- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2011

WASHINGTON — D.C. Council member Tommy Wells on Wednesday challenged leaders of a nonprofit fund for D.C. youth programs to work with Mayor Vincent C. Gray on their vision for the city after program leaders and parents testified that budget cuts will have a dramatic effect on their children’s progress.

Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said programs that rely on the Children & Youth Investment Trust Corp. must establish goals to justify the restoration of funding that has declined sharply in the past three budget cycles.

There is “a lack of unifying vision of what we want to happen with our youth in the District,” Mr. Wells said. “I haven’t seen it from the new administration yet.”

“Without a compelling vision, the trust is a tool that we don’t know what to do with,” he added. “I think you’ve got work to do, and I think the administration has work to do.”

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said appropriations for the trust declined from $10.6 million in actual funding last year to $4.6 million approved this year.

The mayor’s budget proposal for next year calls for $3 million.

“The trend there is unmistakable and I think devastating,” Mr. Graham said.

Several program leaders called for a budget for the trust of about $7 million, prompting a challenge from Mr. Wells.

“I don’t know what you want me to advocate to the administration for but funding,” Mr. Wells told one panel of witnesses. “If the vision for the trust is not articulated, it will wither and die.”

Winifred Carson Smith, chairman of the trust’s board, acknowledged that clear goals have not been established.

“It is my hope the administration is watching this hearing,” Ms. Carson Smith said. “If they are not, we need to get back with them and work on that.”

Mr. Graham asked program leaders to describe the real-life impacts of budget cuts in the coming year.

“What are you not able to do next year that you are able to do this year?” he asked. “It’s a simple question, but an important question.”

Abdur-Rahim Muhammad, chief instructor of the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute, said martial arts and performance programs at his “hidden gem on U Street” prevent youths from succumbing to poor examples set by pro athletes and takes them, “as they say in Star Trek, where they’ve never gone before.”

He said a reduction in funding would hinder summer training programs ahead of competition in the fall.

Mr. Graham said he was troubled by the prospect of youths having nothing to do this summer.

“I’m reminded of what my grandmother said,” Mr. Graham said. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

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