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2020 Census: The Impact of Undercounting Children

Every decade, the U.S. Constitution requires an accurate count of every resident in America.  The decennial census is a civic duty that is of great importance to how the country is shaped and how federal dollars will be allocated.

Counting every individual, especially children, is crucial to the overall health of a state. While census accuracy for adults has been improving, the undercount of children under five years old has been on a gradual increase. According to The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the net undercount rate for young children is more than three times what it was in 1980, increasing from 1.4 percent to 4.6 percent in 2010.

Undercounting children can be a costly one – denying vulnerable communities a seat at the table when it comes to policy decision making. Like adults, children are counted towards total population numbers, which are used to determine federal and state funding allocations, political representation and the drawing of legislative district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures and local boards. Ultimately, if an accurate count is not achieved, the needs of the children are likely to be underrepresented and vital programs underfunded.

So why is this happening? A variety of obstacles could stand in the way of children being accurately recorded in census responses, especially when they are living in areas of high poverty, where significant numbers of residents move frequently or are new to a neighborhood. Young children in large families are also subject to being undercounted, because they are living in complex households. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that nearly a quarter of the country’s children lived in households with six or more people. In addition, language barriers exist in places where English is a second language, discouraging survey completion.

A new potential road block to completion of the 2020 Census is the planned inclusion of a citizenship question. Such a question poses special risk to cities like Syracuse that are home to several refugee and immigrant communities. These residents are more likely to feel hesitation in filling out the questionnaire, fearing it puts them or their families at risk. This would be the first time in 70 years that U.S. citizenship status would be questioned in the survey. The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether it can be included.

Locally, the Central New York Community Foundation has seen first-hand how undercounting children can impact programming. When evaluating how many children were enrolled in the Imagination Library program by census tract, we found more children enrolled than we thought living in some neighborhoods.

Advocating for a complete count is something that the Community Foundation deems necessary. We will continue to join with our partners locally and state-wide to ensure accurate data is collected so that we can make a lasting impact on our communities.

To learn more about the risks of a 2020 Census undercount, check out


Lead Poisoning in Syracuse: Bea’s Story

Bea Lea, a new American and mother of three young children, didn’t expect to be fighting another battle here in the United States when she fled her native country of Congo. Her eyes have seen a lot, including the deaths of her father and brother, but nothing prepared her for what the family would endure shortly after they moved into their first home on the Northside of Syracuse.

At first glance, her three-year old son, George, is an outgoing, vivacious toddler trying to keep up with his siblings. However, underneath the smiles and countless conversations he tries to convey is a young boy who has already been robbed of his childhood.

Lea doesn’t remember the exact day George fell violently ill, but she said she remembers being at a standstill, scared of the sudden sickness George was exhibiting. Extreme bouts of diarrhea and uncontrolled vomiting consumed him. Frightened, Lea took him to the hospital where he was later found to have a blood lead level of 32 micrograms per deciliter.

“I kept saying ‘what is lead?’ to the doctor,” said Lea. “I was confused because in my country we don’t have lead.”

The Federal Government banned the use of lead paint in 1978. But the poisoned paint still lingers in walls, doors and porches in numerous Syracuse homes. About 91 percent of homes in Syracuse were built before 1980, according to the U.S. Census.

George has already gone through three very painful medical procedures known as Chelation Therapy. The procedure itself involves the administration of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body. When Lea took her son back to the hospital for a check-up, it had been discovered that George’s blood lead level had risen to 38 and then again to 42 micrograms per deciliter.

“After Legal Services of Central New York educated me on lead in my home, I went back to the doctors and said, ‘I believe my baby is going to die” said Lea. “‘And if my baby dies, you’re going to have to kill me, too, so you need to help me get out of this home.’”

Since the move, Lea says that her son’s blood lead levels are slowly coming down.

“New Americans come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their children,” said Lea. “We are walking right into a new danger in a place we thought would provide us safety.”

