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Advocates Argue Advantage Awards Reveal Need for More Funding

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Advocates used Governor Cuomo's announcement last week of $10.9 million in grants for Advantage After School Programs as an opportunity to point out that funding for these and other youth programs has actually declined in recent years and that the awards themselves demonstrate the need for additional investments in these types of programming.

The New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) noted that the FY2014-15 state budget included $17.7 million for Advantage. This was down 37% from the $28 million which had been allocated to the program annually prior to the ecomic crisis and subsequent recession.  The loss in funding has cost almost 8,000 students the opportunity to participate in programs. Overall, funding for New York’s three major afterschool funding streams remains 40% below pre-recession levels.

Only 68 of 281 applicants for the latest round of Advantage After School funding actually received grants—fewer than a quarter of the applicants. Several programs that had been receiving funds were cut, which will leave them struggling to still serve students.

"There are a lot of programs that used to be there for students that aren't operating anymore," agrees Gregory Brender, Policy Analyst with United Neighborhood Houses.

Governor Cuomo proposed $160 million in new afterschool funding in the FY2014-15 executive budget, which would have created opportunities for more than 100,000 students. That funding was not included in the final budget.  NYSAN says this was a huge missed opportunity to provide new options for some of the 1.1 million students in need of a safe, educational place to go after the school day ends—and for their families, too many of whom face painful choices when they cannot afford safe afterschool options.

Read the full article here. 

The Summer Surge: Mayor Sends in Services to Keep City Safe

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

 
Last week, the de Blasio administration announced a $210.5 million comprehensive, citywide plan to make the City’s neighborhoods safer and reduce violent crime in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.  While the bulk of the overall investment consists of funding for repairs, maintenance and physical improvements to enhance security at NYCHA buildings – as well as redeployment of 200 Police Officers -- the new initiative also includes a $15.6 million allocation of new funding to expand community center activities and other key programs in NYCHA projects this summer.

“Mayor de Blasio’s plan to increase public safety in NYCHA developments presents a meaningful and progressive response to one of the City's most challenging problems,” said Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses (UNH). “This plan depends heavily on community-based organizations including the settlement houses who are members of United Neighborhood Houses.  The Mayor’s plan to expand nighttime and weekend youth programs and Summer Youth Employment slots will make a difference for thousands of young people.”

“The Campaign for Summer Jobs applauds Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of 850 new SYEP slots this summer for young people in public housing,” said Gigi Li of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition and Gregory Brender of UNH, co-chairs of Campaign for Summer Jobs.  “These jobs will give valuable work experience and a paycheck to young people throughout the City…  We are thrilled that more young people will have this opportunity.”

Read the full article to see the response of UNH and partner organizations. 

Engaging Communities for Better Health

Wednesday, July 02, 2014
NRC Workshop Feature: Engaging Communities for Better Health

The following post was written by Kendall Reingold, summer intern for the Alliance for Children and Families Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building.  She is an undergraduate student who has been assisting with the planning of the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference.
 
The 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference is proud to present a workshop that will provide an inside look at successful strategies to engage community members in improving their own health and wellness.  Featuring speakers from two Alliance member organizations, United Neighborhood Houses of New York and the Gary Comer Youth Center, as well as Aramark, an Alliance partner, the workshop offers three unique perspectives.
 
Jerica Broeckling, Program Manager of the Aramark Building Communities program at the Alliance for Children and Families will facilitate the workshop, entitled: “Using Authentic Engagement to Improve Health Outcomes.”  The panel will include Terry Kaelber, Director of Community Engagement Projects at United Neighborhood Houses of New York; Ayoka Samuels, Senior Program Director at the Gary Comer Youth Center; and Michelle Jordan, Director of Community Relations at Aramark. 
 
