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Community House forced to cut English classes

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The Forest Hills-based Queens Community House will have to reduce the number of borough students in its English-language courses by about 500 because of state and city budget cuts, officials from the nonprofit said.

The state Legislature, which last week passed its 2011 budget four months late, slashed funding to the community house’s adult education program by more than $50,000. The city cut about $100,000 for the community house, which serves thousands of people throughout Queens in a number of programs, ranging from after-school events for youth to a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors.

“It’s a very painful loss because, as it is, we turn away three out of every four students who try to enroll for our English for Speakers of Other Languages,” said Irma Rodriguez, the QCH’s executive director. “In a diverse borough like Queens, that’s a big deal.”

The community house has served more than 2,200 Queens residents in English classes annually, and Rodriguez and others working at the nonprofit said the cuts would prove to be a serious blow for individuals who do not have the money to pay for language courses. About 600 students come through the Jackson Heights adult education center daily to participate in one of the English classes QCH offers from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“For some of the folks who come to us, they have really marginal jobs, so learning English means the difference between washing dishes or waiting on tables,” Rodriguez said.

Their students hail from throughout the world, from Pakistan to Mexico. Because of the English classes, community house employees said their pupils will not only learn how to speak English, allowing them to land better jobs and contribute more in taxes, but become more involved in their communities as well.

“What I think is really great about our school, particularly in a borough like Queens, is we’re the one place where people from lots of different countries end up together,” Rodriguez said. “It really helps people become good residents of the community. They don’t just hang out with their own folks anymore, they hang out with others in the community.”

Mary Abbate, executive assistant director for community services at QCH, said the state cuts will force it to lay off one part-time employee and make two full-time workers into part-time employees. Abbate said the loss of those positions is incredibly frustrating, especially because there is an overwhelming demand for English-language courses.

“Everyone is over-enrolled,” she said of English courses throughout Queens. “People sincerely want to connect with a variety of residents and do well here. They want to work. They want to help their children do well in school.”

QCH is also struggling to keep open two LGBT programs — one for teens and another for seniors — due to budget cuts. Generation Q, the program for LGBT youth in Astoria, suffered a cut of about $32,000 — a serious chunk of the group’s budget that is less than $150,000.

“We’re keeping it open with part-time staff,” Rodriguez said. “This is the only LGBT center in Queens. The teens there are doing very good work. They’ve been doing education about bullying and harassment. They get invited to come as speakers to other schools. They just completed public service announcements with the city’s Commission on Human Rights.”

Senior Action in a Gay Environment, the community house’s program that serves about 1,000 borough LGBT seniors, will also see tens of thousands of dollars disappear because of budget cuts.

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

Updated 6:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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