Serving Elmont's Children

Robert Traverso for Long Island Herald

July 30, 2021

Originally published in Long Island Herald on July 30, 2021.

Thirty-two years ago, Gateway Youth Outreach Executive Director Patrick Boyle imagined his time there might amount to a one-year stint. Today, Boyle is leading the organization to a new post-coronavirus pandemic era of providing services for the Elmont community.

Formerly part of the Long Island YMCA, Gateway Youth Outreach was formed in 1983 to provide a wide range of services for “at-risk” students in Elmont. Now it offers programming for residents of Elmont, Franklin Square, North Valley Stream, Floral Park, South Floral Park, New Hyde Park and Stewart Manor. “GYO’s goal is youth development and preventing adverse behavior,” the organization’s online mission statement reads. “In addition, GYO enhances the community’s efforts to provide an environment where adolescents can develop self-awareness while engaged in productive and healthy pursuits.”

“I thought I was staying for a year,” Boyle recalled of becoming the executive director in 1989. “I was going to fix the place up a little bit and get out. But I fell in love with Elmont. I thought it was the greatest community, and I still do. I think the racial diversity in Elmont is excellent. I see a lot of potential in the community.”

This summer, after a departure from in-person programming necessitated by social distancing protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gateway has resumed in-person summer programming at Covert Avenue Elementary School for more than 100 Elmont students.

The program runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and provides students with free lunches as well as a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. Boyle credited government grants as well as funding from foundations and banks for helping GYO return to in-person programming, and expressed gratitude to State Senators Todd Kaminsky and Anna Kaplan for securing the state funds. “Both Senator Kaminsky and Senator Kaplan were instrumental in helping us get those grants,” he said.

“The children of Elmont deserve every opportunity for a bright future, and safe, high-quality after-school programming is an important tool to uplift our kids and help them to learn, grow and thrive,” Kaplan said. “That’s why I fought for Gateway Youth Outreach to get the funding they need.”

Kaminsky, who worked with Kaplan to secure the funding, emphasized the need for the services the organization provides. “Ensuring that there’s a safe space for our kids to learn, play and thrive is essential,” he said. “I’m proud to have fought for and secured state funding for Gateway Youth Outreach, which, for the past four decades, has played an integral role in the Elmont community cultivating the next generation.”

Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic has had an economic impact on Gateway’s programming. “Right now, it’s really hurting us,” Boyle said. “Covid impacted us in a program sense: We had to go from in-person programming, which we, of course, couldn’t do anymore, to virtual programming, which was even more expensive to do than … person-to-person.”

Before the pandemic, GYO offered an after-school program that provided 800 students in four elementary and middle schools — Gotham Avenue, Covert Avenue, Dutch Broadway and Clara H. Carlson — with homework assistance, snacks, guest speakers and more for three hours every day of the school year. The program cost a student $3 per day, or $450 per year.

“$450 to keep your kid safe every day for $3 per day — I think that’s a good deal,” Boyle said, adding that he would like to expand the program to more local schools, but funding issues prevent it.

He emphasized the importance for students of in-person programs like Gateway’s. “I don’t care how good of a teacher you are — when everybody is on computers, you can’t get everybody’s attention,” He said. “They’re not all going to do well.”

The last day of summer programming at Covert Avenue is Thursday. Boyle said that his goal for the rest of the summer is to stay committed to pandemic protocols and to prevent students and workers from contracting the virus amid the increase in cases.

Heading into the school year, another goal for GYO is to get its after-school programming back on track, he said. “Parents are clamoring for it,” Boyle said. “They love having [their children] with us because we’re inexpensive, they’re having fun, and we get the kids’ homework done. It’s a perfect storm. I’m really proud of what we do.”