OCFS Agency Newsletter

Skip to Form

Accessible Navigation and Information

Use the following links to quickly navigate around the page. You can jump to:

Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
December 2015 — Vol. 10, No. 12

Message from the Executive Office

It seems impossible that 2015 is already coming to an end. It seems like just yesterday we were enjoying our OCFS picnic, playing volleyball and having fun, and going home to enjoy more hours of daylight outdoors after work. Looking back, it’s been a great year. We’ve done so much good work and we have had a lot of fun, too.

Now it’s December and it’s dark on the ride home after spending our workdays rushing to meet end-of-year project deadlines. Even in the darkness, what I really love about this time of year is the transition. Our short days transform to longer days following the winter solstice.

The word solstice comes from the Latin “sol” for sun, and “sistere,” which means to stand still. In all of our hurry and bustle this time of year, we should all pause and follow the sun’s example and just stand still for a moment. Stand still and reflect on where we’ve been…because transformation begins with reflection. Stand still and formulate a vision of what 2016 should be.

Can you think back to this time last year? Where were you and where did you want to be? What did you want to accomplish, both personally and professionally? What were you looking forward to? Have you reached all of those goals?

Now is the time to draw your 2016 roadmap. Design your happiness and plot out the route that will get you there. I challenge you to schedule some quiet time and use it to write down your goals for the coming year or the ones you still want to accomplish from this year’s list and put it in a place where you can pull it out every few months to review your progress and to make sure you are staying on track. Be sure to remind yourself of what went well and take inventory of what you want to leave behind.

I wish you all a productive and fulfilling end of the year. And, I look forward to ringing in the new year with all of its challenges and opportunities. Cheers to 2016 and cheers to all of you.


Sheila J. Poole

Acting Commissioner


OCFS Named Exemplary Agency at NYS Lean Conference

Close to 40 state agencies are participating in New York State's Lean initiative to eliminate waste and improve government efficiency. Just four were named an Exemplary Agency this year -- and OCFS is one of them.

The announcement came at the New York State Lean Conference and Awards Ceremony in Albany on November 10. Nineteen OCFS staff members accepted the award, evoking images of a Hollywood cast and crew receiving an Oscar.

“We mobbed the stage,” said Derek Holtzclaw, Associate Commissioner of Finance in the Division of Administration. “We had Regional Office staff from as far away as Buffalo and Long Island. I really encouraged everyone to come up because I wanted that inclusiveness. This award is a result of everyone’s hard work.”

(At right: Derek Holtzclaw stands alongside the framed award and the chart that tracks the progress of all 22 OCFS Lean projects.)

OCFS was also honored for simplifying and speeding up the process by which newly-blinded individuals register for services through the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB).

In a Kaizen event led by OCFS Empire Belts Karen Williams and Myra Soto, NYSCB staff members Jim DuFresne, Craig Hedgecock, Uta Pierce, and Anamarie Romero devised a plan that cut the waiting period from several months to about three days.

Romero led a second team -- Bethany Albano, Colleen Newhouse, and Charmaine Wood -- in clearing a five-month backlog of cases in just three weeks.

“The inspiration for this project came from our hard working staff whose efforts on behalf of those we serve is felt daily, not through this project alone, but through their tireless efforts to keep us leading the nation in many key performance indicators,” said NYSCB Associate Commissioner Brian Daniels, who received a Project Sponsor Award for his leadership.

Williams, who co-led the NYSCB Kaizen event, is one of just 11 New York State Certified Empire Belts. She received her certification award at the ceremony, adding to the big night for OCFS.

"It is nice to see that our hard work is recognized," Williams said. "We’ve done a lot of things right, and it shows in our results."

(L to R: Charmaine Wood, Brian Daniels, Sandra Costello, Jennifer Livi, Sharon Salisbury, Jean Calder, Jackie Maclutsky, Andrea Shako, Craig Hassel, Derek Holtzclaw, Jim Hart, Karen Williams, Claudia Soriano, Pam Fetcho, Kevin Sweet, Mary Scicchitano, Gail Babb, Karen Kissinger, Susan Barbella, Matt Millea.)

