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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
August 2015 — Vol. 10, No. 8

Message from the Executive Office

This month marks the opening of the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, where OCFS and other state agencies will join the agriculture, entertainment, and food vendors for a 12-day celebration of all that is New York State.

I would like to specially thank the many volunteers from our Syracuse Regional Office who staff the OCFS booth. They will be educating fairgoers about becoming an adoptive or foster parent, keeping children safe, locating services for the blind and visually impaired, protecting the elderly, and many other topics.

These volunteers serve as a reminder of our agency’s breadth. Only about 700 of us work at the Home Office in Rensselaer. Most OCFS staff -- more than 2,600 dedicated men and women -- work at our call centers, community multi-services offices, juvenile justice centers, regional offices, and other sites across the state.

We are geographically diverse, but we are united by one core mission: serving New York's children and families.

I'll be sharing that message with local stakeholders as part of the Capital for a Day initiative. The Cabinet convened in Rochester on July 9, and I'm looking forward to visiting other regions in the coming months to talk about the important work we are doing.

I hope you, too, will be able to do some traveling before summer is over. If you happen to visit the State Fair, grab a fried Twinkie and check out the OCFS booth. Most of all, thank you for your tireless work on behalf of the children and families we serve.


Sheila J. Poole

Acting Commissioner


Ideas, Insight at NYPWA Conference

It’s the other summer tradition in Saratoga Springs.

A few weeks before the 151st season of thoroughbred racing opened at Saratoga Race Course, the city hosted the 146th annual New York Public Welfare Association (NYPWA) Summer Conference.

Acting Commissioner Sheila Poole met with social services commissioners to discuss Limited English Proficiency and other issues that impact counties, while agency staff participated in a series of workshops over the course of four days. Topics ranged from adult services to academic achievement.

“It is our goal to make it possible for children in foster care to receive appropriate, coordinated educational supports,” said Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, Assistant Commissioner of Special Populations in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS).

Ogundimu and Vajeera Dorabawila, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Research, Evaluation, and Performance Analytics in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development, presented data made available by the New York State Education Department.

“While this analysis is limited to one county, we plan to expand to statewide analysis, make comparisons between counties, and examine the association between foster care related factors with educational outcomes,” Dorabawila said.

Other sessions included:

  • The Child Care and Development Act of 2014 and Its Impact on Child Care (Division of Child Care Services: Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar, Administrative Operations Director Robert Korycinski, Subsidy Program Director Rhonda Duffney)
  • The Transition of Foster Care Children into Health Homes and Managed Care (CWCS: Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez, Bureau Director Mimi Weber)
  • Navigating Response & Recovery (Agency Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Taylor)
  • Promising Practices in Recruiting and Retaining Foster and Adoptive Parents (CWCS: Associate Commissioner Renee Hallock)
  • Be Better Versed on Claiming (Bureau of Budget Management: Assistant Director Deborah Davis, Local Operations Manager Shonna Clinton)
  • Fiscal Roundtable (Bureau of Financial Operations: Assistant Director James Carroll)
  • What’s New in Adult Services? (Bureau of Adult Services: Director Alan Lawitz, Representatives Michael Cahill, Christine Coons, Deborah Greenfield, Lisl Maloney)
  • Attorneys’ Meeting with OCFS Counsel

The NYPWA’s 147th Winter Conference is scheduled for January 26-29 in Albany.

Human Services Call Center Gives Back

When the Schenectady City Mission truck rolled up to her building, Colleen Dusseault felt a jolt of excitement. 

She and her colleagues on the Human Services Call Center’s Employee Workplace Committee spent weeks collecting slightly-used clothing for homeless men and women. The truck's arrival meant they were ready to be delivered.

“The best feeling in the world is knowing that you can change someone’s day with one simple act of kindness,” Dusseault said. “Some of the clients may be down on their luck, or may have even gotten the short end of the stick and just simply need a boost.”

The HSCC Helping Hands Clothing Drive -- led by Dusseault, Rose Hernandez, and Shane Mardon with help from Reginald Arthur, Greg Blanch, Jesse Bossard, and Cliff Pelton – proved to be a big success.  

The Committee collected enough clothing to fill 20 bags, with shoes, toiletries, and books mixed in.

(L to R: Shane Mardon, Jesse Bossard, Rose Hernandez, Colleen Dusseault, Reginald Arthur, and City Mission Staff Members Anthony Mayers and Gary Spadaro)

“We were able to make an impact by providing casual clothing as well as some professional attire,” Dusseault said. “Anyone looking to get into the job force would have the resources to feel fierce walking into an interview.”

HSCC Project Director Kathryn Shelton said she is proud to be part of an organization that helps its neighbors.

“We set out to build an organization that cares about and supports our staff,” Shelton said. “It is heartwarming to see the HSCC staff extend that spirit of generosity and concern to the children and families here in Schenectady.”

In addition to the clothing drive, the Committee has collected canned goods for the City Mission and “adopted” a family during the holiday season. Now, a new project is underway: a “Paws for a Cause” drive to support the Mohawk-Hudson Humane Society.

“I enjoy organizing events like this because it warms my heart to watch the recipient’s face light up,” Dusseault said.

Donations Help Feed the Homeless

As Renee Fields and Marybeth Foster left the OCFS Summer Picnic last month, their jam-packed cars gave the appearance of a cross-country trip. But they weren’t loaded down with luggage – and their destination wasn’t California.

