By Casandra Harris-Lockwood, editor-in-chief
In 2010 when then-Mayor Roefaro hired a consultant to research the impact of the loss of UCAI’s $10 million annual infusion of funding and programs, the biggest loss was determined to be in the arena of youth services. MVCAA has had 15 years to demonstrate its intentions and ability to provide services in the City of Utica. Their outcomes have proven disappointing. Most notably, they have failed to provide educational services to this city’s young people after they are anything but cute little toddlers.
Headstart is easy to get behind. Little kids are adorable and fairly easy to manage. Preschoolers are not our city’s biggest problem.
Disaffected youth, however, are indeed a problem. Attending to the educational needs of low-income youth in a community with higher than average poverty levels than both national and State is critical in overcoming that poverty. Successfully graduating them from high school is the very least we should look to accomplish.
Where is MVCAA’s commitment and support for education in this urban center? As President Trump points out, it is education that is the greatest weapon against poverty.High school dropouts, marauding bands of teenagers, gangs and gang-related activity, street violence, teen pregnancy, these are the sorts of problems MVCAA has turned its back on.
In the years since MVCAA assumed the position of eligible entity, it has become clear that urban services to seniors, health and nutrition programs, re-entry programming, entrepreneur support, race relations, teen pregnancy programming, psychological services, green job training, fatherhood development, construction training, arts, and music have not and will not be forthcoming from MVCAA.
MVCAA’s 990 and Char500 of 2015 indicate that their $15 million in income is solely from government sources and almost half of that income, over $7 million dollars goes to 21 different Headstart sites throughout Herkimer, Oneida and now Madison Counties. It doesn’t appear that there is much left for Utica’s urban center once the rest of the money is distributed to services to the poor and needy in rural Oneida, Herkimer and now Madison Counties.
When Utica had its own urban-centered Community Action 15 years ago program dollars were committed exclusively to urban concerns. But that was the 20th-century model and there was plenty to condemn in the policies and practices of UCAI.For The Good, Inc. has operated the Study Buddy Club continually with Hamilton College since 2002. Today the SBC operates at the Utica Public Library when not at Hamilton College and Utica College tutors are beginning to come on board. SUNY Poly tutors are next.
The SBC provides tutoring, mentoring and cultural enrichment to inner city middle school and high school at-risk youth every Saturday afternoon. These are not the Young Scholars. These are kids who gravitate to this program because they know they need help to make it through to graduation.
According to the leadership of MVCAA in their February 20, 2017, guest editorial in the OD, if “the agency was split into two eligible entities, the City of Utica’s CSBG allocation would be used primarily to support administrative costs and very little would remain to benefit families.”This is pure conjecture and untrue. FTG raises thousands of dollars annually through grant writing to make sure this program continues. This year AT&T will have achieved the $40,000 of support for this program in the past 3 years. The Community Foundation recently awarded FTG $16,500 for the Study Buddy Club.
For The Good receives precious few dollars in government funding and focuses on bringing in ‘new monies’ from outside the area. For instance just last year FTG was awarded $40,000 from Walmart Foundation for its Urban Gardens. These raised bed organic gardens located in the ‘food desert of the inner city’ provide protection from lead contamination in the soil and provide fresh organic produce to families and individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford to put this food on their tables.For The Good operates with a 21st-century model where we don’t support people in their poverty but rather we provide the means for them to overcome their poverty.
The FTG board of directors is prepared to be that urban agency to hire the grant writing staff to continue to develop programs to assist individuals and families in overcoming poverty. Former Congressman Hanna endorsed this concept in May of 2016.A statement from Congresswoman Tenney today indicates her recognition of, “the vital importance of For the Good and the many services they offer to our community, and she will advocate for the critical funding needed to continue these services.”
The agency is also committed to reestablishing a community center in the former UFA gymnasium section of the building. Several tours have been conducted in the structure and there is an intention to establish geothermal and solar applications to heat and cool the facility.
Ft. Drum officials have been contacted to perform preconstruction assessments and draw up plans for the development.Young people from the inner city should be involved in learning these new 21st century trades.Therapeutic riding programs have proven to be transformative for developmentally disabled youth. Growing up in poverty can certainly be considered to be a developmental disability.
The former drummer in the band Three Dog Night, Michael McMeel, is eager to come to our area to demonstrate his successful program called Inner City Slickers. It has changed the lives of hundreds of children entrenched in poverty on the West Coast. He recently brought the successful program to Rochester, NY.Our inner city kids learning about horses could produce jobs for them in the local equine industry. There are plenty of riding stables including Vernon Downs in our agricultural economy.Thinking outside of the box and supporting education and opportunity is how we will get out of this poverty mess. Waiting until kids are homeless or runaways; is literally waiting until the horse is out of the barn to attend to problems.
Let’s as a community decide we want to go in another direction and let MVCAA know it’s time for a change and Utica wants its own Community Action Agency restored. And For The Good is ready to be that agency.
For more information on this subject please search Blue Skies Ahead for Community Action January Utica Phoenix.