Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The playground at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in The Port neighborhood in Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

An after-school program that has served generations of families in The Port neighborhood is closing even as the city of Cambridge looks to fill gaps citywide for preschoolers to fifth-graders.

The Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, a Cherry Street nonprofit community center opened in 1902, announced in early February the closing of its After-School Program, one of the three services provided by the house in addition to a food pantry and community advancement program.

MFNH interim executive director Marc Jacobs said the closing resulted from financial constraints and staffing issues.

The After-School Program created a “minimum 30 percent to 35 percent shortfall between revenue received and the full costs of the program,” Jacobs said. A letter from the board of directors, signed by two After-School Program alums, called increasing tuition to make up for the loss “an unacceptable solution.”

“The program has not been fully subscribed or economically viable for a long period of time, as the city and state subsidies and other tuition payments cover only a portion of the actual operating expenses,” the letter said.  “Unfortunately, MFNH has not been successful in raising additional philanthropic dollars to fill the large financial gap and is unable to continue subsidizing the program.”

The program is set to close after this school year, but Jacobs said the MFNH isn’t waiting to get its 32 students situated for next year. Some are transitioning immediately to the Community Art Center, which had the capacity to add students.

“Rather than waiting until summertime, when there might not be available openings, we, along with our colleagues at the Agenda for Children, supported the movement of some children now so that they would have guarantees going forward,” Jacobs wrote in an email.

Citywide issue of seats

The nonprofit isn’t the only provider of after-school care struggling to provide – and hardly the largest.

The City of Cambridge’s Community Schools Afterschool Programs also aren’t accessible to all, according to a City Council policy order presented April 3. The city is able to offer 710 spots to applicants, which is just 52 percent of the 1,378 who applied.

While the Department of Human Services Program is set to add 130 community school spots and 40 youth program spots in a plan announced in February, this increase would still mean serving only 61 percent of all applicants. The plan to increase the accessibility of after-school programs will take place over three years.

“I know that that can be frustrating, especially when you’re talking about young people, but this is a good plan,” city councillor Marc McGovern said April 3.

The details for special education care were to be addressed in a separate policy order, councillors said. Together, the programs could provide opportunities for families in The Port that once expected to place their kids at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House – what board members there called a “legacy program that has served multiple generations of children and families.”

With news of the change there, “parents are sad and disappointed but understanding,” Jacobs said by email. “We have worked very closely with each to plan what might next be in the best interests of their children.”

This post was updated April 10, 2023, to remove a reference to after-school funds being redirected to MFNH food pantry and family support programs. The nonprofit’s Marc Jacobs says the funds cannot be repurposed.