Planning a Pre-K, Too
Island Kids Finds a Scholarship Workaround
By Laura Russo
The Island Kids organization will have summer-camp scholarship funds after all.
After the New York State Authorities Budget Office (ABO) policy statement in January that was interpreted by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) as prohibiting it from awarding grants of Public Purpose Funds (PPF), the Island Kids summer-camp scholarship program was left in limbo. Now, despite a lack of clear information about when PPF grants might become available, Island Kids is going ahead with its scholarship program, using operating funds.
In addition, Island Kids is planning to expand its programming.
In 2014, Island Kids had a financial-aid budget of $25,000, providing summer-camp scholarships for 17 children, according to Executive Director Nikki Leopold. PPF provided $10,000 of the scholarship budget, with the rest coming from private donors and corporate sponsorships. In 2015, in addition to the loss of PPF, a corporate sponsor reduced its grant by $5,000 earlier in the year, leaving the organization with only $10,000 for financial aid.
By April, Island Kids had already received over $15,000 in scholarship requests. Leopold said that not being able to meet the financial-aid needs of residents “really affected our mission, and the core values of the program.” In an effort to make up for the shortfall in funding, Island Kids started a Go Fund Me account with the goal of raising $15,000 (The WIRE, April 25, online at mswire.us/3515).
But the Go Fund Me campaign has raised only $50 in donations in the weeks since it started. Although the details of the campaign were distributed to parents in a letter and appeared in The WIRE, it wasn’t enough. Leopold said that fundraising of this type requires a constant barrage of social media and mailings, and that the organization does not have the extra staff to spare.
The outcome of the campaign worried Leopold. “It’s a huge problem if [Roosevelt Island] nonprofits can’t survive. There does seem to be a lack of investment in the community. We need to be connected and organize.”
Still, Leopold believes that Island Kids “is in a good spot. An important part of our objective has been for the camp to reflect the economic and social diversity of the Island’s population.” It is because of this objective that the organization’s Board of Directors made the decision to take $10,000 from the operating budget to make up for the shortfall in scholarship funding, to address the needs of as many children as possible.
This summer, Island Kids will operate as planned, with no changes to its programming, with the additional $10,000 from the operating budget earmarked for scholarship funding, according to Leopold. “We’re going to try to come as close as possible to the number of scholarship recipients as last year,” she said.
At this time, seven children have been awarded scholarships, and Island Kids will continue to work with parents as they receive additional requests before camp starts in July.
Although Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright announced a clarification reversing the interpretation of the ABO ruling at her May 21 town meeting here, Leopold said that it “doesn’t solve the immediate problem because we don’t quite know when we’re actually getting the funding back.” The Residents Association, which normally makes PPF grant recommendations to the RIOC Board, has not yet been given the go-ahead for the review process. In addition, the PPF funding works more as a reimbursement than as a grant paid out on a specific date.
Next year, even if the issues regarding PPF availability and distribution are permanently eliminated, Island Kids will pursue other funding options, including grants. “We are a small community,” Leopold said, “and if the nonprofits are going to survive and serve the community, we need to do it together.”
The staff at Island Kids has not only been working on getting the summer-camp scholarship funding back on track, but has also been working to establish a universal pre-K program. “We are very excited. This is a natural next step for Island Kids,” said Leopold. The Pre-K program is still in the application process, but Leopold hopes to be up and running in September.
Currently, Roosevelt Island has only 18 pre-K seats at PS/IS 217, and most of these seats will go to siblings of other PS/IS 217 students during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to Leopold. Although the Department of Education mandates that 20 is the maximum number of seats in any City universal pre-K program, the addition of a pre-K program at Island Kids will “increase the number of seats exponentially,” she said.
Leopold noted that Island Kids is working to partner with Urban American Management, the property manager of their current space, in order to prepare for the pre-K program. “The ideal situation is to develop a stronger partnership with Urban American to meet the space needs of the program and our expansion,” Leopold said.
Leopold says that more information on the proposed Island Kids pre-K program will become available as the situation develops.