In the Central Bronx, on nearly every street corner, large groups of youths can be seen and heard talking loudly, gambling, drinking, smoking, arguing and starting trouble. Starting from late afternoon throughout the night on weekdays and weekends, young men and women take to the violent, drug infested streets to pass the time.
At the Frederick Samuels Community Center, the sound of children screaming at the top of their lungs can be heard in the large hard wood gymnasium.
A father and single parent sits quietly on a black chair. An aged leather coat rests behind his seat and his brown wool hat is still on his head; Samuel Hughes watches enthusiastically as his 12-year-old son kicks and punches with accuracy and power. And with every kick, every push up and shout, the father’s smile widens more as he gazes at his proud son.
There is a question, which some parents, teachers and other concerned individuals ask about youths on the streets of the Bronx. Where do the youths go to get off the streets? “There’s a lot of young men out here going to jail, smoking weed and joining gangs because they have no place else to go,” said Samuel Hughes. “The only place they can go is the park and there is no one to watch them, to tell them what’s right and wrong.”
There are a number of centers in the Bronx that offer recreation programs in a variety of areas—defense classes, painting and drawing, swimming, dance, self-empowerment, and career training. But many wonder if there are so many programs, why don’t they know about them? “The only programs I’ve heard about in the neighborhood are the programs in my son’s school, so I’m assuming there are other programs in some of the other public schools,” says Hughes.
Walking into the small after school office of P.S. 42, one immediately sees the bright sky blue walls. Piles of papers are organized on a large rectangular table in front of the small desk where the director sits. Grace Garcia, dressed in a light yellow blouse, gives a warm smile when speaking about the children of the Scan after-school program.
“It’s very important that the children get the benefits of being in an after school program,” says Garcia. “The parents like to look at the program like a day care center for their kids while they finish work, but we look at the program as a place of development to push them in the right direction.”
Garcia has worked with children for over a decade and several years as program director for the Scan after-school program in P.S. 42. As director, she has worked diligently with parents, teachers, staff as well as the students to ensure that the children get all they need while under their watch.
The after-school program oversees some 250 students per year, though Garcia believes more students could participate. “A number of times I have requested from my superiors and the DYCD to provide more space in order to allow more children, but have been turned down,” says Garcia, who also has the misfortune of telling more than 100 students and parents that there is no more space for the youths.
With no more space available for the number of children who didn’t sign up early for after-school, they have to wait almost a year before having another opportunity to apply. The parents also face the struggle of finding other means for after-school outlets while they’re finishing up at work.
Other after-school outlets such as St. Mary’s Recreation Center also offer outlets for children. However, in a New York Times article, journalist Javier C. Hernandez reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed to increase the fees of recreation centers throughout the city. While these programs would still be free to children under the ages of 17-years old, the older youths 18-years and up would have to pay $100 to $150 per month, depending on what the recreational center offers. C.J. Hines, 32, a member of St. Mary’s Recreation Center told the Times that if prices increased further he would go to a private gym. The problem is most youths in the neighborhood can’t afford to do that either.
Unfortunately, says Garcia, some parents leave the decisions of where their children spend their time to the children. Parents do not seem to be properly informed about other programs outside of the school environment.
“Every start of the school year for the first two weeks, we post a number of fliers, posters as well as send letters home to the students to let the parents know of the programs offered and the importance of participation,” says Garcia who added, “The unfortunate thing about the children, when looking at the various programs for them, whether they are recreational or academic, is that as you get older these programs become more and more scarce.”
The activity in and outside of the office was obvious as children and staff walked in acknowledging the soft-spoken director with, “Good afternoon Mrs. Garcia, how was your day,” and happily awaiting a response and word on the plans for the evening.
The various after-school and recreational programs available in the Central Bronx area are open to youths at many age levels, but some parents, public school faculty and teachers as well as neighborhood teens wonder where the programs are if they exist. Research in the Department of Youth and Community Development or the DYCD website revealed there are quite a few programs open to many age groups.
So, is the issue at hand, not the lack of programs for children and adolescents, but the lack of communication among these individual programs?
“I think the big problem with after school programs in public schools is that there are no after-school outlets for the older kids, especially the ones no longer attending school for whatever reason,” said Vindenjea Samuel, Site Director for the after-school program at middle school 147.
“These programs aren’t designed for those who have stopped going to school, so what are they to do. They’re not allowed to participate in our programs unless enrolled in school, so they have to go to other facilities.” Many of the programs such as the after-school program SCAN receive funding through the DYCD.
However, other privately owned children’s facilities receive funding through donations, grants and fundraisers. “Programs in public schools often receive more money in grants and donations then private organizations, and not only that but we have a bit more security than private programs as far as financial cutbacks,” said Samuel.
Attempts were made to get in touch with the smaller private after-school programs as well as various members of city recreational parks and facilities—staff, coordinators, directors and assistants, but none returned emails or calls.
Some parents wonder, if many of these programs cater to the young children, how do the older teens take advantage of the same opportunities? A mother of three young boys and a teenage girl said, “It easy for my young ones to get into their school programs and the teachers talk about them like they’re mandatory.”
But mentioning how her eighteen-year-old daughter doesn’t go to school, a saddened look had fallen upon her face. She seemed to lose her breath when speaking about the time her daughter spends at home or hanging out with other friends in the same predicament.
On the corner of 175th Street and Monroe Avenue at 9 o’clock in the evening, male teens between the ages of 15 to 19 years of age as well as young girls and older men gather in front of the local Chinese restaurant. On this corner, the lights of the fast food joint, as well as the lamps that hang from the corner of the apartment buildings across the street are all that illuminates the dark block.
“I had it rough coming up around here,” said Carlyle Grimes, an 18-year-old male who has lived in the neighborhood his whole life with his mother.
“My father was never around and there was nowhere for me to go chill other than the streets, so the streets is where I go.” The teen claims there were no programs available for him, as he grew besides the ones available to do homework and review for exams.
There are close to 10 recreation programs in the Central Bronx area, however only about six are in the immediate area and about three depend on the age of the youth.
“The programs that help us do work are cool, but what about sports or just a hangout spot where we don’t have to be on the streets,” said Grimes. Grimes believed school wasn’t for him, and no with no proper guidance or outlets to provide a more positive way of thinking; he dropped out at the age 16.
“My mom and I always argued about me leaving school, but I told her it wasn’t for me, school was just too boring,” says Grimes. “And since the after-school programs mainly focus on more school work, I didn’t go to them.”
The many programs offered in the public schools are heavily based around academics, but not some youths look for more to occupy their time. “If we could make our own recreational spot in the neighborhood, I would have a big lounge are with a bunch of couches, tables, candy machines, music and a television,” said Tamara Watson, a 17-year-old from the neighborhood.
Another teen and passionate player of basketball, Omar Larmont said, “The recreational center should definitely have a basketball court and stay open later. Can you imagine the number of guys who would stop hanging on the block if we could just play ball at night?”