The UNH Blog

The Best Advocates for Children are Children!

Thursday, May 10, 2012
We all know the numbers: The Mayor is denying 47,000 children their after-school and child care programs this year. Working families will be forced to turn to poor alternatives for child care, or quit their jobs all together. Their kids will lose the enriching programs that keep them productive, active, social, and creative after the school day ends. They will lose the second home and sense of stability they have found through their counselors and friends. I called these cuts disgraceful, because simply put, they are.

While the scale of these cuts is unlike anything we have seen before, the community rallies and marches to protest the Mayor's budget are also taking place on a scale we haven't seen before. It is an uplifting and inspiring response, and reminds me of the strength of the settlement house leaders, staff, and participants. The events that have taken place since the launch of the Campaign for Children in March have been well attended by elected officials, program staff, and parents. But most strikingly, there has been an outpouring of participation by children and youth. 


These events culminated Wednesday in what has been the most coordinated City-wide activity to date: over 50 program cites in the UNH network across the City participated in "Lights Off After-School". During their regular after-school hours, children marched to demonstrated their personal feelings about the cuts. These fearless youth and child advocates held handmade signs and chanted. Throughout the Campaign, they have also shared their talents with performances, and their stories with personal testimony.

As we all fight against the proposed budget cuts through meetings with policy makers, call-in days, and letter-signing, we must give credit to the children and young people who have emerged as our most effective advocates. They have been a part of the Campaign since it started, and we thank them for sharing their time, their spirit, and their stories with the Campaign for Children. 
As someone who has been doing this work for a long time, I am personally inspired and motivated by them.  

See photos and read about kids in action from UNH members CAMBA, Henry Street Settlement, and New Settlement Apartments. In the end, it is the next generation that will save this one. 

Credits: Photos 1 & 2: Kate Shaffer

Why is New York a Great City?

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Why is New York a great City? 

Because we are a diverse combination of nationalities, ethnicities, income groups, and occupations.  Former Mayor Dinkins called us a mosaic, others call us a stewpot or a curry pot.  We depend on each other, we take care of each other, sometimes we really irritate each other. 

While the rest of the country knows us as the financial, restaurant, media and nightlife capital of the world, we are also cab drivers, home health attendants, restaurant and hotel workers, and security guards.  People who also work hard, but in less glitzy settings, essentially making it possible for other New Yorkers to live as well as they do.   
With his Executive Budget, announced today, Mayor Bloomberg is turning his back on these less visible “other New Yorkers”, thousands of working families and their children.  By slashing after-school funding, over half of the current City-subsidized programs for school-age children will close.  These programs will not just reduce the number of kids they serve… THEY WILL CLOSE.  Low and moderate income parents will completely lose the supportive programs that allow them to work.  When these cuts are implemented, we as a City will lose more than thousands of afterschool slots and nonprofit jobs.  In fact, it will be a far greater loss.  We will lose the interdependence and the spirit of common enterprise and mutuality that are New York City. 

Read UNH's official statement here. 


Friday, April 27, 2012

The City Department of Youth and Community Development released award letters to nonprofits for the Out of School Time (OST) after-school program on Tuesday afternoon. Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of UNH, shares her response to the disheartening news.

I was tossing and turning last night, searching for the word that best describes my feelings about the City administration’s action to eliminate over one-half of the afterschool programs in the City now serving low and moderate income families.  I thought of all the “D” words usually found in the advocate’s arsenal: 

Disappointing:  too weak

Disgusting:  we’re not talking about creepy crawling things here, it’s about children

Discouraging:  yes indeed, but that doesn’t get at the anger.

Disturbing:  very, but too vague.

Then, this morning, it finally came to me:  DISGRACEFUL

It is absolutely disgraceful that in the richest City in the country, perhaps the world, the Mayor cannot find a way to fund afterschool programs for school age children with working parents.  These programs are not being eliminated because of performance deficiencies.  They are being closed because they clearly did not rise to the top of the City’s funding priority list. Twenty-five thousand children -- 50% of the current number -- will lose these programs when the Mayor’s plan is implemented this fall.  In the UNH network of agencies alone, 44 programs will be eliminated, now serving approximately 6,000 children.  There are no other affordable ways for these parents to find care.  Their children will not find the homework help and academic enrichment that will allow them to succeed in school, putatively one of the Mayor’s highest priorities?  What are these children going to do after school without structured programming?

Yes I am disappointed, disgusted, discouraged and disturbed.  But shame on all of us, including our City leaders, if we allow this plan to go forward.  It is nothing short of disgraceful.

Short-sighted and Wrong-headed Policymaking

Thursday, April 19, 2012

After all my years in this business, you would think that I would have become inured to - or just simply beaten down by - misguided policy decisions.  But, no.  This week, UNH issued a new report, “Off Target:  How Cuts to Child Care and After-School Leave Out Public Housing Communities” (download here), which documents the impact of recent City administration policy decisions on public housing developments.  The flawed policy which focuses cuts to child care and after-school programs in “non-targeted” zip codes, where the City claims there is less need for programs because of the wealthy residents,  would devastate more than 77,000 low-income New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents that live in pockets of poverty in these neighborhoods.

