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Local Center Provides Community Lifeline

McCoy Family & Youth Center Celebrates First Anniversary

January 2010 marked the Westbury-based McCoy Family & Youth Center’s first anniversary. In the past year, the center has become a neighborhood fixture.

“It is a tremendous support for families, regardless of economic status and social concerns,” said Executive Director William Pruitt. “It’s a place to turn to, a place to go.”

Named for Shirley McCoy, 90, an active community member who owns the Prospect Avenue building, the center strives to meet those needs with a variety of initiatives, including after-school and summer day programs, teen pregnancy prevention, tutoring and a Prevention & Post Institutional Project (PPIP), which works with young people who have been involved with the criminal or family courts.

“The community needs it,” McCoy said. “Young people growing up in New Cassel need it. I’ve been here 40 years, so I’ve got enough experience to know what’s needed, why it’s needed.”

County and state funds, along with donations, support the McCoy Family & Youth Center. Although 2009 was financially difficult, particularly due to Nassau County cutting some of its funding, Pruitt is anticipating two grants – in the amount of $174,000 and $75,000, respectively – to come through; the center plans to use the grant monies to expand its programming and physical space.

In fact, Joseph Nieves, president of the center’s board of directors, is confident things will rebound in 2010. “It will be a very good year. We have a very good board, people who really care about this agency,” Nieves said.

Although the center may seem small and simple from the outside, the inside is anything but. Sunlight drenches the multilevel space and a large, basement-level room features motivational college posters and several four-person tables where children can complete homework. On the second floor, a table that wraps around the wall will soon hold new computers, which will be available for use by all community residents.

The center’s after-school program serves 30 children, mostly of elementary school age, through a partnership with the Westbury School District. Aside from offering a place for children to continue learning after school hours, the center seeks to enhance their education. Licensed teachers and social workers offer the children activities and support that prevent them from becoming involved in destructive behaviors such as gang activity or drug use. Even some of the board members’ children attend the center.

“This partnership with the school district gives students extra support after school and during the school year, and we look forward to a positive relationship with the center,” said Westbury Superintendent of Schools Dr. Constance Clark-Snead.

North Hempstead Town Councilman Viviana Russell, who serves on the center’s board, said although she only allows her son to watch one hour of television each week, he hasn’t complained about the restriction since attending the center. “He’s more interested in playing board games, doing stuff with his sister,” Russell said. “Having him here in the program, where he’s not just sitting in front of the TV, and interacting with each other, at home he does the same thing.”

Russell has seen firsthand how other children have responded to the welcoming environment. “There’s a corner set aside upstairs that has a beanbag chair, and [the children] can sit down and read to themselves,” she said. “When I come to pick up my son, there are three or four kids in the beanbag … Even though there are other things going on, they find that area a safe haven.”

Nieves recalled an elementary school boy who hated doing homework, but is now eager to participate in school. “To see that change we’re able to provide, one-on-one guidance and counseling, where you really don’t get that in the school,” he said.

Kendra Nicholson of Westbury sends her 9-year-old son Amari Williams to the center following his school day at Nassau BOCES. As a busy working mom, Nicholson said the center provides “a trusted place for her son …”

Besides its partnership with the school district, the McCoy Family & Youth Center is a member of Nassau County Youth Services Agencies, and works with North Shore Child & Family Guidance, First Baptist Church, the Westbury Community Church and area health clinics. When the center lacks the services needed to help someone, it can refer them to an organization in its network.

“People come in sometimes looking for a fax machine to fax something to the [Nassau County] Department of Social Services,” Pruitt said. “If that’s a way to help people, we’ll do that.”

Soon, the center will have its own helpers. In February it will begin a partnership with SUNY Old Westbury; 10 college students will lend a hand at the after-school program and assist with registering residents for the 2010 Census, which is important for securing public funding for non-profits.

The center’s board also has long-term goals in mind, especially expanding its programming, offering services at satellite sites, boosting fundraising and becoming an autonomous agency.

No matter how much it grows, Pruitt said the McCoy Center’s focus remains Westbury’s children. Community services for adolescents are “most critical,” he said.

Last year, Nassau County recorded more than 6,400 child abuse reports, according to New York State’s Office of Child and Family Services. That statistic hits close to home for the center; in 2008, just before it opened, New Cassel resident Leaatrice Brewer killed her three children in her Prospect Avenue apartment, just down the street from the center.

“We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Pruitt said. “We want to be a resource people can turn to.”