(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)
Yasmin Schwartz is the Assistant Division Director for Middle School Programs at Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC), a settlement house in Brooklyn. Starting this week, CHLDC expected to run a School’s Out NYC (SONYC) summer camp five days per week for more than 100 middle school students.
Summer camp activities require careful planning and program directors must hire and vet staff through both New York City and State background checks, register students, and secure appropriate space for programs. However, Yasmin and her team were only able to officially start these lengthy processes on June 21, after the city finally agreed to fund summer camps and the Department of Youth & Community Development was able to announce contracts.
This year, like most, Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to provide funding in his budget plans for summer camp for 34,000 middle school students and summer camp providers had to endure a “budget dance” and wait for the City Council to step in and restore the money at the last minute. Enough is enough – the mayor must permanently fund summer camp for our middle school students, ensuring an end to the uncertainty and more stability for adults and children alike.
Summer camp programs provide safe recreation and education for New York City youth. Research shows that these programs help close the achievement gap, prevent summer learning loss, and keep children safe while parents work. Summer camp provides benefits for thousands of children, but access to programs is particularly important for low-income families, who may be unable to afford the cost of other summer programs.
On top of providing continued learning and stability for working families, summer camp also offers nutritious and reliable meals. In fact, 64 percent of parents of children in summer camps rely on these programs for free, healthy meals for their children.
When the mayor eliminates funding for summer camp, he isn’t just hurting children and their families, he’s doing a disservice to program directors and staff at settlement houses and other community-based organizations across New York City.
Due to Mayor de Blasio eliminating this funding from his budget, program directors like Yasmin are left waiting for budget negotiations to conclude before planning their programs. Summer camp providers must then scramble to organize their programs for middle-schoolers. For Yasmin and her team, last-minute decisions and reduced funding means late planning, fewer summer camp slots, reduced paid staff, and starting programs a week later than CHLDC typically starts camp.
This year, CHLDC was prepared to offer 414 middle school youth spots in its SONYC summer camp programs, but now can only offer 150. Yasmin and her team also had to cut their staff from 40 to 12 and notify some parents in their community that they don’t have room for their children to attend summer camp with CHLDC this summer.
These challenges don’t just impact summer camp, they put unnecessary strain on staff and community relationships that inform year-round programming. Not to mention, in the lead up to the launch of summer camp, program directors, staff, and families had to once again head to City Hall to protest and convince the mayor to do the right thing and fund summer camp programs for middle school students. Without the City Council restoration, summer camp programs for middle-schoolers may not have received funding at all.
It is time for the mayor to make 2019 the last year without baselined funding for summer camp.
Susan Stamler is the executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, a policy and social change organization representing 42 neighborhood settlement houses. On Twitter @UNHNY.