Photo courtesy of the center's Facebook page

This story was written by Will LeBlond and Lindsey Witmer of the student-run publication Ithaca Week.

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ITHACA, N.Y. — Despite budgetary challenges, the directors of Southside Community Center continue to maintain the ultimate goal of educating young children.

Due to recent budget cuts and heavy expenses, after school program director, Petula McBean, said she had difficulty raising enough funds to ensure that all thirty children in the program are fed and provided the necessary tools to excel.

“Every year it’s very difficult,” said McBean referring to the budget. “Most years I’ve gone out and have been begging.  I’ll send letters to Wegmans, the hospital, Ithaca College and that’s why we get those donations,” the likes of which keep the center alive.

Southside Community Center runs an after school program for about thirty children within the Ithaca community. The building, which has been in the South Plain street location for more than two decades, is used to help educate children ages 5-12.

Photo courtesy of the center’s Facebook page
Photo courtesy of the center’s Facebook page

“Our main goal is to provide a nurturing space for the kids to come and be free,” said McBean. A few of the elements available for the children’s use at Southside are a gym, music recording studio, computer lab, and classroom space for study and homework.

According to the center’s youth coordinator Hannah Moreno, “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” when it comes to funding the center.  McBean said that begging for funds has been a part of the financial plan in the past.

Mentors from Ithaca College and Cornell University also chip in, but McBean stresses that there can never be enough support for the young minds, especially because volunteer efforts have been minimal.

“We typically get more Cornell than IC students,” said McBean. “Which is something I don’t understand because we market the need for help at both schools.” Although Southside is lacking in volunteers, those that do offer their time at the center understand the impact that Southside has on the community.

Ithaca College graduate student Benjamin Capeless is gave his time to Southside this past summer to help with their summer camp program. “They are given a family space outside of their home,” said Capeless. “Even though I won’t be involved directly with the after school program this semester, from what I saw during the summer, I know that this program can only further benefit these kids and their education.”

Without a program like this, a harsh living situation could become a reality for a lot of the students at the center, as McBean said, “if we didn’t have this program, some of them would probably be outside on the streets.”

To Capeless Southside emphasized the importance of community,  “Southside Community center really demonstrated to me the power of an educational institution that is run outside of the state school system,” said Capeless.  “It seems as though a lot of the students in the programs at Southside really valued the work that they were doing.  They loved coming in everyday, which is really amazing since kids sometimes dread learning rather than looking forward to it.”

The children that go through Southside’s halls are individuals who may have not have had the same opportunities if it were not for the “family-like atmosphere” that Southside emphasizes.

“At this center we want the kids to succeed, so we do all we can for them to ensure that they don’t struggle in school, and that they have as many opportunities presented to them that we can give,” said McBean.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.