COVID Challenges Brings A Community Together

The Schenectady County COVID-19 Emergency Response Coalition was started to meet the needs of the community during the Coronavirus Pandemic. In partnership with the Schenectady Foundation, The Boys and Girls Club and several other local organizations, this collaboration works to aid the needs of the community that got effected due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Amidst these trying times, it is refreshing to see that people are taking strides to make positive changes in their respective communities.

Coalition Calms Down Public Health Services Hotline

Very well organized, this coalition is operated in the new Boys and Girls Clubhouse where calls and deliveries are made. The Schenectady County Public Health Services (SCPHS) COVID-19 hotline has been made available to residents with any medical related questions. However, because many residents sought the need for aid that was non medical related, this coalition was created to aid with these issues.

The Schenectady County COVID-19 Emergency Response Coalition holding a drive-thru food distribution event

One of the major keys is to address individuals who are isolated seniors, at risk individuals, and children. In doing so, it becomes easier to help them get basic supplies. With a focus on delivering groceries and essential items, thanks to the collaboration of many organizations, it has allowed for many other additional needs to be provided .

Using the number (518) 621-3536, residents can call to identify needs while keeping dietary and allergy restrictions in mind. In addition to this providing of essentials, the staff also have information readily available for other important needs such as health care and assistance with housing. The power of this initiative lies in the freedom it gives the public health hotline as these non-medical related issues can he filtered by the Coalition Hotline. 

Aiding One Another Is Not New

This kind of initiative from non-profit organizations are not new to the community of Schenectady. After the Jay Street Fire of 2019, the Schenectady Foundation came up with the Rebuilding Families Fund to assist Jay Street Fire Survivors. They raised over $60,000 and as a community they were able to provide long-term recovery support to residents displaced by the fire.  Approximately 60 or more people were affected and rendered homeless but still got the help they needed. Robert Carreau, the executive director of The Schenectady Foundation, stated that $100,000 would be donated toward relief efforts through the Rebuilding Families Fund. Additionally, he stated they would match the first $25,000 in donations as well. While this is hefty amount, no amount of donation is too small. For more information on how you can contribute, the Schenectady Rebuilding Families Fund is accepting donations at These funds will be used to provide groceries and many other resources to those in need.

For more information on the partners of this coalition and the many resources they can provide, visit:

Palliative Care: A Growing Priority in the Greater Capital Region

End of life care services are a major part of my community. The question boils down to what resources are actually available if you are terminally ill and what determines who has access or who doesn’t. In actuality the criteria is very easy to determine.

 Why Palliative Care?

Members of the Palliative Care Team at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, N.Y. lead by Dr. George Giokas, Director of Palliative Care Consulting Service

Dr. George Giokas is a current doctor that leads palliative care consultation service at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, NY. While he was in medical school he received no training to tell him how to tell patients they were dying. So a result, in 2010 this collaboration was launched between Ellis Hospital and The Community Hospice, and this serves the Capital Region. A group consisting of a nurse, social worker, and pastoral care staff work together to evaluate a patient and to help them understand about their illnesses and overall help facilitate their lives and what is wrong. 

In 2011 Former Governor David Patterson signed the New York Palliative Care Information Act which forced physicians to offer patients that has a terminal illness information and advice on their options regarding palliative and end of life care. Additionally information and counseling would not be provided to patients who did not want it, but it helps to have them at least have this as an option. 

Too Much for The Physician?

Interestingly, I came across an idea that spoke of an “unwarranted intrusion into the physician-patient relationship”. The idea behind it was that this intrusion could lead to unintended health consequences for the patient. In addition the question of “is it too much to ask”, some individuals think that by providing legal service it puts a stress on the physicians to work beyond the realm of what they are trained to do. But perhaps this speaks back to the problem Dr. George Giokas spoke of before when reflecting on his training.

Another interesting idea behind it was the idea of a patient’s attitude playing a key role in factoring how they will confront, endure, and battle a chronic illness. If a doctor is required to provide information on all end of life options to patients, this could belittle the belief of the patient in beating the disease. It could also end up hindering the relationship of the patient and the physician as now their confidence in their ability gets undermined as well. So perhaps leaving these discussions up to the discretion of the patient, family, and physician is beneficial in these cases. However, these conversations or at least a sort of training on this issue, is important for physicians to deliver quality palliative care. 

