In the newspapers...
|Albany Times/Union article
Schenectady community garden sees bountiful harvest
Plots for members offer them room to grow vegetables, fruit and share with neighbors
By Paul Nelson
Published 9:48 pm, Sunday, August 21, 2016
Allison Williams finds gardening therapeutic.
So, when the retired school teacher in Mont Pleasant found out she could use a plot of land to grow organic vegetables for just $5, she jumped at it.
"There is so much spirituality that goes with gardening," Williams said. "When you have a bad day, you can dig a hole, put some seeds in there, and something will grow."
Williams is one of 18 people from across Schenectady who have a 10-by-20 plot on 1½ acres at the Schenectady Inner City Ministry Community Garden on Hulett Street.
She wishes more residents of Hamilton Hill had gotten plots and doesn't mind that people sometimes scale the high fence around the property to get to the vegetables in the garden.
"It's a community garden, and if people are hungry enough to climb that fence, then they should be able to get what whatever they need because it's plenty for everybody," she added.
Iva Gay, SICM's garden coordinator, said the majority of the people who signed up are new to gardening but eager to learn.
The agency initially provided plants and seeds to each gardener and some of those individuals went out on their own and bought more.
Gay, who provided the gardeners with guidance, said it's been a bountiful harvest, with everything from cabbage to cucumbers to cilantro.
The plants in a fenced-in area are watered in the morning and at night, added Gay, also known as the "Garden Lady."
The Rev. Phillip Grigsby, executive director of SICM, said the garden site, which is owned by Duryee Memorial AME church, was one of the community gardens back in the 1990s. Once that ended, the land became overrun by weeds and brush and was empty for at least a decade.
The clean-up work, which took about year, included removing all the weeds and tilling and fertilizing the soil.
"We have the largest food pantry, and it's good to give people food that need it, but it's even better if they can grow their own food," said Grigsby. "Yeah, it's about feeding families, but it's also about building communities."
George Warner, 68, has harvested collard greens, three different types of tomatoes (celebrity, cherry, regular) cucumbers, squash and peppers.
"When you cook something from out of that garden, it has a whole different taste than what you get in the store because it's all organic, we don't spray anything," Warner added.
Warner said he taught a fellow gardener, who is Guyanese, how to take care of collard greens.
"There are a lot of people there who have plots so we exchange and share information," Warner added.
Grigsby said in the future they are hoping to expand the community garden, possibly on the property next door where a vacant dwelling is located.
Williams, whose garden has produced tomatoes, eggplant and kale, said she cooks the vegetables herself and shares some with family and friends.
"Once you learn how to plant food, you know where your food comes from," she said.
email@example.com • 518-454-5347 • @apaulnelson
Photos: New books for young readers in Schenectady
New York Newspapers Foundation underwrites giveaway
Published 5:48 pm, Tuesday, August 30, 2016
SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady Inner City Ministry wrapped up its summer children's book giveaway Tuesday at Steinmetz Homes during its Summer Meals program.
New books were given to children ranging in age from toddlers on up, underwritten by a $5,000 grant from the New York Newspapers Foundation.
Studies show that summer learning opportunities improve academic outcomes for youth and that early and sustained summer learning opportunities lead to higher graduation rates and better preparation for college. Summer programs have also been shown to positively affect children's self-esteem, confidence and motivation.
SICM Summer Interns Greg Diebold and Kate Sears traveled daily to two to three Summer Meals sites this summer to read to children and give them new books to take home. SICM has received and distributed used children's books for many summers, but this year the children are treated to brand new books. SICM used the grant to purchase hundreds of children's books from The Open Door on Jay Street, which offered a discount for the bulk order.
By Sarah Roberts/For The Daily Gazette July 21, 2016
SCHENECTADY — Ayden Bernard trotted behind his grandmother Idella Jackson as she walked through the new community garden at 333 Hulett St. in Hamilton Hill late Wednesday morning. The 10-year-old enthusiastically pointed out some of the new additions to his family’s section of the garden — beans, lemon cucumbers and kohlrabi, a cousin of the cabbage that can be eaten raw or chopped into a slaw.
But tomatoes, said Ayden, are the best part about the garden.
“I eat the red ones,” he said before running off to grab a hose and water the vegetables.