Lea has been unable to work because of the constant care that George requires. She expresses that a part of her identity has been lost in all of this, too. George is not currently enrolled in school because of his health.

“Imagine being told your child will never be smart again,” said Lea. “Knowing that your child was born healthy and smiling and he is now changed forever.”

Lea says she wants people to be held accountable for their actions and the government to take measurable steps to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen in Syracuse.

“We need to talk to the government and really do something,” she said. “The landlords of these homes already know that their properties have a problem with lead. If something is done we can put an end to this.”

It is time to eradicate childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse for good.
​Together, we can do better for our children.

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More Than 800 People Gather Together to Fight Housing Instability in Syracuse

Written by Wendy Rhodes

Wendy Rhodes, Director of Development & Communications of Legal Services of Central New York, tells us how the organization organized the community around an often unknown epidemic in poverty-stricken neighborhoods – unstable housing.

Eviction is a major challenge in our region. Over half of Syracuse residents rent their homes, and 58% of them have a housing cost burden. This means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, leaving less money for food and healthcare and often putting them in the difficult position of having to choose which bills to pay each month. Upwards of 11,000 Syracuse residents face eviction each year, and throughout Central New York these numbers climb higher. Eviction is a significant contributor to housing instability and a challenge that we need to take on as a community.

To address this issue head-on, we at Legal Services of Central New York assembled a coalition of partners around our 2018 Evicted initiative.  From July through October, we challenged communities throughout Central New York to read and discuss the eye opening and oftentimes heartbreaking book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Princeton University sociologist Matthew Desmond.  The New York Times declared it “…an exhaustively researched, vividly realized and, above all, unignorable book — after Evicted, it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing”. The book was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize and as one of the 10 Best Books of 2016 by the New York Times Book Review.

Evicted tells the real-life stories of eight families in Milwaukee caught in the relentless cycle of housing instability. Nearly all of their money goes towards rent yet they are still living on the brink of homelessness, constantly grappling with eviction, unsafe housing conditions, and dangerous neighborhoods. The book also highlights two landlords whose properties and business practices have a substantive impact on the futures of these vulnerable families.  As Dr. Desmond notes, “without a home everything else falls apart”.

Evicted heartbreakingly demonstrates the impossible decisions and challenges people living in poverty face every day.  How do you choose whether to pay for rent or heat if you only have enough money to pay for one?  How can you build a pathway out of poverty when 80%, 90%, or even 100% of your income goes to rent (and your home may be unsafe, unsanitary, dangerous or illegal)?  How is it possible that domestic violence victims are often evicted for reporting their abuser? How can children succeed in school when they are constantly moving, forcing rapid changes in schools throughout the school year and absences while their parents are looking for a new home and moving in crisis situations?  How do children stay healthy when they are living in unsanitary conditions? How does all of this impact individual physical and mental health, and erode social and economic capital in neighborhoods?

City-Wide Book Club in partnership with the City of Syracuse

To present these questions and more, we co-hosted a Summer Book Club in partnership with the City of Syracuse and Mayor Ben Walsh.  The free book club engaged people in neighborhoods across Syracuse and communities throughout our region with important conversations around housing stability.

More than 300 people registered for the book club and received weekly wrap-up emails with discussion questions and thoughts from local leaders which were compiled into a free Readers Guide which is still available at

Participants encouraged their existing book clubs to read and discuss the book together, formed new clubs for the express purpose of reading and discussing the book, or read the book on their own and discussed it in our virtual book club on Facebook.  More than 100 copies of Evicted were donated to the Onondaga County Public Library, and its eight city branches also hosted a series of book club discussions with special guest Sally Santangelo, executive director of CNY Fair Housing.

Book club participants, including local leaders who contributed to the Readers Guide were often surprised by the scope and challenges of housing instability in Syracuse and how directly the real-life stories in Evicted paralleled the experiences of Syracuse residents.  Reading Evicted was also eye-opening for many participants, especially those who live in the suburbs.  We constantly received feedback from suburban residents that they were not aware of the prevalence of poor housing conditions, instability, and eviction.  One book club in DeWitt/Fayetteville even said they were considering purchasing a home, renovating it, renting to people living in poverty, and being landlords who are catalysts for change by working to break the cycle of poverty by providing safe, stable housing!

