Community Boards

Think of the Children!

Board Irked by Hold on Funding

Although it’s generally agreed that Mayor Bloomberg is sincere in his desire to improve education and youth services in the city, his administration’s recent decision to forestall fundingnewyouth programs has frustrated downtown community members who take seriously the oft-mocked mantra “Think of the children!”

At its Jan. 20 public meeting, Community Board 1 members expressed outrage at the city’s decision to temporarily renege on its commitment to provide more funds for local community-based youth programs. Instead, many of these programs will remain unfunded for another year while the city engages in a citywide planning process to restructure after-school programs and other youth activities.

Although board members generally applauded the city’s effort at greater bureaucratic efficiency and improved youth services, many were dismayed by the immediate effect of the decision.

“This may be a wonderful new idea, but for the next 12 months it leaves Community Board 1 in the lurch,” said Paul Hovitz, chairman of the board’s youth and education committee.

According to Janice Molnar, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, the reorganization will ultimately unite bureaucratic divides in the funding stream for youth programs, which is currently handled by several municipal agencies in addition to her own department.

She told the board that the city’s new approach to youth services was a “major, major effort that shows we care about our young people.”

Nevertheless, board members expressed dismay at the peremptory nature of the decision to postpone signing new contracts.

“The delivery of services is paramount,” said Bob Townley, a board member and the executive director of Manhattan Youth, a nonprofit organization that runs recreation and cultural programs for middle- and high-school students in lower Manhattan.

In anticipation of increased funding from the city, Manhattan Youth continued its basketball league, karate program and teen clubhouse last year. Now, Mr. Townley told The Observer , he’s scrambling to figure out ways to raise the $55,000 needed to keep these programs going.

“We’ve had this problem of attracting funding for years,” he said. “It’s no secret that we have a smaller, more affluent community downtown, but there are hidden pockets of poverty that are not revealed by aggregate data. For example, people don’t know that 20 percent of Battery Park City is low-income.”

Although the city will continue to support several downtown youth programs, some of them are attached to citywide schools, such as Murray Bergtraum High School, that draw a large percentage of their student body from outside lower Manhattan.

“These programs may be well-deserving,” Mr. Hovitz told the board, “but they do not actually serve the community.”

Other programs, such as Futures and Options, offer internship placement and college and career-counseling services. According to Mr. Townley, Manhattan Youth is the only nonprofit, community-based organization offering recreation programs outside of the school system. Swimming lessons and martial-arts training, which most schools don’t offer, are some of its most popular programs. At the meeting, board members said that community-based organizations like Manhattan Youth foster a vital sense of cohesiveness among neighborhood youngsters and their families.

“These programs bring the community together, which is really important after 9/11,” said board member Catherine McVay Hughes, whose children participate in Manhattan Youth athletics.

This month, staffers at the Department of Youth and Community Development will begin meeting with members of all 59 community boards to discuss the city’s new approach to funding youth services and get local input. It will take another year before new contracts are offered, however. Until then, Mr. Townley and others will be working overtime to find alternative funding sources.

“We’ll figure out a way to keep going,” Mr. Townley told The Observer .

-Megan Costello

A Big Apple Finds Home

In the Big Apple

When designer Donna Karan’s husband, the sculptor Stephan Weiss, passed away in 2001, he left behind plans for a new sculpture. It fell to Ms. Karan and Mr. Weiss’ son Corey to complete the piece, the 6,000-pound bronze Apple , in a foundry last year.

Ms. Karan recently asked the Hudson River Park Trust to temporarily place Apple in the park, close to her husband’s studio. One possibility is the Jane Street Playground in Community Board 2′s district. The sculpture, which is nine feet tall and 10 feet wide, is one of Mr. Weiss’ four-part “Larger Than Life” series, which includes a horse, a high-heeled shoe and a roll of film. Mr. Weiss succumbed to a seven-year battle with cancer before completing the series. His final piece in the “Larger Than Life” group, Dressage Horse , was unveiled at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, N.Y., last August.

At the event, Ms. Karan told attendees: “Steve had a vision for each piece. The big apple, of course, was his tribute to New York City.”

Apple is currently housed at Mr. Weiss’ former studio on Charles and Greenwich streets, just a few blocks from the Jane Street playground.

“Donna always felt it belonged outside, and it was very much appropriate for a park,” said Patti Cohen, Ms. Karan’s spokeswoman, to The Observer . “She and Stephan always [envisioned] children around it.”

Though the planned gift is still under discussion, Ms. Karan’s intention is to lend Apple to the Hudson River Park Trust, a city/state partnership that has been overseeing the completion of the 540-acre Hudson River Park along Manhattan’s West Side. The donation would be made through the Karan Weiss Foundation.

The Jane Street playground is part of the park’s Greenwich Village segment, which opened in May 2003 and includes nine and a half acres of dry land and three piers stretching from Christopher to Jane streets.

-Petra Bartosiewicz

Feb. 3: Board 7, 120 West 106th Street, 7 p.m., 212-362-4008.