Graduation rates in Schenectady County might be higher in suburban school districts than in the city, but for the Northeast Parent & Child Society it doesn’t matter where a student might fall out of the educational system.
For several years Northeast has developed its footprint in the City of Schenectady, but around a year-and-a-half ago it began to shift its focus to the towns and villages within the county. That mission has proven itself to provide new challenges and new opportunities for the nonprofit.
“We had in the past focused on the city,” Eugene White, spokesman for Northeast, said. “Since 2006, we’ve done intensive programs in the city and we’ve served hundreds upon hundreds of young adults in the city.”
The organization operates several different services and programs, such as YouthBuild program allowing young adults to earn a GED while getting paid to build affordable housing, and Energy Corps, which teaches homeowners about energy efficiency upgrades.
Sixty-seven people outside of the city now receive career development services. The greatest need remains within the city, but the organization is hoping to connect more young adults. Anyone from 16 to 24 can obtain career services.
“What we had done has been so successful we thought, let’s expand those services to reach more young adults in need,” White said.
Alisha Russo, career services manager for Northeast, said once the organization moved to its new downtown location on Franklin Street, it began to actively look outside the city. At Northeast’s former facility, White said the space limited how many people could be served.
“Now, with a centralized location in downtown Schenectady, it is a little easier to recruit young people to a place they may be already familiar with,” Russo said.
White said it is also useful to be part of the “growing area” in downtown Schenectady.
One challenge in reaching out to people in the towns and villages is transportation, Russo said. Unlike in the city, there aren’t many bus stops and many suburban residents have never ridden a bus.
“Typically, people who are coming from the outside areas are not really bus goers necessarily, so I think transportation is one of our biggest hurdles,” she said.
White said serving the post-high school demographic is also difficult, because there is not a “central gathering place” to find such people. Russo added trying to reach people who aren’t engaged and need services is difficult, since they aren’t engaged.
“We are trying to reach people in their individual homes or in their small peer and social (groups),” White said.
Recently, Northeast started to serve people even younger and now reaches out to 16-year-olds. This allowed them to go into schools and offer services to students.
Russo said there are fewer students to reach in districts like Niskayuna, where college attendance and graduation rates are “huge.” Most of those students already have a plan for after high school, she said.
Northeast has struggled to make connections in Niskayuna and Scotia-Glenville schools, but the organization is making inroads in Schalmont and Mohonasen.
The organization is also trying to increase name recognition through attendance at community events like the harvest festival in Scotia. This still hasn’t results in much recruitment.
“We have to figure out how to reach them better, whether it is through their peers … or community outreach,” White said. “There is no perfect formula.”
Once people come through the door, they generally find the programming to be helpful. Those graduates, White said, are key to growing the programming.
“The way we built the YouthBuild program in the city was by graduates becoming our best advocates,” he said. “Young adults, they listen to their peers more so than anything else we might do.”
To find out more information about Northeast Parents & Child Society’s programs and services, visit neparentchild.org. Russo said no one has been turned away before, even if they fell above its income guidelines.
“If you need help, you will get help in this building,” White said.