Author: Central New York Community Foundation

CNY Vitals is an initiative of the Central New York Community Foundation. The Central New York Community Foundation is a tax-exempt public charity. Its mission is to foster a thriving Central New York community, inspire greater giving, celebrate legacy and steward charitable resources for today and tomorrow.

Summer Learning: Filling the Gaps

When the school year ends, children in high-poverty environments often lose the opportunity to benefit from healthy food and safe places to spend their days. And their social and economic situations often provide few occasions where they can continue their learning. The cumulative effect is a crisis in the making: students lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer. By the fifth grade, this aforementioned “summer learning loss” can leave low-income students up to three years behind their peers.

But there is some hopeful news. Elementary school students who regularly attend voluntary summer learning programs experience continued progress in both math and reading. In fact, studies show that six-week summer learning programs can lead to significant gains in reading performance.

Summer learning loss is common in all regions of Central New York, but it is prevalent in many of Syracuse’s city neighborhoods where educational opportunities outside of school are less accessible. Many children live in single-parent and low-income households, which can mean that limited time and resources are available to continue learning during the summer months.

One of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods is the Southside’s Census Tract 52. Here, unemployment and public assistance benefits are above average and educational success is limited. The summer learning option for this neighborhood – McKinley-Brighton Summer School – has been known to offer morning classes Monday through Friday from early July to early August. While this was a great opportunity for students, it resulted in vacant afternoons and dates in June and August when students would not be engaged in learning opportunities.

In partnership with the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County, the Central New York Community Foundation sought to resolve engagement gaps by providing wrap-around support and incentives for students attending the McKinley-Brighton Summer School.  A series of field trips including visits to a horse barn, Mercy Mountain’s ropes course and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo enticed students to attend and facilitated community engagement.  A survey of 4th and 5th grade attendees reported that field trips were ranked “The best part of the summer program,” followed closely by rocket launching, an onsite activity.

Behind all of the summer fun were substantial learning opportunities, keeping both parents and children satisfied. Forty-five percent of parents that participated in the survey valued academic preparation as their favorite aspect of the program. Many of the students that were surveyed reported that Science, Math, and Engineering were topics covered in the program that were new to them. Introducing new skills not only prevented summer learning loss but actually cultivated their academic advancement.

With summer comes lots of idle time and many parents looked to the McKinley-Brighton Summer School program as a safe space for children to play, learn and stay positively engaged. This was especially beneficial for the number of high risk students enrolled in the program. For many parents, this was the first summer support program that they utilized for their child. Eighty-four percent of surveyed parents said that their child attended the program every day.

By filling in the gaps in the old program and providing wrap-around services, McKinley-Brighton was able to increase its average daily attendance from 51.53% in 2017 to 66.81% in 2018, therefore curbing the disadvantaged state that many students slip into over the summer. By participating in continued learning opportunities in the summer, students were able to return to their new classrooms ready to learn.



Students of Many Cultures See Themselves While Reading & Learning

As the Syracuse Academy of Science and Citizenship Charter School (SASCCS) concluded its first successful year of operation, there was much to be proud of: students received ample one-on-one attention, parental engagement thrived, and teachers and students came together to build a diverse learning community. Yet, something very essential was still missing.

“Literacy can’t be confined solely to the classroom,” said Tolga Hayali, superintendent of Science Academies of New York Charter Schools.  “Children need a shared space where they can explore their love of reading and access a variety of books.”

Hayali’s vision for SASCCS would not be complete until the children had a library of their own. While many could see the absence of a library as a limitation, Hayali recognized the situation as a great opportunity to design a unique, culturally responsive literacy program that reflected the needs and backgrounds of the student body.

Nearly fifteen percent of SASCCS students are English language learners. A medley of languages floats through the hallways, ranging from Swahili to Spanish to Myanmar Matu. And many students do not hear English when they return home after school. While this can add to the challenge of grasping English literacy skills, Hayali wanted to honor all cultures through the library’s new offerings.  Hayali hopes that by being able to relate to the subjects in the new library’s books, students will have an easier time developing a genuine love for reading.

“Representation in literature matters. We want all students to feel comfortable and welcome at our library,” said Hayali. “This is a safe space where both teachers and students can learn from one another’s backgrounds.”

Having a student-centered school structure is one of SASCCS’s six key elements. The new library, which was completed over the summer, helps teachers adhere to this mission by providing lessons that are closely related to students’ backgrounds and daily lived experiences.

The majority of the students at SASCCS belong to minority groups and close to 80% of students receive free or reduced lunch. SASCCS recognizes the important role education plays in overcoming poverty and views literacy as the foundation of any successful education.

