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SE Queens leaders rally for PAL

In southeast Queens, where the impact of the economic crisis has been hard felt, scores of Hollis residents rallied Sunday to save a community center that has been providing children with a safe haven for more than three decades.

The Foster Laurie Police Athletic League Center, which has run after−school activities for children from more than 100 families in the area, recently announced it would close the program at the end of March because of funding problems unless thousands of dollars could be obtained to keep it open.

Outside the center Sunday, a crowd of over 100 parents, elected officials and community activists issued a plea to the community and the PAL to prevent that from happening.

“This area has the second−longest commute in the city,” said state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D−Queens Village). “The PAL gives parents from this community a level of comfort. They sometimes don’t get home from work until 7, 8 o’clock. They depend on it.”

The PAL has been operating the Foster Laurie Center at 199−10 112th Ave. for more than 30 years, but like many organizations, it has been hammered by budget cuts. The group also lost a considerable amount of money to accused swindler Bernie Madoff, issues that have combined to set the stage for the potential closure of the Foster Laurie Center, according to City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D−St. Albans).

Felix Urrutia of the New York Police Athletic League confirmed that the after−school program would be suspended, and said if additional funding was not found they will not resign the lease on the building when it expires July 1. Urrutia said the decision to suspend the program was made because without funding the only way to keep it operating would be to charge parents, which goes against the organization’s mission.

We can’t run a program without money. We wouldn’t be doing this unless we were absolutely required to,” he said. “If a private funder or an elected official comes along and hands us a check, then we absolutely will stay open.”

Those who rallied outside the center praised the facility as a community icon.

“Centers like this keep the community alive,” said Cheryl Stanley, who attended the center as a child and now has a child who goes there.

Henry Foster, a community organizer, said the southeast Queens community can ill afford to lose another essential service after the closure of Mary Immaculate Hospital and the devastating effect the foreclosure crisis has had on the area.

“There is no reason for the kids in my community to be outsourced to other communities,” Foster said. “We need to be able to send our kids to a safe environment.

Clark said government funding for the site is not likely to be forthcoming in such a short period of time and she hoped private funders would step forward to help keep the center, which costs about $40,000 per month to run.

James Gouveia, the PTA president at PS 136 in St. Albans, whose children attend the facility on a regular basis, said a solution must be found and it must be found quickly.

“You want to tell a community, a community on the rise that has kids who are finally going to school with a purpose to better their lives, that they need to find someplace else to go?” he said. “Unacceptable, unacceptable.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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