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With the drastic cuts Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi has been forced to make because of the economic crisis the country is facing, there have been cuts in funding from the NC Youth Board, a part of the Nassau County Department of Health and Human Services. Barbara Rakusin, Youth and Family Counseling Agency (YFCA) of Oyster Bay-East Norwich executive director is seeing the trickle-down effect of what is happening nationwide.

Ms. Rakusin said, "We received our letter from the youth board canceling our contract. Most people were cut by 66 percent, to 75 percent, to termination. Ours is terminated. We lose $72,000 on March 31. That puts us into jeopardy on B.O.B. (Better Oyster Bay), the summer youth program. It also impacts some of our counseling services and the Parent Child Home program. Those funds made a big difference particularly for the summer program.

"Unfortunately there are no other summer outdoor programs with no cost in the evening. B.O.B is held two nights a week and 70 to 100 kids come. We do it for very little money. It is run with two paid staff members and all volunteers from the community and I oversee the program.

"It's pretty much the only game in town and for those youth who do not drive cars as yet, it keeps them healthy and out of trouble." When the older teens learn to drive it broadens their horizons.

Ms. Rakusa said, "At this point we are looking to make cuts to fill the gap and we need $85,000 to $100,000 to replace the funds from the Youth Board. It was a big chunk. Other money was cut from the drug and alcohol programs." Now she said they want to maintain their service and program levels.

Another big component of the YFCA is their emergency program for food and clothing, and their ability to hook into other bigger assistance organizations to help people. She said, "We are seeing more people coming in for food - with jobs lost. So every funding cut affects all our programs. There are a lot of unhappy programs in Nassau County."

YFCA sees the larger picture of what is happening in the economy. Ms. Rakusin said now there is a greater need for child care because people are losing their main income and have to find whatever work they can. "They have to feed their families and they look for small jobs. All the people we serve are the working poor. Families in which mom and dad are each working two different jobs and still need to go to the food pantry. They often don't qualify for the criteria for food stamps but that doesn't mean they don't need food."

The Celia Flower Food Pantry (CFP) is a separate group that works with YFCA. Ms. Rakusin said, "The Celia Flower Pantry is separate from us. They do help with getting food for needy families, working with Stop & Shop. Joan Valentine is the new treasurer. They give food to YFCA and to the Doubleday Babcock Senior Center which now is operating their own pantry for seniors who need help with food."

The CFP provides non-perishable items but also provides as-needed food gift certificates supplied by the First Presbyterian Church. Most people need assistance to tide them over to the next paycheck; some are coming because of having lost a job. Some have unique circumstances such as living in a room with no place to keep food. The gift certificates are usually for such perishable items as fresh produce, meats and dairy products.

"Basically we try to supplement the middle class poor. People who outwardly look as if they should be doing okay but have a loss of job and income. This is to be sure the kids are fed properly. These are not just the people you think are needing help.

"Basically my administrative assistant noticed an increase on a weekly basis," she added.

Ms. Rakusin has been working at YFCA for three years. "This community is marvelously generous. They really come through. The board and the Community Foundation of Oyster Bay are really like parents to us. They help us meet our mission. I hope the community at large will be open to us right now. The OB-EN people have been marvelous in responding to our annual appeal letter that we have sent out the past three years.

"The Community Foundation of Oyster Bay is one of our major funders. They started this organization and are enormous funders of the organization and both Abby and George O'Neill are on the board. They are big supporters of what we do. They got the Parent Child Home Program started and the program works on a lot of levels. It works according to national statistics on its efficacy. It also allows us to go into the home to do specific tasks and lets us connect with the caretakers. We can then identify other services the family needs. Sometimes people don't know what to ask for."

The Parent Child Home Program has a history of jump starting children to keep up with more advantaged youth as they enter school. The B.O.B. Program is unique in that it serves local teenagers who appreciate the summer recreational activity available in the hamlet - the program takes place at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park. Local churches and service groups provide volunteers to chaperone the youth on a rotating basis during the summer.

For more information call the Youth & Family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay-East Norwich at 922-6867. Needless to say, donations are always welcome.

(Editor's note: please see the article on Page 6 about the recent rally held at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive Building in Garden City to save the funding for Nassau County Youth Board services.)


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