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Program for at-risk students in jeopardy

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Program for at-risk students in jeopardy

Young scholars faces more funding cuts


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UTICA - Doneilous King was "at risk."

While attending John F. Kennedy Middle School, the now 30-year-old Utican was a C-average student being raised by a single parent.

Students such as King have a high risk of dropping out of school or failing, and college isn't an option - that is until he was selected to be in the Young Scholars Liberty Partnerships Program.

"It saved my life, really," King said.

Graduating from Thomas R. Proctor High School in 2000 with a B average, King went on to earn his bachelor's degree in biology and is a candidate for a master's degree.

Though Young Scholars has many success stories from its 20 years in the Utica City School District, the program now is at risk.

After having lost $150,000 in district funding last year, Young Scholars again is on the chopping block, a victim of a difficult economic climate.

The district's proposed budget will be presented at a special Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. today - and funding to Young Scholars is not expected to be included.

"We had to decide whether to go with cutting more staff or not funding the program," said Lori Eccleston, district director of curriculum and instruction.

Young Scholars was created in an effort to decrease dropout rates, said program Director Flossie Mitchell.

The program aims to help students who are at risk of dropping out or are failing due to various economic and social factors. It helps them to stay in school, earn an advanced Regents diploma and go on to post-secondary education.

There are about 350 students in the program, which runs from seventh through 12th grade. Each year it costs about $1,800 per student to run the program with its 11 full-time employees, Mitchell said.

District funding made up about 25 percent of the program budget.

The majority of the about $600,000 budget is comprised of about $350,000 from the state Education Department Liberty Partnerships Program, funding which is secured through 2017.

"I do understand the budget constraints, absolutely," Mitchell said, "and it would be easier to accept a lesser amount of funding so that at least there's still some show of support and some ownership."

Since its inception in 1993, about 900 students have graduated from Young Scholars, which has a 93 percent graduation rate, Mitchell said.

The total high school graduation rate was 66.2 percent in 2010-11, with a 15.1 percent dropout rate, according to the state Education Department.

"If our program were not here to serve them, then common sense tells you that there will be a lower academic achievement and there could very well be a higher dropout rate," Mitchell said.

When district funding was cut last year, Mitchell said she scrambled to look for grant funding and used what little contingency money was available. She also had to cut a full-time and a part-time employee.

"We lost sleep last spring, and we're feeling the same way this year."

There is a bit of hope. The Community Foundation and The Mele Foundation recently provided the program with a $10,185 grant to hire consultants to help develop a strategic business plan.

Without Young Scholars, King just might have been a statistic.

He now works at SUNYIT as the program assistant for the Education Opportunity Program, is the director for the King of Kings life development program and owner and pro skills coach for the Doneilous King Basketball Academy - all helping students in similar situations.

"Young Scholars has helped me to be the person I am today," he said.

Young Scholars

*Began in 1993 with the Utica City School District in collaboration with Utica College in an attempt to reduce dropout rates. This is its 20th year.

*Students at risk of dropping out or failing due to various social and economic factors are selected for the program in sixth grade through nominations from their teachers. The program runs from seventh through 12th grade.

*The program’s goal is to motivate students to stay in school, earn an advanced Regents diploma and pursue post-secondary education.

*Offerings include tutoring and review sessions, counseling, community service, enrichment activities, career exploration, mentoring and summer programs.

Funding breakdown

*The program receives about $350,000 per year from the state Education Department Liberty Partnerships Program

*Utica College provides classroom space, teachers, internships and transportation, as well as guaranteed admission to program graduates and assistance with financial aid.

*The program receives grants and student scholarships from organizations such as The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties Inc.

*Last year, the Utica City School District cut its funding of $150,000 to the program; it is not expected to be awarded in the 2013-14 budget.

*The program received a $10,185 grant from The Community Foundation and The Mele Foundation to hire consultants to help develop a strategic business plan in light of funding reductions.

Source: Flossie Mitchell, director of Young Scholars Liberty Partnerships Program

'Dysfunctional' relationship at center of Deerfield murder-suicide

Posted by keshiaclukey on June 24, 2012 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Originally published June 25, 2012 in the Observer-Dispatch

'Disfunctional' relationship at center of Deerfield murder-suicide

Shooter's mother: 'My son was not a monster.'


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DEERFIELD — Many questions still surround the murder-suicide that occurred Friday afternoon in Deerfield, but Michele Anderson knows one thing for certain: “My son was not a monster.”

The relationship between her son, Thomas “TJ” Anderson Jr., 27, of Taylor Avenue, Utica, and his estranged girlfriend, Kylie A. Turczyn 23, of 101 Carver St., Deerfield, was anything but stable, Michele Anderson said.