The presenters are committed to the importance of authentic engagement strategies.  Mr. Kaelber explains, “Working to increase access to and use of healthy food often involves changing individual eating habits.  Social norms drive eating habits and can be the doorway to changing individual behaviors.   To impact social norms, a level of deep community engagement is needed.”  For Kaelber, this means “projects must be driven and led by local residents, who are involved at the earliest points of idea generation and planning, are invested in through skill building and training opportunities, and who become partners and leaders throughout implementation and evaluation.  Such approaches are built upon relationships and a commitment to partnering, both of which take time and tremendous effort, but the rewards and impact can be significant and long-lasting.”
 
Authentic engagement is a longstanding principle of community-based organizations, although the term itself is relatively new to the lexicon.  This workshop is sure to help your organization realize its potential for positive authentic engagement outcomes.  Register for the conference online to attend this workshop, which will take place on Thursday, July 24th, the first day of the conference.
 
Early bird registration for the Neighborhood Revitalization Conference in D.C. is available online until July 7.  For the latest details about the conference and these presenters, stay tuned on Twitter.  Follow UNHNY, Aramark, the Gary Comer Youth Center, and the Alliance’s Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building, and keep up with conference news using the hashtag #NRC14.

UNH's Full Statement on the NYC FY 2015 Budget Agreement

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UNH Statement on the NYC FY 2015 Budget Agreement

On Thursday night, Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council reached an agreement for the FY 2015 budget beginning July 1st.  The budget agreement represents the achievement of several long-term goals of United Neighborhood Houses and shows directions we will move in order to better serve New York City’s neighborhoods.

Early Childhood Education and After-School

UNH member agencies are among the highest quality providers of early childhood education and after-school in New York City and have for the last several years been working through Campaign for Children to ensure that every child in New York City has access to high quality early childhood education and after-school programs.  The FY 2015 budget represents a historic expansion of these services.

In FY 2015, New York City will implement Mayor de Blasio’s visionary plan to offer an after-school slot to every middle school student who wants one.  This will entail a 76% increase in the number of middle school after-school slots to 79,600.  Recently, New York City has selected 271 middle schools that will have new after-school programs, including 43 programs that will be operated by UNH member agencies.

Over the next two years, New York City will expand its Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program for 4-year-olds so that Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs can live up to its name and be truly universal.  UNH members will also play a huge role in this expansion offering both UPK programs and a broad range of comprehensive early childhood services.

However, this budget misses the crucial opportunity to stabilize New York City’s early childhood system by investing in equitable salaries for early childhood educators.  With the implementation of UPK for 4-year-olds, teachers of 4-year-olds will receive higher salaries than similarly qualified teachers teaching children 0-3.  This may lead to teachers opting out of serving younger children and destabilize the early childhood system.  UNH urges the City to fund community-based organizations to provide equitable salaries to all early childhood educators before the implementation of UPK in September.

Summer Jobs for Teenagers

For the past 15 years, UNH has co-led the Campaign for Summer Jobs with Neighborhood Family Services Coalition.  Campaign for Summer Jobs has fought successfully at both the City and State levels to maintain subsidized summer jobs for New York’s teenagers through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).  However, due to lack of funding, most teenagers who apply for a summer job do not get one.  Young people must literally win a lottery to get this crucial work experience.   In most years, nearly 100,000 young people apply for and are turned away from a summer job.

Campaign for Summer Jobs has begun a multi-year campaign to reduce youth unemployment through investment in SYEP.  Campaign for Summer Jobs is calling for 100,000 summer jobs in five years.

Campaign for Summer Jobs is off to a strong start in its new campaign with the FY 2015 budget.  Thanks to a new investment of $15.2 million from the City Council, this summer, the number of summer jobs will increase by 10,700, dramatically expanding the number of young people who participate.

School Lunches

UNH and many of its member agencies are engaged in the Lunch 4 Learning a campaign to offer free, universal school lunch in New York City public schools.  Lunch 4 Learning recognizes that when children and youth have a nutritious meal they are better equipped to concentrate and succeed in school.  The campaign also recognizes that there is often a regrettable social stigma attached to receiving a free school lunch because of its association with poverty.  In other cities across the country, and in New York State, the adoption of free, universal school lunch has increased participation in the school lunch program significantly. By offering free, universal school lunch, New York City can ensure that every student, regardless of family income, can have a nutritious lunch without stigma.

