To the Editor:
I am writing in response to your editorial “Community Center Reforms Require Better Planning”  in last week’s Dorchester Reporter. Thank you for noting that there is “merit” and “promise” in our FY12 budget plan. As we enter another difficult budget process, our top priority is keeping high-quality services available to all of our communities.
As you mentioned, Boston Centers for Youth & Families consolidated eight of our 46 community center facilities last year through the FY11 budget process, two of which were in your readership area. I am happy to report that all eight sites remain open and provide important services to the neighborhoods in which they are housed. The main goal of consolidation was to improve the quality of our programs and services by enhancing our staffing levels at our remaining sites.
We are beginning to see improvements throughout our network which is why we are proposing further consolidations in FY12. We are working toward achieving the ideal community center at every BCYF location, but we are not there yet.
I want to point out one inaccuracy in your editorial, however, which is [the assertion] that a year of programming has been lost at the Mattahunt Community Center.
Our process last year included working with the Boys and Girls Club, which has operated an afterschool program at the Mattahunt alongside BCYF for years, to increase their capacity and absorb children who were formerly part of BCYF programs at the same site. The Boys and Girls Club program at the Mattahunt continues to operate to this day. Those who did not wish to join the BGCB program were offered a slot at our BCYF Mildred Avenue location less than one mile away.
The BCYF Mildred Avenue Community Center has been able to increase programming as a result of the redeployment of staff from the Mattahunt.
At the Marshall Community Center, which you also mentioned in your editorial, there was a similar situation with another afterschool provider, GRASP, which was able to increase its capacity from 76 to over 100. It was exactly these examples of duplication of services that our consolidation targeted. In addition, a Family Resource Center has been established at the Marshall that provides access to a wide range of beneficial services, including Transitional Aid for Needy Families, Food Stamps, WIC and Fuel Assistance for that community. They also offer referrals for mental health, physical health, group programs, etc.
Lastly, BCYF’s nearby Cleveland Community Center is hosting a teen program from the Marshall in the evenings and has seen a dramatic increase in participation at this new location.
The criteria we used to identify sites for consolidation last year included: performance/usage data, geography and the location of nearby agencies, partnerships, hours of operation, programming, neighborhood demographics, and community input. BCYF continues to be transparent with the difficult but necessary decisions we have made and we will continue to work with the communities that we serve to improve our programs and services so that every child, youth, and family has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
The successes from FY11 underscore the need to focus our resources and concentrate our efforts to continue to increase quality for our communities. The staff we redeployed last year across 38 community centers has helped strengthen programming but further redeployment of staff is necessary in order to achieve our ideal community center model.
I want to thank you for highlighting our efforts at reform and although these decisions have not been easy, they have been necessary for a system that is spread too thin and they have been made with the best interest of the children, youth, and families of Boston at heart. Ultimately it’s not just about the buildings but what happens in them for our communities.
Chief of Human Services/
BCYF Executive Director