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Wyandanch youth center funds go to different agency

Donald Hamilton speaks on behalf of the Wyandanch

Donald Hamilton speaks on behalf of the Wyandanch Youth Services during a public hearing on the fate of the facility in the auditorium of the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge. (Feb. 05, 2013) Credit: Daniel Brennan

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to defund a Wyandanch nonprofit and give the money to another nonprofit to run a youth center in Wyandanch.

The resolution -- sponsored by Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and introduced via a certificate of necessity issued by County Executive and former Babylon Town supervisor Steve Bellone -- takes more than $90,000 budgeted for Wyandanch Youth Services, Inc. and gives it to the Family Life Center to run the Wyandanch Youth Center, on Andrews Avenue.

Wyandanch Youth Services, whose contract with the county expired in December, has been funded by the county for more than 25 years. The center also was due to receive $45,000 from Babylon Town, but that money was being held until the county's decision.

A certificate of necessity bypasses the committee process and public hearings that require advance notice.

The youth center had been under review since last month. Since executive director Dane Carroll came onboard in 2007, Gregory said, there has been a decline in services and an increase in complaints from residents who said they were turned away or kicked out of the center. He said his suggestions to Carroll "fell on deaf ears." Gregory said the defunding became urgent when a recent poll conducted by a community group showed more than 70 percent of Wyandanch High School students had never been to the center.

Carroll dismissed the poll as "inaccurate and misleading" and based on a sample of less than half of the high school. He said the center has held open houses and has been willing to share building space and field time with other groups. He said Gregory never answered repeated questions about why his group was under review. Tuesday, Carroll asked the legislature to table the measure, saying his group had not been able to make a presentation as the Family Life Center did last week to the human services committee, of which Gregory is vice chair.

"To take an agency that has served the community for 25 years and throw it to the side as if it never served the kids in this community is dishonest, disrespectful and doesn't tell the true picture," Wyandanch Youth Services board treasurer Deltrice Thompson told legislators.

The Family Life Center, a volunteer organization offering programs out of the Wyandanch Resource Center and the Wyandanch Senior Nutrition Center, has proposed increased programming, partnering with various agencies and extending the youth center's hours.

It is run by the Rev. Constance Carter-England, former commissioner of human services for Babylon Town under Bellone. She also is pastor for First AME Church of Wyandanch, which for six years has been holding Sunday services in the nutrition center. The town has allowed religious services in town facilities since a 2001 judicial decision struck down its barring of such services.

Youth Center officials say the defunding is politically motivated, noting Carter-Englands' daughter is a longtime aide to Gregory. Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood), who extensively questioned members of both groups and was the sole vote against the defunding, cited the relationship during the meeting. Gregory and Carter-England have denied any political agenda, calling the accusations "ridiculous."

More than a dozen supporters for both organizations made their case before the legislature Tuesday.

Some parents touted the positive impact of Family Life Center services, others expressed gratitude for youth center programs. "It shouldn't be one or the other," said Wyandanch civic leader LaFlorence Grant. "Pitting one agency against another . . . our community has seen enough of this."

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