CLAIRE PARKER, MANAGING EDITOR AND CO-NEWS EDITOR:
The federal government shutdown hit Wilson’s Hispanic population particularly hard, as the Latin American Youth Center was forced to furlough coordinator Maria Navarrete and cut back important programs. LAYC is one of many D.C. nonprofits impacted by the shutdown, a blow that is beginning to cripple the city.
LAYC is a regional organization with a mission “to empower a diverse population of underserved youth to achieve a successful transition to adulthood,” according to its website. It serves as a support network for Latin American and low-income youth in the D.C. area, and its services include providing housing for homeless youth, counseling and mentoring for troubled teens, academic support services, and health and parenting counseling. At Wilson, facilitators help students with homework, organize cultural enrichment activities, engage in sporting events, write referrals, and build relationships.
LAYC has a $13 million budget, of which 65% is funded by a variety of government sources. The organization’s work with homeless youth is funded directly by the federal government, so as of October 1, that funding was completely cut off. In addition, the funding the organization receives from the D.C. government has been trickling in slowly as a result of shutdown-induced cash flow problems.
LAYC is continuing to care for its youth, but is not being reimbursed, so president and CEO Lori Kaplan said on Thursday that she was faced with the tough predicament of deciding which programs to temporarily cut. She designated the employees who work with homeless and foster care youth as essential personnel, since not funding those programs would effectively be putting kids out on the streets. She decided to temporarily furlough employees in less critical programs, including Maria Navarrete, the LAYC coordinator at Wilson.
“Maria is totally essential, but when you compare that [Wilson] to homelessness…Wilson kids will be okay for a week,” Kaplan said. Navarrete planned to volunteer at Wilson starting this week, but fortunately the Wilson PTSO stepped in on Wednesday and agreed to cover her salary at least through the end of next week.
PTSO president Ruth Ernst said she is hoping the shutdown will be over by then. But Navarrete is worried about the outcome if it isn’t. “Programs like this this affect a lot of the youth,” Navarrete said. “We have 37 youth in the program; if this still continues those youth will be affected.”
LAYC provides Wilson participants with a sense of community. “A lot of kids really depend on that program,” said counselor Pamela Bright, adding that it is her number one resource when interacting with Wilson’s Hispanic student population.
Kaplan said of the shutdown, “It really makes me angry. We need leaders who can lead and make the right decisions on behalf of young people. I want our young people to be better leaders in the future. This is really ridiculous, and it’s hurting a lot of people.”