,” said Irma Rodriguez, executive director of the Queens Community House, based in Forest Hills.

The nonprofit’s leaders and teenagers marched from their headquarters in Forest Hills to Borough Hall in Kew Gardens last Thursday to raise awareness about the budget cuts. Waving colorful signs and chanting such slogans as “Queens needs its fair share,” protesters said the city cannot afford to seriously harm a nonprofit that serves about 20,000 people annually throughout the borough.

Thousands of those served face seeing their programs wiped out because of budget cuts, including the after-school program for elementary schoolchildren, the evening teen center, the young women’s leadership program, counseling, teen athletics and youth employment. Cuts could also affect the nonprofit’s center in Astoria for LGBT youth.

“We’re facing a loss of all the money we get from the city Department of Youth and Community Development, which is about $25,000,” said Marisa Ragonese, who operates Generation Q, a program that serves LGBT youth. “That’s huge for us because we run a $150,000 budget.”

Since the state has not passed a budget, expected funds from Albany have not been coming through to Queens Community House and the nonprofit has had to front hundreds of thousands of dollars to itself that is owed to them by the state.

Rodriguez said she hoped Thursday’s event would “let elected officials know how irresponsible their paralysis is to their constituents.”

Borough President Helen Marshall, who came to speak to the protesters, said she planned to fight to restore proposed budget cuts to areas such as youth programming.

“I want to thank you for participating in democracy,” Marshall said. “You’re being mistreated and shortchanged and you’re speaking up about it. You’ve got to continue to speak up.”

Nonprofit officials said possible city cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages programs would force them to cut back on the number of ESOL students they serve in Jackson Heights.

“Current levels of funding for our programs leave our community severely underserved,” said Craig Schofield, assistant director of adult literacy services in Jackson Heights. “At present, we are only able to serve one-third of those immigrants who apply for English classes. For those seeking help with basic literacy or classes to prepare for the naturalization interview, we have nothing whatsoever.”

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

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