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Abigail Kelly ’21 assesses opioid use in Madison County

By Upstate Institute on August 3, 2019

Submitted by Abigail Kelly ’21, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Abigail Kelly ’21 at the office of BRiDGES, the Madison County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

This summer, I had the opportunity to work with BRiDGES, the Madison County Council on Alcoholism & Substance Abuse through the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. BRiDGES is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing services to people struggling with substance use and inspiring change and hope in the community. Within BRiDGES, there are several different programs that target different aspects and forms of substance use. These programs include Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities (ATFC), Stop DWI, the Employee Assistance Program, an LGBTQIA youth program, and more. The all-female staff who work for BRiDGES are all passionate about the work they do and all work together to move their programs forward in the best interest of the populations they collectively serve. BRiDGES has been serving Madison County for 32 years and continues to garner respect in the community.

One of the newer programs at BRiDGES is the Central Region Addiction Resource Center (CRARC). The CRARC, run by Lauren Davie, is part of a state-wide program of regional addiction resource centers funded and monitored by the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). The central region includes five counties: Onondaga, Cayuga, Madison, Oswego, and Cortland. The CRARC serves these counties by helping people who may be struggling to find and connect with regional addiction services. The efforts of the CRARC include community Narcan training, tabling at local events, a comprehensive app listing local addiction resources and more. These efforts rely heavily on connections and collaboration with other regional leaders. BRiDGES as a whole is in constant contact and collaboration with other organizations within and outside Madison County. The women who work for BRiDGES serve on multiple coalitions, attend local nonprofit meetings, and are involved with county-wide task forces. Due to the small size of the organization, collaborating allows the scope of BRiDGES’ efforts to multiply and extend beyond the capacity of the actual employees. Serving a rural area in terms of public health invites challenges that are different than the challenges faced in urban areas. Community attitudes are often resistant to change and thus creating positive change in a rural community is difficult and takes substantial time and effort. Efforts to unify community leaders through coalitions and task forces are invaluable in rural public health.

For my specific project this summer, I worked on conducting a needs assessment in an effort to prepare BRiDGES for applying for a new grant this year. The new grant targets rural populations, providing funding for these communities to increase their prevention, treatment, and recovery services for opioid addiction. I worked through the grant and determined which of their recommended “core activities” Madison County has and which areas are lacking. I am now in the process of creating surveys for service providers in the county to determine which activities they’re actually doing as well as to get a pulse on provider attitudes and beliefs surrounding opioid addiction. In addition to the needs assessment project, I am working with Lauren and the CRARC creating marketing content for community events and doing research for a harm reduction conference that we are planning for the fall. Hopefully, this conference will bring together regional providers and help facilitate the chipping away of the stigma surrounding people who suffer from Opioid Use Disorder.

As a neuroscience major with an art minor, I love the classes I take but I’ve struggled to put my finger on what I’m interested in doing in the future. This spring, I applied to the Upstate Institute summer field school program because I knew I was at least mildly interested in public health and I thought that getting some real-world experience would help me decide if I want to be doing something like this in the future. While I still don’t know for sure if I want to be working at a job like this, I do know that working with BRiDGES has been leagues more valuable for me than I ever thought it would. Stepping outside the Colgate bubble and taking a moment to learn about the struggles of the community in which I (temporarily) live has been incredibly powerful. I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to give back to the community that is hosting me for my 4 years in college. I will be staying on as an employee of BRiDGES for the fall semester (and beyond!), and I cannot wait to continue to learn, grow, and give back with this incredible agency.

Dipesh Khati ’22 conducts surveys on the Hamilton Farmers Market

By Upstate Institute on August 2, 2019

Submitted by Dipesh Khati ’22, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Dipesh Khati ’22 in front of the Hamilton office of the Partnership for Community Development.

This summer I worked with the Partnership for Community Development (PCD). the PCD is a not for profit organization that supports the economic and social development of Hamilton area. It was formally established on June 2, 1999. The mission of the organization is to create Hamilton as an economic, cultural, social and academic hub in Central New York. The PCD has been carrying out a number of activities to foster the local economy and improve the quality of life in the Hamilton area. They have received a number of grants to support local businesses. Fojo Beans, Ray Brothers, Zen Den Inc, Kriemhild Dairy Farms, and Good Nature Brewery are some of the local business that have received aid through the Hamilton PCD. Through these grants, the PCD has been revitalizing business in the Downtown Business District. Moreover, Hamilton PCD is also working on housing management to provide access to affordable and quality housing to the people of Hamilton area. My project was to help with the community incubator project, conducting surveys and researching the ways to make Hamilton Village Farmers’ Market experience better for both customers and vendors, and to research the programs PCD Community Incubator could organize to support entrepreneurs in and around Hamilton.

