BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Just months shy of its three-year anniversary, the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center in South Jamaica has closed its doors due to lack of funds.
The news does not come as a shock to the community residents. Executive director Anthony Anderson anticipated a closure exactly one year ago, when the Queens Tribune first reported on the center’s financial struggles.
“As of now, I would have to say we are going to close because we didn’t receive enough money to operate,” he predicted.
The nonprofit was opened in memory of Sean Bell, who was shot and killed by undercover police officers the day before his wedding on Nov. 25, 2006.
On May 18, 2011, which was also Bell’s birthday, Jamaica welcomed the new center, the primary goal of which was to help its people. The center offered a variety of free services ranging from after school programs and tutoring for children, as well as job readiness programs for residents.
In an earlier interview, Anderson claimed that the $196,000 block grant it received when the center opened was not enough money to sustain the services it provides.
“We don’t charge for any services here so we were hoping we would receive donations from the community and possibly some funding from the government,” he said. “I feel that as a community we could have done more. We support the community so we look to the community to support us.”
Last year, the Greater Springfield Community Church sponsored a benefit in a final attempt to collect enough money to prevent a closure, but it was not enough to sustain the center’s programs.
“I’m disappointed it’s closed, because we don’t have centers in that area, especially in Southeast Queens,” said the Rev. Phil Craig, who is also president of the Queens National Action Network.
“This is a very fragile situation because people can’t just keep pouring into it. It’s a handshaking and the administration needs to be at a point where they can keep it afloat,” Craig added. “I don’t know where the [money] gap was, but there should be responsibility on both ends – the administration and the community, to try and keep something like this alive for a generation.”
The Sean Bell Community Center, located at 107-52 Sutphin Blvd., offered a number of essential after school programs for the children of Southeast Queens. Craig’s biggest concern, he said, is the future of the children who are displaced as a result of the closure.
“My biggest question is what is going to happen to the children during the times that they occupied the center? What are going to be the alternatives for them? At this moment, it is going to be up to the parents to do their job,” he said.
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.