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An organization that's been reaching out to hundreds of families at any given time, the Floral Park Youth Council is now calling on the communities it has served since 1990 to stay open.

Several weeks ago the Council received a termination letter as part of County Executive Tom Suozzi's proposal to slash funding for Nassau's youth service agencies.

"Our funding has been totally eliminated," Council President Chris Deeks told the Dispatch. As part of Suozzi's proposed budget, which aims to close an unexpected budget gap estimated to be as high as $150 million, the Council has been stripped of $15,000 it receives annually and may be forced to close its doors.

To make matters worse, President Deeks said volunteers are becoming harder to come by. "We'd love to get new blood with new ideas," he said. Most of the founding members' children have aged out of the program and Council officials are now relying on its younger families to take the reins. Without them, many programs will cease to exist, especially the popular Saturday evening recreation program at United Methodist Church.

Slashed funding will cripple the county's vast number of youth service agencies, many of which have seen as much as 75 percent in cuts. Others, like the Council, have been completely eliminated. Hundreds rallied Feb. 19 on the steps of the county's legislative building in Mineola to fight for their share.

They demanded Suozzi reinstate $4 million in his proposed budget to ensure these agencies continue serving Nassau's youth. The $4 million represents 0.2 percent of Nassau County's total $2.5 billion budget. All of Nassau's youth agencies receive monies from the county's Department of Health and Human Services.

Peter Levy, president of the Coalition of Nassau County Youth Services Agencies, Inc., said funding cuts would negatively impact the lives and future of children. Vital programs will be forced to immediately close and hundreds of jobs will be lost. "Kids won't know where to turn to," he said.

The Floral Park Youth Council has 450 family members and serves approximately 1,000 children over the course of the year from Floral Park, Bellerose and neighboring communities.

"We have to figure things out to stay open. We have to figure out how to pay the rent to stay open," Deeks, who's served as Council president for at least eight years, said. "And, if we close, then it's going to have a repercussion on the Methodist Church because it's a recipient of our funds and helps him carry his building because his congregation numbers are down."

The Council's annual ski trip helps. But those numbers, Deeks said, are down this year, not because of any lack of participation but because management at the ski lodge has changed hands. "That commission has been cut in half," Deeks said.

Moreover, the Council charges an annual membership fee of $30. A nominal charge because, Deeks said, it's always been the Council's philosophy not to gouge its members.

The Council can apply for state grants and was working on getting one with Assemblyman Tom Alfano but all that's been put on hold, Deeks said, because of the current state of the declining economy.

Despite being terminated, the Council did receive approximately one-third of its total funding for 2009 about a week ago. Although the money advance helps, it's not enough to pay the rent.

When the Wednesday Mother's Club heard about the organization's plight, members chose the Council as a recipient of their annual spring charity dance, a fundraiser the club's been hosting for the past 60 years. "Many of them have children who are involved and they wanted to reach out," Deeks said.

The dance will be held Saturday, April 4, from 7 p.m. to midnight at Franklin Caterers. Tickets are $120 per couple ($60 per person) and include a cocktail hour, dinner and dancing with open bar. Baskets will be auctioned off and raffle tickets sold. Raffle tickets, 6,000 total, are $1 or 6 for $5; winner need not be present to win.

According to the club's president, Christy Reisig, the Wednesday Mother's Club takes nominations from members every year.

Unaware the Council lost its funding, Reisig said she learned of the situation when a fellow club member suggested them as this year's recipient. "It's such a worthwhile organization. It's a club that truly gives back," Reisig said.

The club raises funds through its charity event for numerous groups and organizations, even individuals such as Maria Irragi in 2008, a car accident victim and single mom to son Shay. "This one happens to hit close to home," Reisig said. "All the proceeds - every dime - goes back to the youth council."

For tickets or more information about the Wednesday Mother's Club spring charity dance, call Reisig at 270-3573 or email christycolgan@hotmail.com.

The Floral Park Youth Council is staffed completely by volunteers and serves as an alternative experience for children other than organized sports. Founded in 1990 by Floral Park parents, the Council provides athletic, recreational and cultural activities to the youth of the Floral Park-Bellerose School District, complimenting existing youth programs and promoting active participation of parents in youth activities.

Numerous events are offered, including dances with DJs, trips to different destinations of interest to the children, popular ski trips during winter, a fashion show as well as Breakfast with Santa, an Easter egg hunt, an American Girl Doll Tea and more.

For more information or to donate to the Floral Park Youth Council, visit www.floralparkyouthcouncil.com.


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