Brownsville Rec Center Members: “We’re Getting Short-Shifted!”
When Felicia Vasquez joined the Brownsville Stingrays swim team seven years ago, it was like a dream come true for her and her daughters. Her older daughters, Amanda and Brianna, had just completed the Learn To Swim program at the Betsy Head pool in Brownsville. After learning how to swim, they wanted an indoor pool to go to where they could be in the water regularly.
They were glad to have found something close when they discovered that the Brownsville Recreational Community Center was the only local NYC Parks and Recreation Department facility with an indoor pool. When they found out that the Center had its own swim team — the Brownsville Stingrays — they jumped at the chance to join a group where they would be able to continue their love of swimming.
Vasquez and her daughters loved being a part of the Stingrays and her youngest daughter, Sabrina, eventually joined. Being a part of the team was a great place to make new friends, get regular exercise and bonded them together as a family.
“It was contagious,” Felicia said. “My family came and was impacted. To see the fluidity of a swimmer, it also inspired their grandma, who would come to see them swim and then wanted to learn herself.”
The Vasquez family competed for many years in the four seasonal meets held by the NYC Parks and Recreation Department. But this is now threatened due to recent budget cuts. The available hours of the pool at the Brownsville Center were cut in February. This has not only cut the time that the community has access to the pool, but also affected the Stingrays.
Initially, practice times were two hours between 5-7 p.m. in order to accommodate the work and school schedules of local families. Pool access was reduced to 90 minutes and is currently only 45 minutes.
Many parents were rushing to bring their children after work and could not make it early enough; discouraged that the children would only end up having 45 minutes or less of time in the pool, decided to remove their children from the team. It became too much to have to wait while the rest of the community, which also deserved access to the pool, was still swimming and the Stingrays had no other choice but to wait their turn.
Working adults in the area relied on using the pool in the evenings, which was the only time that the Stingrays could use the pool. Hours for the community to use the pool had been switched to early afternoons, when most working adults and children were obviously not available.
In comparison to other facilities in the NYC Parks and Recreation Department, Vasquez feels that the Brownsville Center has been singled out, so she and her family started a petition to present to officials so that the regular pool access hours could be restored. With little knowledge of how to start a petition and whom to send it to, Vasquez and her daughters simply started calling local leaders and asking for their support. Vasquez notes that other facilities in Chelsea or Flushing, for example, have smaller swim teams but boast higher incomes in those neighborhoods and their facilities have extended hours.
Vasquez feels that with so much attention being focused in the media on health awareness and preventing childhood obesity, it is unfair to cut hours to places that provide children and families opportunities to engage in healthy activities like swimming.
“I feels like we’re being ignored here the most,’’ she said. “Statistics out there may say that minorities don’t swim or don’t want to swim, we prove that wrong. Females in the locker room are always asking us to learn how to swim. We’re known of as ‘The Swim Family’ here,’’Vasquez said.
Her daughter Sabrina, 13, agreed. “The swim team did a lot for us because we’re home-schooled. The swim team helps us to socialize and interact and meet lots of other people not just in our family. Being a part of a team helps break the stereotypes people have of home-schooled children that they don’t get out or are isolated or religious,’’ she said. Brianna Vasquez,16, shared that being a part of the Stingrays helped develop her confidence and show her how to depend on her teammates, which she feels is a great skill to have in life.
Amanda Vasquez, 23, now a graduate student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) was the first in her family to join the Stingrays and loved coming to the Brownsville Rec Center to swim as often as she could. With the reduced hours, she found it hard to make it to the pool by 6 p.m. and doesn’t understand why the adult hours are from 1-3 p.m., “right in the heart of people’s days,’’ she said. Amanda has teamed up with her mother to campaign for the hours to be restored to bring back the morale of the discouraged members of the Stingrays who only want a chance to swim. They are developing a website also to let Brownsville and the surrounding areas know that not only does the swim team exist, but that the pool is their pool, too, and is there for them.
By letting Parks and Recreation know how many people want the services of the pool, they hope to have a fighting chance. The Vasquez family has called and sent letters to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, City Council member Charles Barron, State Senator John Sampson and The New York Post. They are awaiting their responses.
The Brownsville Stingrays, after dealing with a lower morale, fewer members, and less time in the pool, still managed to achieve Second Place in the NYC Parks and Recreation Department’s Final Swim Meet of the season this Sunday.