What About You?

So where does this leave you? The Capital Region has several hospitals that have palliative care to help improve the quality of life of any individual including Albany Medical Center, St. Mary’s Hospital (Amsterdam), Glenns Falls Hospital, St. Peter’s Hospital, , Stratton VA Hospital, and Ellis Hospital. Any of these hospitals can provide palliative care to individuals that fall under these categories. Palliative care is used to improve quality of life. Ellis Medicine provides a palliative care program for patients with caner and other life threatening diseases with a focus on alleviating pain and bettering the quality of life. Some examples that this program helps families deal with include pain and symptom management, coordination of care, home care and hospice, treatment decision making, and emotional and spiritual support. All of these are very key in being able to deliver these messages and have these important, end of life conversations. Overall, in this community palliative care is appropriate at any age and can be provided at the same time as other treatments.

Who Gets Access to Health & Why?

My community has the benefit of being looped into the overall Schenectady county, which has worked to gather resources for the individual local communities that encompass it. Health disparities are seen as “differences in the health outcomes that are closely linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantages”. As a result, achieving health equity will require addressing such social and environmental determinants with a focus on those communities experiencing the greatest disparities. With the focus being on low income communities, health is embedded in larger conditions through the places we live, work, socialize and eat. The Healthy Capital District Initiative is a group pushing to make measurable and sustainable progress in the public health of the Capital Region.

Who is the HCDI?

 One of the biggest factors addressed by the Healthy Capital District Initiative included food. This relates to poverty and access to health. Using census-tract level information for the capital region county of Schenectady, you can see how it relates to food insecurity and healthy food access in comparison to a statewide level.

Map of the 6 counties that make out the “Capital Region”. The Healthy Capital District Initiative is focusing on low-income residents in these areas.

Poor health is very often correlated to poor diets and unhealthy weight. Bad diets can lead to an increased risk of many health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancers. The HCDI has been working to promote health and reduce chronic disease through the consumption of healthy diets and achievement and maintenance of healthy body weights. This goal also includes eliminating hunger and increasing food security. In addition, NYS Department of Health’s Prevention Agenda identified Reducing Obesity in Children and Adults as a Focus Area under Preventing Chronic Diseases. One of its goals is to create community environments that promote and support healthy food and beverage choices and physical activity.


Correlation Between Poverty & Food Disparities

Many times we think of the cheapness of fast food as the reason why many people consume it, but sometimes it is not as simple as it may seem. Accessibility matters.

Food insecurity evaluates access to health foods but also a family’s ability to afford and secure healthy foods. The access of health in neighborhoods can influence health due to lack of nutritious food with the addition of a large exposure to fast food stores. Supermarkets usually give healthier options than convenience stores. The disparities in the placement of stores across the county can be reflected in numbers gathered from the most recent census. In NYS, about 2.7 million residents or 13.5% of the population were food insecure. Although it was lower than the NYS rates, the percentage of capital region residents that were “food insecure” was 11.5 %. 44,700 Capital Region low-income residents had very low healthy food access. The Capital Region rate (19.5) was 2.5 times higher than that of NYS (7.5%) with Schenectady having the highest rates in the regions (22.9%). It is scary to think of the role that poverty has when it comes to deciding how a family will be fed on a day to day basis. In relation to poverty about ¼ of the Capital Region is at or below 185% Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The level indicates a measure of eligibility for some food subsidy programs such as ReducedCost Lunch and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). For more census tract information on social determinants of health in the Capital Region please visit the HCDI health equity report at

Overall it can be scary seeing percentages regarding food disparities and access to adequate food rival that of the entire state. But thankfully initiatives like WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), or Free or Reduced lunch at schools, is helping to combat these food related access to health issues. For more information to see if you qualify for any of these relief programs, please click on the following links attached to the listed programs above!

