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YMCA child program in Bayside was important

TimesLedger Newspapers

June 22 was a sad day in Bayside. It was almost 19 years to the day that I first entered the little blue building that housed the Bayside YMCA Early Childhood Center with my newborn son and his 2-year-old brother.

Both boys attended preschool in that building, every inch of space maximized by moving walls and multi-purpose classrooms bursting with energy, love and enthusiasm by staff dedicated to the kids — from the directors down to the custodian who assembled and broke down the indoor play area and maintained the jungle gym and outdoor playground.

My sons were later walked to school at PS 41 every morning, allowing my husband and I to get to work on time. They participated in the after-school program until they graduated from PS 41, but still attended day camp at the Bayside YMCA every summer. The younger volunteered there three years ago to meet his community service requirement for high school.

I never thought too long about where my daughter would go to pre-kindergarten, though by 2006 the toddler programs had been eliminated. I had resigned from the Parent Advisory Board, disenchanted with overseeing Flushing YMCA’s politics and the failure to do what I, as a member of the board, expected: Keep parents informed and involved in decisions about staff changes and programmatic developments.

But the Bayside YMCA preschool thrived, with the same cadre of dedicated teachers planting gardens; raising butterflies; hatching chicks; teaching letters, colors and numbers; singing songs; and going on field trips. The Bayside after-school program sponsored dances, Thanksgiving feasts, holiday parties and twice-yearly shows showing off the kids’ theater and dance skills.

In August 2010, parents abruptly received a phone call a week before school began to inform us the pre-school program was closing and the Walk to School program had been eliminated. We scrambled to find alternative childcare with almost no notice. The after-school program, now housed only in PS 41, struggled on, with no space to prepare feasts, hold holiday and day camp, have overnight sleepovers and dances and come together as the community we were. That space was leased to a church which, ironically, ran its own pre-school and gave music and art lessons.

By 2012, with the building abandoned, the Bayside YMCA sign torn down, rusting in tall weeds covering the playground, fences collapsing into neighboring yards, toys and cabinets that once held books sitting out in the backyard, Michelle Caban and her staff did their best against all odds.

Sari Latto, principal of PS 41, knew what was coming — as did most of the parents. When a new nonprofit offered to take over the after-school program, she jumped at the chance, even though the services do not guarantee a space for all the parents that need childcare.

An impersonal, “blame someone else, not me” letter from William Nelson, executive director of the Flushing YMCA, was soon followed by a spam e-mail offering our kids the opportunity to be bused to the Flushing programs. He declined my invitation to come to the final end-of-year show to support his loyal staff, citing the need to be at an important meeting downtown.

Our meeting went on without him. We cried at the images on the DVD of our children over the years, with the counselors and staff inside the bright, cheerful building. The kids performed their song and dance routines and we cried some more, took pictures, hugged, comforted each other and tried to explain to the kids why a ramshackle building is now a grave marker.

Every kid deserves a Y? Not if you live in Bayside.

Carole Ann Moleti

Bayside

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