Free Community Event with Author Dr. Matthew Desmond

We also hosted a free community event on October 23 at Henninger High School as a culmination of the Summer Book Club.  City of Syracuse Mayor, Ben Walsh, provided a welcome for the evening, and more than 800 people attended to meet and learn from author and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Dr. Matthew Desmond. Desmond highlighted the immense struggles of living in poverty. He expanded upon the personal stories highlighted in his book and illustrated the negative impact eviction has on individuals, communities, and society with compelling statistics and data.  Dr. Desmond discussed another challenge faced by parents, especially black women, is that landlords typically view children as a liability and often refuse to rent to tenants with children. He showed that poverty leaves people constantly on the brink of crisis and seemingly small challenges such as a higher-than-expected heating bill can create an eviction situation. He also explained how eviction has a long tail, creating financial judgements and credit damage that follow people for years and contribute to an ongoing cycle of poverty.

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the Evicted initiative.  One Southside resident, Ms. H, was the first attendee to arrive.  She came by bus more than an hour early to make sure she got a seat. She knew the importance of this conversation and felt validated that people were acknowledging and talking about the struggles faced by people in her neighborhood every day.  Another participant, Ms. A, who lives in Baldwinsville, shared that she had no idea what a devastating impact housing instability and eviction had on people’s lives or that it was a pressing issue in our region.  Eviction was not something she saw in her circle of friends.  Now that she is more aware, she plans to start volunteering with several local organizations working to address homelessness and poverty.


Imagination Library Inspires Early Childhood Literacy Throughout County

Put a book in the hands of a child and they hold the key to their future. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been acting on this philosophy across America since 1995, distributing free, high-quality books to children from birth until age five, regardless of family income and at no expense to the recipients. Inspired by the organization’s national success, community leaders brought Imagination Library to the Syracuse area in 2010. What started out as a small launch targeting the city’s Northside neighborhoods has now swept the entire county – proving that the early literacy movement has found a permanent home in Central New York.

The importance of regularly reading to children from birth, and onward, cannot be overstated. Something as seemingly simple as story time actually develops the skills necessary for children to enter kindergarten ready to learn. Unfortunately, all children do not enter school at the same level of readiness.

“We know that children who enter school not ready can struggle, lose confidence and fall behind, which comes at a cost that the students, their families and our community cannot afford,” explained Virginia Carmody, development director of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.

Imagination Library is the centerpiece of a broader community literacy plan spearheaded by the Literacy Coalition. Through collaboration with the Central New York Community Foundation, enrollment data is being collected and organized by census tract so that target areas can be established. For example, in one census tract on the Northside of Syracuse, only about 25 percent of children are deemed “ready” for kindergarten. In response, the Literacy Coalition and its partners have worked to enroll more than 60 percent of eligible children within this census tract into Imagination Library.

This approach is helping put books in the hands of those who need it most. By analyzing which census tracts have low enrollment, Imagination Library is able to set goals for reaching those in greatest need of its services. However, these targeted goals do not aim to exclude. All children up to the age of five who reside in Onondaga County are eligible to enroll in Imagination Library.

“We now mail books to over 15,000 kids each month and have distributed more than half a million age-appropriate books,” said Carmody.

The expansion of Imagination Library is also indebted to Onondaga County, the City of Syracuse and the Reisman Foundation for their continued support as well as many community referral partners who help connect families with young children to the program. Local birthing hospitals, Catholic Charities, InterFaith Works, Head Start, Syracuse Housing Authority and Onondaga County’s Departments of Children & Families and Health all partner with Imagination Library in an effort to ensure as many children as possible are exposed to this opportunity.

