Faith Hope Community Center struggling with funding
John Jackson, the cook at Faith Hope Community Center, remembers a time when two young boys got into a fight a couple of blocks away from the center. One of the staff members somehow persuaded the boys to come to the center.
“We put some boxing gloves on them, put them in the ring and let them go at it,” Jackson said. “After about 10 minutes they were both tired. One boy looked at the other and said, ‘I’m sure glad I didn’t kill you earlier.’ The other boy said, ‘I’m glad I didn’t get you either.’”
The center offers a place for kids and teenagers to hang out. However, it now faces budget cuts, after Onondaga County announced early this spring it was cutting funds for social services agencies around the county.
The center operates on a $125,000 budget provided by the county, which pays four employees with the rest going towards the center’s activities.
“That’s not much money,” says Bobby Harrison, one of the co-founders of the center. “Saving 10 to 15 lives is worth much more than that.”
The co-founders, Harrison, Ed Beauford and Richard Brooks, said they are trying to find a grant writer to help them acquire funding that would last three to four years at a time, rather than one year at a time. For now, the center has enough money to stay open as late as January.
“For most of these kids, the center is the only way to get them out of the streets,” Beauford said. “If we can just give them some other things to do with their time, we can save a lot of them from gang violence.”
Harrison explained the family dynamics most kids face. “These kids wake up to a breakfast of a 40 ounce and a blunt,” he described. “That’s how they get started everyday. We want them to have a better life.”
The staff members help kids with their homework and in general teach them that they can work hard and become better and do better.
“Most of the kids walking around here have given up because as much as they have been doing wrong, they haven’t been encouraged to do right,” said Kenyetta Harrison, program coordinator at the center. She explained how learning both value of education and “common sense” helps the children begin trusting others and trusting themselves.
In December 2002, Beauford, Brooks and Harrison opened the Faith Hope Community Center as a boxing program geared towards reducing anger in young men. The center has since grown into a summer camp, after school program and also offers evening programs. Each night, the center offers classes and open sessions for community members, including free exercise, meditation and aerobic classes.
For the summer, the center is held a camp for children ages 9 to 15. The summer camp started three years ago with funding from the county. It has been offered for free, but because of cutbacks, the co-founders do not know how they will be able to continue the camp in years to come.
“These parents can’t afford it,” Beauford said. “It’s too much on them.”
Natives of Syracuse, Beauford and Harrison grew up in the streets and know first-hand the struggles and pressures kids face. “I been in a true gang, in jail and out of jail,” Harrison said. “Our experiences and mistakes made us want to open the center.” The mistakes they made, Harrison said, help them give children a better life and break the chain.
Jackson believes providing a meal for the kids is also a big help.
“Most of the kids here don’t have much,” he said. “They come in the afternoon, and I can just tell they haven’t eaten all day. I make them whatever they want, and it makes them so happy. I know they might not eat again until I cook the next day.”
Kenyetta Harrison works with the young girls who attend the center. She tries to provide them with amenities they may not be receiving at home, such as sanitary napkins and free laundry services.
“I try to show them things about their body and educate them on how to take care of themselves,” she said. “Last month, I took some girls from the summer camp to get their toes (manicured). Nothing too much, but most of them had never gotten their nails done. I want to give back and give them things they don’t have.”
— Story and photos by Deaundra Cash, a Syracuse University graduate student in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications