No bad rap here as community center saves summer

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School is out, summer is here. And now 34,000 New York City middle schoolers have nothing but free time. 

The people at Kingsbridge Heights Community Center wants youngsters to use that free time wisely, putting its Summer Saves campaign into full swing. First, however, they’re hoping Mayor Bill de Blasio and the community as a whole will open their pockets to help cover the costs for as many middle-schoolers as the program can accommodate. 

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” Derwin Greene, the college counselor at the Kingsbridge Terrace community center, quoted from the Bible’s book of Proverbs. “During the summer, there is more gang violence and kids are being initiated. There is definitely more high-risk behavior when parents are at work and kids have an open home.”

It is no myth that shootings also increase during the hot summer months across the United States. More than 40 people are killed daily on average in the summer nationwide, twice as many than in the winter, according to Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive. 

“Some kids are just not aggressive and want to be safe, and this program allows that opportunity,” Greene said. “Through this program we’re trying to help prevent the way New York City was in the ‘80s and ‘90s.” 

For the past couple of months, KHCC has tweeted and called de Blasio and other local officials asking for help, using the hashtag ”SaveSummer” to raise awareness of the dangers of being idle during the school break. 

“The mayor says he wants a program where students are engaged during the school year, but then in the summertime there’s nothing,” Greene said. “Why are we picking and choosing when we’re providing such vital services? So what we’re basically saying is, ‘September to June we got you, but July through August, you’re on your own?’ 

“For some families who live in high-risk neighborhoods, programs like these are all they have.”

But it’s not just guns and gangs. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the time they hit 18, and 93 percent of perpetrators are people the victims already know.

“So it’s easy to leave them home because it’s cheaper,” Greene said, “but sometimes kids are left alone with someone they don’t really like or aren’t safe.”

KHCC’s program runs from July to mid-August allowing participants the opportunity to participate in swimming, dance, gardening and robotics, among other things. 

The camps cost just under $2,400, allowing them to travel all over the city during to break the “block radius cycle” some youngsters may experience otherwise.

“You may have kids that have never left their neighborhood and going downtown can give them anxiety,” Greene said. “Those kids need to widen their environment because the world is bigger than Kingsbridge or the South Bronx, so we try to bring them to different places so they can begin to imagine themselves outside of their neighborhood.”

The way the program is set up, Mondays and Fridays are the only days students are kept indoors. Tuesday through Thursday includes some new adventure, typically teaching skills like leadership, community service and mentorship. The program focuses specifically on middle-schoolers because they’re stuck in that awkward period between childhood and being a teenager — and sometimes, Greene said, get overlooked. 

“That’s why we’re trying to secure summer funding,” he said. “They’re not really elementary age so they don’t need to be watched constantly. Sometimes kids make poor choices because it seems cool.”

The major goal is to keep kids safe while exposing them to new relationships and surroundings.

“I hope that they obviously have fun,” Greene said. “But when they look back, they see that they tried something new or learned something new about themselves.”

For more information on the program, visit KHCC-NYC.org.