School is almost out, but will there be a place for Sunset Park kids to spend their summer?
For another year, due to city cuts to summer programs for children, many local parents are left wondering if they will have a program to place their kids in during the seasonal break while they work.
The Center for Family Life (CFL), 443 39th Street, a neighborhood-based family and social services organization, is facing the possibility of losing up to 500 spots, depriving kids of participating in various summer activities.
CFL has two Beacon programs and one School’s Out New York City (SONYC) program that are particularly affected.
According to Helene Onserud, the site supervisor, the programs, along with others, depend on funds allocated by the mayor aimed at middle schools students.
However, last year, to the surprise of Onserud and the organization, the funds were not in the budget. “At the last minute, when the executive budget came up, it wasn’t there. We were shocked,” she said. “Everyone planned, assuming the money would be there. There was a big uproar. Eventually, the mayor put the money back.”
Now CFL staffers find themselves in the same situation as a year ago, much to their frustration.
“That money has served a great number of slots, particularly in Sunset Park, since there are a great number of young people. Our programs are never big enough to accommodate the demand even with extra funding,” said Onserud.
Sunset parents have been frustrated by the recurring problem. “It’s extremely difficult to secure a free or low-cost summer camp spot in Sunset Park,” said parent Jovita Sosa. “The need is just too great in our working class neighborhood with parents struggling to pay for basics. We need funding to be increased, not reduced.”
“Parents are very desperate,” added Onserud. “At this point, we have a lottery system. There have been more entries than we have space for. This neighborhood is in need of so much more than they are getting.”
Before it switched to a lottery system, CFL based its acceptances on a first-come, first-served system, but found it to be unfair. “We don’t have one anymore because we found it to be cruel,” she said. “Parents would stand on line the whole night waiting and making sure they got a slot.”
“I’ve seen parents camp out overnight and wait in the sun or rain to assure their child’s application is considered,” Sosa added.
Jobs will also be affected by the lack of funds. “If we don’t receive funding for the summer, it’s difficult for staff to know if they will have jobs over the summer. We are in limbo. It’s a difficult way to run a program,” Onserud said.
The past few weeks, rallies have been held at Borough Hall and various schools. The deadline to restore the funding is June 6.
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca supports the cause. “Parents can keep or find a better job knowing their young child has a summer camp seat or that their older child has a secure summer job,” he said in a statement.