“They were both just as wrong,” Michele Anderson said. “It was an unstable, dysfunctional, twisted relationship.”

Turczyn’s family did not respond to calls for comment. Representatives from Nunn & McGrath Funeral Home in Utica said the family did not want to speak to the press.

A confrontation, initiated by Thomas Anderson, Friday at Turczyn’s Carver Street address, quickly escalated, state police said.

Thomas Anderson shot Turczyn multiple times in the head and torso, resulting in her death, before turning the 9mm carbine rifle on himself, while their 4-year-old daughter, Gabriella, watched, state police said.

The details surrounding the confrontation and its cause are still unknown.

Michele Anderson said her son had no criminal record.

“My son was tormented,” she said. “Not that what he did was right. We’ll never understand what happened.”

In the past, Thomas Anderson and Turczyn had fought over custody issues regarding Gabriella, Michele Anderson said. “His daughter was his whole world.”

Turczyn was the custodial parent, though she shared custody of Gabriella with her parents, Michele Anderson said.

Things really started to fall apart in fall of last year, when Thomas Anderson, who was until then a straight-A student, failed out of nursing school, Michele said. “He was depressed and he fell apart, he stopped working, everything stopped.”

He recently applied to the radiology program at Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare, she said. “He was struggling to get his life together.”

Police said Friday the couple broke up in November.

Michele Anderson said the couple had been seeing each other “on and off” from January until about April.

They had been in a relationship for about six years, she said.

Michele Anderson said her son and Turczyn had spent the night at their home the Wednesday before the incident.

Turczyn was living at the Carver Street address with her parents, who were not home when the shooting happened, but her sister and her sister’s child were present, police said.

Turczyn was pronounced dead at St. Elizabeth Medical Center. An autopsy was scheduled for Sunday, however results were not available.

Thomas Anderson’s family will host a candlelight vigil in memory of their son Monday night.

To see both Anderson and Turczyn's obituaries check online and in print Monday.


Rising food costs

Posted by keshiaclukey on June 24, 2012 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Originally published June 25, 2012 in the Observer-Dispatch

Rising food costs hard to swallow


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Grocery shopping for the Mack family always has been a challenge, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult.

The rising cost of food has the Utica family of five selecting which products to buy at what stores to get the best deal. More recently, the family has been looking for coupons online and in the newspaper.

“Our budget went up at least $100 a week or more,” Amy Mack said.

In 2011, food prices increased 3.7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Additionally, the USDA projects prices to increase between 2.5 and 3.4 percent this year.

That’s slightly higher than the average annual increase of 2 to 3 percent.

In addition to paying for food, gas, car, rent and other expenses, the Mack family has been strapped even tighter since Amy was laid off this year, said Brett Mack, now the sole breadwinner for his wife and three children ages 15, 10 and 6.

“Over the last two years, my budget has been wearing thin,” said Brett Mack, who works as a welder. “I go paycheck to paycheck, and I have to make sure my kids are eating healthy.”

Arthur Friedberg, an economics professor at Mohawk Valley Community College, said when the U.S. Department of Labor calculates the overall cost of living, food is about 12 to 13 percent of a family’s overall budget.

With people spending less on nonfood items, other parts of the economy also suffer, such as tourism and entertainment.

“People find ways of either substituting or simply cutting back,” Friedberg said.

It tends to be psychologically depressing, he said.

“When prices go up, you feel very helpless,” he said. “When a family has to make cutbacks, then everybody in the family is impacted in one way or another.”

Reasons for the rise

A nationwide sampling from the U.S. Department of Labor comparing prices since May backs up consumer fears:

Apples up 5 percent. Bread up 3 percent. Chicken up 2.5 percent. Uncooked ground beef up 5.9 percent. Frozen vegetables up 6.1 percent. Eggs up 1.4 percent. Cheese and related products up 2.4 percent. Peanut butter up 39 percent.

The costs are spread out over all items, Friedberg said.

“They’re not huge increases,” he said. “You see a couple cents more on this item and on that item. When you cumulatively add those items up, you notice your bill is up $10 to $12.”

The cost of fuel is a main culprit, Friedberg said. Fuel impacts the cost to produce in terms of farming, processing and transportation.

“The fuel costs continue to be a concern for the whole chain,” Friedberg said.

Weather conditions also affect the cost of food. Unseasonably warm weather in February and March caused buds to bloom early that might have been damaged by frost, Friedberg said. This impacts produce, such as cherries, apples and berries.

The cost of corn and grain also affects prices because they not only are ingredients in food, but they also are feed for animals.

Changes in the price of grain affect the price of meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. These items account for more than half of the at-home food dollar, so price increases can impact the consumer significantly.

