After school program on last legs

After school program on last legs
Robert Whetsone is at the end of his rope trying to keep the Featherbed Lane Improvement Association open after the state cut funding in 2011.
Photo by David Cruz

For the past few years, Robert Whetstone has been shouldering the burden of keeping a day camp/after school program alive with no funds.

“This has been my life,” said Whetstone, the longtime executive director of the Featherbed Lane Improvement Association (FLIA), dying a slow death since 2011.

The only Morris Heights program, FLIA’s operated without state funds since then, leaving Whetstone to rely on his Social Security check and volunteers to stay afloat.

Now comes word the center’s last few weeks are closing in.

“It’s just a shame it’s going to close because of funds,” said Whetstone, an educator and Community Board 5 member overseeing the facility rent-free thanks to landlord Bronx Pro Management.

But owner Peter Magistro hinted his firm simply couldn’t waive the $5,000 rent any longer.

“We’re not bringing in that kind of revenue to pay that monthly rent anymore,” said Whetstone, also behind on his electric, gas and corporate credit cards.

“I’m being hounded every day,” he said.

The program opened in 1965 on the eve of the drug abuse epidemic sweeping the Bronx.

The state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) earmarked $360,000 every three years for the program, beginning in 1985. Funds went to drug prevention services, a teaching curriculum and educational field trips.

“We took them to Albany, Washington D.C., Philadelphia,” said Whetstone. “All of them with an educational component.”

A spokeswoman for OASAS said funds were cut from the program because there were not enough kids taking advantage of the program.

The program has been a boon to the low-income community, producing well-rounded kids that have gone on to become police officers, doctors and teachers.

“Featherbed Lane teaches kids what parents or schools haven’t taught,” said Courtney Scullark, 29, a full-time volunteer and FLIA alum. “This place needs to stay open for the community.”

Lincoln Salmon, a parent volunteer for Featherbed, saw the benefits to the program thirteen years ago after enrolling his son, now military bound.

“You have one thing correcting the drug problem in the community,” said Salmon. “And it’s going to be taken away?”

Dr. Catherine Barksdale, another volunteer, has applied for grants on behalf of FLIA, having gone nowhere with them.

In its Golden Age, FLIA held six-dozen slots. These days, the center’s only able to cover 18 kids,.

Despite months of pleas to his fellow representatives, Whetstone has had no luck in finding definitive help. He’s even asked OASAS if funding could be restored.

“I’m hoping to get in by January 2014,” said Whetstone. “But I don’t know if I’m going to be here.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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