According to CNY Vitals, 9,880 Syracuse residents were reported as speaking English less than very well in 2015. Hayali recognized that due to limited English skills, many parents may not have books at home for their children nor have the ability to read with them.  Take-home books allow children to practice reading out loud to their guardian.

“Bringing books into the homes is key,” said Hayali. “The children become literacy ambassadors to their parents.”

The shared time together helps children develop positive relationships through reading, and can even help guardians learn alongside their children.

Charter schools are tuition free and open to all students, just like traditional public schools. They too must meet state and federal academic standards. However, what makes charter schools unique is the ability to be flexible when designing academic programs, curriculums, standards and goals. As a result of this increased range of possibility, charter schools are held to higher performance standards and can be shut down if the standards are not met.

Students of SASCCS are chosen through a blind lottery process, with preference given to English language learners and students who reside in the Syracuse City School District. SASCCS is publicly funded by local, state and federal tax dollars on a per pupil basis. However, fundraising is still vital to SASCCS because for every student that attends SASCCS, a portion of the per-student-funding is still given to the traditional public school that the child would have otherwise been enrolled in.

“We value all schools and all children,” explained Hayali, “We support our Syracuse City School District, Parochial schools and any other since all of us are helping our Syracuse area children who will come back as contributing and caring citizens of this larger and wonderful community.”

As the children of SASCCS embark upon their new school year, they will be met with many new opportunities to both celebrate their individuality and come together as a diverse community to learn from one another, thanks to the power of reading.

The Syracuse Academy of Science & Citizenship received a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation to assist with the construction of this new library. 


AEI Grants Addressing Poverty in Various Ways

The hardships and limitations faced by those living in poverty may be similar, but the road leading out of its grasp is unique for each individual. That is why the Alliance for Economic Inclusion (AEI) recently announced 22 nonprofit organizations as the recipients of $13.7 million in grants designated for CNY-based projects that approach the causes and outcomes of poverty in different ways. Over the span of five years, $30 million in total will be awarded to the region.

Here’s how a few of the grant recipients will be using the funding to spur economic opportunity, increase wealth and improve the quality of life within distressed communities.

Early Childhood Intervention

Early childhood is the most formative stage in a child’s education yet many children are not in center-based care programs that expose them to literacy skills. Therefore, the Early Childhood Alliance (ECA), in partnership with Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, will reach families its own way: through home visits. Soon, willing families living within the 13204 or 13205 zip codes – areas with some of the highest populations of people living below the poverty line – can participate in the Parent Child Home Program.  An AEI grant is helping launch the program, which will mentor parents to effectively support their child’s early learning.

“Most home visiting programs end once the child reaches a year or 18 months, leaving children vulnerable before Kindergarten starts,” says Laurie Black, ECA program director.  “The Parent-Child Home Program can help close the home visiting gap and ensure more children are ready for kindergarten.”

Increase High School Graduation Rates

This year, the Syracuse City School District’s graduation rate reached over 60%. While this demonstrates improvement, it is still behind the national average of 84%. However, Hillside Work Scholarship has developed a support program that produces graduation rates of 95% among its cohort of participants.  This is achieved through comprehensive afterschool programs, classroom visits, workforce training and college preparatory assistance for students in grades 8 – 12. A new AEI grant will help Hillside add an additional 150 at-risk 9th graders to the program.

“Poverty is a risk factor for 98% of our participants,” said Wayne O’Connor, Hillside executive director. “Graduating from high school is the first step in overcoming poverty and becoming a self-sufficient community member.”

When Having a Job Isn’t Enough

It’s traditionally thought that a job is the golden ticket out of poverty. However, securing a job requires more than just willpower and skills; a person needs safe, reliable transportation to ensure job stability.

“Many people succeed in finding a job but are still stuck if they don’t have the means to get there,” says Deborah Hundley, president of Providence Services.

The nonprofit used vans to establish a car-pool service to help fill that gap. Participants have been able to hold jobs and save enough money to buy cars of their own. An AEI grant will help Providence Services buy another van to expand its services.

Harness the Skills of our Refugee Community

Many children in Onondaga County are learning English as a new language, yet finding trained practitioners who have English language skills in addition to that of Arabic, Somali or Spanish is a challenge.  With support from an AEI grant, Partners in Learning, in partnership with Child Care Solutions, is establishing the Diversity in Early Educating and Care project to increase the number of culturally and linguistically diverse early childhood care practitioners in CNY. Expanding beyond English language training, the program supports participants through the processes of opening a family daycare or working in a center-based program and continuing their education.