The patch of land is tucked between two multi-story houses, one of which is abandoned. The plot is packed with full, leafy green plants and young sprouts. Bright green tomatoes, long zucchini squash, and golden yellow blossoms peek out among the foliage.
Ayden’s grandmother Jackson, 64, lives a street over on Craig Street. She said the garden is a tremendous addition to Hamilton Hill, not just in appearance; it also gives residents living in the food desert a much-needed option for fresh and nutritious produce.
“First of all it makes [the neighborhood] look pretty. And it’s healthy, and we’re hungry. We go to the pantry and get our vegetables, but now we’ll have our own,” said Jackson as her other grandchild, 31⁄2-year-old Autymn Ford, stood nearby picking at a patch of weeds.
The garden is part of a joint effort between the Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM) and Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church, which is located a few houses down from the garden on Hulett Street.
The two groups worked together last summer to clean up trash and debris from the lot and prepare the ground for planting. The land, which is owned by Duryee Memorial, was already hooked up with water for hoses. When SICM offered 5-by-10-foot plots to the community, 18 people signed on for $5 each, filling up the lot when planting began in April.
On Wednesday morning, officials from SICM, Duryee Memorial Church and the city of Schenectady, including Mayor Gary McCarthy, came together to hold a ribbon-cutting celebrating the success of the garden.
Schenectady City Counsel President Leesa Perazzo pointed out the importance of the garden for a community that exists in a food desert. Grocery stores with cheap and nourishing foods are not located nearby, making it hard for low-income residents to access good nutrition.
“I think whenever community members come together it strengthens a community,” Perazzo said. “I know that it serves the people immediately from this neighborhood, and this neighborhood is a food desert. There is not a market close by, so to have fresh produce, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit is crucial.”
Some of the produce from the garden has also been shared with SICM’s Emergency Food Pantry, said pantry manager Shelly Ford at the ribbon-cutting.
“It’s just wonderful to see the product. And [gardeners] do bring some of the product back over to the pantry, with zucchini this big,” Ford said, motioning with her hands. “I’ve never seen zucchini that big.”
SICM Executive Director Rev. Phil Grigsby said that the group is applying for grants to fund the purchase of tools and general upkeep at the garden, but the hope is to eventually add more gardens throughout neighborhoods that need them
Idella Jackson said she has already picked some green tomatoes to fry at home.
“It’s coming along nicely. I’m going to pick kale today before I leave,” said Jackson. She explained that SICM Garden Coordinator Iva Gay has been helpful, planting corn and other vegetables on her plot. Despite Jackson’s bad knees that make it more difficult to get around these days, she said she’s having fun with the garden, and so are her grandchildren.
“I’m going to come back,” she said. “I want to put collared greens, and I want to put in cabbage.”
By Zachary Matson July 16, 2016
SCHENECTADY — “I don’t like Cocoa Puffs, it’s too much chocolate,” 10-year-old Zariah Mosley said as she shuffled to a gazebo at Steinmetz Park where she and her fellow day campers dug into breakfast. “I want cinnamon. Cinnamon cereal.”
As she walked back to the gazebo, her sisters – Mariah, Lalysha and Nikica – took their turns at the white truck parked on the side of the road, where Ron P. Harrichan and Brandon Williams, mobile drivers for the Schenectady Inner City Mission’s summer meals program, handed out free meals to anyone who showed up that morning earlier this month.
Zariah’s sisters waited patiently as the kids made a choice between Cocoa Puffs and Cinnamon Crunch cereals and white and chocolate milk. Everyone got a juice too. Lalysha, 11, followed behind her sister with a strawberry juice and a smile. “Because I like the strawberry,” she said.
Just moments after Harrichan had closed up the back of the truck, a minivan full of kids pulled up beside it. Back to the kitchen on wheels.
“Hey, how you doing?” Williams asked the kids after they piled out of the van and trickled over to the mobile unit. “Cocoa Puff or Cinnamon Toast Crunch?”
This time the last meals at the site were served, and Harrichan and Williams pulled off to the next site – down the street at Yates Village on the city’s Northside.
