A 15th anniversary celebration for the Boys & Girls Club of Hempstead has become a cry for support now that the after-school organization has temporarily closed its doors because of funding cuts.
Club representatives said they put programs on hold last month, hoping to raise at least $200,000 to reopen in January and remain functioning until the end of the school year.
The closure affects 250 children in the Hempstead Village area and, club officials say, puts a burden on working families that count on the club to keep their children out of trouble and provide them homework help.
"From 0 to 10, the hardship of the club's closure is an 11," said Gully Khanat, 38, the mother of second-grader Louis Cortes, 7, and fourth-grader Rosa Cortes, 9. The club, she said, helped her children with their math homework while she juggled three jobs. "I didn't know how important it was, but now I see."
The club's financial problems began two years ago when it lost nearly $94,000 a year through the Extended School Day and School Violence Prevention Grant Program from the state Department of Education. A year later, the club lost about $100,000 in federal funding obtained by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), after earmarks were eliminated for local organizations, Boys & Girls Club executive director Wayne Redman said. The club's annual budget is $480,000, board president Thomas De Maria said.
About 33 staff members run three locations on school days from 3 to 7 p.m.: at the club's main office and teen center at United Methodist Church of Hempstead on Washington Avenue, and at the Franklin and Fulton elementary schools.
"We come to do homework, talk to friends and have fun," said sixth-grader Aminah Timmons, 11, sitting in the club's center with her father, Male, president of a local civic group, and brother Abdullah, 13, who is an eighth-grader.
Because of the cuts, organizers are planning to consolidate all programs into the teen center, Redman said.
"We all know between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. is when kids get in trouble," Redman said. "We don't need to have these kids running around the streets with nothing to do."
The bulk of the funding needed is to help pay for salaries for workers, most of whom are part-time employees, De Maria said. The rest is to pay for operating expenses such as rent, supplies, food and transportation, he said.
"We would love nothing more than to keep the doors open and service the kids," said De Maria, who is the commissioner of Hempstead Town's public safety department. "Closing the doors was a heartbreaking decision, but it needed to be done so we can get our ducks into place."
"I am hoping they can get their funding restored and they can stay in Hempstead," said village Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr., adding he was part of a Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx during the 1950s. "We need a youth program like that."