WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Westchester non-profit organizations are still struggling to digest the county's Invest-in-Kids program cuts and raise enough money to help maintain the 31 youth development programs that recently received a 7 percent trim in county funding.
White Plains Youth Bureau executive director Frank Williams said his team is searching for other funding sources to help offset the seven percent trim to the youth bureau's Step Up! development program for disconnected young men, mainly African American and Latino men who are coming out of the criminal justice system.
"It's a bitter pill to swallow, and at this time in the year, to have a further budget reduction is just very painful," said Williams. "We’re doing our due dilligence to help find funds to maintain this most important the program. The challenge of African American and Latino young men, especially in these tough economic times where many are unemployed and underemployed, is it's just very hard to gain any traction in terms of employment. We've been working with these young men to help them find jobs, to help them go back to school and get their GEDs, to help them go on to college, and to help them have a life."
Step Up! has been recognized nationally for its service to over 100 young men. The youth bureau keeps in touch with participants for decades after they enroll in Step Up! and "becomes family to these guys," according to Williams.
"The issue is we’re paying all of these thousands of dollars to care for young people or adults in a criminal justice system versus the little money that we put in to keep them out of the system," said Williams. "The dollars that are needed for prevention you can’t even measure as compared to what you pay for one young person to be housed in a criminal justice system and get all of the psychological care - it’s anyway from $70,000 dollars on up to $100,000."
Family Services of Westchester runs four of the 31 youth development programs that each lost about $141,000 in county funding. Their Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program for at risk kids, two youth council programs focused on leadership building, and Respite, an after school and summer recreational program for children with serious emotional difficulties, all took a hit, according to Lynn Greene, the vice president of development and external affairs at the Family Services of Westchester.
"It makes it really hard to plan when you don’t know what the future will be like and you don’t want to disappoint the kids," said Greene. "These kids have had a lot of disappointment in their lives already. They depend on these programs. The initiatives that we do to keep kids out of trouble and help them make healthy choices, those programs are really important at a time when the school budgets are being cut. The demand for our programming has just zoomed up, and to have cuts coming from all different angles is difficult."
Democratic county legislators have been criticizing County Executive Rob Astorino's decision to chop Invest-in-Kids program funding after the budget season was formally concluded.
"Our feeling was, if [Astorino] was going to make cuts, why not have that debate take place during the budget season versus doing it in a backdoor way that doesn't allow that debate to occur,"
said Thomas Stauderland, a press representative for the Democratic county legislators. "Seven percent, in some cases, that's a few staff members or it's less hours that their open."
However, Donna Greene, a press representative for the Republican County Executive Rob Astorino's office, said the county's Youth Bureau began working with program providers to brainstorm how to best digest a seven percent budget cut in the first quarter of the 2011 budget.
"We’re working with the vendors to make sure that these programs are run well and in the most cost-effective way possible," said Greene. "The county has to keep very strong control of all of its expenses because we had budget gaps at this time last year when we we’re looking at 2011, and now when we look ahead to 2012, it's the same thing... One of the reasons Westchester has a AAA bond rating from three agencies is we look all the time to say, "It's April, how are things going? It’s June, how are things going? What adjustments can we make so that come November when we’re loking at next year’s budget we’re in the best position we can be in."
Has your family ever participated in county-funded youth development programs? What do you think of the White Plains Youth Bureau, Family Services of Westchester, My Sister's Place, and the Westchester Jewish Services kids programs? Do you think funding cuts will hinder local children? Are you concerned that the county is spending too much on youth development? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll include your response in further coverage.