“Supporting Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been a powerful way to make a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of children and families in our community,” said Carmody. “These are some of the most formative years for children.”

A child’s early education – pre-kindergarten through third grade – is a crucial period considered to be predictive of their success in the future. The books provided by Imagination Library help instill a love for reading in the hearts and minds of children that will hopefully endure through early childhood and beyond.



Census 2020: Challenges Ahead for CNY

January 17, 2019 – The U.S. Census is the most ambitious civic engagement effort undertaken by the entire country. Since 1790, the decennial census takes on the enormous task of counting every living United States resident with the mandate of inclusion of all people across gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship and socioeconomic status. The undertaking is so crucial that it’s included in the Constitution and is the cornerstone of how we gauge how our country is changing over time.

The Federal Government is set to distribute $675 billion to state governments based on the 2020 Census. The vast amount of data collected will ultimately help with equitable distribution of these public funds for vital community programs and resources toward housing, education, transportation, health and human services. Census data also informs lawmakers on policy decisions that impact the lives of 330 million Americans and impacts reapportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Not accounting for every individual living in our region could have a devastating impact on Central New Yorkers for years to come.

Heading into 2020, serious factors threaten our country’s ability to produce an accurate and equitable census count. Undercounting most affects communities of color, low-income neighborhoods and immigrant populations. This disparity deprives underserved communities of political power, government resources and private sector investment, according to New York Counts 2020, a statewide coalition working to ensure that all New Yorkers can fully maximize their Census participation.

The Digital Divide is another factor that may hinder responses. For the first time, the Census Bureau is primarily collecting responses using an online system. While online collection aims to lower costs and improve participation, New York Counts 2020 says it is unlikely to benefit groups already undercounted. Internet access has long been uneven between densely populated and rural areas across the country, as well as limited in low income urban neighborhoods. Households with no computer or adequate internet access are therefore at serious risk of being undercounted in 2020.

In addition, the potential inclusion of a U.S. citizenship question in the 2020 Census is igniting fears that it will fuel an undercount among both undocumented and legal immigrants.

This past fall, the Central New York Community Foundation surveyed 20 direct service providers working in the fields of education, housing, poverty relief, advocacy, new American support, violence prevention, disabilities and policy reform within the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County. All work with populations that have historically been underrepresented in Census counts.

Half of the respondents indicated that the majority of their clients do not understand the importance of completing the census; however, half also reported that their organizations were either somewhat or not very familiar with the Census. This suggests a need for education efforts among community organizations. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents believed that language barriers pose a challenge to completion of the census in Syracuse while 84 percent noted lack of information about the value of the Census and fear (68 percent) as contributing factors.

Recognizing how important it is to collect comprehensive and accurate data in 2020, the Community Foundation has already begun work to ensure as many people as possible are counted in Central New York’s hardest-to-count neighborhoods.

Tomorrow’s Neighborhood Today (TNT), a citizen-led group that represents all sectors of Syracuse, received a $20,000 grant to educate city residents on the importance of completing the Census. The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) received a $10,000 grant to support the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) process, which is a once-a-decade opportunity for governments to add, correct or delete addresses on the lists and maps used to conduct the Census.

“Census data directly impacts the Community Foundation’s work, making it critical to us that it be as accurate as possible,” said Robyn Smith, program officer, community engagement. “We rely on the Census to inform CNY Vitals, grantmaking, and initiatives. The Census is also important to the city and county governments across our region. It is estimated that for every one person not counted, communities lose approximately $2,000 in funding per year toward critical programs. “

The Community Foundation, along with many community partners, will be focusing attention this upcoming year on encouraging a complete count in our region. Central New York’s future depends on it.


Community Needs Assessment Shines Light on Poverty Needs

November 27, 2018 – The initial results of a new community assessment led by the Central New York Community Foundation are identifying which life needs are not being adequately met for those living in poverty.

The year-long collaborative evaluation identified affordable long-term housing, addiction, lead poisoning, job readiness, and economic independence among the greatest concerns of more than 1,500 respondents currently being served by Syracuse-based human service agencies.