“Skills sculpted through this program will help participants enter and advance in the career field of early childhood education,” says Theresa Pagano, program facilitator.

Since Syracuse has the highest amount of languages spoken in CNY, investing in the talents of refugees is essential in building childcare systems that can empower all children.

Empower Women and Minorities

“So many face joblessness and yet many employers that want to hire locally can’t because the CNY talent pool is lacking in software development,” said Jesse Peplinski, program organizer of Hack Upstate.

Through the support of an AEI grant, Hack Upstate established a 24-week coding boot camp for women and minorities from distressed communities. This is especially important because women disproportionally make up the face of poverty in all five CNY counties. Additionally, the highest concentrations of poverty are found in census tracks with high populations of immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics.  Participants will connect with local employers after their training, bolstering the local economy as the need to outsource jobs will decrease.

Workforce Development

Work Train’s community-based approach to workforce development serves two clients – the employer and our untapped local talent. The initiative partners with community-based and educational organizations to train and place individuals in the fields of health care and manufacturing, with more industries on the horizon. Its healthcare partnership, Health Train, has had tremendous impact since 2014, and with the support of AEI funding, is poised to significantly increase its impact in Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego counties.

“Work Train’s Health Train partnership seeks to connect unemployed and under-employed individuals with opportunities to enter and advance in the field of healthcare, filling critical workforce gaps in the regional Healthcare industry,” said Karen Kaplan, director of Work Train.

The AEI grant will support Health Train’s continued growth and success in in Syracuse, expansion in Auburn and a launch in Oswego. The AEI grant will also support Work Train’s 2019 efforts to launch a Tech industry-training program located within Onondaga County.

All of the AEI grants aim to create economic prosperity by utilizing the region’s existing assets. Each of the organizations supported has recognized that underneath the hardships that have befallen the region, there is great potential for permanent success. The programs work to build a healthy Central New York community by confronting the root causes of poverty through creating new career pathways, attracting quality jobs to distressed communities, building tools for educational advancement, or growing entrepreneurship in underserved communities.

View all of the grants:

To learn more about the AEI, please visit:



Local Group Encouraging Adult Residents to Learn for Advancement

Nearly 5,000 Onondaga County residents each year participate in adult education, which includes English-as-second-language, high school equivalency and secondary school completion services. Yet this is only a small fraction of the population that needs help, according to Mark Cass, executive director of North Side Learning Center.

“These services are only reaching 15 percent of the adults in our community in need of stronger literacy skills,” said Cass.

Limited education holds people back from employment opportunities and achieving healthy incomes. Specifically, having limited proficiency in English can make tasks such as accessing healthcare, getting groceries and obtaining rewarding employment seem like unconquerable obstacles.

It is estimated that 60,000 adults in Onondaga County are in need of greater literacy skills.  According to CNY Vitals, more than 17,000 people speak English less than very well and 3,500 county residents report never having completed any schooling while more than 5,000 report reaching the 12th grade but failing to receive a diploma.

In response to this community need, the Adult Education Roundtable (AER), a collaboration of local education institutions, has launched an awareness campaign to recruit students and volunteers.

“This campaign is not for the benefit of one program,” said Kelli Cooney, campaign manager. “It’s about exposing people to the many opportunities for learning that this community has to offer. We want people to find the program best suited for their needs.”

Potential students can call 1-800-READ or visit to have their needs assessed. Then, AER pairs them with the service best fit for their needs. English proficiency, personal goals and neighborhood of residence are all taken into consideration.

The campaign aims to show potential students that it’s possible to overcome the barriers that have long delayed their educational advancement.

“Sometimes, a person’s own life circumstances prove to be the biggest obstacle,” said Cooney. “Juggling concerns about work, children, transportation, housing and health is enough to make many adults move their own literacy needs to the bottom of their priority list.”

Recognizing this, AER organizations offer classes during daytime and nighttime hours; the classes are held in a variety of neighborhoods and spaces.

But at the crux of the campaign lies a challenge: How can information about literacy be distributed to a population that may be illiterate or has very limited literacy skills?

AER has risen to this challenge by filling its calendar with appearances at community events, stressing the importance of face-to-face engagement.  It’s important to the AER that the campaign is present at events parents will already be attending with their children, such as Summer Learning Day at Destiny USA, the Near Westside Block Party and the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.

Additionally, city residents will soon see the campaign’s advertisements rounding their own neighborhood street corners; Centro busses will sport AER’s advertisements on their exteriors and interiors.  The ever-changing routes will expose significantly more people to the campaign than AER could on its own. Going into the campaign, AER recognized that their students typically relied on the bus as a major means of reliable transportation.

