Crucial Bronx After-School and Drug Prevention Program May Close

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Kids participate in fitness classes at the Featherbed Lane Improvement Association, which is in danger of closing after its funding was slashed. (Photo by Fausto Giovanny Pinto)

By FAUSTO GIOVANNY PINTO

For single mother Haile Rivera the time her three young children spend in the after-school program at Featherbed Lane Improvement Association is crucial. She uses the time to attend college classes, run errands, and, after recently being laid off, look for a job.

Soon, however, Rivera, 41, may need to find a new place for her kids to go after school. Earlier this month, funding for Featherbed Lane was completely gutted.

“We had a contract manager here in April who said she was impressed by the work we do, nobody said we weren’t doing our job,” said Alcee James, the center’s program director. “Then, the next month, they send a letter [saying] our funding is cut.”

Featherbed Lane receives funding from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).

Besides tutoring, computer classes, dance fitness and running summer day camps, drug prevention is one of the organization’s primary goals. Every day students stand for a pledge that includes, “I will respect my body and not use [drugs].”

The program started in the nearby Sedgwick Houses by local resident Marvin York in the late 1980s as a way to rescue youth from the drug epidemic going on at the time.

Featherbed Lane, which picks up kids from nearby PS 109, is seen as a beacon for kids in a neighborhood riddled with crime and drugs. Previous attendees have come back as doctors and teachers and thanked program workers for their influence, James said.

One of those kids, Jennifer Rogers, now works at the center as a drug prevention counselor.

“It will just cause a trickle-down affect, it’s better to invest in prevention than work on the problem later on,” said Rogers, who said the program worked for her.

OASAS says Featherbed Lane was defunded because they did not meet their program goals.

“OASAS eliminated funding to prevention programs that could not attain more than 39 percent of their goals,” said spokesperson Jennifer Farrell. Featherbed Lane, she said, “attained only 28 percent of the work plan goals.”

Featherbed Lane staffers say OASAS’s data is wrong due in part to problems implementing a new computer tracking system last year. Farrell said Featherbed Lane never mentioned these issues.

Although OASAS says “we did not make across the board cuts,” similar defunding tales have recently popped up in Long Island and Albany County.

Staff at Featherbed Lane did not take the news lightly. They held rallies at the Bronx Courthouse and in front of OASAS offices in Albany. They garnered over 3,000 petition signatures protesting the cuts. Some parents have also sent letters directly to the governor’s office.

Local Assemblywomen Vanessa Gibson is fighting for Featherbed Lane in Albany. “Preserving the funding for Featherbed Lane Improvement Association is part of making sure our young people have the opportunities they deserve,” Gibson said in a statement.

While administrators look for alternatives, including the possibility of being funded by another city agency or finding foundation grants, Featherbed Lane has been given a reprieve. Their landlord is allowing them to stay rent free for the summer.

Robert Whetstone, the center’s executive director since 1989, isn’t giving up. “We’ve been up against a lot and forged through and it’s all for the kids and the community,” he said.

“This isn’t a luxury, this is a necessity,” Rivera said. “This is the other arm for me and many of the other single moms that bring our kids here. They shouldn’t be closing, they should be opening another one.”

Editor's note: This story was first published in the latest edition of the Mt. Hope Monitor, out now.