NYCHA is one of the most important resources for low-income people in New York City today.  In fact, very soon it will be pretty much the only affordable housing available to low and moderate income people, as neighborhoods throughout the City gentrify and the cost of rental housing continues to skyrocket.  I have a warm place in my heart for NYCHA.  One of my favorite jobs as a young college graduate was at NYCHA’s East River Houses, l06 Street and the East River, where I worked as a Housing Assistant in the l970s.  It gave me great respect for NYCHA’s mission and the people who work there.  Many UNH member agencies operate day care centers, senior centers and after-school programs in NYCHA developments, and do a great job of providing safe and supportive places for families, kids and older adults.  We are part of the reason NYCHA housing remains stable and desirable.  Yet, recent decisions by the Administration for Childrens Services (ACS) regarding allocation of scarce money for child care and by the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) regarding funding for afterschool programs will mean that many public housing communities will lose these essential services.  Short-sighted and wrong-headed policymaking, I think.

Read recent coverage on this issue by NY Daily News and WNYC.

The Messages of Passover Resonate

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Although I am not an observant Jew, I never fail to be moved by the messages of Passover, a holiday that started Friday April 6.  In fact, it’s my favorite holiday, secular or religious, perhaps because the universality of the messages about liberation and social justice allow me to find congruence between my cultural/religious life and my professional life and beliefs.  I enjoy participating in the Passover Seder (which means “order”in Hebrew) and reading at the Seder from the Haggadah (which means “the telling”) each year because it is the only religious holiday I know that focuses on the importance of liberation from oppression.  Not just for Jews (at least in the contemporary Haggadah that we use) but for all people.  And we are asked to think about what oppression exists in our modern times, not just in ancient Egypt, and what each of us as individuals can do to create freedom from oppression, for ourselves, yes, but even more importantly, for others.  The Passover message also asks participants to welcome strangers into our homes and to our tables.  For me, who has worked for so many years to find a better way to help homeless people, this has particular resonance.   UNH’s focus on helping those in need, including immigrants, low-income people, homeless people, those who are frail or ill, feels like an extension of the core Passover values.  And I don’t mind the matzo ball soup either!

What Makes for a Healthy Community?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lately, I‘ve been thinking a lot about UNH’s work in promoting “healthy communities”. But, what really defines a healthy community?  Because UNH and our members, which are settlement houses and community centers across NYC, operate primarily in what is called either the human services or social services sector, we tend to name services like child care, after-school programs, and senior centers as essential components of healthy communities. UNH also heavily focuses its advocacy efforts on these types of services, reinforcing this idea.

But, when I think of what makes the community in which I live a stable and healthy one, I begin thinking beyond the critical human services that our members provide. I also think about being close to a safe and well-maintained park (in my case, Riverside Park in Manhattan); a reliable subway line; street lights that work; a building in which the elevator and intercom function; health care institutions that are nearby and of high quality.  The presence of these sorts of community assets is vital, not just for a middle class community like mine, but for every community in our city. It’s time for “human services” advocates like ourselves to begin thinking about what we do in a more expansive and inclusive way.  Yes, we absolutely need services that address the unique needs of people in need or who have been left out and left behind, such as the domestic violence support that Arab-American Family Support Center offers or the new  innovative senior centers  at BronxWorks and Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.  However, we also need a certain basic level of community service for the well-being of all the humans in our city! 

A healthy community is built on many moving parts. The human services that UNH and our members advocate for and provide are essential in creating engaged  community residents, educating children outside of the school day, promoting mental health among senior residents, and much more. However, without resources like safe streets and homes, accessible health care, or clean green spaces, the people we serve cannot thrive to their fullest potential when they leave the doors of our member agencies.

I submit that housing, health care, parks, and schools are as critical as any other human service if we want to create stable communities and a healthy City.   It’s time to include the broader context and redefine what essential “human services” really are! 

Enough! Why am I still fighting the same battles after all these years?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The other night at a fundraiser, I ran into one of my former colleagues from the Mayoral administration of David Dinkins who I hadn’t seen for a while.  Naturally he asked me what I was up to and what I was working on, and I saw the disbelief in his eyes when I said that I and UNH were busy fighting for… yes!… funding for child care and after-school programs.  Yet again.  Twenty years after we thought that battle had been won. The absurdity of my answer was not lost on him, nor was it lost on me.  Really, haven’t we figured out as a society and a City that supporting low-income working families and supporting children's educational success are two rock-solid goals that are worth our investment?   Must we really keep fighting these battles over and over again?  I'm talking apple pie, mother, child care, and after-school.  We are not talking abortion or gay marriage here.  There actually is solid bi-partisan consensus in our society and lots of research that shows that early childhood education supports school success and after-school programs reinforce school-day lessons… not to mention saving taxpayer dollars in the long term.  So where is the stable funding to reflect that this really is a priority?  Enough already.    

Nancy Wackstein is the Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses.