An ongoing legal battle has led to the unfortunate and sudden closure of Levittown's Yours Ours Mine Community Center, halting an array of social service programs for nearly 5,000 children and adults.
YOM is a not-for-profit, multifaceted human resources organization. The services include nursery day care, universal pre-kindergarten, before and after school child care, family life/youth development, individual, family and group counseling, leisure time activities, chemical dependency treatment and prevention services, senior nutrition and adult day care services to the residents of Levittown and surrounding communities of Nassau County.
Created initially in 1964, YOM has undergone name changes and a merger before creating a holding corporation in 1979, called the Youth Building Corporation (YBC) for the purpose of holding the mortgage on the building in which YOM operates and by collecting rent from YOM, paying its taxes and maintaining the building. A separate board of trustees is in charge of policy-making, overseeing social programs and operation of the organization's $2.1 million budget.
According to YOM Board of Trustees Chair Louise Cassano, "occasionally, throughout the years, they have given financial support to YOM by giving grants to them."
Years ago a feud ensued over whether the YBC should continue to exist. Friederika Conway, chairwoman of the corporation board, directed inquiries to Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C. the law firm representing YBC.
According to Tom Levin at the law firm, this issue has nothing to do with feuding boards, "although YOM would like very much to portray it that way."
"Their lease for this property expired in February 2008," Levin explained. "They had not been paying rent for a long time. They stayed on without paying rent. Eventually in September they were given a 30-day notice that their tenancy was terminated and they had to leave."
Levin said YOM did not vacate the building and still continued not paying rent.
"We sued them in Landlord-Tenant Court," he added. "We went to trial in December where they [YOM] raised all these issues why they shouldn't be evicted. The judge ruled against them and that they owed back rent of over $275,000. On Jan. 26 the court signed the judgment for eviction and judgment for money."
YOM continued occupancy in the building and still refused to pay rent, Levin stated.
"Last Friday YOM was served by the sheriff with a 72-hour notice for eviction," he added.
When the 72 hours are up, the sheriff's department will then set a date for the eviction.
"They've been a terrible tenant," Levin added. "They haven't paid rent for over two years. We are evicting them. They've known about this for a year. Only now are they deciding that something terrible is being done to them and they want everyone else to help."
Cassano responded that the board of trustees did not sign the lease YBC provided "because the lease made YOM responsible for interior maintenance of the building, which we could not afford."
"We attempted to negotiate with the landlord, YBC, but they didn't respond to our requests to meet so the lease was never signed," she added. "Since we had no lease, the funding agencies wouldn't reimburse us for the rent portion of the funding and to balance the books we had to eliminate that."
Cassano said the mortgage on the building was paid off in 2004 and it was then that YBC was supposed to turn over ownership of the building to YOM.
"YOM should be the rightful owners of the building," she added.
Over 90 part and full-time employees face unemployment while the 5,000 people a year the center serves must now find alternate care and programs.
Cassano, who has served on the board since 1994, spoke about the importance of YOM.
"Our community deserves to have a viable gathering place for seniors and youth; a place where our young children can be sheltered and nurtured when their parents are at work; a place where the sick elderly can find comfort and care and a place where teens and adults with dependency issues can seek counseling and guidance," she added. "This should be a place that constantly evokes community support not only from those directly affected, but from businesses, government, community residents and institutions. What has happened to YOM is a very sad note for our community."
Levittown resident Leia Poleski is a single mother working two jobs. She said was completely shocked and saddened by the April 21 notice she received regarding YOM's closure.
"They offer the only affordable day care on Long Island," Poleski said. "Other schools were three times the price."
Her daughter attends YOM's full time nursery program
"They're amazing with these kids," she added. "Without them I don't know how we would've survived. I feel like I'm going to have to quit my job next week. I still need time to find another day care. To pull these kids in the middle of the year is terrible. If they could just find a way to get through the next eight weeks."
Another family who lives across the street from the community center said they have been "depending on YOM for a long time" for day care for their daughter.
Tom LaSusa moved to Levittown in 2006 with his wife, twin boys and mother. His mother quickly took to YOM's senior center and before long "was going to club every Tuesday and Thursday."
"She made new friends, participated in the activities, and was happier than I've seen her in quite some time," he added.
Then LaSusa family received the "devastating news" that YOM had abruptly ended its senior program.
"Losing the YOM is not an inconvenience - it is a cruel punishment," LaSusa said. "Without this wonderful center, many of the seniors who counted on it as a lifeline to the world outside their homes will most likely become shut-ins - prisoners really - with no social interaction, no reward for the years of hard work and service they gave to their communities, their state and their country."
Levittown resident Carol Klein said in an email to YOM that throughout the years she saw the good YOM did for Levittowners and others.
"You provided a tutor for my son for free to help him through his tough times of learning," she wrote. "Years ago, you opened your doors to the neighborhood kids to provide a fun and safe place for them to skate board when others closed their eyes to it and shook their fingers no. You have a wonderful place for our seniors to go and spend some quality time out of their house and form friendships. Truthfully, I was looking ahead into my life and placing myself there in years to come. The childcare is safe and affordable. The counseling you provide for those in need. I don't understand how people can want to show their power by closing something that is good for neighbors when they should be showing power by keeping it opened."
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Councilman Gary Hudes, Legislator Dennis Dunne, Assemblyman Dave McDonough and Assemblyman Joseph Saladino joined with YOM staff and clients at a rally on April 25.
The town is offering specific dates for discussions between the two boards and is anxious to play a meaningful role along with the other government officials involved.
Supervisor Murray, a Levittowner herself, reached out to representatives of YOM and the YBC, offering her offices, facilities and all town resources to bring the two parties together in the spirit of mediation and conciliation.
"This dispute is deeply troubling as it is impacting families in a profoundly negative way," she added. "Anything we can do to facilitate an agreement to save critical family services that our residents receive would be a victory. All of the officials here are ready to listen, support all of the parties involved and do whatever we can to help area families in this time of crisis. In these tough economic times we need to support the enhancement of community service programs."
"YOM offers critical services and programs including before and after school child care, nursery school, senior nutrition and recreation in addition to adult day care," added Levittown resident Councilman Hudes. "We have to do everything within our power to prevent the disputes that exist from impacting all of YOM's clients."
"Residents of this community depend on the important services that this center provides," added Assemblyman McDonough. "I will support all efforts that will help resolve conflicts and retain services that are vital to the community."
Assemblyman Saladino explained that YOM services some of the county's neediest residents of all ages.
"It is essential that we keep this facility operating in order to enable those in need to receive the high quality of services that YOM has always been associated with," he added.
Legislator Dunne said he would be asking for answers in writing.
"It's sad that a power struggle is going to cripple this center," he said. "It's critical that we encourage the parties involved in this dispute to reach an agreement for the good of the community."
Additionally YOM board members have worked to get petitions signed and have notified the State Attorney General's office.
In the meantime, clients must seek childcare elsewhere. On Monday, April 27 the Levittown Board of Education voted to expand the Levittown After-School Program (LAP) until the end of the school year to include two before school sites "for the sole purpose of meeting the needs of those students affected by the termination of YOM services."
The school board also stated that the additional services will be completely self-sustaining and "will bear no additional cost to the school district or district taxpayers."
For more information on this program call _James Centonze at 520-8491.