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Harlem Community Center Frets Over Summer Camp Budget Cuts

 David Giordano shows off past art projects of students in his summer camp program, which is partly in limbo this year due to cuts. May 25, 2016.
David Giordano shows off past art projects of students in his summer camp program, which is partly in limbo this year due to cuts. May 25, 2016.
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Dartunorro Clark/DNAInfo

HARLEM – Usually at this time of year, the East Harlem Center is being prepared for the hundreds of kids who will spend the summer months there.

But recent grant cuts by the city for summer camps this year leave the program in doubt.

Director David Giordano said he’s been scrambling to figure out how to maintain the same levels of enrollment in the center, located at 130 E. 101st Street.

They have funding for 85 students for seven weeks from July to August, he said, but about 50 middle schoolers will likely be turned away “unless the mayor puts the money in,” Giordano said. 

“It is not like a lot of families outside of this community can afford sleep away camp,” he said.

Harlem is among communities hit the hardest by the cuts, according to local advocacy groups. Central Harlem will see 1,087 placement cuts and East Harlem will see 1,281, according to a report by the Campaign for Children and the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.

The East Harlem center operates under The Children’s Aid Society along with sites in Washington Heights and The Bronx, which amounts to about 400 slots likely to be cut out of roughly 31,000 citywide.

“Parents are unsure about whether they can afford the program with the delay (in funds),” Giordano said. “That also disrupts the continuity in care.”

Last year, he said, additional funding for more children was allocated by the City Council through discretionary funds by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who also represents the area, but this year he said he’s unsure if that same “gamble” will work a second time.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get it,” he said. “It’s going to be that one year where we don’t win.”

This past March, dozens of parents, students and City Council members rallied on the steps of City Hall against the budget cuts to summer camp programs.

The city planned to cut the summer camp slots in 2015, but some council members protested and the $28 million program was reinstated.

Mark-Viverito’s office said budget talks are currently on-going and the council has urged expanded youth opportunities in its preliminary response to the mayor’s budget.

Rosemary Boeglin, a city spokeswoman, said parents and service providers were given fair warning last May that the programs would not be funded in 2016. 

“As announced in May 2015, last year’s additional seats for summer programming were for one year only. We gave parents and providers a year’s notice to plan ahead for this summer," she said. 

Boeglin added that the city has also increased funding and opportunities for summer youth employment programs.

Giordano said he worries about where the additional children will go during the summer months and the mad rush to fill spots if funding is somehow allocated.

“Come June it’s going to be so hard to register kids in two weeks,” he said. “What will happen to those kids if you don’t keep them in camp?”