YLA Helps Clean Up Cemetery

OCFS is helping Delaware County Sheriff Tom Mills restore dignity to hundreds of long-neglected, unmarked graves in Delhi.

Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) in the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY) joined the sheriff's campaign to clean up Potter's Cemetery, where the last burial took place more than 50 years ago.

“He didn’t have the manpower to keep at it,” YLA Facility Director Todd Schraffenberger said. “I said YLA could help. Plus, I wanted our kids to get community service experience.”

Three youths volunteered. On October 17, they accompanied Schraffenberger, YLA Maintenance Supervisor Ed Dower, Cadet Leader II Chuck Goetz, and Cook Ryan Oakley to the cemetery. Under careful supervision, they safely cleared away the overgrown brush and grass.

(At right: A YLA youth tackles the tall grass.)

“The team mowed and weed-whacked the entire area, making it more presentable,” Schraffenberger said. “It took about three hours or so to clean it up.”

Their efforts did not go unnoticed.

The Delaware County Board of Supervisors publicly recognized the YLA team at its November 10 meeting. Delaware County Historian Gabrielle Pierce prepared framed certificates of appreciation, and Sheriff Mills presented them to the youths.

“These young men did such a good thing and will have others following their example,” Pierce said. "In the future, I would like to continue recognition for other youths who step forward to keep this project ongoing."

On the Move with CWCS

This fall, staff members in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) have shared their expertise and promoted the agency’s important work through media interviews, seminars, and summits across the state. Highlights include:

Adoption Month

Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez talked to the Capital Region’s CBS-TV affiliate about the need for more people to adopt children from the foster care system. The segment also included the family profiled in the November edition of the OCFS Newsletter. Throughout the month, the OCFS Facebook page displayed photos of youth waiting to be adopted.

(L to R: Junahveon, 7, and Shazear, 9, try out the CBS 6 WRGB-TV camera and microphone. Their adoptive mother, Jema Clements, told viewers about the many benefits of adoption. The Bureau of Permanency Services helped to connect the family with the media.) 

Fatherhood Summit

Close to 200 people attended the Fatherhood Summit in Latham last month. James Rodriguez, CEO and President of Father and Families Coalition of America, discussed the challenges and benefits of engaging fathers. Then, several local departments of social services shared their strategies. Other workshops included Fatherhood Toolkit training, protective factors, and changing communities.

Healthy Families

Healthy Families New York continues to shape a better future for young moms and their babies. Program Coordinator Bernadette Johnson and Dr. Kristen Kirkland from the Division of Strategic Planning and Policy Development (SPPD) attended a conference, where Kirkland shared the program's success. Johnson gave an interview to New York Family Magazine. 

Revitalizing Recruitment

A new guide summarizing best practices for the recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive families is now available on the OCFS website. Revitalizing Recruitment was funded by a federal diligent recruitment grant and written by Welfare Research Inc. This important resource for local social services districts and voluntary agencies received a mention in the latest AdoptUSKids monthly newsletter.

Sharing Strategies

CWCS hosted a three-day child welfare leadership training seminar and co-hosted a convening on trauma-informed care this fall. Local districts and other key stakeholders learned valuable information that will enable them to better serve New York's children and families. In addition, the Spring Valley Regional Office hosted a Race Equity Learning Community Session for mental health professionals.

OCFS Embraces the Spirit of Giving

Pola Griego was thumbing through a community newsletter four years ago when she noticed an ad from Crossover Christian Church in Suffolk County, offering free holiday meals to families in need.

Greigo, who works at the Long Island Community Multi-Services Office (LICMSO), immediately thought of the youth and families her office serves. With help from her intern, she contacted the church.

“The rest is history,” said Griego, a Youth Counselor II Supervisor. “We have been the lucky and appreciative recipients of holiday gifts, holiday meals, and school supplies for the past few years. “

Last month, Pastor Lesaya Kelly tapped the generosity of her congregation to donate 26 baskets of food to LICMSO. Each one contained a turkey, stuffing mix, a five-pound bag of potatoes, gravy, yams, corn, string beans, cranberry sauce, and pies.

Twelve LICMSO and MST staff members delivered all the fixings to the youth and families in their caseload.

