Oct. 6, 2012 By Viola Gad
When Mark Wilensky sat in L/CP Thomas P Noonan Park in the summer of 2009, he saw hundreds of children crammed on to the basketball courts. He asked his friend what these kids do come winter. When he got the answer: “Nothing,” he decided something had to change.
Already involved in several local organizations, Wilensky, a long-time Sunnysider, soon discovered that many residents shared his concern. In 2010, he joined forces with other members of the community and formed The Boys and Girls Club of Sunnyside and Woodside.
In 2011, the club launched a Friday evening recreational program; that summer, it began sending children to a summer camp in Astoria.
However, on Monday October 1st, the club reached a significant milestone. It opened its 5-day a week program that provides homework help – and activities such as acting and basketball. About 20 showed up for the first session—short of the ideal number of between 20 to 50 students, said Kenny Medrano, 26, who’s leading the program.
The program serves kids in grades 5 through 10, with sessions held every weekday at PS 199 between 6 and 9 p.m. The club is also providing a program at St. Teresa’s on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 3 and 6 p.m. The total annual cost is $25 per child.
Medrano has put together a team of four instructors who will work with the children throughout the year. Every session will start off with a so-called “Power hour” of homework help, which will be followed by an activity that changes daily. So far the curriculum includes basketball, acting, art and music.
The program has been launched at a time when many after-school programs in the neighborhood are being cut or pared back. Many private after-school programs have been closed, and public schools programs are suffering due to budget cuts.
The after-school program at PS150 no longer serves 6 graders, after doing so for many years, said Monica Guzman, a director at the Sunnyside Community Services, which runs the program. There have also been state-funding cuts, Guzman said, that has reduced the number of students that SCS can serve at PS150 and PS199. There are wait lists.
Meanwhile, at IS 125, there are about 100 students on the after-school wait list, said Heather Strafer, parent coordinator at IS 125.
Private after-school activities that were run by the Catholic schools have been shut, leaving parents with few alternatives.
The cutbacks had left Maritza Marrero’s 10-year-old daughter Jessica with little to do. However, Jessica is joining the program.
“She gets bored and she wants to go out, but I work late nights and can’t take her,” said Marrero, who works the 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at the Foodtown on Greenpoint Avenue.
“I want to go everyday if I can,” Jessica said.
The program has received some help from local representatives and businesses. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, over the course of the past two years, has allocated $10,000 of city funds toward the program, while local business owners have also contributed, said Vincent Renda, president of the club’s board.
The program is also expecting to receive an annual sum of $25,000 from The Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
While many parents are excited by the club, some are worried that the word hasn’t got out fast enough about what the club is doing.
Eric Arias, 17, a student at Aviation High School, has recruited friends and their siblings to the program. He was disappointed that it hadn’t been better advertised in his school.
”My friends would probably be interested if there were registration forms,” he said.
Wilensky, however, is not worried about increasing the program’s visibility.
“It might start slow, but then the kids will tell other kids,” he said. “I mean it’s $25 a school year. Where else can you get that?”