This month, the Community Organization for Parents and Youth, Inc., or COPAY – non-profit agency has a long history of working with immigrants on a range of medical and social issues – got the news that their summer program for local kids who are in at-risk families is being cut more than 50 percent by Nassau County.
As someone familiar with the organization’s work, I know that it is an important provider of counseling and mental health services on the North Shore of Nassau County. Its dedicated staff of social workers, psychologists, physicians, registered nurses, counselors, and educators serve people living in the Great Neck area regardless of their ability to pay. The people COPAY helps include recovering alcoholics, kids with developmental disabilities, and people learning to live with the diagnosis of being HIV positive. It is one of the few mental health clinics on Long Island that is fully bilingual.
After hearing about the cuts, I spoke with Maria Elisa Cuadra, the organization’s executive director, and she told me about the programs that will be affected:
“As they are with us over the years, we train them for leadership in the program,” she said. “When they reach their teens, they help run the program with our professional staff. They learn to mentor the younger children. They get training, a feeling of accomplishment, and eventually, a paying summer job.”
Children develop a sense of ownership during their decade with the program, according to Cuadra.
“It’s a great model for gang prevention because it gives them a place where they feel they belong,” she said.
Kids Helping Kids also ties young people who might feel alienated from the adult world into their broader community.
“We have a partnership with the local senior center in Great Neck,” Cuadra said. “The seniors have our children over for lunch and then, old and young, they work together on projects. You might see a little boy whose parents came from Mexico working with an elderly Holocaust survivor. They all love it.”
When COPAY learned that they were being cut, the organization had already promised summer jobs to four teenagers. The teens were longtime volunteers and this was going to be their first opportunity to get a paycheck for their work.
“The kids were very upset,” Cuadra told me. As parents learned that the summer program might be cut, “one mother started to cry” while talking on the phone with Maria. The mother had no idea what to do with her two children over the summer. “These are children with special needs,” Maria added.
The cuts to COPAY are part of a larger series of cuts to Nassau County agencies working with young people.
In the past, this kind of budget slashing had been carried out across the board, but now, some believe, they are being concentrated on certain agencies. Two agencies saw all of their county funding cut, while others received relatively small reductions. According to the Nassau Youth Board Coalition, more than 80 percent of the cuts have been to agencies located in legislative districts represented by a Democrat.
Maria Cuadra says that in the past, both Democrats and Republicans have not taken politics into account in funding services for vulnerable young people.
The children served by these programs sometimes come from families where parents have mental health issues or substance abuse problems. All of the children have some form of special needs.
Cuadra believes that no community should be left without services for children because of the party of its legislator. But, in this case, it appears that politics has played a role.
The Nassau Youth Board Coalition is fighting the cuts. They ask you to call your county legislator and call the office of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano to demand that cuts be restored, or if budget cuts are unavoidable, that they should be made across the board.
Click here to find your Nassau County legislator. To reach the office of County Executive Mangano, call 516-571-3131.
Until the county changes its policy, Cuadra says, “We’re all hanging in the air.”
Image courtesy of NoHoDamon via Flickr.