(Standing L to R: Hilton Cooper, Jennifer Whaley-Gundersen, Suset Farro, Eric Elliot, Kimberly Leahey; Kneeling: Bernard Johnson.)

"Pastor Kelly and her church deserve the praise as they do this for the community every year in Suffolk County,” Griego said.

(L to R: Kate Reece, Felipe Davis, Shannon Klubes. Not pictured: Mario Franco, Thora McKay, Karyn Wilbourn.)



OCFS is once again partnering with Albany and Rensselaer counties to make the holiday season a little brighter for hundreds of children and families in need.

As part of the Adopt-a-Family program, ornaments adorning the holiday trees in the North and South buildings are labeled with specific gifts. Staff who wish to participate may purchase the gift and place it under the tree, unwrapped, with the ornament attached. Gifts are due by December 8.

If the label on the ornament asks for a gift card, please deliver the card to Beth McCarthy in Room 236 North instead of placing it under the tree.

If you do not wish to purchase a gift or gift card, there are other ways to help. Beth needs tape, wrapping paper, and assistance wrapping and delivering presents. To participate, contact her at 518.473.8414 or Beth.McCarthy@ocfs.ny.gov.

Holiday Hearts

A second program, Holiday Hearts, enables staff to help a wide range of people -- and pets -- in need.

During the weeks of November 16 and November 23, Home Office staff donated enough food to fill nine boxes for the FOCUS Interfaith Food Pantry in Albany.

Now, other items are being collected through the end of the year:

  • Week of November 30: Hats, scarves, gloves, mittens for children and families
  • Week of December 7: Coats, jackets, hoodies for children and families
  • Week of December 14: Blankets, socks, slippers for seniors
  • Week of December 21: Hats, t-shirts, socks, hygiene items for veterans
  • Week of December 28: Pet food, used blankets, towels for pets

"I thank you all for the kindness and compassion you have shown through OCFS’s charitable events throughout the year,” Acting Commissioner Sheila Poole said. “Your empathy for those less fortunate and generosity in giving is the manifestation of living our mission to improve the lives of children and families throughout our state.”

Janitor at Parker Training Academy Earns Major Award

Matthew Roloson was off to a successful start in the heating and plumbing business when tragedy struck on July 21, 2005. The Hudson Valley native fell from a ladder, sustaining brain damage that left him in a coma for several weeks.

When he awoke, Roloson realized his life had changed forever. The injuries slowed his pace of processing information. Still determined to work, he was referred to the Gateway Foundation through ACCESS VR.

He applied for a position in Janitorial Services and worked with a job coach to develop methods of remembering his daily tasks. After spending time in various offices, Roloson arrived in 2011 at the OCFS Parker Training Academy through the facility’s contract with New York State Industries for the Disabled.

He’s been a mainstay ever since, popular and productive.

(At right: Parker Training Academy Director Alan Kaflowitz, at the podium, talks about Matt Roloson's success.)

"Matt is an invaluable team member of our work family, as he keeps our environments neat and clean for the staff and Academy participants,” Academy Director Alan Kaflowitz said. “He is a dedicated employee who is on time each day and is ready to work to help support the Academy.” 

Roloson’s success in the face of life-changing adversity inspired his case manager, Donna Green, to nominate him for the Gateway Foundation’s prestigious Personal Achievement Award. Pitted against other impressive nominees, Roloson came out on top.

He received the award last month at The Chateau in Kingston. Kaflowitz delivered a speech, praising Roloson’s triumph and thanking him for his hard work.

(At left: Roloson addresses the audience.)

“You could say that Matt was given a second chance, but in reality, he created a second chance for himself,” Kaflowitz told the audience. “He did not allow the trauma from his accident to define him, but allowed it to shape him into a new person.” 

While working at Parker, Roloson has developed his memory skills and gained self-confidence. He is providing for his wife and two children. And now, he is hoping to give back to others who have suffered similar injuries.

“Matt is so humble, even today, with everything that he went through,” Kaflowitz said. “He recognizes there are others that struggle every day much more than him.”

Until Next Time...

Thank you for reading the December 2015 edition of the OCFS Newsletter. If you have a story suggestion for future editions, email steve.flamisch@ocfs.ny.gov.