“We knew having a presence on busses meant we could reach our target audience,” said Cooney. “But until this collaborative campaign, no individual AER organization could afford these ads.”

AER is an action team of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County that includes OCM-BOCES, Syracuse City School District Adult Education, SUNY Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center, Literacy CNY, North Side Learning Center, the adult literacy program of Onondaga County Public Library, Syracuse University’s University College, Onondaga Community College, and others.  The organizations have been collaborating for the past several years but this marks their first collaborative public relations campaign. They hope to recruit 400 new adult students.

The CNY Community Foundation awarded AER a grant to support the awareness campaign, matching a contribution from the Syracuse Rotary Fund.

“Funding from the Community Foundation makes the bus advertisements possible and we are so excited about this exposure,” said Cooney.

From 2009 to 2015, the number of people living in poverty in Onondaga County increased by 19 percent.  As poverty surges in Central New York, the hardships do not only exist on a personal level—the whole region suffers, so a commitment to adult literacy education is a commitment to the health of the entire Central New York community.  Adult education services, such as those provided by AER, give people the skills needed to break free of poverty’s cycle.

When one individual becomes empowered through education, ripples of positive change can travel through the whole community.  Through this awareness campaign, the Adult Education Roundtable hopes to turn these ripples into waves.


Children Learn to Make Healthy Eating Decisions

Each week during the school year, children aged 10 to 14 gather at Syracuse Academy of Science High School to take part in Saturday Academy, an innovative program run by the 100 Black Men of Syracuse. The students receive lessons and take part in fun activities designed to help them do better in school, learn leadership skills and feel empowered.  Now, the students are also learning healthy food and nutrition habits and developing a love of cooking through a new health and wellness initiative.

The lessons can vary, but all are designed to address the health needs of local residents, especially those that disproportionately affect minorities. One recent class focused on healthy drink alternatives such as switching out Gatorade and soda for healthier options. The lesson then turned to safe cooking. As a finale, the students prepared a meal for everyone at the Academy.

“We work on educating young people, from learning how to read food labels to going on bus trips to farms and the regional market,” said Ryan Beauford, 100 Black Men’s vice president of operations. “There they can see that milk doesn’t just show up in the refrigerator at the supermarket; there’s a supply chain.”

100 Black Men chose to implement the new lessons into its Saturday Academy because physical and mental health can significantly impact a child’s education. When children grow up with a lack of available healthy food, high rates of obesity tend to follow, which can lead to diseases like diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease.  According to the Association of Black Foundation Executives’ health and wellness report, black children have absenteeism rates three times higher than the rate of their peers, thus greatly affecting their learning and potential achievement.

According to CNY Vitals, over 16 percent of children and adolescents in Onondaga County were obese in 2012. In the Syracuse City School District specifically, 23.7 percent of students were obese, higher than the 17.3 percent New York State average.

100 Black of Men received a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation to implement its new health and wellness program. Since its launch, it has surpassed its targeted attendance numbers. To deliver the comprehensive lessons, the organization partners with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s SNAP-Ed program, which is one of the nutrition education and events administers of the Eat Smart New York campaign.

Since 2006, 100 Black Men of Syracuse has focused on mentorship and empowerment in the Syracuse community. In addition to its health and wellness program, 100 Black Men also offers SAT prep classes, historically black college and university tours, economic empowerment workshops and an annual walk for wellness and stroke prevention.

Charles Anderson, chairman of 100 Black Men’s Health and Wellness Committee, stressed the importance of talking about both physical and mental health issues: “When people know about the resources available to them, they can be healthier and feel a better sense of community.”

He says that if children are more aware of what’s healthy, they can have a positive impact on their parents. “We are reaching out to the community as a whole so that children and adults can get the information and pass it on to others, be it family or otherwise.”

To learn more about 100 Black Men of Syracuse, visit


Evictions and Housing Instability in Syracuse

Housing evictions are not just products, but catalysts of poverty, according to the Community Benchmarks report, “Final Notice: An Analysis of Evictions and Housing Instability in Syracuse, New York.” The city of Syracuse faces high rates of evictions. Estimates from demographically similar cities, court data, and the Onondaga Volunteer Lawyers Project (OnVLP) find that approximately 13,000-15,000 people, including many children, face eviction each year in Syracuse. This highlights the importance of an intersectional approach to understanding the gravity of the consequences evictions can have on citizens, especially children.

