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Latino Groups Lose Out On Grant

Some leaders cry foul, but those who allotted the $500,000 say the causes need to work together

By John Moreno Gonzales

June 8, 2004
Copyright © 2004 NEWSDAY, INC. All rights reserved.

Though police estimate that 40 percent of gang members in Nassau County are Latino, the first intervention grant in county history fails to fund a single Latino nonprofit organization, even after three long-standing groups applied to assist communities struggling disproportionately with the problem.

The groups that say they were snubbed serve about 40,000 clients every year, and they all have at least two decades of experience in immigrant communities. All count Spanish-speakers as the majority of their staff.

However, those who selected the winners, including prominent Latinos in county politics, said the organizations refused to work together and they fail to reach youth on the street. And that kept them from receiving portions of the groundbreaking $500,000 fund.

"They canceled each other out," said George Siberón, executive director of the Nassau County Youth Board, who lobbied legislators for the grant and distributed it in April after a committee process.

Siberón is of Puerto Rican descent and one of the highest-ranking Latino officials in the county. He said that though some of the groups who were given money have traditionally served black communities, they now count up to half of their staff and clients as Latino.

"As a Latino, I am sure that the youth who need these services will be provided these services," he said last month.

The Latino groups not awarded funds are La Fuerza Unida de Glen Cove; Circulo de la Hispanidad, which works in Long Beach and Hempstead; and Hispanic Counseling Center, a Hempstead organization. Gil Bernardino, executive director of Circulo, said last week of the funding decisions: "It's an insult to the 300,000 Hispanics in this county. The Hispanic organizations are the ones with the linguistic and cultural employees. They can deal with the Hispanic cultural world."

Bernardino added that Latino groups saw no need to apply together because other organizations had not. Joint applications only would have diluted funding to the organizations because they would have had to share an award, he said.

Det. Sgt. Gregory Quinn, deputy commander of the Nassau County Police Special Intelligence Squad, estimated last week that Latino youth are 40 percent of about 3,000 to 10,000 gang members in Nassau. Black gang members also make up about 40 percent, he estimated, with non-Hispanic whites and Asians making up the other 20 percent.

Quinn, who has been on the gang squad for the past five years, said the growing presence of Latino gangs calls for a two-pronged approach that includes beefed-up law enforcement, and just as importantly, youth programs.

"I'm a very hard-core lock-'em- up type of guy," he said. "But you need the other spoke in the wheel to keep them [at-risk youth] out of trouble."

Still, when the 10 grants - the larger ones for $75,000 and smaller awards in the $10,000 range - were offered on April 1 they included no organizations with a majority of Spanish-speaking staff. One group had only a single Spanish speaker and another had no Spanish speakers at all.

One of the winners, Uniondale Community Council, funds the work of Sergio Argueta, a former member of the Latin Kings gang who has extensive experience in intervention efforts on Long Island. Argueta said that no matter who received the money, it is only a trickle of what is needed and should not be quibbled over.

"Put a little bit of money out there, and they start bickering about the money instead of realizing that we need more funds," he said.

Inadequate amount or not, Marianela Jordan, a member of the committee that awarded grants, said the process involved a point system in which those agencies who applied jointly were given an advantage. Jordan, executive director of the Nassau County-funded Coordinating Agency of Spanish Americans, said the organizations believed so much in their separate visions that they were hesitant to submit proposals together.

"A collaborative effort, it would have been a shoo-in," she said. "I think that we have wonderful Latino-based community organizations, some are pioneers in the nonprofit sector ... But they really haven't come together as a galvanizing force."

However, some winners did not tie their proposal to another winning organization. Freeport Pride, which won one of the larger amounts and traditionally serves the black community, applied alone. However, it counts half of its youth counseling staff as Spanish- speaking, and nearly half of its clients are Latino.

The YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa, winner of a smaller amount, applied by itself as well. It has no Spanish speakers and must hire bilingual staff to combat gangs, said Mark Wenzel, the group's assistant director.

Though her nonprofit received no funds, Gladys Serrano, executive director of the Hispanic Counseling Center, said the organization already has staff in place to tackle intervention in Latino communities. Moreover, she said, at-risk youth already are a presence in the facility.

"I was, of course, very upset" about the decisions, she said. "The children that are involved [in gangs] are for the most part Latino children."

Despite the controversy, Siberón said he will lobby the county, state and federal government to fund intervention programs with more than $500,000 next year, though it is still uncertain if the existing amount will be renewed.

"Clearly, if I had more money to work with, some of the agencies who submitted good proposals could be funded," he said. "But when you have a certain amount of money, you can't fund them all."

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