Each weekday morning from June 27 to Sept. 2, at around 8:15 a.m., Harrichan and Williams arrive at Mount Olivet Baptist Church where they load up Mobile Van 2 and head off to deliver cold breakfast — a choice of cereal, juice and chocolate or white milk — to five stops around town. Harrichan takes the driver seat as Williams grabs some cold waters and jumps into the passenger side of the truck; they pull out of the church parking lot and onto Park Street just before 8:30 a.m. and head off to deliver the program’s first meal of the day at the Steinmetz Park camp.
The mobile-breakfast program is new this summer, and organizers of the annual summer meals program are gauging whether to ramp it up to more sites next year. “We’re just starting and have had really good days and other days not so much,” said Dave Taylor, director of the SICM summer meals program. “We’ll see if it takes off.”
Williams has been volunteering with the program since his grandmother ran it when he was 14 or 15. Harrichan came into the SICM food pantry for a meal and started volunteering there earlier this year. After a few months, an organizer asked if he had a driver’s license, and he was hired to deliver meals this summer.
Harrichan always drives. He spent 15 years working as a driver in New York City, so nothing on Schenectady streets faze him. “I drive a school bus in the city, a truck in the city, so this is a piece of cake.”
At each stop, Harrichan hops out of the truck and lifts open the back gate, where Williams stands in the back of the truck matching milks and cereals to the kids’ orders. He hands the meal to Harrichan, who passes it on to the kids and on to the next one, ticking off the meal count on a chart as they go.
“It’s like serve, drive, serve, drive,” Harrichan said.
As they pulled into Yates Village, 9-year-old Jetziel Perez rode his bike down to the truck. While Jetziel said he usually sleeps in until noon during the summer, he woke up early that morning, and with a stir of hunger in his stomach peered out his widow and saw as the truck approached the stop.
“I just see it and I tell my aunt I’m gonna go eat,” 9-year-old Jetzeil Perez said. “I never get Cocoa Puffs at my house, that’s why I was quick here. I want Cocoa Puffs.”
But the day doesn’t start when Williams and Harrichan load up their mobile and head out for the first deliveries of the day. The day starts down the street in an office inside the cafeteria at Schenectady High School, where Wendy Lemperle arrives to work at about 4:30 a.m. Lemperle is Schenectady’s food service director with Whitsons Culinary Group, the vendor that provides food for city schools throughout the year as well as SICM’s summer meals program.
She settles in at her desk and checks her emails from the night before. The summer meals coordinators at SICM send a nightly order for the next day’s meals, broken down by site, and Lemperle assigns the meal totals to her three trucks. She also takes inventory and submits order for her own operation: how many hot dogs are needed? How many paper bags? Sandwich bags and loaves of bread?
“I like to check all my emails and get everything situated, that way I’m ready and clearheaded for these guys,” Lemperle said motioning to the drivers and cooks that maneuvered around her as she stood in the middle of the kitchen. “Sometimes it makes for a long day, especially with the heat.”
The kitchen’s eight industrial-size ovens, switched on as early as 5 a.m., will cook hundreds of chicken patties or slices of pizza or hot dogs, depending on the day, totaling nearly 2,000 meals. The Whitsons cooks will make and pack hundreds of deli sandwiches — their summer work also includes 1,300 daily summer school meals.
For SICM, the Whitsons trucks leave the high school loading dock by 10:30, and swing by the SICM kitchen at Mount Olivet to drop off meals for the mobile units — two for lunches — and pick up gloves, hair nets and other supplies before heading over to one of 26 fixed lunch sites scattered around town.
When those trucks arrive at Mount Olivet, the SICM team is in full summer meals mode. An assembly line of workers at a long table in the church basement kitchen packs hundreds of bag lunches.
Chenier Crumble stood on one end of the table and shook open one paper bag at a time, stuffing it with a spork and napkins and bag of carrots. Eric Chatham floated between helping Crumble with the carrots and napkins and stuffing chips and apple sauce before passing the bags down the table. Lisa Ouellette finished stuffing the bags with chips, all whole grain and oven baked, and apple sauce before she handed them to the final worker at the table, who rolled them closed, lined them in a box and tallied each bagged meal.
“When you have to make 900 meals, it’s easier to do an assembly line than with just one person,” said Olivia Cox, one of two program coordinators. The people on the assembly line are site coordinators at fixed lunch sites around town. Some of the fixed sites at churches are staffed and run by those congregations. “It’s a pretty efficient program we’ve got going down here.”
