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Nassau works to restore youth programs

Rahsmia Zatar, executive director of Strong Youth, Inc.,

Rahsmia Zatar, executive director of Strong Youth, Inc., poses for a portrait at the group's home in Uniondale. (August 8, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

More than 30 Nassau Youth Social Service agencies are scrambling to rehire social workers and relaunch programs for hundreds of at-risk juveniles after the county legislature restored $2.3 million cut from the groups earlier in the year.

While several agency heads said they are grateful for the restoration, approved last month, they said the seven-month delay in getting fully funded, coupled with $3.5 million cut last year, have gutted programs, making it difficult to reactivate them in midsummer.

"The unfortunate part of this is the damage has kind of been done," said Pat Boyle, executive director of Gateway Youth Outreach in Elmont, which provides after-school programs for about 800 low-income children.

Last July, as the groups lost half of their $7 million in county funding in a partisan battle over county spending, Boyle said he eliminated a summer program that served some 250 children and cut his after-school program down to 100 students.

Boyle has revived the two programs to the previous enrollment levels after learning of the legislature's July 29 decision to provide the groups with $6.3 million in funding, up from $4.2 million allotted at the start of the year."Even though we're getting some of our money back, lots of programs lost their staff people," Boyle said. "Even in Elmont, we've lost a little bit of the dependability of our agency. When the numbers keep fluctuating parents worry -- if they sign up their kid in September, will there be a spot for them in June? I can't guarantee that. Some of the trust is lost. It's an unfortunate consequence."

Peter Levy, executive director of the Nassau Youth Services Coalition, an umbrella organization representing the interests of the various nonprofits, said the group is keeping an eye toward the 2014 budget.

"It's hard to plan for the long term, when you're fighting one day at a time, one budget cycle at a time," Levy said.

Asked about plans to include the groups in the 2014 budget, Katie Grilli-Robles, spokeswoman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said budget details wouldn't be available until later this year.

Rahsmia Zatar, executive director of STRONG Youth, Inc., a Uniondale-based anti-gang initiative, said that last year the group had to lay off five caseworkers who worked at local schools counseling at-risk students, and eliminate an intervention program for some 400 youth juvenile offenders.

Zatar said the group has found it difficult to recruit new counselors and receive referrals from community groups about youth in need of help since last year's cuts were enacted.

"There's this hesitancy people have because our funding has been so unstable," Zatar said. "Our reputations have been hurt by the county's actions."

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