Wellbeing of Low Income Students Made a Priority During COVID-19 Pandemic

I hope you enjoyed my first published blog last week and relished the opportunity to learn something new about the many great initiatives taking place in my community. Last week I touched based on the use of the newly refurbished Boys and Girls Club for the Schenectady County COVID-19 Coalition. However, although this facility is being put to good use to help many low income residents right now, one thing should not be overlooked. The vision of this organization is to “Provide a world-class Club Experience that assures success is within reach of every young person who enters our doors, with all members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle.” Many students in these environments use resources and programs like the Boys and Girls Club as ways to stay off the streets, having a place to go after school when their parents aren’t home, and sometimes even for a meal. Now that students are without these after school programs, what happens to these kids that are in these environments and not able to go anywhere else? What effect does this have on their mental health now that they are put back into these difficult at home situations? What resources are being used to continue to support these students regarding COVID-19?

Boys & Girls Club Hasn’t Forgotten About Their Youth

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady started about 14 years ago. Two months before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered New York state, Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady opened a 40,000-square-foot Clubhouse between two of the cities most distressed neighborhoods. More than 200 youth found a safe place at the Adeline Wright Graham Clubhouse prior to government orders to stay home from schools. During this difficult time, the Boys & Girls Club has managed to serve as a hub for the Schenectady County COVID-19 Coalition. However, another initiative is being taken in the city of Schenectady for many of the young students in their program.

Grab and Go meals being prepared as early as 9am to serve to 300 people everyday

Since March 23, grab and go dinners have become available for young people with pick-up being between the hours of 4:30-5:30 Monday-Friday. The pick-up has been in front of the new Adeline Wright Graham Boys & Girls Club. Kristen Kucij serves as the unit director of two Club sites in public housing that served about 75 youth each day. They now make meals for about 300 people each and every day. “There are a lot of things we cannot control during this pandemic but we can take care of our own people,” Kristen said. When looking at this from a mental health standpoint, it is very important for these young students to see that the place they used to go for recreation and after school help has not abandoned them and is still taking a role in making an impact in their lives.  If you are interested, please contact BGCS at 518-374-4714 or 518-355-7440 to provide a meal count.

Schenectady City School District Playing A Role Beyond The Classroom

Schenectady High School teachers pass out lunches from three buses at the high school.

The transition from in person classes to online classes has been a major role in continuing the education of many students across the country. However aside from education, one of the biggest reasons that low income students attend school is unfortunately for the access of meals throughout the school day. What happens now that students are at home? What happens to these meals that many students rely on? As of April 13, the Schenectady City School District has partnered up with the Brown Bus Company for meal deliveries all over the city. Meal deliveries have been taking place at each of the bus stops that many students used to go to school just a few months ago. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, students receive two days’ worth of meals. The bus routes and schedules can be found here. In addition, student breakfast and lunch can be picked up from any school. Pick up from any school is between 11am and 12:45pm. All of this information is readily available on the home page of the Schenectady City School District, a site that is frequently visited by parents. This is very convenient for those who do not live close to the Boys & Girls Club or may not feel comfortable going to seek aid from a program they were originally not a part of. As great as it is to help these students with access to a meal, sometimes just a mental note of reassurance is needed to keep them going.

Reassurance Bringing a Community Together

A group of teachers at Schenectady High School have shown that even small messages can have a big difference on young and impressionable students. My former 12th grade IB-English teacher, Colleen Wygal, has started something called “Walk Poetry”. The idea behind it is to spread positivity through walk poetry. Just by using chalk, students can write a variety of messages, quotes, personal sayings, and even drawings. Poetry is seen as a feeling of accessibility so this allows people to feel alive and connected with the goal of taking a part in spreading joy and hope that both the chalk writer and those who walk by feel the impact. This has given many teenagers a voice of power and hope with this ability to have someone see what you created and react to it. It is incredible to see how we can keep kids engaged and not so isolated by using the arts to join us together.


Mentors and students of the program on an online call to check in and see how each other are doing.

