Last week, Gateway Youth Outreach (GYO) Executive Director Pat Boyle stood among his colleagues in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive Building in Mineola to protest possible cuts to the Nassau County Youth Board, which provides funding to agencies such as GYO.
Support was strong for GYO as those who joined Boyle in protesting the cuts included Elmont School Superintendent Al Harper, Elmont Board of Education President Frank Ragona and trustee Deniece Walker.
Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi has proposed cost-saving measures to close an expected budget deficit that will come, in part, because of a shortfall in sales tax revenue.
Like other agencies, GYO, located in Elmont, offers programs for the youth such as an after-school program. Ragona, who has had both of his own children attend the GYO after-school program, said GYO services approximately 800 students in the community, not to mention the number of parents and community members who utilize the services. "Many of our families in Elmont have two and three jobs. It's very important that our children have a place to go with safe, affordable and productive after-school programs. GYO provides that here. Our children have the opportunity to get their homework done, to learn socialization skills and be a part of a very positive program," said Ragona. "These cuts taking place can impact us in so many different ways, we can't even begin to fathom it. We have to work together to make sure our programs stay in place for the benefit of our children. Our children love GYO."
Parents such as Doreen Walker, who is a single parent and has a daughter who attends the GYO after-school program, are concerned that such funding cuts would create a hardship. "As a parent, it's a direct impact on me. [My daughter] is out of school at 3 p.m.; the program is offered until 6:30 p.m. I can't leave work early. I don't make my own schedule. I can't leave my work in the middle of the day," she said.
Doreen Walker's daughter Keyah enjoys being in the GYO after-school program. "It's better than being at a babysitter's," said Keyah.
Boyle is frustrated, but he is trying his best to hold the agency together in the midst of impending cuts to its funding. "The people in this community deserve it. They really do," he said of the programs GYO offers. "They work hard. They have good kids in good schools. They're good families. They need to be able to get that little bit extra that government money gets for them and helps them out. It's nonsense that people would balance a budget on the backs of the people of this community who are good people."
According to Boyle, funding for GYO's violence/gang prevention program was cut by 75 percent and there will be no contract for that program after March 31. From Jan. 1 to March 31, the county will be giving GYO $12,500 to fund that program. Boyle also said the funding for the after-school and counseling has been cut in half. Boyle said that the GYO had $288,000 in funding from the county for after-school programs for the year. That funding has been reduced to $144,000 for the year. "Doing the simple math, we would have to cut half of our after-school programs. Instead of serving 800 youngsters a day, we would be cut back to 400 and parents of 400 youngsters would have to find alternate means to take care of their children. It's not smart. What do parents do?"
For more on the rally held to save funding for county youth programs, see the story on Page 3 of this newspaper.