This was a donation delivery to Capital City Rescue Mission in Albany.

“Both of our vehicles were packed full with boxes and bags of food,” Foster said. “The appreciation expressed by the staff when we arrived with our bounty was very humbling.”

Fields and Foster are members of the Central Office Activities Team (C.O.A.T.), which organized the picnic and tandem food drive. C.O.A.T. worked hard to raise awareness by placing attractive boxes in the lobby of the Home Office and the Statewide Central Register, and by posting notices on the walls.

“The C.O.A.T. Committee also tried something new this year,” Fields said. “We kindly asked the workers that were not attending the picnic to please join in with the food donation contribution, and it was a success.”

(L to R: Renee Fields and Marybeth Foster pose with a few of the donations.)

Tapping the generosity of the OCFS staff, the Committee collected enough non-perishable food items to fill 22 boxes. They also received donations of unused shampoo, soap, and toothbrushes, as well as a beautiful bag filled with stuffed animals and toys.

Susan Jones, Director of Development for the Capital City Rescue Mission, expressed her gratitude.

“What a help and encouragement it is to have generous people like you offer practical help, from peanut butter and jelly to cereal and a whole lot more,” Jones wrote in a letter to Fields and Foster. “On behalf of people who eat at the Rescue Mission, and those who get help with food boxes, a heartfelt thank you.”

C.O.A.T. members Maria Brown, Valonda Brown, Marianne Decker, Fields, Foster, Bonnie Hahn, Mary Hamilton, Evelyn Kohler, Susan Lizak, Tim O’Brien, Migdalia Ramos-Ensslin, Tom Riccardi, Jill Richardson, Kerri Simmons, Carol Ann St. Hilaire all took part in the effort.

“OCFS has the most generous, giving group of people, and we are proud of our committee and our organization,” Fields said. “Kudos to our OCFS staff! “

NYSCB Celebrates 25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Barbara Campbell remembers the old days.

As a blind New Yorker, she navigated an uncertain streetscape of dangerous intersections and high curbs. At the bank, she needed help from an employee or a sighted friend to make transactions. At the museum, she missed out on the treasures others enjoyed.

Then, on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), bringing about heightened awareness and sweeping changes over the next quarter-century.

Today, Campbell crosses the street more safely thanks to curb cuts and audible pedestrian signals. She plugs headphones into the ATM to make financial transactions with ease. And art educators describe aloud the exhibits she used to miss.

Campbell, a Senior Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB), also credits the ADA with helping more people to land -- and keep -- a job.

(Above: Barbara Campbell visits the Home Office in Rensselaer.)

“I find more people staying employed as a result of the ADA," Campbell said. "In the past, individuals would leave their jobs before seeking services to remain employed. The ADA has created a greater awareness of accommodations that allow the blind to stay at their jobs.”

New York State marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA with a celebration in Albany’s West Capitol Park on Friday, July 24.

The event featured free food, giveaways, inspirational speeches, and live music from the world-renowned rock band Flame, whose members are all individuals with disabilities.

Brian Daniels, Associate Commissioner of NYSCB, attended the celebration. He lauded the ADA for helping to facilitate access to education, employment, and independence for people with vision impairments.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act has changed the culture of communities across the nation," Daniels said. "The positive societal impact accrued to us as the ADA has matured these past years reminds us not only how we have grown, but also how much more progress we can inspire."

Barbara Campbell couldn't agree more.

“There are so many things which currently exist as a result of the ADA that are important to blind and visually impaired people,” she said.

Brookwood Secure Center Clearing the Path to a College Degree

Building on five years of growth and success, the Brookwood College Program is taking a series of new steps to help its students continue their education after they leave the care and custody of OCFS.

Students who are transferred to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) are now connected to Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, a privately-funded organization that offers college courses and re-entry programs to inmates at adult prisons.

“Most of their students find jobs within six months of graduating,” said longtime educator Margaret Ann Roth, a Brookwood College Program volunteer. “By combining educational and re-entry programs, Hudson Link has reduced the recidivism rate for their participants.”

Since Hudson Link's inception in 1998, fewer than 2 percent of its participants have been re-arrested, according to Executive Director Sean Pica.

By comparison, close to 40 percent of all inmates in New York's state prisons are re-arrested after their release, DOCCS said.

(Above: A youth stands before, L to R, Brookwood College Program Director Jim LeCain, Brookwood Assistant Director Patrick Haggerty, Hudson Link Academic Coordinator Emily Patka, and Hudson Link Executive Director Sean Pica.)

Hudson Link has enabled 80 inmates to receive a college degree.The organization partners with several colleges and universities to serve the Fishkill, Greene, Sing Sing, Sullivan, and Taconic Correctional Facilities.

For Brookwood College Program students who return directly to the community instead of transferring to DOCCS, there are two programs available to help ease the transition.

College Initiative helps Brookwood youth from New York City navigate the maze of forms and procedures required to continue their college education, while College Pen Pal offers peer-to-peer support to youth and their families.

College Pen Pal was founded by a former Brookwood College Program student who recently obtained his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is Brookwood’s first graduate to obtain a four-year degree.

Now, he is giving back.

From Hudson Link to College Initiative and College Pen Pal, the future looks even brighter for the Brookwood College Program and its students.

“With these programs, Brookwood will begin an entirely new system of support for students who have embraced education as a means of rehabilitation,” Roth said. “Each is, in some way, an example of opportunities appearing when they are most needed.”