On October 5, responding to a tip The WIRE received, I walked to the Youth Center and asked to see their license. I was hoping to put a rumor to rest. Instead, I ended up in a 45-minute closed-door meeting with Roosevelt Island Youth Program Executive Director Charlie Defino as he ran through a list of Islanders who were out to get him and told me that he was working to get The WIRE shut down. As for the license, he said it was “pending” and in the process of being “transferred.” When I eventually spoke to OCFS personnel on the phone and via email, they explained that you can’t transfer an SACC license.
I don’t know whether Defino running an SACC program without an SACC license is a case of honest confusion or knowingly cutting corners. I do find it hard to believe that someone who has been running an afterschool program for two decades wouldn’t understand the relevant regulations. What does seem clear is that once he knew he wasn’t in compliance, he tried to hide it, and then downplay it, and it blew up.
It’s understandable that after providing youth services to the community for as long as he has, and, being the person who brought Beacon here in the first place, Defino is angry at not being awarded the latest Beacon contract. Who would blame him?
But running an afterschool program that is served with a cease-and-desist order by OCFS? There is plenty of blame to go around for that. While Defino clearly didn’t handle this the right way, the lack of RIOC oversight is equally as troubling – particularly given their promises of oversight when awarding the funding extension.
We placed a request for all communication between RIOC and RIYP regarding the current Youth Center contract. We received one email from RIYP asking to get paid. If that was the sum total of their communication prior to this situation, it may answer the question of just what oversight there was. For months, RIYP sent emails promoting a competing afterschool program. That RIOC never inquired about RIYP’s plans, the program, or the licensure required, raises questions about their ability, or interest, in providing oversight of this group.
Ultimately no one should be happy about this. Families who were depending on this program may now find themselves scrambling for childcare (the Beacon program now has a wait list). Money that could and should have been spent on gap programming was squandered. And the future of RIYP and, most importantly, its dedicated staff, is up in the air.