The FY 2015 budget starts off Lunch 4 Learning by offering free, universal school lunch in middle schools.  We believe that the implementation of this program will not only benefit 170,000 middle school students and their families, but will be an effective demonstration of the value of free, universal school lunch so that New York City can move toward expanding it to all students. 

Services for Older Adults

A majority of UNH’s members offer programs for older adults, spanning a range of services and activities that enable them to age in place and continue to thrive in their communities. Starting with the baselining of many of these services at last year’s levels, and extending to the additional investments in meals and case management that were added in the Executive Budget, we are encouraged by the recognition of the growing older adult population, and the acknowledgement of the need for new investment in this area following a decade of cuts. We will continue to work toward securing the funds community-based organizations need to provide the whole spectrum of services to older adults.

Adult Literacy

UNH has been a longtime leader in the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCCAL) as both a member of the steering committee and advocacy committee. NYCCAL has played a key role in shaping New York State’s response to the new high school equivalency (HSE) examination, and, in the City, has led the charge to secure additional resources to meet the challenges associated with the introduction of the Common Core.

In an attempt to reverse the trend of declining investment in community-based literacy services over the past decade, NYCCAL recruited new Council allies and fought to expand the City Council’s adult literacy initiative. The initiative funds critical Adult Basic Education (ABE), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and High School Equivalency (HSE) preparation classes. As a result of these efforts, the initiative was expanded for the first time since its inception, and hundreds of additional immigrants and adult learners will be able to improve their English literacy and/or study to earn their HSE diploma

Big Dreams for New York's Youngest Children: The future of early care and education

Monday, June 23, 2014

On June 17, UNH Policy Analyst joined a panel of experts in early childhood education to discuss the future of subsidized child care for younger children as New York City prepares to launch Universal Pre-K for 4-year-olds.

A link to the livestream and a summary of the event is below:

With the creation of EarlyLearnNYC in 2012, New York City reinvented its system for subsidized early care and education for children from low-income families. Officials sought to ensure high quality, developmentally smart care--but a string of financial and logistical hurdles posed difficulties for many of the nonprofit organizations that run these programs. Today, some thrive while others have lost their contracts or struggle to remain open. Now, as the city launches an expanded Pre-K network for 4-year-olds, what will happen to subsidized child care for younger kids? Can the reform vision of EarlyLearn be put fully into action, and sustained? A conversation with experts in the field, and the release of findings from a new Center for New York City Affairs report on early care and education.

Watch here! 


Settlement Houses Play Major Role in Mayor’s Vision of Expanded Afterschool Programs

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

PRESS RELEASE 

June 18, 2014
For Immediate Release                                                  
Contact: Gregory Brender, 212-967-0322 ext. 330 

Settlement Houses Play Major Role in Mayor’s Vision of Expanded Afterschool Programs

Settlement Houses Make Up 15% of Selected Providers

New York – Settlement houses have been selected to play a major role in making the Mayor’s vision of universally available afterschool programs for middle school students in New York City a reality. Yesterday, in an announcement at UNH member agency New Settlement Apartments, Mayor Bill de Blasio, joined by Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, announced the selection of 271 new programs, run by 108 community-based organizations, that will operate middle school programs starting in September.

 Eighteen settlement houses were selected to take part in the city’s afterschool expansion, together running 43 new programs at middle schools in Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens. The settlement house network makes up 15% of the newly selected providers.

The following member agencies of United Neighborhood Houses were selected:  BronxWorks, CAMBA, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park,  Claremont Neighborhood Centers, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, East Side House, Educational Alliance, Grand Street Settlement, Henry Street Settlement, Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Mosholu Montefiore Community Centers, New Settlement Apartments, Queens Community House, Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers, St. Nick’s Alliance, Union Settlement Association, University Settlement Society, and WHEDCo.

