Victim of Race and Class Wars Tearing at Our Fabric

RI Youth Program Shuts Down in a Win for RIOC While the Community Loses

Updated 2 weeks ago David Stone
RIYP supporters fill one side of the room to SRO before the March 1st RIOC Board Meeting. Island Kids brought less than a half-dozen supporters across the aisle.
RIYP supporters fill one side of the room to SRO before the March 1st RIOC Board Meeting. Island Kids brought less than a half-dozen supporters across the aisle.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A two-year, take no prisoners campaign to wrest control of the Roosevelt Island Youth Center from Charlie DeFino and the Youth Program that ran it for 40 years ended abruptly yesterday with a win for RIOC and a coalition representing a small minority of residents along with powerful non-residents.

"We'll shut it down tomorrow," Charlie DeFino told me, hours before a RIOC Board Meeting that would effectively crush his Roosevelt Island Youth Program into non-existence.

DeFino, after devoting three decades to local kids through the Youth Program, 22 years of it spent as Executive Director, suffered the last several weeks forced to defend himself against charges as ridiculous as "whistling at women on Main Street."

DeFino, just for the record, like me, can't whistle.

"Can you believe it? The racists are calling me a racist," he added after reading a summary of the charges against him.

To defy that notion, all one had to do is watch the parade of people of color who stepped up to praise the man, some even begging RIOC not to do what it'd been trying to do for two years.

"The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) will operate an interim after-school drop-in program beginning Monday afternoon at the island’s 7,000 square-foot youth center building at 506 Main Street," read a late Friday afternoon press release from Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson.

After killing off any hope of survival for the Youth Program less than 24-hours earlier, the State agency, commandeered at a distance by Governor Andrew Cuomo, retained its traditional inability to accept responsibility for its actions.

Mastering the art of political spin, the press release continued, "The action comes after the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) - former operators of the center - informed RIOC officials on Friday that they would be ceasing all business operations by the end of the day, Friday March 2."

Get it? Oops! Not our fault. They quit. Forget for now that we have their head firmly under our heels.

An observer who hadn't watched RIOC's miserable evisceration of Charlie DeFino and RIYP might believe that, after four decades of service to Roosevelt Island, they decided to close up shop for no apparent reason.

As more information becomes available, we will report in detail on the campaign that led to RIOC's temporary takeover of the Youth Center.

For now, RIOC says, "The drop-in program will be open Monday through Friday and provide afterschool care from 2:45 p.m. - 6 p.m. and serve children in grades 2 – 8." (Misspelling of "after school" is theirs, which does not bode well for a program supposedly dedicated to educational advancement.)

“We wanted to make sure that the center is open for the children while RIOC decides the future plans for the youth center,” according to RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal, a Cuomo appointee who does not live here.

"The program will be managed by former RIYP Director Roy Magsisi."

In the weeks ahead, expect to see RIOC maneuver to bring in management closely aligned with City Council Member Ben Kallos, PS/IS 217 Principal Mandana Beckman and her PTA led by Erin Olavesen. All signs indicate Island Kids as the future leader at 506 Main Street and, according some supporters of the now deceased Youth Program, the organization RIOC was trying to force on the larger community all along.

RIOC won. If the showing of supporters on either side, the battle lines clearly facing off between Island Kids and the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, can be relied on, the community as a whole has been trounced.

There will be no going back. It's over.

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