Community center prices out youth groups

April 27, 2012
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The Hennigan Community Center on Heath Street is sharply raising rates for programs to rent space, and that has left some JP groups—especially ones serving low-income and minority youths—out in the cold.

Estrellas Tropicales and the Roberto Clemente 21 dance and basketball programs reportedly have either already been priced out or are in danger of it after suddenly facing massive rental increases, knowledgeable sources told the Gazette.

“We needed to come up with the money or we needed to get out,” Roberto Clemente 21 basketball program head Alfredo Liriano said he was told Wednesday, despite an existing deal to use the center for free. “They’re going back on their word.”

The rent boost reportedly will prevent Estrellas Tropicales from joining in the May 5 Wake Up the Earth Parade for the first time in three decades. And the basketball program could be spending its player trophy funds on rent.

“At the moment, it seems likely that after over 30 years of nonprofit programming, all the popular girls’ twirling and dancing programs will be reluctantly leaving the Jamaica Plain Latino community for good,” said Hope Haff, organizer of the Wake Up the Earth Festival and Parade.

The community center inside the Hennigan Elementary School at 200 Heath St. is jointly run by the City’s Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF) and a nonprofit called Jamaica Plain Community Centers (JPCC). JPCC head Kerry Costello did not return Gazette calls, and BCYF spokesperson Sandy Holden did not have immediate comment.

JPCC treasurer Dave Balerna told the Gazette he was not aware of the Hennigan Center situation and said it sounds a little drastic. But, he noted, public funds for community centers have dried up.

“We’ve been one of the best values in the city,” he said. “Sadly, we have to be more in line with other places.”

Estrellas Tropicales, a dance and twirling troupe, could not practice for Wake Up the Earth because its Hennigan Center practice space suddenly went from $40 a year to $100 a week earlier this year, and staffers shut the 80 girls out when they couldn’t pay, according to Haff. Estrellas Tropicales director Chickie Rivera did not return a Gazette phone call.

The Roberto Clemente 21 Dancers already were forced to move to a Mission Hill community center, Haff said.

Liriano of the basketball program said was told Wednesday by a Hennigan staff member that he would need to pay $25 per hour to use the gym. That was after a meeting in November where Liriano was able to negotiate to use the gym for free. The Hennigan Center had initially wanted to charge $75 per hour.

Liriano, who says he felt strong-armed, noted that the program only has three weeks left in its season. The program, which is for at-risk youths between the ages of 7 and 18, usually issues medals at the end of the season, but Liriano said he might have to use that money to rent the gym.

“It’s putting us in a bind,” he said.

Balerna said that the programs need to become self-sufficient given that the community centers have to raise rates to make up for the budget shortfall.

“I’m sure they’re doing what they need to do, or what they think they need to do,” Balerna said of the rate increase at the Hennigan Center.

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