Councilman Andre Sayegh started a campaign to raise $300,000 on Monday morning to prevent the early shutdown of more than 30 summer camps, two municipal pools, and other recreation programs.
“We want to save the summer for our youth,” said Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. He doesn’t have much time to save the summer for young people with mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration pulling the plug on the programs on August 12th, 2016 due to a tax levy battle with the city council.
Torres did not respond to a call for comment on Monday afternoon.
Prominent Wrigley Park section developer Charles Florio pledged to contribute $40,000 towards the effort if the council, the mayor, and others manage to raise $160,000.
“Everyone needs to chip in and do their part. I see the kids in Paterson who are 3, 4, 5 years old and the only thing they might look forward to is going to a pool or camp — now they can’t even do that,” said Florio. “I’m more fortunate than others and I notice that. I want to help out the community.”
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who also serves as the city’s recreation coordinator, said the programs will need roughly $250,000 to $300,000 to run as usual. After news of the early shutdown came to light on Friday a number of people asked to donate to keep the programs running, said the assemblyman speaking from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
“There may be another Charlies Florio or two that can actually save us at this point,” said Wimberly.
Some council members are on board with raising funds to keep the summer programs open while others said they were unaware of the effort. Council president William McKoy described the effort as “admirable,” but said he was unaware of it.
“That’s an interesting approach,” said the council president. “No one asked me to play a part.”
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. “I can see them accomplishing it.”
Cotton said she supports the effort to raise private funds to prevent the summer programs from closing early.
“We need recreation in our city. I’m willing to partner and raise funds,” said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large. He said the mayor needs to cut elsewhere like removing vacant positions the administration budgets for every year.
“This is not a serious reduction in the budget,” said Mendez of the move to shutdown recreation two weeks early.
As many as 400 young people, who have summer jobs at recreation, will be on the streets if the programs are shutdown early. Many of those youngsters rely on the paltry income from recreation to buy school supplies, according to community leaders.
Sayegh suggested he is building momentum through social media and other channels before making a pitch to the city council on Tuesday night. He has setup a GoFundMe page to gather donations.
So far, two donors – including Sayegh – contributed $220. He said he is contacting donors to solicit contributions for the effort.
Wimberly said he intends on issuing a blast to his donors to attempt to gather funds to save the recreation program from early shutdown.
Sayegh said anyone can contribute to the effort through the GoFundMe page.
This report was last updated on July 25th, 2016 at 3:50 p.m.