As I worked through the summer, I got to learn more about Partnership for Community Development (PCD). The Hamilton PCD has been working on a number of issues to help the Hamilton village and the surrounding communities. PCD has been working to start a community incubator in partnership with the Colgate Thought Into Action (TIA). The PCD has received a $625,000 grant to fund the business incubator for next five years. They have also been working to make Hamilton a carbon neutral, community driven model community by 2030. Furthermore, they have been working to provide affordable and qualitative housing to Hamiltonians. The Hamilton PCD has also been helping the Hamilton Village Farmers Market by collecting surveys to better understand the state of the Market and by forming Friends of the Market committee to help the Farmers’ Market.

As the summer intern for PCD my job was to survey the customer and vendors of the Farmers Market in order to improve Farmers’ Market experience of both customer and vendors. I collected data about the market experience through survey and analyzed them. I submitted a list of recommendations based on the surveys to improve the Farmers’ Market experience. Also, I researched the different programs that the Hamilton PCD incubator could organize in their Community Incubator space in 20 Utica Street. I worked with PCD Incubator Director Mary Galvez to closely study sister incubator communities to determine a set of programs to fit our goal as a community incubator.

As a first-year student in Colgate University, I wanted to have a real-life experience of working in a community than doing a typical academic research. I wanted to figure out what aspects of working in a real-world circumstance that I liked and that I didn’t like. I hope to become clearer what I wanted to pursue as a career through the field school. Plus, working for the communities around the Hamilton looked really interesting! I am inclined towards Economics as my primary major and wanted to use its ideas. Although the work I did for PCD wasn’t always purely economics, it had many elements of the principles I learned in economics courses. The internship helped me understand the multi-faceted nature of opinions on a single topic and how to work and address them. It was also interesting to see how deeply law and social well-being was embedded in economy. All in all the field school was an amazing experience working with a magnificent organization and fantastic group of people.

Aliyah De Jesus ’21 builds community partnerships for Abraham House in Utica

By Upstate Institute on August 1, 2019

Submitted by Aliyah De Jesus ’21, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Aliyah De Jesus stands in front of a table at the Abraham House in Utica
Aliyah De Jesus at the Abraham House facility in Utica, New York

This past summer, I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work as an intern for the Abraham House in Utica. Abraham House is a non-profit comfort home serving the Herkimer, Oneida, and Madison counties of NY by providing a safe, loving home for terminally ill guests and their families for as little as a few days to as long as three months. With the core values of compassion, dignity, and respect present in everything Abraham House does, it strives to deliver the end-of-life care and support its guests need 24/7. Because humanity is at the heart of its mission, Abraham House does not charge for services or receive insurance reimbursement, relying solely on volunteers, donations, community grants, and fundraising.

Relying heavily on the local community in its work, Abraham House turns to individuals, families, and local businesses to find volunteers, collect donations, and raise funds. However, Abraham House must first overcome the formidable barrier posed by a general lack of knowledge concerning end-of-life care. It is through partnerships with local establishments that Abraham House is able to maximize its presence and reach community individuals, families, and businesses. This in turn works to educate the public on end-of-life care and increase awareness that Abraham House exists as a viable option for the terminally ill. With a much larger audience, Abraham House can then appeal to the hearts of individuals, families, and local businesses to attract the volunteers, collect the donations, and raise the funds it needs.

My project focused mainly on building partnerships with local businesses, restaurants, churches, attractions, grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores within the Madison, Herkimer, and Oneida counties. Serving as a point of contact, I reached out to local establishments to speak with them about housing Abraham House donation boxes. In addition, I contacted businesses and attractions throughout NY (NYC, Utica, Lake Placid, Rome, Lake George, Saratoga Springs, etc.) for raffle and auction items for the golf tournament and gala fundraisers. I also solicited fundraiser sponsorships from local businesses, emphasizing those in Utica and Rome (the communities of Abraham House’s two facilities). Additionally, I reached out to local churches to discuss features within their bulletins. Furthermore, I worked volunteer days where community members and businesses helped to prepare the new facility in Rome, NY for its opening. Finally, I spent a day on-site at the local Chantary’s Hometown Market greeting and asking customers to donate items or money. These mutually beneficial partnerships allow the partner to give back to an important cause while Abraham House is able to tap into their partners’ customers to widen its own pool of potential volunteers, donors, and fundraiser attendees. Aside from working with local partners, I also utilized digital and social media platforms to boost community awareness. For example, I created and maintained a Facebook page for The Bird’s Nest Vintage Boutique (Abraham House’s thrift store), created postings on Facebook Marketplace for store items, and helped manage the Abraham House Facebook page. Moreover, I also contributed writing to the seasonal newsletter.

