CAPTAIN works to empower kids

GLOVERSVILLE — For kids, the prospect of finding help can sometimes be daunting.

Going to a food pantry or seeking out an agency to get clean clothing from can be hard to navigate or even embarrassing and stressful. That is where a Capital Region program is looking to help.

Samantha Annas, the street outreach project manager for Community Action for Parents, Teens and Interested Neighbors (CAPTAIN) Youth and Family Services, came before the Common Council on Tuesday to speak about the work her group does in the city and to ask for help to potentially open more days a week.

CAPTAIN has been working in the city for four years through its drop in center at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on East Fulton Street. It focuses on youth from 13 to 24 and is open on Tuesdays on the top floor of the church.

Annas said kids can come in and work on homework and get food, clothing and hygiene supplies. The center also offers case workers who can assist teens who need advocacy.

“We work with youth that are incarcerated, we work with youth that are young and maybe still navigating their way,” she said. “We also work with schools. We work with various donors and work to improve their living quality.”

The program also offers a chance for kids and teens to learn life skills such as laundry and basic cooking skills. The drop-in center will soon be able to offer kids a washer and a dryer to use. The plumbing is still being set up, but Annas said the center will be able to give kids a chance to ensure they have clean clothing.

“If you don’t have socks, we are going to give you some, and on top of it, we are going to help you maintain them,” she said.

CAPTAIN offers free WiFi for children so they can do their homework. More than that though, the kids who go for the WiFi can find other services to help them.

“This day and age school is online. Kids are handed tablets and computers when they walk in the door. If they have to go to McDonalds or to somewhere with WiFi, how are they able to do their school work?” she said. “If they are concerned with what they are eating and making sure they’ve got shampoo in their house, they are not going to be worried about their Regents [exams] they are not going to be worried about going to school so they can pass. Graduation is the last thing they are going to think of.”

Annas said the program works with families. Volunteers come every week with food to ensure those in need can get supplies to take home.

“So that way they’ve got a few days where not only are they not worried about what they are going to be putting in their bellies, but their family also has a few days where they’re not concerned,” Annas said.

She said the goal is also during the summer to ensure kids have enough to eat when school is not in session and meals aren’t given.

“If you ask a 13-year-old to go to a food pantry, it is a very, very hard thing for them to acknowledge that they are going to have to get help,” Annas said. “Then you have the kids that have to help out at home to make sure that not only do they have what they need to get to school the next day, but that their younger brothers and sisters can have what they need to get to school.”

For older kids, Annas said CAPTAIN can give them a sense of work ethic to help them get, and keep, a job.

“They need support and they need somebody to set a good example. So with volunteers from the community such as yourselves to show them ‘this is how we got where we are,’ it gives them hope and it gives them potential,” she said. “When they find that in themselves, you can’t stop them.”

Annas said that Gloversville doesn’t have a lot for kids to do. She said her team will often go out into the community and hand out flyers and cards to youth to get them engaged with the program.

“When we do see them, they’re in the cages, which is the basketball court. But that is a cage. We also see them skating around the pavilion, but again that is a parking lot.” She said. “For them to be a nuisance to the community and have no where to exert that energy, that is what we are looking to give them. We want to give them activities.”

First Congregational United Church of Christ Pastor Ralph English said that many children that are being helped are couch surfing, staying at various homes for short periods of time. There are others who are living in basements of vacant homes.

Annas said couch-surfing does not meet Housing and Urban Development definitions of homeless, meaning they don’t qualify for temporary assistance or other programs.

Annas said that at the center, there are art supplies, activities and things that are intriguing to kids including kick ball games.

“We make sure that kid has somebody to talk to and to play with,” Annas said. “Sometimes those conversations are in-depth and very meaningful. And sometimes that kid is showing us pictures of their cat at home. But you know what, somebody cares enough to see that cat and to ask them how their day was, and remember what your name is the next time he sees you.”

Annas said the program is open to everyone. There is no proof of identification or income that is required to attend.

“Our concern is that they know who to call when they are in need,” Annas said.

Annas said the kids who come are very grateful for the help. She said something as small as getting travel-sized shampoo and conditioner can make a child’s day.

“For them it is the ability to be a normal kid,” Annas said.

CAPTAIN also offers a homeless youth shelter for youth 13 to 16 in Malta. Eight beds are available, and works with other agencies to try and get housing for kids.

“We deal with familial homelessness, we deal with youth homelessness that has been brought on by themselves or by circumstances,” she said. “We will help anyone and everyone.”

Annas told the council that she herself had issues with homelessness as a teenage mother.

“I learned to get myself out of it, and that is the biggest thing I can give to these kids,” she said.

Annas said the agency needs more support from volunteers and staffing. CAPTAIN was awarded a three-year grant through the federal government to specifically help Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Washington and Warren Counties with youth 13 to 21.

“We are only operational one day a week, so that is only one day a week for three hours that these kids have the opportunity to do laundry, to make sure they’ve got food for a few days,” she said.

Annas said that being open one more day a week could really help kids.

English said his church would be more than willing to have CAPTAIN there a few more days a week. The church does not charge rent to the program.

“We would be more than willing to have the doors open three evenings or maybe even three afternoons a week. It really is a matter of having the volunteers who could be there to staff.”

The big sticking point of being open one more day a week is the needed number of volunteers.

English said a private contribution of $45,000 grant has been given the church to help the program. The first step is to install the washer and dryer. He said they also hope to be able to install showering facilities.

“That will be very helpful, because sometimes it is very obvious that some of these kids haven’t bathed in quiet a while,” he said.

City officials have asked Annas to create a written proposal for any help the city can give.

“Adding another day a week where kids have what they need and access to appropriate resources, I think you’ll start to see a lot of change.”

For more information on CAPTAIN or to learn how to help go to: captaincares.org

Kerry Minor can be reached at kminor@leaderherald.com.

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