Outside, the mobile team — two pairs of driver and co-pilot — loaded up the bagged meals and cold drinks. They also wrapped hundreds of individual slices of pizza (Friday is pizza day) and readied their trucks for the busy lunchtime journey through Schenectady. After returning from the breakfast run by 10:45 a.m., Harrichan and Williams earned a short respite before hitting the road for lunch.
To make its first stop at Ellis Hospital at 11:15 a.m., however, Mobile 1, manned by Sherain Rivera and Sherod Goodman, must leave about 5 minutes before they are scheduled to appear at the stop. From then on, it’s a mad dash across town, hitting eight stops in two hours.
“How you doing?” Rivera asked the first girl in line at the stop in the parking lot of the Ellis McClellan campus. “Chocolate milk or white milk?”
“Chocolate . . .” the girl answered as she caught a glimpse of the main course and shouted a happy reply. “Peeeza!”
“Pizza,” Rivera confirmed. “They smile when pizza is here.” The pair served 18 meals total at the hospital before rolling to the next stop at Elmer Elementary School.
By the time they pulled to the side of Eastern Avenue at 11:40 a.m., a group of kids on the Elmer playground started to converge on the truck. Other kids appeared seemingly from nowhere, turning the corner at one end of the school building or making their way down the sidewalk from the other end. Within minutes, the line of kids waiting for lunch numbered in the dozens. The mobile unit can serve over 100 meals at a single stop. Rivera greets familiar faces, making sure the youngest kids get to the front of the line and making sure a brother or sister or cousin that may need a meal of their own isn’t sitting at home.
“Sometimes they just pop out of nowhere,” Rivera said. “We’re not gonna leave if we see kids.”
Across town at the community room at Yates Village, one of over two dozen fixed lunch sites was bustling with activity. Site coordinator Lina Ortiz showed off her domain like a proud mother.
“It’s about the children, they get so happy when they see you come in: ‘The lunch lady, the lunch lady,’ ” Ortiz said. “As a kid in New York City, I went to free lunch programs. I was the young girl that used to stand in line, and I admired the ladies who handed out the food.”
“It’s come full circle,” said Olivia Cox, the program coordinator, who was visiting the Yates site.
“I get excited, now I’m the one who stands behind the table,” Ortiz said.
In one corner of the community room, a pair of SICM interns read to kids and handed out donated books. At a table beside them, Kelsey Heck, a nutrition educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, engaged kids and parents in an activity that explored the different food groups. (Half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables, she said.)
Behind the table where the meals were handed out, volunteers from General Electric debated the difference between engineers and scientists, and high school students collected volunteers credits needed for the National Honor Society and International Baccalaureate classes. A Yates Elementary School teacher volunteered for the summer after noticing the pamphlets distributed to students at the school.
“It’s nice here, the people are nice here, it’s love,” said Jeanetta Carter, who lives at Yates and has been visiting the lunch site with her son for six summers. “They treat people with respect.”
The fixed sites are closed by 2:30 p.m., and the last mobile stop of the day finishes by 2:45 p.m. But for the core of paid staffers, the day is still not over. The mobiles return to the Mount Olivet home base, where leftovers are organized and stored for future use, count sheets are entered into the program database, mobile trucks are cleaned and coolers are scrubbed out
By the time they pack up for the day, about 13 hours after Lemperle, the Whitsons manager, started her day at the high school, over 1,900 meals will have been served at 47 locations around the city. On any given day, 80 volunteers join around 35 paid staff to pack, deliver and serve the meals to hundreds – sometimes as many as 2,000 – kids.
Back in the church office where Assistant Program Director Eileen Ploetz, Coordinator Anna Winters and Cox work, Ploetz pulled up a master spread sheet that keeps the tally for every meal served at every site throughout the summer. From this list every night, Ploetz, in her fifth summer, and Winters, in her fourth, study average meal counts and trends and shoot off an email order for each site to Lemperle. It’s the last task of the day and usually happens around 5 p.m. The email sits in Lemperle’s inbox until shortly after 4:30 the next morning.
“I always say I’m not going to come back, but I always do. There is just something about this program,” Ploetz said. “I would not be surprised if I’m sitting here again next year, but we’ll see what happens.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, firstname.lastname@example.org or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.
