Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Although the cancelation of Ithaca youth summer programs incited negative reactions, program directors believe it will be better for the city in the long run.

May 7, 2020

Youth Programming Organizations Hit Hardest By City Furloughs Adjust to New Reality

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Ithaca’s emergency furloughs announced last month have disproportionately tanked city-wide youth programming, run through organizations like the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and the Ithaca Youth Bureau.

With most of their typical summer programs axed due to public health concerns, the two organizations lost a combined 50 employees. The broad furloughs have left both organizations with just seven employees remaining.

Youth programs typical for the organization included recreational sports and summer camp, which gave parents a place to safely place their children while working.

Although the budget cuts were substantial, both GIAC Director and Tompkins County Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D-1st District) and IYB Director Liz Klohmann told The Sun that these furloughs weren’t a surprise, as the COVID-19 virus had made planning for the summer quite difficult.

“The knee jerk reaction was definitely that sense of we aren’t that important [to the city],” McBean-Clairborne said. She admitted, though, that she thinks the cuts will be better for the community in the long run.

“For us to come back as a city, we all need to play our part,” she continued. “We wanted to play our part so that we can come back stronger, providing what our family and community needs.”

The IYB, however, was in the process of adapting to the new coronavirus reality, including plans of virtual teaching, right before their resources were cut, according to IYB Deputy Director Suki Tabor.

“These programs have been actively part of their life,” Tabor said. “To abruptly have those relationships that have been developed over time cut short is a real challenge for families of youth to deal with.”

According to Klohmann, there isn’t enough staff at IYB to continue programs over summer. The remaining staff are only able to carry out bare bones operations, put together funding proposals and maintain the facilities.

The remaining staff have also had to take on additional responsibilities, rethinking everything from making sure important emails are being answered to something as simple as who gets the mail.

“It’s pretty overwhelming right now to be perfectly honest,” she said.

According to McBean-Clairborne, the cancellation of GIAC summer programming is unprecedented — something she hasn’t seen during her 30-year tenure at GIAC.

While both youth organizations are aiming to reopen by fall, it is unclear whether they will be able to have programming or the budget to pay their full staffs.

For McBean-Clairborne and Klohmann, the fate of both organizations are mainly tied to the actions of the federal government. According to Klohmann, a Washington D.C. bailout is necessary for municipalities — struggling from depleted tax revenues — to get programs, like youth programming, back up and running.

Both McBean-Clairborne and Klohmann said there would be changes when they reopen, but the extent of these changes — like reducing the amount of participants in these programs or future zoom meetings — still remains to be seen.

“It was a source of enormous stress for me,” McBean-Clairborne said. “It is an experience to learn from and use to plan for the future.”