The report, produced by students of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in partnership with OnVLP and the Syracuse Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, focuses on target census tracts in the City of Syracuse facing high levels of poverty, including the Near Westside, Southwest, Brighton, Near Eastside, Near Northeast and Washington Square neighborhoods. OnVLP eviction cases are concentrated in census tracts with high poverty rates in the city.  Almost 67 percent of the population in census tract 42 (Southwest) and 64 percent in tract 32 (Near Westside) are below the federal poverty threshold.

There are more renters than homeowners in Syracuse. Over 61 percent of Syracuse residents are renters. Over half of renters in Syracuse spend at least 50 percent of their monthly income on rent, qualifying them as extremely cost-burdened. OnVLP eviction cases occur most often in highly segregated census tracts where the predominant race is black. Lastly, there is a significant correlation between educational attainment and eviction rates. In the targeted census tracts, the English Language Arts third grade pass rates are between six and 13 percent.

Various policy recommendations were made by the Maxwell students to help alleviate the number of evictions and their subsequent effects. First, they recommend establishing the Bridge Subsidy Demonstration Program; the program covers a percentage of rent so that a qualifying family isn’t extremely cost-burdened. Second, they recommend starting a Tenant Landlord Connection that would help improve the tenant-landlord relationship, leading to fewer evictions.

The Maxwell students also recommend local improvements to the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, which provides assistance to homeless students in public education to limit the effects of evictions and housing instability on their educational outcomes. Lastly, they suggest using behavioral science to improve tenant-landlord correspondence and eviction notices. For example, text messaging reminders of bills is a more effective and less intrusive way to reach tenants. Also, small changes to make the appearance of mailed letters demanding late payments or court appearance notices seem more urgent could lower the rate of evictions as tenants would be more likely to comply.

Click here to view the full Community Benchmarks Report.


See Real-Time City of Syracuse Info on DataCuse

Joining many municipalities across the country, the City of Syracuse recently launched DataCuse, an open data portal. DataCuse takes a proactive approach to keeping constituents informed by presenting important and unique information for the city’s constituents. The site hosts information about housing, lead risks and neighborhoods; it also shows street closings in real time by neighborhood in the city limits of Syracuse.  

The Community Foundation supports efforts to disseminate data to the community and consulted with the City of Syracuse’s Innovation Team in 2017 as they developed the site. It also provided grant funding for its build-out. Open data helps identify trends, measure progress, and educates decision makers in our community. Data provided by a municipality allows for collective impact and other citizen efforts like neighborhood development. Inspiring a culture of data to keep constituents informed is an important step in making smart and impactful decisions.


New Housing Violations Bureau Will Help Local Residents

A new municipal violations bureau was signed into law in July 2017 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to help address a large backlog of housing code violations. According to, the bureau will free up the city’s legal resources to focus on major violations instead of minor violations like trash in a yard. Former Mayor Stephanie Miner said the bureau would allow the city to be more productive with landlords and use court resources and city attorneys more effectively, giving the city the opportunity to fight back against delinquent property owners. Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers have created similar, successful bureaus.

The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Greater Syracuse (GHHIGS) is the local chapter of a national initiative that focuses on making homes safer, more efficient and rid of toxic lead. The new municipal violations bureau will be helpful to GHHIGS, as the initiative’s coordination was previously focused entirely on owned properties. By expanding to rentals, GHHIGS can now impact more homes, as 61 percent of Syracuse residents are renters.


Welcome to CNYVitals: A Snapshot of Central New York

Central New York offers low housing costs, convenient commute times and plenty of attractions within driving distance. It is also plagued with higher than average unemployment and a record poverty rate that threatens the region’s health. These are just some of the findings of recent national reports done by outside groups that use data to capture the essence of the region. While national rankings often provide interesting insights, they are not all that helpful for local organizations and policymakers. Enter CNY Vitals, your resource for long-term regional data on various critical issues.

CNY Vitals is an initiative of the Central New York Community Foundation. This ‘state of the community’ website provides a common source of data and interactive visualizations on critical topics that affect the health and progress of our region in order to inform community members, spur discussion, identify emerging issues and plan community investments. CNY Vitals analyzes and tracks data points on the local economy, housing, health, demographics, poverty and education in Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga, Cortland and Oswego counties — the five counties in which the Community Foundation and its donors support communities and initiatives.

CNY Vitals aggregates and monitors local information that tells the story of Central New York. By analyzing and then planning action from a common set of data, we can work together to measure our progress and transform our region for the better.

Click here to learn more about CNY Vitals and how you can use the site.

We invite you to explore our site, learn more about our region, and use the information you find here to drive conversation and action toward an even better, brighter tomorrow for Central New York.