The assessment is a new focus of the Community Foundation’s Performance Management Learning Community (PMLC) initiative, now entering its seventh year. PMLC uses grant dollars and peer learning to help nonprofits measure their effectiveness.

The Syracuse Northeast Community Center, a PMLC participant for the past year, is using its assessment results to inform its basic needs programming. The Center serves those living in Syracuse’s Northeast quadrant, where many neighborhoods are characterized by a high incidence of poverty, crime, poor housing and unemployment.

Patty Sullivan, director of programs at the Center, says her organization surveyed 100 clients in its first year in the program. Over one-third of its clients reported they could not afford long-term housing. More than 50 percent of respondents said they did not have access to quality childcare. And 52 percent felt they did not have the skills needed to get the kind of jobs they want. The Center plans to continue surveying clients during its second year participating in PMLC.

“The needs assessment supported our Crisis Matrix, which looks at the underlying issues that prevent a person from moving toward self-sufficiency,” said Sullivan. “For instance, we look at underlying issues such as child care, transportation and mental health and address those first before helping an individual obtain employment.”

Sullivan’s collection was unique to the neighborhoods the Center serves, but most were in alignment with the needs surveyed city-wide. Across the 14 agencies that participated in the first year of data collection, most of whom serve residents in poverty, common themes among their clients were present: 28 percent reported not having access to affordable, long-term housing; nearly 30 percent said they did not have enough money to pay for housing and food without government support; 25 percent felt they did not have proper job skills; 27 percent reported having addiction problems within the last year; and 30 percent reported their home has not been tested for lead.

This year, eight organizations will be receiving a total of nearly $150,000 in PMLC grants. Each will add to the needs assessment findings as members of the incoming class: Center for Community Alternatives ($20,000), Clear Path for Veterans ($20,000), Everson Museum of Art ($15,147), On Point for College ($20,000), PEACE, Inc. ($19,058), Syracuse Northeast Community Center ($19,887), Women’s Opportunity Center ($20,000), and Worker’s Center of Central New York ($15,000).

Each organization will utilize its grant dollars to measure how effectively they are accomplishing their missions. Applicants also each had to agree to intake 100 new respondents to the survey and participate in a year-long learning community in order to qualify for a grant.

The Community Foundation awards PMLC grants toward data measuring efforts, which include such things as database management and statistical analysis, to help nonprofits track their efforts and look for trends. This in turn assists the organizations in identifying what is working and what’s not, leading to the development of more effective programming and funding competitiveness.

“PMLC helps organizations with continuous improvement—this translates into first class services for those who live in our communities,” said Frank Ridzi, vice president, community investment at the Community Foundation. “Data can have a profound effect on a nonprofit organization’s ability to share the story of its impact on the community.”

This is the second year that the PMLC class is comprised primarily of organizations that serve residents in poverty and are focusing their measurements on poverty-related outcomes.

For organizations like Syracuse Northeast Community Center, PMLC is changing the way they look at what they do. Sullivan reports that they are currently planning a Community Day, which will bring in agencies that provide services toward the greatest needs reported in their clients’ assessments.

“We ultimately want to help individuals move towards self-sufficiency,” said Sullivan. “We are able to do that based on the results of the assessment. Being better able to meet the needs of the community members that we serve has been huge.”


The Central New York Community Foundation was established in 1927 to serve as a permanent community endowment built by the gifts and charitable legacies of individuals, families and businesses for the betterment of the region. It is the largest charitable foundation in Central New York with assets of more than $272 million. It has invested more than $190 million in community improvement projects since its inception. As a grantmaker, civic leader, convener and sponsor of special initiatives, the Community Foundation strives to strengthen local nonprofits, encourage better understanding of the region and address the most critical issues of our time.  Its vision is to create a vibrant Central New York community that provides opportunity for everyone and builds a hopeful, prosperous region for future generations.


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.