Settlement houses are neighborhood-based organizations that provide educational, recreational, and social services to residents of all ages, responding to the specific needs of their neighborhoods.   Their programs may include: job training and employment programs, early childhood education, youth programs, arts education and performances, English-as-a-Second-Language and literacy education, legal counseling, home care, housing, and senior services. All settlement houses in New York City are members of United Neighborhood Houses.  Providing services to children and youth are core to their mission.

 ###

 United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) is a membership organization of 38 settlement houses and community centers in New York City. UNH promotes and strengthens the neighborhood-based, multi-service approach to improving the lives of New Yorkers in need and the communities in which they live. Today, UNH’s membership comprises one of the largest human service systems in New York City, with 38 agencies working at more than 400 sites to provide high quality services and activities to a half million New Yorkers each year. UNH supports its members through policy development, advocacy, and capacity-building activities. For more information, visit www.unhny.org.

Advocates Urge City to Add Adult Literacy Funding

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Over 100 students, teachers, and advocates rallied outside of City Hall yesterday to urge Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to restore funding for adult literacy, High School Equivalency (HSE) preparation, and English classes. Students and supporters from across the City, joined by a number of City Council members and other city officials, were brought together by the New York City Coalition of Adult Literacy (NYCCAL), an umbrella advocacy group dedicated to preserving and promoting access to literacy services across the City.

“After years of the City failing to include funding for community-based literacy programing in the baselined budget, this year represents a critical opportunity for Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to break from the past and create a new and robust learning infrastructure," said Kevin Douglas of United Neighborhood Houses (UNH), one of the rally’s organizers.

Full article here.

Youth, Advocates and Elected Leaders Rally at City Hall for Jobs Program

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Campaign Launches Effort to Create 100,000 Summer Youth Jobs

New York, NY (May 20, 2014) – Today supporters of the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) spoke out about the current youth unemployment crisis and their desire to see the successful jobs program expanded. The six-week, minimum-wage part-time program is open to youth between the ages of 14-24, with some 36,000 participating each summer. However, advocates from the Campaign for Summer Jobs point to the 100,000 other youth who are turned away from the program every year for lack of funding.

Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York (UNH) stated, “With 100,000 youth turned away every year from the Summer Youth Employment Program, the City must do more. We know well the benefits of helping young people to engage in a positive work experience over the summer months: it’s good for them, good for their families, good for their communities and good for the economy. As a leader of the Campaign for Summer Jobs for the past fifteen years, UNH looks forward to working with the new administration and City Council to expand SYEP to serve 100,000 youth by 2018.”

Gigi Li, Co-Chair of the Campaign, said her organization, the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition (NFSC), is fully behind the effort: “NFSC is proud to embark on a 5 year expansion plan to reach 100,000 SYEP slots in 5 years. Reaching this goal will be a win-win-win for youth, families, and CBOs throughout all of our neighborhoods. These additional jobs represent investment in young people and economic development for communities throughout New York City.”

The vision of the Campaign is for the program to be able to serve at least 100,000 youth each summer, within the next five years, and they are calling on the Mayor and City Council to invest an additional $14.2 million this year as a first step. Many members of the City Council seem to agree the time is now.

“The young people of our communities understand the benefits of staying on a positive path and, when given an opportunity, will choose to participate in constructive activities rather than fall subject to negative influences on our streets. Our children want to work to be independent, to save for college, and to support their families,” stated Council Member Mathieu Eugene, Chair of the City Council’s Youth Services Committee. “The Summer Youth Employment Program is often the first time that many young New Yorkers are able to create a real resume, to gain work experience in a desired career field, and to be exposed to the routine of being fully employed. Investing in the Summer Youth Employment Program is an investment in the futures of our young people. I applaud the efforts of the Campaign for Summer Jobs and will continue to support them in their efforts to expand this program to more of our youth.”

