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Forest Hills Students Rally to Support After-School Programs

By Nigel Chiwaya | October 19, 2012 10:18am

FOREST HILLS — Hundreds of Forest Hills school children showed their support for after-school programs on Oct. 18, marching down Austin street in the thirteenth annual 'Lights on After-School' rally.

Waving signs, students participated in the nationwide after-school support rally by holding a silent march from Austin Street and 71st Avenue to JHS 190 Russell Sage, where they shouted chants of "lights on" and listened to speeches from local politicians.

Patrick Pinchinat, the director of the Forest Hills Beacon, an enrichment program that serves over 1,000 children, said that the purpose of the rally was to maintain awareness about the importance of after-school programs.

"There's so many different things that young people learn in after-school programs. We're here to highlight that and promote that," said Pinchinant, who fought to keep the Forest Hills Beacon program open earlier in the year.

"The city has been stating that it's in a budget crunch for the last several years now, but we just hope it's not balanced on the backs of our children."

The Forest Hills Beacon was one of seven beacon programs citywide that faced closure in July after Mayor Michael Bloomberg removed funding for it in his annual budget. After fierce opposition to the de-funding, the Beacons were spared just four days before they would have shut down.

One of the speakers at the rally, City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, said that she refused to vote on the mayor's budget last June until funding for the Forest Hills Beacon was restored. Koslowitz said that she herself benefited from after-school programs when her daughters were growing up.

"If it weren't for after-school programs, I wouldn't have been able to work, because my children would have no place to go," Koslowitz said. "These are things you never forget."

One of the Beacon students, Miriam Fink, 11, was thankful for all of the support her program was receiving.

"Beacon's a really good influence," said Fink, who enjoys playing basketball after school.

Miriam's father, Warren Fink, 55, had similar sentiments. "I have to work during the day," said Finka single-father. "If it weren't for the after-school, I'd have to leave work, pick her up and take her to my office."

To Fink, a real estate broker, the idea of closing a Beacon program made little sense. "They shouldn't be closing after-school programs; they should be opening more."