Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Roosevelt Island Youth Services At A Crossroads - RIYP Executive Director Charges New RICCD Group Seeking To Split Community And Take Over Roosevelt Island Youth Services

Image Of Roosevelt Island Youth Program Executive Director Charlie Defino

The Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) is a non-profit organization established in 1978 to provide free activities and services for Roosevelt Island youth. The RIYP operates a youth center at 506 Main Street, PS/IS 217 Beacon After School program and a summer day camp. RIYP also organizes Little League baseball, soccer and basketball sports leagues among other activities for Roosevelt Island kids. The RIYP Little League baseball season begins its 38 year this spring.

Charlie Defino is the Executive Director of the RIYP and has served the Roosevelt Island community for over 20 years during two separate stints in that position. I spoke with Mr. Defino recently about the past, present and future challenges of the RIYP.

Mr. Defino described the role of RIYP in bringing together the different segments of the Roosevelt Island community. According to Mr. Defino:
... there are people over the years that would not have known each other if not for the program...

... It's an accomplishment that I have and Steve Kaufman have that we're very proud of. The activities now have to change, we have to be a different type of program. That's what we're working with Cornell now, we're trying to get other agencies to come on from off-Island to partner up with us. We've done that in the past with PAL and other people but they don't have the money now either...

A new challenge facing the RIYP is the Roosevelt Island Center Of Community Development (RICCD), a newly formed group of Roosevelt Island residents intending to provide, among other programs, youth services to our community. Among the stated aims of RICCD are:

Roosevelt Island is home to youth from all over the globe. Many are here for the long-term, yet many will leave to go back to their countries of origin within a few short years. This means we have been given the opportunity to impact and influence the culture of families, businesses, and countries all around the world, by simply focusing on developing our youth right here on the Island. From teaching principles like "beginning with the end in mind", the importance of cultural agility, to the laws of good communication, it is our aim to come alongside schools and families to help develop high character and high capacity leaders out of our island's youth....
The RICCD organized its own youth baseball league separate from RIYP this spring and plans to establish more Roosevelt Island youth sports activities including soccer, basketball and softball.

As reported in December 2015, Roosevelt Island residents Dan Sadlier and Kim Massey are among the leaders of the RICCD Board. Mr. Sadlier is also the Pastor of the Hope Roosevelt Island Church. During an October 22, 2015 RICCD brainstorming session with interested parents:
 ... Mr. Sadlier was asked what involvement the Hope Roosevelt Island Church would have in RICCD programs and activities. He replied that there would be none other than his involvement and that of his wife as well.

Mr. Sadlier also expressed a desire for RICCD to work with established Roosevelt Island organizations and did not wish to be seen as attempting to replace any existing group....
RIYP's Charlie Defino believes that despite Mr. Sadlier's expressed desire:
... not to replace any existing group....
the RICCD baseball program is a first step in an attempt to make the RIYP disappear and have the RICCD take over youth services on Roosevelt Island. 

During my interview with him, Mr. Defino stated his belief that:
  • The RICCD and it's Little League baseball program is an effort by it's Chair, Dan Sadlier, Pastor of the Hope Church, to promote the Hope Church Youth Ministry,
  • RICCD Co-Chair Kim Massey is a disgruntled former Director of the RIYP Beacon Program who performed unsatisfactorily in that position,
  • RICCD asked the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) for grant money that currently supports RIYP to be allocated to RICCD instead,
  • Ms. Massey's husband, John Massey, requested RIOC to take away funds supporting RIYP and use those funds for other purposes while Ms. Massey still worked at RIYP.
  • RICCD members wrote letters to Council Member Kallos and other officials disparaging the RIYP.

Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Acting President Susan Rosenthal has announced that the Youth Center building at 506 Main Street will be fixed up and receive a "face lift". Also, RIOC plans to issue a Request For Proposals to provide Youth Services on Roosevelt Island.

I asked the RICCD members referred to by Mr. Defino if they wish to reply to his comments and to respond why they:
.... think there is a need for another organization serving Roosevelt Island other than RIYP.
The RICCD members declined to respond.