Two Visions for the Youth Center’s Future, with Little Agreement

February 1, 2018

It’s been a rollercoaster of a month for Roy Magsisi, director of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) and one of the program’s music teachers. 

 

Days after learning that his program had earned the top score and thus the recommendation from an outside panel to continue running free youth services on the Island, Magsisi got more good news: the organization had finally received a School-Age Child Care (SACC) license from the New York Office of Children and Families Services and could expand its afterschool programming. The announcement came nearly four months after being served with a cease-and-desist order by the same agency in October for operating the program without the necessary license. 

 

“I was so excited; I think I was the first person at their door that day trying to pick it up – before many of the employees were even there,” says Magsisi. “It’s been a long time coming.”

 

RIYP participants pose with the group’s long awaited SACC license. Photo from RIYP.

 

Then, last week, the program’s fate was once again thrown into question when the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Board of Directors declined to vote on whether to enter into contract negotiations with RIYP following a tense meeting and nearly an hour of public commentary that exposed deep division in the community’s feelings about the group.

 

After the meeting, Magsisi said he was disappointed that the group remains in limbo. “I know a lot of parents have been asking when we’ll resume our afternoon programming.” He says he’s been lining up instructors and new programs for the past few months in anticipation of getting the SACC license. 

 

For its part, however, RIOC has explicitly stated that it does not want its funding to be used on a SACC program, but instead wants any group who operates the Youth Center to limit itself to drop-in programming that Island youth can pick and choose from. 

 

In an email last week, Alonza Robertson, RIOC’s public information officer, stated, “RIYP’s recent receipt of a SACC license will not, and should not, change the range/scope of services allowed by ‘drop-in’ centers as defined by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services.” 

 

Robertson also informed local media that RIOC had requested a meeting with RIYP to “further define,” to its executive director, the scope and range of services RIYP should be providing according to the terms of the grant. “There appears to be some confusion about that from RIYP,” he states. 

 

Magsisi confirmed that the group was in talks with RIOC about the issue. “I know they want us to be a drop-in program, so there’s some conflict about that,” he said. “We are trying to find a sweet spot between the two. It seems like RIOC is open to finding something in the middle.” 

 

The director also encouraged parents who were unfamiliar with the Youth Center or felt left out to come to the center to see what was happening. 

 

“To those people who have complaints or who say they don’t feel safe, I would say listen to the outpouring of people and kids who have come out to support the youth program,” Magsisi said. “I’ve only been there five years and I’ve seen these kids grow. They know that they can always walk into the Youth Center. Come and see it for yourself.”

 

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