Visitors to our Island cannot help but notice the number of strollers, carriages, buggies and other means of conveying the small children that fill our sidewalks. If nothing else, it is quickly apparent that Roosevelt Island is “family-oriented.” Beyond the visible proof of that impression rests a host of organizations that provide structured activities for children of all ages. Prominent among those organizations is Island Kids, with a wealth of activities for preschool children and after-school programs for older children.
The WIRE recently sat down with Nikki Leopold, the Board Chairperson for Island Kids, which is proudly celebrating the tenth anniversary of its Summer Camp. Nikki was happy to talk about her organization and the children it serves. “Island Kids was started as an informal play group in the 1980’s by four Island parents, Karen Connery, Susan Phillips, Katerina Hinckley, and Sandy Aquino. Space was found for their activities at 536 Main Street. At first, the programs were enrichment activities for toddlers of the ‘Mommy and Me’ variety and involved tumbling, music and art. The initial classes had 10 to 12 children in each group. At first the instructors were all volunteers but later, as the program expanded, paid instructors were hired.”
Eventually, in 1992, the group was incorporated and a fee of $600 per semester was established. Parent involvement was still an essential part of the program, with parents being rotated into the classes. The program expanded to include as many as 16 children in a class.
In 2006, Leopold was appointed to head the organization. “Up to this point there had never been much of an effort to secure outside funding for our programs. We began seeking outside funding and, in 2007, were extremely fortunate in obtaining $75,000 of Public Purpose monies. Those funds provided for two years of activities. We still get Public Purpose funds, but now it’s less than $10,000 each year. That money is matched by $10,000 from the Trans-Canada power plant across the river in Queens. We also receive a grant of $5,000 from the office of Ben Kallos. With outside funding, we are now able to offer scholarships to children who might otherwise be unable to afford our programs.
“In 2006, we began our summer camp which has proven to be quite successful. The camp operates from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. five days a week and is for ages four to ten. The camp lasts for seven weeks and includes swimming, dance, photography, science, and animal education.”
This year the after-school program is being expanded into PS/IS 217 with the cooperation of the school authorities. The program now includes children up through the third grade. Prior to this year, it was limited to kindergarten students, who are not eligible for the Department of Youth & Community Development’s (DYCD) Beacon Program, also housed at PS/IS 217.
The after-school program operates five days a week during the school year from 2:45 p.m.-6:30 p.m. A pick-up service is available for off-Island children and for those who, for whatever reason, cannot get to the school by themselves. The cost for a full year is $5,500. It is aimed at families where both parents are working full-time.
With the success and expansion of its programs, Island Kids was in need of full-time supervision and has hired a director, Julie Adegite, to provide daily, ongoing supervision.
Asked about problems faced by her programs, Leopold replied, “The biggest problem is that our space at 536 Main is subject to flooding every year or so. Apparently we are near the main sewer line that runs down Main Street and occasionally it backs up into our space. The cleanup afterwards and the replacement of the carpeting are difficult and expensive. To date, the city has not offered any solution as to how such flooding can be avoided in the future.”
Leopold had this to say about future plans: “We want to expand our after-school programs to benefit both the children and their working parents. We would also like to find additional sources of funding, which will allow us to serve more children and to increase the diversity of our enrollment. At the end of the summer, we will have a Tenth Anniversary Celebration for our summer camp and we are all excited to celebrate that day.”