Jennifer March, Executive Director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York added “For the youth who are lucky enough to literally win the SYEP lottery, a summer job helps them gain critical work experience and learn about financial management, as well as provides them and their families with additional income that is then a boost to the local economy. A five year plan to reach 100,000 youth each summer is an immeasurable investment for today’s youth—who are tomorrow’s workforce.”

Recently the program faced the threat of fewer jobs as a result of declining federal and private support, as well as the recent hike in the state minimum wage. Although advocates say they supported the increase from $7.25/hr. to $8.00/hr., they say the increase also means more dollars are needed to maintain the jobs program.

Council Member Margaret Chin, a member of the Youth Services Committee, supports the effort to expand the program, and recalled her own days as a youth worker: “When I was seventeen, I participated in SYEP, so I know from personal experience the importance of having paid summer work experience. In today’s world, summer jobs have become a necessary experience for our young persons to learn important skills that will enable them to find employment after graduation. We are glad that the city and state have committed funds to continuing the Summer Youth Employment program this year, but it is important that the city, state, and private sector commit resources to begin expanding the program so that 100,000 youth can participate each year.”

Several youth leaders at the Campaign launch described the value of the program in their own words. Ricardo Luciano, a 17 year old senior at The Children's Aid Society's Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, added “As a young person myself, I understand the importance of having a good resume to present to future employers. Every day, I see my peers struggle to find jobs. I see them struggle to be taken seriously. As young proactive adults, we want to be able to provide for not only ourselves, but for those we care for.”

Leaders from the City’s non-profit sector say they came together because they see the difference the program makes is real, and long term. Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) said “FPWA is proud to support the Campaign for Summer Jobs’ proposal to expand SYEP for our City’s young people. Given that youth between 16 and 24 years of age have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment, increasing investments in the SYEP program will help to propel them towards economic mobility and security. We strongly urge the City to embrace the expansion plan so we may reach the goal of 100,000 SYEP jobs over the next five years.”

Her remarks were supported by the testimony of one youth who says her SYEP experience led directly to additional employment. Stephanie Ruiz, a senior at Fort Hamilton High School who participated in SYEP through Center for Family Life in Sunset Park in the summer of 2013, now works for the agency: “After the summer, I got hired for the school year after school program, working in the office. During the school year more doors opened for me and I started working as an Assistant Group Leader. It changed the person I was for better. I learned how to communicate, how to work with and help kids, and how to really challenge myself. One of the most important skills I learned was leadership. I never thought that I would be a leader to anyone, and now I believe I am—I learned that I was capable of speaking out and to using my voice.”

In the City Council’s response to Mayor de Blasio’s first Preliminary Budget released in February of this year, they called on his administration to invest an additional $14.2 million in SYEP in order to create 10,000 new Summer Jobs. Underscoring the need for these resources, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who sits on the Council’s Youth Services Committee, stated “The Summer Youth Employment Program empowers youth ages 14-24 to secure employment and obtain skills that they can utilize in their academic and professional careers. New York City youth and young adults rely on this program, which has undergone a steady decline of job opportunities. It is imperative that we preserve and expand the capacity of this program by increasing city, state, and federal funding to ensure that all of our youth can learn financial responsibility, contribute to the economic development of our city and state, while serving their communities.”

Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) also supports the expansion, stating that “Summer employment is a major opportunity for growth among our youth population. I join my colleagues and all of the advocates here today in calling for the City's budget include all the 46,000 Summer Youth Employment slots so that children have the chance to both earn money and learn about responsibility over the summer."

With the Council and Mayor now engaged in budget negotiations that must yield a final agreement by July 1, 2015, the message from 20 year old Christina Lantigua, a group leader with one of SCO Family of Services’ summer camps is short and sweet: “So I ask you Council Members, go back to the Mayor, look over the budget and find the money to increase jobs in the Summer Youth Employment Program.”

