Access to Quality Child Care Can Strengthen Our Region

Max DelSignore

There are many factors to consider when determining the quality of life in a prospering community. One of the key pillars to a thriving community is access to education.

    The education provided by north country school districts and higher education institutions remains robust as the needs of our region evolve. However, research shows the greatest and most critical development in young children takes place from ages of 18 months to age 4. More than 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age 5. The availability of quality child care and early childhood development programs becomes a focal point for not only the healthy growth of local children, but the community as a whole.

The LEAD Council of the Northern New York Community Foundation is examining this community need more closely. The advisory committee of more than 20 young professionals recently launched its “LEAD Impact Grant Program,” which is designed to address strategic needs affecting residents of all ages in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The Council representing the tri-county area researched the issue and convened with local experts to identify meaningful support in child care and early childhood development as a community priority.

    Many nonprofit organizations, school districts and local agencies offer support in child care and early childhood development. While some programs receive federal funding to operate, other agencies scramble to secure appropriate resources and staff to optimize their programming. A compromise in the quality of programs is likely to hinder the preparedness of children entering kindergarten and grade school. Children are not only challenged with fundamentals in education, but with development of cognitive and social skills as well.

    “It is a simple and an incredibly complex fact that a person’s earliest years set the stage for the rest of their life,” said Joanna Loomis, a LEAD Council member and director of provider strategy and transformation at the North Country Initiative. “The quality of child care services for any child, along with other factors that influence their early development such as housing, family relationships and nutrition, all intersect to inform not only that child’s well-being, but by extension, that of their community.”

    LEAD is an acronym that means Leadership, Engagement, Access, and Direction. The LEAD Council and the Community Foundation announced in February up to $25,000 in grant funding is available to tri-county nonprofit organizations with a mission to provide services and support in child care and early childhood development. The focus areas for this grant opportunity are programs, advocacy, accessibility, and opportunities to support staff through training and professional development. Nonprofits, as well as other publicly supported organizations, such as school districts and municipalities, are eligible to apply for funding. The application deadline is April 19, and grant awards will be announced in September.

    “Although our grant is not a fix-all, we felt strongly that we could make a significant impact in this field with the potential that our grant is a step toward overall betterment,” said Andrew Boulter, LEAD member and a lifelong Watertown resident.

    Across the country, advocacy for quality child care and early childhood development is building momentum. Some municipalities have built partnerships and initiatives into their strategic plans to focus on providing growth and sustainability to support early childhood development. Bruce Stewart, the executive director of the St. Lawrence Child Care Council, noted that raising awareness of the gaps in support is one of the north country’s greatest challenges. Recent results from the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College reflects good or fair outcomes related to availability of child care in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. But local municipalities continue to evaluate feasible models to make improvements.

    “Child care and early childhood development should be thought of as infrastructure when it comes to community planning,” said Jennifer Voss, LEAD member and senior planner with the City of Watertown. “It’s an integral part of economic development. Parents who cannot find secure, affordable day care are not able to work outside of their homes. Child care is more than taking care of children, it’s a vital component to a community’s quality of life.”

    Investment in a child’s education and development begins well before the first steps into a kindergarten classroom. The LEAD Council and its “LEAD Impact Grant Program” will help continue the conversation and serve as a catalyst to augment support for optimal child care and early childhood development efforts in our region. As our communities evolve and grow it is important that we are mindful of properly nurturing our young children to give them the best chance to succeed in Northern New York.

 

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Improve your Content (and Grow) in Three Easy Steps

Jessica Piatt

If you’re new to the rapidly expanding world of social media, welcome! It’s a fun place where individuals can create, organizations can expand their brand, and businesses can profit.  It can also be an intimidating world for any user, let alone someone doing it in a professional capacity with little to no experience using social media as a tool to market a service or product.  I’m going to give you the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media. Thus, improving your brand awareness.  If you’re ready to commit to investing in your brand’s success on social media, then these steps can help you accomplish that goal. 

Start with Looking Ahead

    Planning is key when it comes to content creation.  When you look ahead, you’re taking the time to consider your brand’s consistency, your target audience, and what you can offer.  This is to say that you are planning with a purpose.  This is an important habit to initiate because it is crucial to transforming your social media presence.  In my last contribution, I went into this concept in further detail in a piece titled Invest in Your Businesses Online Presence.  In this column, I intend to build on the notion by recognizing it as a paramount pillar in your endeavor to improve your content and increase your growth. Planning with a purpose plays a critical role in your cohesive strategy to improve your content by establishing the ground work for your approach.