Another way kids have been kept in mind is through the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. This program is a federal initiative established by former President Barack Obama with a focus on low income men of color and getting them to graduate high school and go to college. As a founder of this program and a mentor for more than 2 years, I have been part of a private partnership that brings 30 Schenectady school district students to Union College for mentoring, recreation, tutoring, and socratic discussion. Prior to COVID-19 we would meet every Tuesday and Thursday for 3 hours at a time. With the transition of no longer having in person interactions, we have been doing weekly online check ins to make sure everyone is doing well. These kids that we see as “little brothers” know for sure that they have not been forgotten. I’m proud that I am able to take a small role in aiding some of my communities’ most in need populations. It is even more of an honor to be a part of a community that is taking so many strides to help one another during these trying times.


Access of City Health Services To Low Income Residents Showing Signs of Improvement Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Community Overview

My community is located in Schenectady, NY. With a population of roughly 65,575, it has always been fueled by the growth of the middle class and city neighborhoods such as the GE Realty Plot and Hamilton Hill. Schenectady’s population peaked in 1930 at 95,692. However, the number of residents in Schenectady has been steadily declining, having lost 32.6% of its population since 1950. As a result, there is an increasing number of low income residents, and a decreasing labor force qualified for 21st century jobs. The loss of population in the City puts neighborhoods at risk for increasing rates of abandonment, vacancy and absentee ownership of investment property. Tax burden is distributed among fewer taxpayers, which in turns threatens the delivery of basic city services, including that of health services.

Moving Forward

However, strides have been taken to improve this loss of population in hopes of improving health conditions for low income residents who are facing the result of this lack of city services. Ellis Hospital, the main hospital in the city of Schenectady, took strides to make sure health care was more accessible to low income residents. In 2009, Ellis Hospital unveiled its medical home, with a focus on low-income patients and the undeserved, to help people get enrolled in health programs, find services for the homeless and make sure patients are following treatment plans. With services such as outpatient care, family medicine, X-rays, school registration, and dental care, this has really helped to break down the barriers and intimidation that these patients face when it comes to medical care. In addition, there is a free mid-day shuttle that stops at seven spots around the city to take people to the health center.

COVID-19 Brings A Community Together

Pallets with stacks of boxes containing single roll toilet paper, cans of tuna and soup, and bags of oranges in the gym at the newly minted Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady preparing to be delivered to areas of need.

With the recent pandemic of COVID-19, there has been a need to address the needs of seniors and marginalized county residents whose lives have been upended by these trying times. Pallets with stacks of boxes containing single roll toilet paper, cans of tuna and soup, and bags of oranges in the gym at the newly minted Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady. Aside from the groceries, many other items are delivered too. In some cases, specialty items like diapers for the young or old are delivered as well as a community resource guide brochure with information about everything from support services to childcare to free grab-and-go meals that the Boys & Girls Club offers. The group even picks up medications from the pharmacy as part of the delivery.


Schenectady County employees answering phones as part of a hotline service to see which areas need these supplies the most. From here, these orders get verified inside the county’s food distribution center. Calls to the (518) 621-3536 hotline that come in before 3 p.m. receive their order the same day.

Schenectady County employees are answering the call (both literally and metaphorically) by managing the phones as part of a hotline to see which areas need these supplies the most. From here, these orders get verified inside the county’s food distribution center. Calls to the (518) 621-3536 hotline that come in before 3 p.m. receive their order the same day. At the same time, while they try to ask as few questions as possible, they do need to have checks and balances in place to ensure no one is abusing the system. This is a large coalition with staff members from the staffers from the legislature’s office, probation, engineering, department of public workers, library, information technology, and county manager’s office. This coalition is being bankrolled by the Schenectady Foundation, a charitable trust to benefit the health and well-being of people who live and work in Schenectady County. Many of these items and groceries are donated by the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. Other local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Save Our Streets have also given a helping hand.

This initiative is truly making an impact with 90 percent of the deliveries being made to residents in the city of Schenectady itself. The Schenectady County COVID-19 emergency response coalition overall has made 4,418 total deliveries over the past two weeks and has received 7,385 calls to its hotline number during that same period while serving 5, 852 residents, according to county officials. I truly do hope the news of this initiative is spreading fast and that those who are in need of these services are capitalizing.

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