I.S. 259: Save our Beacon Center

March 29, 2012 Denise Romano
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Community members are fighting to keep the Beacon Community Center at McKinley I.S. 259 alive, after the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) announced that it would be pulling the plug on eight centers throughout the city, including that one, as of July 1.

The center, which has been run by HeartShare Human Services for the past 15 years, services nearly 200 children per day between 3 and 10 p.m. on weekdays, including school holidays and vacations, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Not only do the students receive tutoring and homework help, they play sports, dance and do other constructive activities.

We worry about the impact this will have on the children and families that use our program,” said HeartShare President Bill Guarinello, stressing that the program was being closed for financial reasons. “We don’t want the public will think HeartShare, and the other programs being closed, did something wrong or were not operating top-notch programs, which we are.”

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Joseph Impeduglia has been the center’s director for the past 16 years. He said that kids come from as far as Staten Island to use the services. “By the end of the month, we will be at over 100 percent capacity,” he said, adding that he has no paid staff — the center is run by about 20 college and high school volunteers who are pursuing degrees in education.

“We all do whatever is necessary because we believe in what we are doing,” Impeduglia explained.

The Beacon’s summer camp is also in demand. About 220 to 230 kids attend each year and there is a waiting list of about 60 or 70. If this center closes, there will be no place for the displaced to go – the nearest Beacon center that can accommodate students in junior high and high school is in Coney Island.

“It’s like a family here,” said assistant director Nadine Bohsali. How so? Impeduglia often shows up at his student’s extra-curricular sports games and was even asked to be someone’s confirmation sponsor. “I have a bunch of sons now,” he said.

An emotional Impeduglia said that the center is crucial, especially to working parents. “Where am I supposed to tell these parents to take these kids?” he said, his eyes welling up. “I feel helpless.”

Bay Ridgeite Arlene Martinez’s son, Dylan, a sixth-grader at McKinley, attends the Beacon program. “If not for this, he would be home alone and would have to walk home alone,” she said.

“We don’t know what we would do without it. We need it,” Martinez said, adding that Dylan looks forward to coming to school every day because of the center. “As a working parent, it’s so important. It gets kids out of the street and keeps them safe. I am devastated. It’s so important – I can’t stress it enough.”

Cathleen Collins, a spokesperson for DYCD, said that the closings are due to a “significant loss” of federal and state funding. “This is not a decision taken lightly,” she said.

Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who visited the Beacon Center on March 27, is launching a petition drive to keep the center open. “I am absolutely outraged that the city would even think of closing this center,” he said. “The neighborhoods I serve don’t qualify for many city services and I’m not going to stand for the city taking away funds for the few we do qualify for.”

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis also wrote a letter to the mayor. “The child care and after-school services provided by HeartShare Human Services at I.S. 259 are critical to families in Brooklyn, just as they are to families across the city that utilize other Beacon facilities,” stated Malliotakis.

Gentile’s petition can be signed at http://bit.ly/McKinleyBeacon or you can request a hard copy by calling his office at 718-748-5200.

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