SARANAC LAKE - The Saranac Lake Youth Center has new board members, a new location and a "whole new culture," according to its treasurer.
Now all it needs to do is make up a $20,000 budget shortfall.
Diane Roberts, the new treasurer of the SLYC board, met with the North Elba Town Council on Tuesday in Saranac Lake. Town officials asked for the meeting after the youth center sought $1,000 the board set aside, but had yet to allocate, for the center in the 2010 town budget.
The town withheld the money in the wake of the January arrest of former SLYC director Michael Scaringe Jr. on charges that he raped a 13-year-old girl who frequented the youth center. Following his arrest, the center was closed for two months until it reopened in late March.
Since then, the town has given $500 of the $1,000 intended for the center to the Saranac Lake Area Summer Youth Program. Before town officials agreed to give the SLYC the remaining $500, they sought assurances Tuesday that the youth center was heading in the right direction.
"What's changed in the organization so such events can't happen again?" asked Supervisor Roby Politi.
Roberts said the youth center has new board members. Ray and Donna Dora, Meg Vinograd and Roberts have joined existing board members Doug Zobel, who remains president of the board, Scott Eichholz and Jennifer Harry. Peggy Wiltberger has resigned as the board's treasurer but will probably stay on as a board member, Roberts said.
She also said the board has come up with new rules for the youth center and will model it after the Thomas Shipman Youth Center in Lake Placid.
"We're starting the center pretty much from scratch," Roberts said. "It's not going to be a hang-out for kids. It's an after-school program. We've got lots of activities like arts and crafts, kayaking and bringing people from the outside to talk about careers. We've come up with new rules, new programming, a new code of conduct and a whole new culture."
Politi asked if adults who are interacting with kids will be subject to background checks.
"Absolutely," said Roberts. She said the youth center performed a background check on Scaringe before he was hired last year, something SLYC board members had previously refused to reveal.
"Background checks were always done," Roberts said. "The previous background check (on Scaringe) was done on one name and another name had been used somewhere else, so of course that probably wouldn't have been picked up."
Scaringe, who was known as Michael Josephson when he grew up in Saranac Lake and changed his name after he left the area, had no prior criminal record before his arrest in January. He had been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl when he worked as a substitute music teacher at a school in St. Petersburg, Fla. in 1995, but he was acquitted in a jury trial.
Roberts said the youth center uses a company called Universal Background Screening to perform its background checks at a cost of about $100 each. The company checks a person's criminal record in several states, not just New York, she said.
Since it reopened in March, the youth center has been run by volunteers. Roberts said they want to hire a new director, but don't have the funds because of a $20,000 budget shortfall.
Politi asked how the youth center plans to cover that deficit.
"Certainly the town of North Elba is not in a position to make up that shortfall, nor is any municipality given what's going on in the real world today," he said.
Roberts said several fundraisers are planned. She also said the center received $5,000 from area residents in response to a recent appeal letter.
By the end of the meeting, town board members said they were confident about the direction and leadership of the youth center, and agreed to allocate the $500.
"I think I would have been disappointed if you told me it was the same board of directors," Politi told Roberts. "That's somewhat of a relief. From what you've expressed, there are people who have a sincere interest, given the amount of volunteer hours they've put in."
Earlier in the meeting, Roberts said the number of teenagers using the youth center has dropped off, which she attributed to "recent events" involving the facility. She was hopeful that the SLYC's move from a small storefront on Broadway to a larger space on Woodruff Street will reverse that trend.
"We had a core group of kids, and I think we need to rebuild that," she said. "I think the new space is a much better, more centralized location that will be able to get our numbers back up."
The youth center will open its new site on July 19. An open house is planned during the Saranac Lake Block Party on Aug. 5.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.