Volume 74, Number 17 | August 25 - 31 , 2004

Back to School, Part I

A special Villager supplement.

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

The Cardinal Spellman Center on E. Second St.

Programming at Spellman Center in a state of flux

By Albert Amateau

The Cardinal Spellman Center, serving East Village residents and Catholic parishes in the neighborhood since 1963, like many nonprofit agencies, is in a period of transition these days, but there is no question that the Head Start preschool program is thriving.

Indeed, the Head Start quarters on the ground floor of the three-story building on E. Second St. just west of Avenue A was being renovated and expanded into adjacent office space this week to serve an expected influx of preschool children.

Parents will begin registering their children on Mon. Aug. 30 for the beginning of the federally funded Head Start program at 137 E. Second St. on Aug. 31.

But after-school programs for older children have been discontinued while the financially strapped center reconsiders new ways to serve neighborhood youth, according to Joseph Panepinto, director of the Catholic Youth Organization in the New York Archdiocese.

At the same time, the full-time executive director and the secretary of the center were removed recently and offered other employment in Catholic Charities, the agency that runs the center, said Jacqueline Lofaro, spokesperson for Catholic Charities.

Nevertheless, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous will continue their weekly evening meetings, A.A. on Tuesdays and N.A. on Thursdays, Lofaro said.

“The center is not closing, but we’re looking for a partner to come in and offer meaningful programs,” said Panepinto. “We don’t just want to be a babysitting service for the community,” he said. Panepinto also noted that participation in Spellman after-school programs has declined recently.

Next year’s summer day camp, which ended its current season two weeks ago, also depends on a new participating agency. “We’re confident that we’ll find a reputable agency to take it on,” Panepinto said. “We’ve been talking to several groups that have expressed interest in running programs that are meaningful for the neigshborhood,” he added.

Funding for Catholic Charities, which runs the Spellman Center, has been tight, according to Lofaro. “We have a limited amount of resources and given the level of participation in programs at the center, we didn’t think a full-time director and a secretary were justified,” she said.

The impending changes have also put a crimp in the use of the Spellman gym by adult basketball leagues that rent playing time. Phil Hartman, executive director of the HOWL! Festival and a neighborhood resident who has been playing basketball with a local group for five years, said his team was put on notice two weeks ago.

“They told us it would be the last time we’d be playing there,” Hartman said. “Some of the guys have been playing there for 17 years,” he added.

John Vonhartz, who lives on the same block and plays basketball with Hartman in the Spellman gym, said their group’s use of the gym is uncertain. “It’s a confusing situation,” said Vonhartz. Lofaro, however, suggested that the gym might still be available for local groups when a new operator takes charge.

Kevin Degidon, an East Village resident who has spent recent summers as a counselor in the summer camp, said Spellman programs are important for the cohesion of the neighborhood. “Families know each other because their kids having been going here for years,” he said. “Parents told me there is a closeness among the kids in these programs that they don’t see at other centers,” Degidon added. But he acknowledged that attendance at summer camp declined this year.

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