To the Editor:
On November 1 at or about 10:00 p.m., I had the most horrible conversation with the man in charge of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) and Beacon, Charlie Defino. He was walking down Main Street and so was I; we bumped into each other.
He went straight from a friendly greeting to: “They are trying to steal my money!” He named several residents that have worked with him in the past who now run nonprofit organizations and are providing alternatives for sports practice or a paid afterschool program, the Roosevelt Island Center for Community Development (RICCD) and Island Kids.
Charlie’s not only angry, he’s delusional, thinking that the money from the State to provide afterschool programs and youth programs is his and his only. It’s not his money! It’s the children’s money that is used to pay for these programs. Every child represents an amount for attending each program that has to be used for that purpose only.
When I asked him if he listens to the community, he got angrier and said that it’s the Youth Center space that’s the problem and the parents should have improved it years ago instead of telling him what their kids want.
When I asked him about the programs, he answered, “Every year we ask the community what they want and they do not know. I know demographics and I know what kids want,” he said. Well, I have never been asked what I want for my children, nor have I been invited to the Youth Center. On the contrary, I have felt uninvited by the young adults in the Youth Center, who go in and out to take smoke breaks.
So I asked why not more sports aimed for girls instead of only sports where girls are the minority. “Girls do not want to do sports,” he said, “I only have 10 in football and five in baseball. There are not enough and they do not want to participate.” So I proposed kickball and softball instead of baseball so girls can feel included. I let him know that in my daughter’s class at school, girls make the majority at 64%.
I told him that dancing is the only option we have for girls here. His answer: “Ballet is fun. They should do ballet (pointing towards the Cultural Center) and boys should do sports with me.”
Last year, my husband was a volunteer soccer coach for RIYP. He said there were many last-minute changes in the calendar as they cancelled several Saturday games, and there was a lack of referees for weekend games at times. Weekday practices were typically a match between two teams instead of a teaching opportunity.
That’s where I said good night rather than argue with a misogynist who thinks that girls belong in ballet and boys in sports, who speaks disparagingly about residents who point out areas of improvement and failures. This is the guy we have put “in charge of our RI kids!” Meanwhile, he just wants to deliver numbers rather than offer high-quality, equal-opportunity programming.
Just because he has been here forever, knows the regulations back and forth, is the cheapest one for bids, hires a really good person last-minute to make sure he wins the bid, gets every kid enrolled so he can deliver the numbers and get the grants, doesn’t mean that, throughout the semester, quality and consistency are maintained.
I hope a new organization wins the RIYP RFP and that RIOC pays attention to other things besides numbers, and actually listens to the actual parents of school-age kids here.
A new organization for the Beacon/Youth Center could do a better job and include our girls in sports programs where they do not need to “prove” that they deserve to play because it’s a traditional boys’ sport, where quality is maintained throughout the season, and more order and rules are applied to the Youth Center.
I hope that the group which wins the RFP can work with the group that does not win. We are stronger together.
Susy del Campo Perea