Quality Visuals Count

    Now that you’re in the habit of planning with a purpose (or on your way there soon) it’s time to talk visuals. Visuals are a key component to any marketing strategy.  They are an effective method of making memorable impressions that can be converted to meet a call to action.  And people like them!  With visual content continuing to yield higher engagement rates than text alone, employing this tactic to your overall strategy, as laid out in step one, will produce real results.  However, keep in mind that quality over quantity holds power when it comes to the visuals you associate with your brand.  The photos and videos you post should fit well into your organization’s visual brand, keeping the audience in mind.  It’s true that a picture’s worth a thousand words, but who are you talking to? The visuals you use should resonate with your audience.  Take photos that both represent your brand and hit your target audience (it’s 2019, this can be easily done by using your smart phone) then post them to the appropriate platforms.  When you maintain your brand, act with purpose, and produce quality visuals, it will show in your content. Now, you can take this practice a step further.  Consider which posts are generating higher engagement rates and respond by giving your followers more of what they demand.  Quality visuals, produced within the parameters of your visual brand, made for your audience will enhance your efforts to improve your content and grow your brand.

Words Absolutely Matter

    Having a brand voice is an essential part of success when it comes to social media.  Using a brand voice gives your audience a consistent feel that maintains your brand’s identity and helps build relationships.  Think about the words you type and how they can help you connect. At the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce we believe that when people make meaningful connections, it leads to growth.  It is for this reason why we provide opportunities for businesses, networking experiences for professionals, and encourage organizations across northern New York to use social media intentionally.  The next time you write copy for purposes of social media, do so with your brand’s voice.  Write for your target audience and be consistent with your messaging.  This practice will help your content feel familiar and better resonate with your audience.  Consequently, writing in your brand’s voice will make your content more impactful, therefore improving your connections and growing your brand.

    Well executed content is vital to growing your presence on social media.  In taking the necessary steps to improve your content, you’re committing to the development of your brand.  Utilize the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media.  Implement planning to establish a foundation, use quality visuals made for your audience, and consistently write in your brand’s voice.  These simple, yet effective, steps will result in improved content and yield growth.

United Way Partnerships Boost NNY Programs

Bob Gorman

Prior to this gig at the United Way of NNY, I was a journalist for 39 years. After interviewing a lot of people over the years and paying attention to what they said one day and then what they said the next, I concluded – only half-jokingly – that I became adept at diagnosing mental illness. I just didn’t know how to treat it.

    Frankly, I am no good at helping anybody who needs serious help. For instance: You have an addiction? Just say no. You’re depressed? Snap out of it.  In other words, I don’t have the right words when it comes to truly helping people.

    But helping the helpers? I figured out a long time ago that THAT is something I can do.

    At the United Way the easiest way to see that help is in the $420,000 or so in grants we make every year to our nonprofit partners. But there’s more to helping the helpers than just money.

    In the last five years we have produced programs with nationally recognized speakers to support the work of agencies that make a difference in the lives of thousands of north country citizens.

That includes:

  • Former NFL All-Pro Joe Ehrmann on the subject “The three lies every boy is told on what it means to be a man.” St. Lawrence Renewal House, Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, Catholic Charities, Mountain View Prevention and Lewis County Opportunities joined us in bringing Ehrmann to SUNY Canton, Massena and Lowville school districts and Jefferson Community College.
  • Olympic Champion Carl Lewis on organ donation, in which we partnered with Jefferson Community College and area health agencies, including the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.
  • Roger Breisch, who has spent 15 years on regional and national suicide hotlines. His talk “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” was attended by more than 4,000 area high school students. We partnered with the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, and the north country’s suicide coalitions, made up of representatives of dozens of human service nonprofits.

Partnering has allowed us to create the highly successful Food 4 Families programs at the Watertown City School District. By working with officials from the district and city, we developed a program through the Food Bank of CNY that allows the district to provide weekend food to 100 students a week during the school year. The advantages for the district are many: The food is less expensive than from a commercial store; it is already vetted for nutritional value; it is delivered directly to the school district by the food bank.

    Several years ago, a roof leak at the Salvation Army in Watertown forced the agency to close its soup kitchen for a week. But after we made a few phone calls, we put together a temporary daily lunch at the Watertown First Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall with the food prepared by the Mental Health Association of Jefferson County.

    (As an aside, we contract with the Mental Health Association once a year for our annual awards luncheon for state workers who make payroll deduction donations to area nonprofits. If you need to feed 30 or 40 people and want good food at a good value, you should contact the Mental Health Association at (315) 788-0970).

    Partnering works for us. A few years ago we rallied 35 businesses to provide a day of free labor to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in Carthage. And every fall we ask businesses to support our county food drives. Watertown Savings Bank and Northern Credit Union generate huge shipments of food every year, and added to the donations large and small from so many others, we generated 24,000 items that were shared by every pantry in Jefferson County.