As a molecular biology and women’s studies double major on a pre-med track, this project has been a valuable opportunity for me to gain exposure into the administrative side of healthcare I had not previously been exposed to. This perfectly complements the experiences I had shadowing physicians, helping me gain a more holistic view of healthcare and reinforcing my decision to pursue a career in medicine. Additionally, Abraham House’s fully female three-member office team fed my passion for female empowerment and interest in women’s studies as well as inspired me daily. Though I was initially drawn to this project for its focus on helping others, its promise to help me develop my communication and interpersonal skills, and its assurance to challenge my ability to be both self-directed and collaborative, it has far surpassed my expectations. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to not only develop my intellectual and professional interests, but to also leave behind a positive and meaningful contribution to the larger community.

Johanna Burke ’21 researches citizenship for the Office of New Americans

By Upstate Institute on August 1, 2019
Johanna Burke stands in front of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees
Johanna Burke ’21 at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees office in Utica, NY

Submitted by Johanna Burke ’21, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

This summer, I have had the pleasure of working with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR), with their Office for New Americans. MVRCR is a non-profit organization that serves Utica’s refugee community, which makes up almost a quarter of Utica’s population. MVRCR is a resettlement agency, meaning that it arranges refugees’ travels to the U.S. and helps them settle in Utica, but their assistance does not stop there. MVRCR also has traffic safety, employment, translation, and interpretation departments, offers assistance with immigration issues, and offers many classes and workshops to the community, including ESOL classes. The Office for New Americans provides assistance in applying for naturalization, citizenship classes to prepare refugees for the naturalization exam, free legal consultation, and community workshops and trainings. MVRCR works to help refugees settle in Utica and build meaningful lives in their new homes.

Since 1981, MVRCR has helped resettle over 16,500 refugees from over 25 different countries. Refugees often come to America with very few resources and limited English language skills, and MVRCR works to help refugees become successful despite these barriers, and thus far, they have been incredibly successful in this mission. Refugees have revitalized the City of Utica by increasing the population, starting new businesses, stimulating the housing market, and so much more. Like most rust belt cities, Utica suffered a sharp population decline after the 1980s, but refugees are helping to bring this population back up. This population increase rejuvenates neighborhoods that had become desolate by bringing money back into the housing market and local economy. Refugees are also more likely than U.S. born citizens to start a business, which benefits the economy and creates jobs. Refugees have turned a declining city into a growing hub of diversity, but it is important to note that the heart of MVRCR’s mission is to help individuals who have been torn away from their homes to find a new home in Utica, and these economic outcomes are simply an added bonus.

 Over the course of the summer, I have mainly worked with the Office for New Americans. In the Office for New Americans I have assisted with citizenship classes, community educational events, and community outreach. My main project has been to research the ways in which the citizenship class that MVRCR offers could be improved. In today’s political climate, it is especially important for refugees to apply for citizenship as soon as possible. However, the civics exam and interview requires applicants to have a basic understanding of how to read, write, and speak English, and also an understanding of the history of the United States and its government. Therefore, most of my research was centered around the best practices for teaching adults ESOL. The other interns and I also helped with preparing for World Refugee Day in the beginning of the summer, which was a large event on June 22nd that celebrated the refugees in Utica. We went all over Utica to hang up posters in different languages to advertise for the event, and it was interesting to explore the area and see the diverse businesses, restaurants, community centers and churches that are run and supported by Utica’s refugee community.

I eventually want to go into nonprofit work, and I knew that working as a Field School Fellow for the Upstate Institute this summer would be an excellent way to gain experience in that field and learn more about it. I am from Upstate New York, and I love that this program has given me the opportunity to use what I have learned from Colgate to give back to the community. As a political science major, there have been many policies that I had learned about in class that I have gotten to see the ground-level effects of from working at MVRCR, and that has been incredibly interesting. I think Colgate can sometimes be a bubble within Upstate New York, and the Upstate Institute does an excellent job of bridging the gap between Colgate and the outside community.