Panelists share thoughts on race, violence and police
By Haley Viccaro July 14, 2016
SCHENECTADY — A group of 10 panelists spoke openly to a packed room at Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church on Wednesday evening about racism, violence and community-police relations following the recent killings of black men and police officers countrywide.
Rockie Mann, of JAFJR Construction, said when he first walked into the church he thought, “Wow, there are a bunch of white people here!”
“If only they would talk to their friends about racism and carry the message of what they feel in their hearts about equality if they would bring it back to their community,” he said.
At the same time, he said he would challenge blacks to take a closer look at what’s happening in their communities.
“I don’t think it’s just our kids out there acting crazy and I don’t think it’s just the drugs,” he said. “I think we, as a group, should come together and help.”
The Rev. Horace Sanders Jr. moderated the discussion, which implored panelists and members of the community to speak from the heart and that it’s OK to disagree but to be respectful.
Panelists were Mann; Anna Mattis, critical race and ethnic studies graduate; the Rev. Phil Grigsby, executive director of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry; Odo Naku Butler, law and policy doctoral candidate; Gary McCarthy, Schenectady mayor; Wayne Bennett, Schenectady public safety commissioner; Anzala Alozie, vice president of Girl Scouts of Northeastern NY; the Rev. Sara Baron, First United Methodist Church of Schenectady; Damonni Farley, co-founder of the Miracle on Craig Street; and Rowie Taylor, executive director of YWCA of Northeastern NY.
Sanders asked the panelists why some white people say Black Lives Matter is a racist organization.
Several panelists pointed to “white privilege” as the issue.
“There’s an immense amount of white privilege and we haven’t spent enough time becoming aware of our shared history,” said Baron, who is white.
Mattis, who is also white, said she believes that some people misunderstand the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s not racist because no matter what society we’re in you cannot be racist against white people because that is the people who hold the position of power,” she said.
She added, “When people say All Lives Matter and are OK with Blue Lives Matter, it’s Black Lives Matter that they have a problem with.”
Taylor said she believes there should be more discussion among blacks and whites about actions and changes that would help everyone to move forward together.
The conversation really zoomed in on police interactions with the black community in Schenectady.
Bennett fielded the majority of questions people wrote on index cards. He responded with the message that trust is a two-way street.
“Police officers are the ultimate bottom step of the ladder,” he said. “Eventually it’s who else do we call but the police? You’re dealing with a lot of people who cannot afford to survive to a reasonable degree. It’s time to focus on what really counts here. Nobody should be that poor in America that they can’t eat and sleep comfortably.”
Farley stressed that there is nothing wrong with Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant, the two highest crime areas in the city. He said if the environment changed to give people there equal opportunities that they would thrive.
Sanders said there is a level of anxiety that black people feel when an officer approaches them that white people just don’t understand.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get approached by a good officer or an officer who is having a bad day,” he said.
When asked about community policing, Bennett honestly said the Schenectady Police Department just can’t do it.
He said the call volume in the city makes it impossible. The department fields 300 calls every 24 hours, he said.
“We are eight people understaffed under the budgeted staff of 154,” he said. “It’s not going to be improved anytime soon. It would be almost impossible other than during select times of the day and areas in the city to go back to the old-fashioned beat cop. It’s just not efficient and it’s very costly.”
McCarthy said he is looking to shift the budget and stabilize the tax base to attract more people and be more proactive with residents.
“We want people to feel police are true partners in terms of delivery of services and needs of the neighborhoods,” he said.
Farley said he would like to see more interactions between residents and police officers.
“When I have an interaction with an officer it shouldn’t be in a crisis,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re not trying to build a relationship in the midst of a crisis and expect somebody to make a rational decision.”
Butler said what’s happening today in the world is a reversal of things that happened decades ago.
“This is real life,” he said. “It’s a crisis. It’s critical and it’s serious. I think it has a deep historical context tied to it. This is a very deep and complex issue. We need to get past these superficial conversations and get into the deep policy issues that will make a difference in people’s lives.”
Sanders said the conversation on Wednesday was just the beginning and that the dialogue will be continued to “tear down the social construct called race.”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, email@example.com or @HRViccaro on Twitter.
