In mid-March, Siena College’s Office of Academic Community Engagement (ACE) hosted “Community Forum: Future of Our Albany Youth.” Members of the College community joined political and nonprofit leaders, K-12 teachers, higher education professionals, parents and students for the day-long conference. Through small-group discussions, they considered the challenges facing young people in Albany, including health, career development, technology, leadership and citizenship, high school completion, after school programs and college access.
“I’ve been working in the Albany area since September and I have never really known about the issues that other social service programs deal with,” said Bonner Service Leader and ACE Trailblazer Jess Guthrie ’16. “Having all the representatives from different agencies come here today to work on solutions has really broadened my understanding of the local community.”
A highlight of the day occurred when President and CEO of SEFCU Michael J. Castellana joined Siena College President Fr. Kevin Mullen ’75, O.F.M., Ph.D. in announcing a $500,000 gift to support Siena’s NEXT Program, which runs through the ACE office.
“Through SEFCU’s gift, Siena College’s Office of Academic Community Engagement, together with faculty and students from the School of Business, will partner with local nonprofit agencies to provide training in business practices and to makes these agencies more efficient, something that will help them thrive for years to come,” said Mullen.
SEFCU is excited about the creation of the NEXT Program. Castellana said NEXT will help nonprofits with such organizational challenges as strategic planning and board development. “The most crucial part of this program will emphasize the importance of shared services, mergers and collaborations. For nonprofits to survive, they must work together and this program will teach them how. An added bonus is that we will be getting students involved in giving back to our community, which will hopefully instill in them a sense of service to make our region stronger,” Castellana added.
A panel discussion moderated by News Channel 13 (WNYT-Albany) Anchor Benita Zahn, followed the announcement. Capital District YMCA President and CEO David Brown, City of Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings, Albany County District Attorney David Soares and City School District of Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vaden Wyngaard, Ph.D. shared their viewpoints.
“They are able to shed some light and give us some perspective on the broader issue of what is happening in their respective areas,” said Assistant Director of ACE Pam Skripak.
The idea of hosting the Community Forum at Siena College was hatched by ACE students last year during a summer program. “We had schools all over the country come and talk about how we can put high-impact practices into our school,” said Jacklyn Lennon ’13. “The Community Forum is what Siena came up with.” ACE expects to make the Community Forum an annual event. With hard work and collaboration, eventually it could become the perfect place to share success stories of work being done by the NEXT generation of nonprofits and community leaders.