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Chris Norwood Headshot

For City Kids, It's All Disappearing

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It's all disappearing. The East 149th Street Post Office disappeared months ago. They took down the flag and padlocked the gate. It was in the South Bronx, and it disappeared.

Months before, the transit booth disappeared at the East 149th Street and Southern Boulevard Subway Station. It's physically there, you could say, but no one's in it to render the metro cards needed for actual transit. It's locked, forlorn and decaying.

I can't look these kids in the eye. I love our summer youth program, called Kids-Helping-Kids. It's a mentoring program where older teens with disappeared parents -- many are orphaned or in foster care because of having parents with AIDS -- mentor younger kids who are also missing parents. They came in for the summer this week, with their young voices and shy smiles. The summer usually brings a special burst of hope when these engaging kids, so determined to help each other no matter what has disappeared in their world, are here for six weeks.

But, now, so much is disappearing!

I can't look these kids in the eye. We planned to take them for lunch, as usual, to the summer lunch program in city schools. But we walked to our nearby school, where people had been very pleasant and lunch nicely prepared in past years, and there was no lunch and we walked to the next school and there was no lunch. The programs were closed, gone and disappeared. It was hot so we came back. When we tried again the next day, we did finally find a school still serving summer lunch.

Almost 20% of child care classes provided at day care centers and community groups disappeared in the New York City budget. What else was cut 20%?

Well, the number of summer youth jobs -- a mere 20 hours a week of minimum wage work for six weeks for teens -- were slashed and slashed. Almost 30% of these jobs disappeared between last year and this year. Actually, adding in federal cuts, almost half these jobs disappeared between the summers of 2009 and 2011. Now, there are 131,000 young people applying for a mere 28,000 jobs.

I can't look these kids in the eye. How did it happen? Adamantly, we need lessened public budgets, but why are these kids being sent down the plank first and almost alone? It's hard to admit, but true, that the members of the generation of the '60s, so widely advertised as historical idealists, have presided over a selfish gobbling of resources which may finally be reckoned as their sad and foremost legacy. Alas, yes, I'm talking about my generation.

New York is a chief example, the center of cool, the concentrated base of media, finance, fashion, of the "modern" skills and technocrat industries at which the '60's generation so excelled. But now it seems no one can or wants to deal with anything real. The unprecedented consumption and material splendor this generation presided over evidently led to a conclusive disappearance of leadership. The technocrat city government wouldn't question its own technology and the CityTime disaster consumed $600 million in fraud. We continue with 20, 30, 40 year pensions on the public dollar because public pensions once had the aura of liberal idealism. The bike lanes keep getting painted; they're cool. But, brief summer jobs for hapless teens who live in hapless neighborhoods -- those are disposable. They disappear.