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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
January 2016 — Vol. 11, No. 1

Message from the Executive Office

Happy 2016 to each and every one of you in the OCFS family! I wish you all good health, happiness, peace, success and joy in the new year.

This is the time of year when we take a “self-inventory” to assess where we are, where we want to be, and how we will get there. After a retrospective evaluation of ourselves, we can resolve to do better. New Year’s resolutions are an age-old practice, but they are still timely and relevant. We should periodically re-assess to figure out if we need to reset our priorities and values. The beauty of this assessment is that it is private, so it can be honest and real.

Change is tough. Old habits die hard. Are you happy in your work life? Are you as healthy as you want to be? Do your relationships need tweaking? Are you carrying too much debt? Do you want to give more to your community? All of these are achievable. All we have to do is make the choice to achieve them.

One way to leave bad habits behind is to “fake it until you make it.” Emulate the person you want to be even if you don’t feel like it. Pretty soon, the habit of smiling more, complaining less, showing up on time, saving a little more money, or getting out of bed a half an hour earlier to exercise will become engrained in you. Exude positive energy. It will draw people to you and win support from your family, friends and coworkers to help you to your goals.

I hope that, when you take your personal inventory, you will leave behind the habits that are weighing you down and inhibiting your progress. My wish for you is that your choices bring you health, fulfillment, prosperity, positive relationships, career satisfaction and a happy 2016.


Sheila J. Poole

Acting Commissioner


DJJOY Youth Learning Weatherization Skills

As New Yorkers crank up the heat this winter, the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY) is busy preparing the next generation of weatherization experts.

OCFS partners with the New York State Weatherization Directors Association to offer specialized training to youth in juvenile justice facilities. Since 2009, 90 young men have received their nationally-recognized certification.

“It’s the first rung of a career ladder in the green industry,” said Gordy Duross, who works in the Bureau of Education and Transition Services. “Not only do the youth obtain a certificate in a marketable industry, but they also prepare for economic self-sufficiency and acquire work ethics such as dependability, decision making, and interpersonal skills to help in obtaining and maintaining a job upon release.”

(Above: Two youths, wearing personal protective equipment, participate in weatherization training at Youth Leadership Academy in October.)

Brookwood Secure Center and Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) currently offer the four-day training, which includes modules in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety, basic air sealing, lead safe practices, and cellulose insulation. The program concludes with a graduation ceremony.

“The weatherization program affords the opportunity for students to learn valuable skills in a field projected to have tremendous job growth,” YLA Education Supervisor Rosanna Kieru said.

Energy Warriors

Weatherization training supplements the OCFS Energy Warriors program, in which youth acquire green technology skills while helping the agency comply with Executive Order 88 to improve energy efficiency.

Finger Lakes Residential Center is home to the program’s latest success story. Under the guidance of vocational instructors David Chaffee, Jay Cook, and Stacey Hilliard, youth assembled new solar panels and constructed a platform for them.

“Students were also involved first hand with the installation of the solar panels, including digging the trenches, sawing the blacktop, running and installing the wires into the meters,” Chaffee said. “All aspects of the project were performed by our students."

(At left: A youth helps to install the new solar panels at Finger Lakes Residential Center.)

Previously, Finger Lakes youth insulated the basement of the Industry Residential Center chapel, leading to a 68-percent reduction in energy costs in that building.

In recognition of its innovation and success, the OCFS Energy Warriors program received a prestigious BuildSmart NY Facility Star Award at the New York Power Authority Innovators Summit last year.

All in a Year's Work

As the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act moved through Congress in 2014, Lynn Baniak kept a close eye on its progress.

A Policy Analyst in the Division of Strategic Planning and Policy Development (SPPD), Baniak knows that kids in the child welfare system – especially those who are abused, neglected, or homeless – face a greater risk of commercial sexual exploitation and other forms of trafficking.

“This law addresses several of those vulnerabilities by helping us locate and assist children who go missing from foster care," Baniak said. "It also improves transition planning for youth leaving care, and it improves permanency for children.”

When President Obama’s signature made it official on September 29, 2014, SPPD swung into action.

(L to R: Policy Analysts Lynn Baniak and Heather Girard.)

Under the leadership of Tom Brooks, Rayana Gonzales, and Sara Blake, division staff formed seven workgroups to address the law. 

“We had to hit the ground running and immediately met with other OCFS bureaus to develop a work plan,” Baniak said. “Most of the year we basically ate, slept and breathed the implementation of the law.”

Team Effort

Over the next year, the Bureau of Training, CONNECTIONS / Information Technology Services (ITS), the Data Warehouse, the Regional Offices, and the Divisions of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS), Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY), and Legal Affairs worked closely with SPPD.

The result? OCFS prepared 10 Administrative Directives (ADM), two Informational Letters (INF), and various tools to assist local district and voluntary agency staff. And, we did everything by the September 29, 2015 deadline.

“I was a new employee when the law was enacted so it was a really great way for me to learn the process from passage of a law to the implementation of a policy,” Policy Analyst Heather Girard said.

Guided by the policy, ITS built a new CONNECTIONS screening window that enables staff to document if children are trafficking victims – or face a higher risk of becoming victims. All kids who receive preventive, protective, or foster care services are screened.

(SPPD and CWCS encourage all staff to wear blue on Thursday, January 14 in support of human trafficking victims.)

Now, with the arrival of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Baniak and her colleagues are spreading the word about trafficking and reflecting on what they’ve accomplished.

“I’m proud of the job we did,” Baniak said. “It was truly a team effort.”

OCFS Embraces the Spirit of Giving

You came through yet again!

Home Office staff bought hundreds of wonderful holiday gifts for neighbors in need as part of the annual Adopt-a-Family and Adopt-a-Senior campaigns.

