GUEST OP-ED: Defending the McKinley Beacon center

Once again, New York City is threatening to balance its budget on the backs of children. The Department of Youth and Community Development has announced the closure of seven Beacon Community Centers, including at McKinley I.S. 259.

Beacon programs provide free after-school services for thousands of New York City’s struggling students. Whether it’s help with homework, arts and crafts, computers or sports activities — six days a week, in the afternoons, evenings and on weekends, during holidays, vacations and the summer — the Beacon provides a safe haven for children while their parents work. Beacon also provides adult services for those working toward their GED, for English Language Learners, etc.

I am outraged that the city would even think of closing these centers – but especially the program at McKinley. Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst don’t qualify for many city services and I am not going to stand for the city taking away the few we do qualify for.

The Beacon program at McKinley is widely popular! The mostly volunteer staff serves 100 to 225 children a day, reaching approximately 1,500 children and adults a year.

Its free summer program, which has a long waiting list, serves nearly 250 children every summer. Beyond this, the McKinley Beacon, run by HeartShare, serves as a community facility – partnering with local groups to provide athletic facilities to the community at large. From homework help to martial arts classes, to collecting clothes for St. Mary’s Church, the McKinley Beacon Program truly acts as a community facility.

This is why I am calling on our community to tell the city that our children are important, and we will fight for the services they need. To that end, I have launched a petition drive for people to let the city know how important the Beacon program is to them. Visit to sign the petition, or call my office at 718-748-5200 and ask that a petition be mailed to you.

Closing the Beacon at McKinley would not only cause a hardship for the children attending and their families, but for our community as a whole. When the city is closing schools because it says they are failing, why would it cut programs that help students and schools succeed?

The Beacon program gives young people a safe place with academic enrichment and it helps their families be able to work. Balancing the city’s budget on the backs of children is simply unconscionable and I will not stand for it.

City Councilmember Vincent Gentile represents the 43rd Council District.

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