By Stephen Williams May 2, 2016
PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ
Families and neighbors walked together to take a stand against hunger in the world during the Schenectady Crop Hunger Walk held on Sunday afternoon May 1,2016.
SCHENECTADY — Despite drizzly weather, about 400 people turned out Sunday afternoon to walk a few kilometers and raise an estimated $50,000 to fight hunger, in Schenectady and around the world.
“It’s the first time in 19 years we’ve had bad weather,” said the Rev. Phillip Grigsby, a longtime organizer of the annual CROP Walk, which marked its 36th year locally. “It’s drizzly, but it’s not a downpour.”
The 5K walk, which began and ended at Emmanuel Friedens Church on Nott Terrace, brings together an interdenominational group of Christians and others to raise money to help fight hunger.
Many of the walkers had the foresight to bring umbrellas. They proceeded from Nott Terrace down hill to Jay Street and the Schenectady Greenmarket, then around Union College and back up the hill to Nott Terrace.
Event spokeswoman Janet Mattis said turnout wasn’t off significantly because of the weather. “It might be down a little,” she said.
Schenectady Crop Hunger Walk
The Schenectady walk was one of the largest of several CROP walks held Sunday around the Capital Region, all to raise money for the fight against hunger. There was also a one-mile alternative.
“The No. 1 thing it does is raise awareness,” Mattis said.
CROP stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty. The local walk is part of a national movement, though not all walks are held the same day. Still, there were CROP walks Sunday in Albany, Mayfield, Schoharie and Greenwich.
Grigsby, who heads the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, said the walk is an effective symbolic gesture, considering that hungry people around the world have to walk every day to find food.
“We walk one day a year because they walk every day,” he said. “They walk for food, because they are refugees, for shelter.”
Last year, the Schenectady walk raised nearly $48,000, so this year’s goal was $50,000. Grigsby said they won’t know the total raised until later this week.
About a quarter of the money is used locally to support food pantries and other food programs, with the other 75 percent going to the international work of Church World Service or to specific charities that could be specified by donors.
“You’re making a genuine difference in the lives of thousands of people,” Megan Miller of Church World Services told the walkers before the event started.
Walkers obtained pledges from their fellow church members or others for completing the walk.
Caryn March of the Rotterdam United Methodist Church has walked for the last four or five years, in her role as a youth leader at the church. She encourages teenagers to walk, and walks with them.
“I try to get them to understand that even though it’s a big huge mission [to feed the hungry], they can do a small part,” she said.
Niles Rowe of Schenectady, who has walked almost every year since 1992 and described his congregation as the “Denny’s Christian Group,” said he walks “out of a Christian motivation for doing good works.”
Catholic Charities Senior and Caregiver Support Services organized the cookies, popcorn and lemonade that awaited walkers when they returned to Emmanuel Friedens Church.
The organization, who operates four senior citizen congregate dining sites in Schenectady County, is among the walk’s beneficiaries.
“One of the nice things about the CROP Walk is it provides [Catholic Charities] with between $5,000 and $7,000, and it goes directly to seniors in the community,” said Margo Mahoski of Catholic Charities.
Grigsby said the Church World Services money is used in 55 countries around the world, to relieve hunger and address emergencies like that created by the April 16 earthquake in Ecuador.
“The people who walked last year are helping now in Ecuador,” Grigsby said.
SICM sponsoring discussion groups on diversity
By Vanessa Langdon/For The Daily Gazette April 4, 2016
SCHENECTADY — A series of discussion groups focusing on diversity and community are being sponsored by the group Schenectady County Embraces Diversity.
“Dialogue to Change” discussions start this week and continue for the next six. The groups meet for two hours once a week, and are focusing on the theme “Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation.”
“It’s not just a group where we complain and talk about problems. We make a plan about what we can change,” said the Rev. Horace Sanders, chief diversity officer of Schenectady Inner City Ministry. “When the groups meet we sit down we talk about diversity, we talk about race relations, we talk about things that are pertinent and relevant of the participants in the group and when it’s all said and done we come up with an action plan about what they can do.”
The discussion groups follow a curriculum that offers a structured way to promote dialogue and understanding that could lead to action, according to a statement from the Schenectady Inner City Ministry.