“The response was more than we could have hoped for,” said Beth McCarthy, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Training and Development, who coordinates the charity drive. “Your generosity made this holiday season memorable for these families and seniors.”

The gifts went to six families (eight parents and 29 children) and five seniors in Albany and Rensselaer counties. Each child received a winter coat, clothing, and at least three toys.

Each family received a comforter, sheets, pots and pans, cleaning supplies, and gift cards, while each senior received the household items he or she requested.

(Above: Kim Overbaugh, Rensselaer County Department of Social Services, picks up donations.)

OCFS staff worked hard to make it all possible. There were individual feats -- Payroll’s Barb Coonradt crocheted and donated six afghans -- and team efforts. For instance, the Albany Regional Office (ARO) in the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS) banded together to donate.

“People were willing to give money, shop, organize and do whatever it took to ensure that families in need had a truly wonderful Christmas,” ARO Manager Tracey Turner said. “The feeling is not one that can easily be put to words.”

And it didn’t stop there. All across the agency, staff members donated their time and money to make the holidays brighter for those less fortunate. Other charity drives included:

Adopt-a-Friend: The Human Services Call Center donated a sleigh full of presents to families staying at the City Mission of Schenectady.

Food Drive: At the OCFS Holiday Party, the Central Office Activities Team (C.O.A.T.) collected donations of food, toiletries, and warm outerwear for the Capital City Rescue Mission.

Holiday Hearts: Home Office staff donated food, clothing, bedding, hygiene items, and pet supplies to neighbors in need as part of a campaign organized by Acting Commissioner Sheila J. Poole.

Move-In Kits: The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) donated kits filled with cookware, dishware, cleaning supplies, and more to single moms and families who are starting over in a new home.

SEFA Donations: Goshen Secure Center staff donated more than $4,500 to charities of their choice as part of the State Employee Federation Appeal program.

(L to R: Darrin Culver, Jackie Maclutsky, Tammy Eriksen, Tracey Turner, Chris Slater, Danielle Waring, Sharon Salisbury, and Bob Kelly were among more than 20 DCCS Albany Regional Office staff who donated to the Adopt-a-Family and Adopt-a-Senior campaigns.)

“Events like this help us to realize what this season is truly about,” ARO Child Care Licensor Danielle Waring said. “We were honored to help the people in our community."

New Language Assistance Resources Available: Did You Get Yours?

When a caller needs help in a language other than English, Valerie Van Antwerp knows just what to do.

First, she politely tells the caller she will get assistance. Then, she hits the conference button (at left) on her phone and dials the number for Language Line. Once an interpreter picks up, Van Antwerp hits the conference button a second time to add the caller.

Lastly, she stays on the line to answer the caller’s questions through the interpreter.

(At right: Valerie Van Antwerp developed her own "cheat sheet" for Ombudsman staff. PIO has done the same for the entire agency.)

“The process is pretty easy,” said Van Antwerp, Assistant to Director of the Office of the Ombudsman. “The best thing to do is practice with your co-workers in the office.” 

Between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015, OCFS fielded close to 11,000 calls from individuals who are Limited English Proficient (LEP). Calls came in more than 50 different languages, from Albanian and Arabic to Urdu and Uzbeck.

New Tools

To help OCFS staff better serve the estimated 2.5 million LEP New Yorkers, the OCFS Public Information Office (PIO) recently prepared two important new Language Access Resources. 

Last month, all staff members should have received a wallet-size card outlining the steps to reach an interpreter.

In addition, frontline call-takers should have received an 8 ½ x 11 desk aid (at left)

Be sure to ask your supervisor for your office's secure, six-digit Client ID and keep it in a safe place.

"There is no greater tool in our belts than these cards that assist us daily to fulfill our mission," said Brian Daniels, Associate Commissioner of the New York State Commission for the Blind. "They also remind us that our work is critical to many -- no matter their preferred language."

PIO has a full supply of 8 ½ x 11 desk aids still available. If you would like one, or if you have questions about language access, please email mery.rosendorn@ocfs.ny.gov.

A Story of Perseverance

The young men on Highland Residential Center’s varsity basketball team know the agony of defeat.

Heckled by some spectators because of who they are and where they’re from, the youth struggled to build confidence and self-esteem at the start of the season.

“They came in feeling like they failed their parents and failed in society,” Head Coach Nate Lassic said. “They’ve been told that they would never amount to anything.”

But through it all, Lassic (at right) and Assistant Coaches Jason Thompson and Ed Campbell stressed to their young Highland Hawks the importance of never giving up.

“If you work hard,” they said over and over, “you will succeed.”

So when the final seconds ticked off the clock in Highland’s 56 – 54 win in the Drive Sports Championship Game late last year, sealing the team’s first-ever championship, the players realized their coaches were right all along.

“They were overwhelmed with emotion,” Lassic said. “We know we can achieve anything if we put in the work to succeed. We will succeed because we proved it here today on this court.”

And they can prove it elsewhere, too. The coaches are encouraging their players to apply the same principle of hard work in the classroom.

“We have used basketball as a motivation to hopefully give our youth other opportunities to succeed once released from OCFS and back into the community,” Lassic said.

Thanks in part to the coaches who never stopped believing in them, these young men are already on their way to even more success – both on and off the basketball court.

One youth is attending community college starting this month. Another is expecting to finish high school and is hoping to land a scholarship. Still others are planning their next move.

No matter where they go or what they do, the Hawks have set a precedent for others to follow.

“We can now show future youth our accomplishments, which will make it easier for them to make the transition from being considered failures to winners,” Lassic said, “because this team has paved the way.”

Until Next Time...

Thank you for reading the January 2016 edition of the OCFS Newsletter. If you have a story suggestion for future editions, email craig.smith@ocfs.ny.gov