S.T.A.R.S. Youth Center Faces $20K Battle To Keep Doors OpenQueens Chronicle
Week of April 8th, 2004
by Bryan Joiner, South Queens Editor
The S.T.A.R.S. Youth Center, a Howard Beach institution for children ages 3-20, needs your help to keep its doors open.
According to Frances Scarantino, the president and founder of S.T.A.R.S., the center must raise $20,000 for renovations after a recent Department of Buildings inspection found it was not handicapped accessible. "When I found out that we needed to raise the money, I was very upset, but hopefully we'll be able to do it. A lot of people depend on the youth center now, and it's already difficult to keep the center open," Scarantino said.
S.T.A.R.S. had been operating for years out of the same building at 8 Coleman Square in Old Howard Beach with no problems, but the facility was the victim of a recent DOB crackdown during annual buildings inspections. It is the result of repeated scandals in the DOB where inspectors accepted bribes to ignore permit flaws, according to Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who is a former vice president of S.T.A.R.S. "Since the scandal, the DOB has gotten very cautious with permits," he said.
Scarantino has enlisted the help of Addabbo and a local architect to develop a plan to make the building handicapped-accessible, at a cost of $20,000. Scarantino has also spoken with representatives from the Mayor's Office of People With Disabilities, which has pledged some financial support.
Still, $20,000 is a lot of money for an organization that relies on donations to stay open. "We have fundraising just to keep us going. We're hoping to make money for the building. We've been applying for grants, but we haven't been finding any," Scarantino said.
She has planned a raffle and hopes to raise the $20,000 by June 1st so the renovations can be done during the summer, when students are out of school.
Scarantino started the organization, whose initials stand for Striving to Achieve and Reach Success, in 1997 after running a cheerleading program at Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach. Since then, S.T.A.R.S. has expanded to become an active community organization and provides an alternative to the occasionally expensive top-flight dance schools in Howard Beach. "If they can't afford that, they come here," Scarantino said.
S.T.A.R.S.' most recent project was coming up with a design for a new walkway around Hamilton Beach Park. The group also cleans the park, which is only minutes away from its headquarters.
S.T.A.R.S. has programs ranging from youth basketball to hip-hop and traditional dance to peer-to-peer counseling; everything, it seems, that will keep children off the streets and out of trouble when the school day ends. "It definitely fills a void," Addabbo said.
To find out more about the raffle, call the S.T.A.R.S. Youth Center at 718-845-6956.