By JEANMARIE EVELLY
Major cutbacks in government spending, on both the local and federal level, have left several community centers in the northwest Bronx struggling to make ends meet this year.
Mosholu Montefiore Community Center (MMCC) in Norwood, which runs dozens of after-school sites, a senior citizen center, and other programs serving more than 28,000 Bronxites each year, has been appealing to neighbors for donations over the last few months in an effort to keep the center afloat.
“Bottom line, we are probably close to a million dollars in cuts,” said Executive Director Donald Bluestone. “We’ve been closing programs, laying off staff. It’s a serious problem.”
MMCC relies largely on funding from legislators and government agencies that have seen their budgets slashed in the face of ballooning deficits.
“The staff here didn’t have a raise last year, and we’re probably looking at the same situation this year,” Bluestone continued. “It’s just a very bad time.”
The center is losing out this year on federal funding in the form of member items or earmarks — money provided by legislators to projects or organizations in their home districts — an act banned this year by Congress in an effort to cut back on spending.
Former Gov. David Paterson also vetoed member item funds from state senators and assemblymembers from the budget during the last fiscal year.
This upcoming year may not be any better, as new Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget has most state agencies operating on a shoestring—ultimately meaning less money for local community programs.
“These budget cuts have hit everybody,” said Angel Caballero, executive director at Davidson Community Center, on Davidson and Burnside avenues, which runs a senior program and offers housing help and childcare, among other services.
“We’ve had to close programs and or do them with volunteers,” Caballero said, adding that the center has been forced to lay off three staff members. “We don’t have an afterschool program anymore—that got cut last year.”
“We’re trying to do the same amount with less money,” said Bernie Hernandez, who runs an MMCC afterschool center at PS 86 in Kingsbridge Heights.
“We don’t have equipment,” he said. “When you have so many kids but only one basketball, it’s not going to work.”