Mere hours after University Settlement's after-school kids, staff and parents rallied at City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council announced that they would restore funding for free middle-school summer camp that had previously been cut from the budget.
Earlier this year, the administration had promised School's Out NYC (SONYC) after-school sites - including several at University Settlement - funding to provide free summer camp. After starting to enroll young people and make plans for the exciting activities we'd offer, we received the shocking news two weeks ago that the funding was no longer available. The Mayor's promise to 40,000 low-income middle school kids - more than 600 here at University Settlement alone - was broken, and we were stunned.
At University Settlement, we believe that summer camp is an essential, vital resource that all families need access to; it not only provides children with a safe, nurturing environment to learn and grow, but also enables working parents to continue providing for their families with the peace of mind that their children are being taken care of. For low-income families, the blow would have been devastating; losing summer camp is a crisis, not a luxury problem.
In the immediate aftermath, more than 400 staff members made phone calls to 311 insisting on the restoration of funds for summer camp. We contacted more than 13,000 of our friends - donors, volunteers, and newsletter subscribers of ours, and of our partner organizations' - to urge them to call 311 and to sign an online petition demanding the return of summer camp funds. Yesterday, we joined forces with representatives from the United Neighborhood Houses of New York and from the Campaign for Children at City Hall, rallying together while the Council and Mayor met to discuss the budget. We were fortunate enough to have the support of Council Members Dan Garodnick, David Greenfield, Mathieu Eugene, Carlos Menchaca and Ydanis Rodriguez. A short video of Council Member Mathieu Eugene's speech at the rally can be viewed below:
Our efforts - our rally, your calls, your signatures - worked.
Last night, we received the exciting news from the administration that the funds would be restored and that we could resume planning and enrolling for our summer camps. We're both relieved at the news, and thrilled by the overwhelming support we received from those who attended the rally, made calls, and signed petitions to bring summer camp back.
Our Senior Program Director for After-School in Manhattan, Monique Flores, shared her thoughts on this amazing event:
"Today was a true testament of University Settlement's heart and soul - and the values that we hold dear. Those values - including integrity, standing up for what is right and defending our communities - were so EVIDENT today in coming together to fight for our families and children to have a safe and enriching place, a place where they are nurtured by caring staff who truly want to make this a better world and transform community. It was a collective manifestation of love for what we do day in and day out. Our purpose is to serve others and to fight for it no matter what the challenge may be!"
We thank all of those who helped fight with US, and we look forward to sharing stories and news about our summer camp programs in the weeks to come!
We've shared several photos of the rally on our Facebook page; more can be found on the United Neighborhood Houses of New York's page. The rally and subsequent restoration of funding was covered in both the New York Times and in Capital New York.