Nancy Wackstein reflects on the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I’m very glad I went to Vancouver last week!

Last week I journeyed across the continent to beautiful Vancouver in British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada.  The reason I went was to participate in the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements, a worldwide group of nonprofit organizations (typically called NGOs, or non-governmental organizations in countries outside the USA) that do similar work to the settlement houses and community centers of New York City that are members of the organization I lead, United Neighborhood Houses of NY.    In other places – Canada and Europe for example – most typically these organizations are called neighbourhood houses or neighbourhood centres.

I have to confess that I hardly ever go to professional conferences, jaded New Yorker that I am, as they take up a lot of time, cost a lot of money and very rarely turn out to be worth these expenditures in terms of knowledge gained or professional relationships created. But I must say, I was glad I went to Vancouver! 

Why?  There was a powerful and consistent theme running throughout the three full days of this conference, and it brought me back, in some way, to the very roots of our settlement house “place-based” work.  The theme – in short - was how important the authentic engagement of neighbors in the work of every community-based nonprofit organization truly is, and how much we’ve lost our way as many agencies have moved toward a “service delivery” model.

Too often we who run organizations that serve forget to genuinely involve neighbors, community residents, clients or do so as an afterthought.  Too often we give lip service to the views of the people who use our services but then go our own way when it comes to program planning and proposal writing. Too often we say we engage in community-building activities but we forget the first principle of successful community organizing, to listen to and engage the members of the community.  Too often we come to believe our own jargon: we say we use “strengths-based” or “assets-based” approaches but fail to see the potential contributions of society’s marginalized people, those with mental illness or dysfunctional families… or who are just poor.

In workshop after workshop in Vancouver I felt and heard the message that this must change and it really resonated with me.  Without genuinely involving the people who are affected by our policies and programs we will ultimately fail or simply become passive arms of government.  Conversely, when we work hard to involve community members in our work – and it is surely time-consuming, underfunded and just plain hard to do so – we ultimately will have agencies that better fulfill their missions and are more creative and innovative as well. 

A brilliant conference plenary speaker, John McKnight, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University, noted that the goal of organizations like ours should be to try to “move people from clients to citizens” by helping to uncover their capacities.  To look at what can they teach us and what agendas they can help us set.  McKnight asked: how can we “enable their power to give” vs. “serving” them?  In essence, how can we who have defined ourselves as service providers “help ordinary people become extraordinary?”  I just love that notion.  And I thank my colleagues from around the world who gathered in Vancouver last week for reminding me of these basic and essential truths.

Settlement House Day

Friday, April 18, 2014


On Friday, April 11, United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) hosted the first-ever Settlement House Day, an all-day conference for staff from UNH’s 38 member agencies. Over 200 attendees convened at University Settlement’s Houston Street Center for workshops, panel discussions, and networking opportunities to help develop new skills and connect with the settlement house movement.

The theme of the day was the “Settlement House Advantage”, addressing the innovative ways in which settlement houses help New York City’s residents. The conference offered 15 panels, with topics including: utilizing older adults as valuable resources, models for using arts and culture to build community, how to increase healthy food access, and running a successful capital campaign, and more. Calling upon the strength of the UNH network, all the panelists were settlement house staff, sharing strategies in community engagement and service delivery in all five boroughs. 

A lunchtime session, “How Are We Doing: A Sneak Peek at Research Documenting the Settlement House Advantage”, introduced a unique collaboration between a working group of UNH member Associate Executive Directors and an external researcher, Dr. Mimi Abramovitz from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to quantify the impact of settlement houses on their surrounding communities. 

Nancy Wackstein, UNH Executive Director, said, “The impetus for all of us at UNH and for all of the volunteer panelists to come together for Settlement House Day  was to do something that would give the staff of settlement houses, who work day in and day out in their communities, a sense that they are appreciated and that the work they do is extremely valuable.”

Special thanks to Aramark for graciously donating food and beverage for this event.