Sanders explained that the meetings are not lectures but participant-led conversations. “We’re looking for people who are willing to talk and share — share their experiences and thoughts,” he said.
Registration for the groups is ongoing at www.sicm.us or through the SICM office at 1055 Wendell Ave. There are groups that meet in the morning, afternoon and evening throughout the week; registrants can rank days and times by preference and will be placed in a group accordingly.
Sanders says the discussion groups are a way to bridge gaps in society, and are open to all adults, of at least 21 years of age, across Schenectady County.
“Not only will people come from diverse backgrounds but different communities, different cultures,” Sanders said. “It all adds a bit of diversity to the conversation.”
While the groups will be led by members of the Schenectady County Inner City Ministry, Sanders stressed that the conversation will not focus on religion.
“This is something that’s open to the entire community, it’s something that’s designed to enhance the relations we have between different and diverse communities,” Sanders said. “We’re open to all different ethnic background — there’s no area of diversity that we’re excluding.”
Schenectady County Embraces Diversity was formed by SICM in partnership with the YWCA of Northeastern New York, the League of Women Voters, the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission, Schenectady County Community College and others.
These dialogues will be the first foray for the organization into adult programing. Up until now they have focused on high school and middle school students, efforts that continue.
“I’m very excited about it because it’s very much a proven experience that can lead to people having transformative experience through the process,” said Rev. Phillip Grigsby, executive director of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry. “It’s a very important topic and it’s an unfinished agenda in our community so we’re encouraging folks to join up.”
CAPITOL — A recently-formed coalition of Schenectady clergy and community activists pressed their message of “fully funding” Schenectady city schools at the state Capitol on Monday.
Around 50 residents — some congregation leaders, some church members, some parents and a handful of students — visited lawmakers with a plain and clear message: Schenectady schools deserve $62 million more a year.
“Children in Schenectady and other high-poverty areas aren’t receiving their constitutionally-mandated opportunity for a sound, basic education,” said Bernardo Martinez, one of the group’s leaders and deacon at Bible Church of Christ.
The coalition, which formed earlier this year and has held a handful of organizing meetings, points to a 10-year-old court ruling that led to the state’s foundation aid formula, which was intended to allocate funding for districts across the state. Schenectady schools would receive about $62 million more a year if the formula was fully funded under the dollar amount promised by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The state is over $4 billion shy of fully funding the formula across the state, under those amounts.
The coalition’s objective, its leaders have said, is to push the Legislature to give Schenectady the $62 million this year.
The coalition members who visited the Capitol on Monday brought over 1,400 signatures of support with them as well as around 90 resolutions of support from Schenectady businesses, congregations and other organizations. They planned to meet with Sens. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblymen Phil Steck, D-Colonie, and Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
And if the Legislature doesn’t find the money to boost Schenectady school funding by $62 million? “We will come back with a bigger group,” Martinez said.
But lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have provided little indications this year that they will be dipping deep enough into the state’s coffers to come up with what the coalition is asking for. Republican senators have focused largely on ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment — cuts to district budgets that are still outstanding for mostly medium and low-need districts. And Cuomo said last month that the dollar figure education advocates have cited for foundation aid isn’t as set in stone as they suggest, calling the amount they push for “outrageously high.”
“The court left it to the state to determine funding,” Cuomo told upstate editorial boards last month, according to Gannet reports. “Eliot Spitzer then said he thinks this should be the number. They want to say: ‘We want Eliot’s number as a goal.’ Why? Because Eliot put an outrageously high number on the table.”
The Schenectady coalition’s leaders, however, argue the state’s current funding levels leave Schenectady schools far short of what is needed to provide students with the opportunities they need to thrive, citing program cutbacks and limited course offerings.
“Every year we make decisions about education that have nothing to do about education,” said Schenectady Board of Education member Ann Reilly, who joined the coalition at the Capitol as a parent. “They are really decisions about how much money we are shortchanged.”
Martinez let two of his children — a third-grader and fifth-grader — tag along for the visit to the Capitol. Just like their dad, they were on message and said their schools could use better funding.
“I think that children deserve to have a good education,” Woodlawn Elementary School fifth-grader Isabella Martinez said.
“We are trying to make the governor give us the money for our schools, so the students won’t suffer,” third-grader Noah Martinez added.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, firstname.lastname@example.org or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.