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City cuts spare Queens Community House

Officials at Queens Community House said their Forest Hills-based nonprofit was spared cuts from the city that would have decimated programs and forced the group to curb services that benefit hundreds of youth throughout the borough.

The 2010 budget passed by the City Council in June includes restored funds to the Out of School Time Initiative, a city program that gives money to numerous youth activities at Queens Community House. The evening teen center and athletic, counseling and employment programs that serve about 600 individuals were at risk of losing much of their funding had the Council approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s original budget.

Queens Community House serves about 20,000 people annually in neighborhoods throughout the borough, including Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Astoria, Rego Park, Jamaica, Ozone Park, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Flushing and Kew Gardens.

“There would have been a serious void in young people’s lives if these cuts went through,” said Steve Pullano, director of teen outreach programs at Queens Community House.

The city may not funnel as much money to the programs as last year, but Pullano expects at least 80 percent of their programs to be funded — which would still mean the nonprofit would have to reduce the hours employees could provide services and the number of days the teen center operates may decrease.

“It’s so much stress on the staff, not knowing if they’ll be employed, if they need to look for jobs, what to tell the young people they’ve formed relationships with,” Pullano said.

The center is now open five days a week from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and provides space for activities like basketball and soccer tournaments or break dancing. The counseling program, which also could have sustained a serious blow, provides free services to about 50 individuals and 15 families. Officials in the athletic program organize programs like football events, skateboarding tournaments and a softball league. The employment program helped young people find jobs, write résumés and provided career readiness training and workshops.

Queens Community House officials had launched an intensive campaign to have their funding restored. They held a rally at JHS 190 in Forest Hills in March, and many employees and community members wrote numerous letters and made phone calls to representatives in government.

Their efforts paid off, and the state also restored funding for the Queens Community House. About $5 million proposed to be cut by Gov. David Paterson is instead now going to eviction prevention programs administered by city organizations, including the Forest Hills nonprofit.

Queens Community House’s program prevented more than 1,000 evictions annually and had been slated for elimination, said Christine Roland, director of the housing and homelessness prevention program.

“We met with legislators in Albany and informed them of what we do,” Roland said. “I would hope they remember next year what we told them so we don’t have to do this again. This year was really, really hard.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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