On Sept. 27, the Poughkeepsie Common Council voted unanimously to pass legislation establishing a Division of Youth Opportunity and Development. The new division will fund existing and establish new youth programs in the City. Supporters and City officials stressed that the legislation will address historically-lacking municipal support and programming for youth in the City of Poughkeepsie.
The legislation is part of a greater effort to amend the existing Department of Development, which in addition to social development divisions like youth services, oversees plans for construction in the City and enforces building codes and zoning ordinances, though it currently lacks a head of department. The City plans to hire a Development Department head in addition to a full-time division head of youth services who will be responsible for allocating the city-funded grants for youth programs, maintaining a directory of available programs and representing the City to municipal and non-governmental stakeholders.
At a Sept. 7 public hearing, Poughkeepsie residents and community leaders described a lack of resources allocated to Poughkeepsie youth, both in and out of the classroom. Youth Policy Researcher with the Poughkeepsie Children’s Cabinet and Poughkeepsie High School graduate Tania Hernandez-Martinez described her experience in the school district: “If you aren’t in an honors class or beyond, most have the opinion that you aren’t worth respect or giving encouragement to … I recognized that the opportunities that were given to me were done so because of the academic load I had taken or by sheer coincidence.” For Hernandez-Martinez, the new division presents a much-needed opportunity to support students. “As I have seen it, young people fail when they feel like they don’t have someone in their corner,” she said.
Rebuilding Our Children and Community (ROCC) is one organization that has provided youth services in lieu of municipal programs in the past. ROCC founder Satara Brown shared in a correspondence with The Miscellany News that ROCC provides everything from cooking classes to basic out-of-school care. According to Brown, ROCC hosts the only seven-week summer program in Poughkeepsie.
Brown, a youth worker with the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department, could not comment directly on the proposed Division of Youth Services, but did note that running a grassroots organization such as ROCC was financially unstable. At times, Brown has used her own finances to keep the programs afloat. “We’re one hundred percent underfunded,” she explained.
CEO of Equitable Future Inc. Brian Robinson emphasized the importance of providing stable funding for youth programs.. “[There’s] trauma of losing [those programs] and having to question if people really care about you, as a child. You have somebody there, you have a program there for you one day, and then the next day, you don’t.” The outcome ends where it begins; as Robinson sees it, “The common idea they’re in, in a city like ours, is that they’re going to end up back on the street.”
An Aug. 17 memo from a cohort of City leaders including Mayor Rob Rolison, superintendent Eric Rosser and councilmembers Yvonne Flowers and Natasha Cherry, recognized this disparity writing, “The burden of addressing these intergenerational challenges has been left to our public school system and nonprofit sector; both have suffered from decades-long underinvestment and structural disadvantages.”
The City has taken steps in previous years to support youth resources. According to a Aug. 25 news release from Mayor Rolison’s office, The Youth Grant program has made available $500,000 of City dollars to grassroots agencies such as ROCC since 2018, though funds per organization are capped at $15,000 according to Brown. Director of Community Engagement John Penney did not confirm this figure in time for printing. The county plans to renovate the long-abandoned Montgomery Street YMCA to the City (The Miscellany News, 2021). The former Y is set for a multi-million investment and will host the new Youth Opportunity Union.
Brown described the investment in the YMCA as a step in the right direction, but remained concerned about accessibility to the YMCA programs, asking: “There’s challenges of transportation in the City of Poughkeepsie, so how [are] children from the opposite side of the town are going to be able to utilize those resources? Are they going to prioritize the City of Poughkeepsie residents?” $25 million of the YOU’s funding will come from Dutchess County, questioning the City’s leverage to ensure accessibility and programming. City Administrator Marc Nelson said in an Aug. 23rd Council meeting, “During those YMCA deliberations, the concern on [the part] of the council members was… the city still wants to and needs and deserves a seat at the table.”
While the Division of Youth Opportunity and Development promises long-awaited support for youth programming, the City has yet to determine how much funding it plans to allocate to the Division. As Robinson described over the phone, “The Common Council members and City Administration are in an unenviable position of having to assign value to how much the youth means, [but] as enviable as it may be… they need an actual number.” That decision will begin when Mayor Rolison proposes the 2022 City budget to the Common Council on Oct.15.
An earlier version of this article misidentified Satara Brown as a police officer with the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department. She is a youth worker with the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department. We apologize for this error.