With summer nearly here, the parents of more than 160 children enrolled in a North Philadelphia after-school-style program learned Tuesday night that the effort, which they had anticipated continuing in July and August, was coming to a sudden end the following Tuesday.
Officials say the Gillespie Middle School "beacon" program fell victim to a shrinking city budget. It also failed to meet new criteria set by the city Department of Human Services, which has revamped dozens of after-school programs like it.
As a result of the short notice, parents are concerned about what they will do with their children beginning next week. They said no agency in the immediate area, near 18th and Pike Streets, provided similar services - and free.
"I don't have anyplace to send them, plus they want to be here," said Melinda Sanchez, whose three children - ages 10, 14, and 15 - have gone to Gillespie year-round for the last four years.
"We thought we would get relocated to another building, but we didn't think the program would just end," said Sanchez, who also worked there as a paid program coordinator.
Until January, the Gillespie beacon program was run by Lucinda Post, former Mayor John F. Street's sister-in-law. Post was questioned in an FBI investigation of Philadelphia Safe and Sound, a nonprofit social-services agency that for a time funded part of the Gillespie program, including Post's salary. To date, no one has been charged with wrongdoing, and there has been no public action resulting from the investigation.
The Gillespie program has been managed since February by Nu Sigma Youth Services, a nonprofit that runs two other programs - at Benjamin Franklin High School and Cooke Middle School - that are not being discontinued.
In an interview yesterday, Nu Sigma's director of operations, James Bradford, said it was only last week that his agency learned it would receive no additional funding. "We didn't immediately tell any parents because we did not want to alarm them, since we are trying to find alternative funding to possibly run another program. That's where we are right now," he said.
Bradford said the city had provided $380,000 in the most recent fiscal year. Noting that the Philadelphia School District is expected to close Gillespie Middle School this year, he said, "We were hoping to move to Gratz" High School, which is near Gillespie. But with no funding, that is no longer an option.
Tom Sheaffer, an aide to Deputy Mayor Don Schwarz, who oversees DHS, said that three weeks ago, the city notified Philadelphia Health Management Corp., a nonprofit public-health group that oversees out-of-school-time programs for the city, that the Gillespie beacon would receive no additional money.
That decision followed a months-long evaluation of all such programs based on new criteria. For instance, while in the past individual programs were open to children of various ages, DHS now limits particular programs to particular age groups.
In the end, agencies including Nu Sigma and others were competing for fewer available city dollars. "If they had a good program performance record and gave us a really good proposal, we funded them," Sheaffer said. Nu Sigma's Gillespie program did not.
"We feel for those parents," he said. "We really do." For help, he said, the city was referring parents to city-run camps and a Web site managed by the United Way of Philadelphia, http://connect211.org