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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Roosevelt Island Youth Center Operator Center Selection Shows Divided Community - For Some RIYP Is Glue That Held Families Together, But Others Disagree

The selection of an operator for the Roosevelt Island Youth Center has become an extremely contentious and polarizing subject in our community.

As previously reported, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) is investigating the matter and has hired an outside law firm to conduct an inquiry. According to this January 26 RIOC statement:

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation announced plans Friday to hire an outside counsel, Bond Shoeneck & King, to investigate allegations made against the operator of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program that was close to being approved for a three-year grant to operate youth programs at a drop-in child care program that requires no state licensure.

The RIOC Board chairman made the decision to delay the vote after the Board received numerous email claims in the days leading up to Thursday night’s meeting. More than 20 passionate parents, employees and young people spoke at the Thursday night meeting making their cases in favor and against the awarding of this grant.

“Prompted by statements made at last night’s Board meeting and emails received from the public, RIOC is hiring outside counsel to investigate,” said RIOC President Susan Rosenthal. “We expect this to be completed in advance of the next Board meeting March 1.”

The Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) received the highest score in the grant competition rated by two members of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and Island worker Patricia Pell, currently the interim director of Roosevelt Island Day Nursery.
There is a huge divide among the supporters and opponents of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP).


Roosevelt Island resident Sasha Ross shares this message she wrote before the January 25 RIOC Board meeting explaining her support of the RIYP. According to Ms. Ross:
The RIYP is an integral part of the Roosevelt Island culture. As it is, as it stands, it has been the glue that has held many families together, and with their heads above water. Those most vocal about the RIYP have no idea what that center means to families, what Charlie means to the families.

The RIYP raised me, I do not have a memory of my childhood that doesn't involve RIYP, I remember the director before Charlie. His name was Mike, he was half way bald on top and had a fluffy red beard. After Mike, Charlie came. After Charlie that's it. Charlie has been a father figure to 100's, possibly 1,000's of Roosevelt Island kids easily. The youth center has provided all that some homes couldn't. Shelter from the weather, food when bellies were empty, a conversation when you felt all alone, and most important memories. And for the last 20+ years Charlie has been synonymous with RIYP. They both are a staple here.

There has been a lot of Main Street chatter about the who's and what's of how people feel about both, the program and the director. And its mainly coming from people who DON'T know anything about the program or Charlie. Many are going off of what one of their friends say happened, or what they think happen or something they might have seen or not seen walking by.

Roosevelt Island is beautiful to look at, while riding over on the tram, riding around on the red bus or even walking along the back road. The visuals lead you to believe that all is well and dandy here. But the truth is, not every kid feels welcomed at home, not every kid is eating at home, not every kid has a parent waiting for them at home.

I have first handedly seen the program and Charlie evolve, twist and turn with the changes and needs of the youth on Roosevelt Island. Through my own childhood, through my 21 year old sons childhood - who has attended programs at the RIYP from the age of 5 until last year when the new Beacon people took over. And now through my youngest children's childhood - who have attended programs at the center from the age of 5 and are now 8 and 10 respectively.

I have experienced what the center and Charlie does for the island at nearly ever turn of my life. As a small child being raised by her grandmother, without biological parents. I have experienced what the center and Charlie can do, RIYP and Charlie creates a family. I have experienced RIYP as a new parent and has a well seasoned parent. Myself and all of my children have had many firsts under Charlie and what he created out of his RIYP vision.

Now I am not saying all of this to say the program or Charlie is perfect, because nothing and no one is. I have however see RIYP be perfect at times, when a single mom can pick up an extra hour or two in overtime, because RIYP is there. When you don't own a computer or have internet access and need to submit your paper for class or apply for a job, RIYP is there. Subtracting anything more from this program will put a lot of children,  some of the most vulnerable children living on Roosevelt Island in a bad place. The Island has been changing rapidly, focusing on the squeaky wheel. Attempting to placate those who have never taken the time to get to know the program, the counselors or the children. People who are focused on THEIR own agendas. Focused on what they personally want to see. And they are blindly looking over the individuals who depend on this program and all that it offers.

I am asking you to not only see the people who show up to the meeting later on today. I am asking you not to just listen to the rumors. I am asking you to view the RIYP as a whole, it's track record, and who it is really here for. These young kids who are in between being a child and a young adult, those who are learning how to navigate this world, sometimes alone. Think of those who cannot make it to this meeting tonight because they don't work a traditional 9-5, or because they feel as though no one will understand what they are going through, or those simply are too embarrassed to speak out publicly on their personal troubles and how the program provides for them and their children.

Listen to the people who have all of the Roosevelt Island youth in their hearts. I can be the first to admit the RIYP can use some improvements, and those improvements go beyond what we see when we walk in. Those improvements start with the people who actually can make a difference, not only the people who are cc'd on this email, but each and every island resident.

Thank you for your time.
More info on the selection of Roosevelt Island Youth Center operator, as well as full video of the RIOC Board meeting discussion of the subject at this prior post.The videos include statements from both supporters and opponents of the RIYP.

Also, the Main Street Wire has an article on subject here and letter from RIYP opponents here.

Roosevelt Island Daily ways in here and here.

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