    And we partner with individual companies, such as the Wladis Law Firm, to create adult education scholarships, which are awarded through Lewis County Opportunities, St. Lawrence Community Development Program and Community Action Planning Council.

    Helping the helpers is the best way to understand community service. Personally, I have no interest in providing anyone medical care. But donating blood through the Red Cross? Now you’re talking. After donating 13 gallons of blood in the last 50 years I can say without fear of contradiction that blood donation is the lazy man’s way to save a life. You sit on a table for 20 minutes while reading your smart phone, and then they give you snacks and apple juice. It’s the best deal in town.

    Let’s face it: The people who DO help people have a pretty tough row to hoe. Working with people who suffer through poverty, addiction, developmental disabilities, etc., often means a lot of days where progress can be hard to find, and relapse is a constant threat. If the rest of us don’t provide help through board membership, volunteer help and financial donations, those services will wither.

    At the United Way, we are committed to ensuring our community continues to help the helpers.

Driving Development: Hunt’s dedication to Northern New York connects multiple agencies

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Steve Hunt

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Aerial view of downtown Watertown.

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DEC Plays Critical Role in Strong Local Economies

Randy Young

If asked, few people would associate the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with economic development. However, DEC plays a critical role in maintenance and improvement of local strong economies. Indeed, our mission statement says that we protect and enhance the environment in part to protect the “…overall economic and social well-being …” of the people of the state.

    A few examples of DEC directly supporting local economies include our programs to clean up blighted properties with the hopes of redevelopment and returning these properties to the tax rolls.

    DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) was established to support private-sector cleanups of contaminated properties and reduce development pressure on greenfields.  Tax credits are provided to parties that perform cleanup activities under the BCP to offset the costs associated with site investigation and cleanup, site preparation, and property improvements. Specific examples of sites that have been redeveloped under the BCP include abandoned gas stations, former factory and mill complexes, and foundries.

    DEC also assists with the cleanup of abandoned gas stations and other petroleum spill sites through the New York State Spill Fund. Within DEC Region 6, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oneida and Herkimer counties, DEC spent approximately $1 million in 2017-2018 to clean up six sites within the city of Rome, and we’re poised to invest an additional $1 million this year on nine sites in St. Lawrence County. 

    Once these cleanups are complete, the municipalities will be able to market the properties for redevelopment and place them back on the tax rolls. 

    Millions of dollars in grants are also awarded to assist local communities with infrastructure improvement assistance. In Jefferson County, the village of Adams was recently awarded a Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) grant of $1 million for extensive improvements to its 38-year-old wastewater treatment facility. These improvements to the nearly 40-year-old wastewater treatment facility include the addition of disinfection equipment, which will substantially reduce the number of microorganisms discharged into Sandy Creek.

    “This award supports a much-needed project that the village of Adams has been planned for some time, and the grant will help the village to move it forward,” said David Rarick, DEC Region 6 regional water engineer.

    The WQIP program is a competitive, reimbursement grant program that funds projects that directly address documented water quality impairments. The village of Adams, plus 10 other municipalities and not-for-profits in Region 6 received WQIP awards totaling nearly $4.5 million.

    The town of Theresa was awarded $325,000 to build a new salt storage facility at the town’s highway department, while Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) was awarded $555,771 for a land acquisition project for source water protection. TILT plans to place perpetual conservation easements on six parcels of land totaling more than 310 acres of undeveloped habitat and three miles of vegetated shoreline and riparian habitat in the town of Clayton. This project will protect riparian vegetation, natural shoreline, and the surface water quality of the St. Lawrence River.

    The awards were announced mid-December 2018 and affect many statewide communities. Governor Cuomo announced more than $103 million in grants for a statewide total of 124 projects. While all WQIP projects will improve water quality, reduce the potential for harmful algal blooms and protect drinking water statewide, these funds provide an economic benefit, as well. Communities that can improve and expand wastewater collection and treatment capacity are better positioned to accommodate residential and commercial growth opportunities.

    “Access to clean water is critical to the health, safety, and economic wellbeing of our communities. With Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York is investing millions of dollars to protect and restore invaluable water resources statewide and addressing growing threats like harmful algal blooms,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

    In other promising economic news, 12 municipalities in Region 6 received Engineering Planning Grant (EPG) awards totaling about $600,000. This includes $30,000 for the village of Dexter Wastewater Treatment Plant Disinfection Study. The EPG program funds engineering studies that will ultimately lead to wastewater treatment improvement projects that can be funded through the WQIP or other funding opportunities.

Randy Young is the regional attorney and acting regional director. He has been with the DEC for 25 years.