Shoppers careful

Maria Valentini, 59, of Utica, said she’s noticed the price increases, especially in fresh vegetables. Valentini was going to buy asparagus Thursday for an omelet, but at $3.99 a pound, she decided to pass.

“There’s a surge in price in just about everything,” she said.

Valentini said she spends less on nonfood items but continues to buy fresh vegetables.

“I refuse to compromise on the quality of my food,” she said.

The Coons family, of Utica, has noticed the increase, especially in meat and cereal prices.

“Everything has gone up,” Julia Coons said. “I’m thankful for WIC.”

The Coonses rely on food stamps and the federally funded Women, Infants and Children program to help feed their 2-year-old daughter, Sophia.

“We try to save as much as we can and catch the sales as much as we can,” Coons said.

To combat the rising food prices, families make other cuts.

The Macks no longer eat at restaurants, and they limit extras, such as going to the movies to once every couple of months, Brett Mack said.

Purchasing clothing also is a challenge.

“We look for sales, and they don’t get the premier brand,” Brett Mack said. “Basically, we’re just living off a limited budget.”

Farmers health insurance

Posted by keshiaclukey on June 24, 2012 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Originally published Sept. 19, 2011 in the Observer-Dispatch

A growing problem

Many end up going without because they can't afford it.


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Dairy farmer Skip Salisbury hasn't had health insurance for the past 20 years.

"It's too expensive. I can't afford it," said the 57-year-old owner of Salisbury's Dairy in Sharon Springs.

Luckily, his health has held up pretty well, except for 15 years ago when a herniated disc ruptured in his back.

Salisbury had surgery but returned home the next day to save money on the hospital bills. As for other expenses, he paid out of pocket.

Though he still worries about getting hurt on the job, he just crosses his fingers.

"I just go day to day and hope for the best," he said.

Salisbury is not alone. Many farmers don't have health insurance because they can't afford it and do not qualify for federal and state programs.

"It is a serious problem," said Ben Simons, a Remsen dairy farmer and former president of the Oneida County Farm Bureau. "There are a lot of farmers out there and farm families that just do not have health insurance just because of the rising cost."

According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14 percent of all members in farm-operated households did not have health insurance in 2007. The number increased to 20 percent for households in which farming is the primary occupation of the operator.

A lack of health insurance is an issue because of the nature of the job, said Marty Broccoli, an agriculture economic development specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.

"You've got a lot of farmers in a very dangerous profession running around without health insurance," he said. "They don't have any coverage."

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the nation, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"Farmers are at high risk for work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure," according to the USDA report.

'It's a crapshoot'

With so much risk, not having health insurance is a gamble, said Canajoharie dairy farmer Scott Ryan, 49.

"You don't think about it," he said. "You just hope nothing happens. It's a crapshoot."

Ryan also is without health insurance. He was forced to drop his plan when rates rose 30 to 35 percent last spring, he said.

Ryan and his family do have an accident policy, which helps, but as he and his wife get older they will have to think about getting insurance again, he said.

For now, Ryan will be paying out of pocket.

"It's cheaper than insurance," he said, adding that spending a couple of thousand dollars a year on health costs is much better than paying a couple of thousand per month for insurance.

Using this logic, many farmers neglect having annual exams and doctor visits, so illnesses might go undiagnosed.

Also, if farmers cannot afford to make the payment, they might even have a lien put on their property until they can pay their debt, Simons said.

Insurance is so costly because it is through private policies, said John Wagner, area field supervisor for the New York Farm Bureau.

The farm bureau and other cooperative agencies do offer low-cost health insurance programs to their members, but not all farmers take it.

"We offer members a low-cost insurance plan the best that we can, but I mean it's still expensive," Wagner said.

The bureau also is working to get farmers more eligibility for federal programs such as Family Health Plus, he said.

Eligibility fluctuates

When it comes to federally funded insurance programs, farmers might experience difficulty maintaining eligibility for plans as income and equipment values fluctuate.

For example, if a farmer purchases a tractor, the depreciation is included in income tax calculations, said Gary Niedzielski, owner of Neidzielski Insurance Agency Inc. in Boonville.

The depreciation value, when added to income made during a good crop year, can cause farmers to be over the income rate to qualify for insurance, Niedzielski said.

They qualify one year and not the next, he said.

"It's not a continuous cycle of coverage and that causes problems," he said.

Many farmers use federal insurance programs for their children and go without for themselves, Niedzielski said.

Another option is to have their spouse get a job off the farm, as the Paddock family did.

Health insurance hasn't been a problem for the Remsen dairy farmers as Wanda Paddock worked for the state for 20 years, said Ray Paddock, owner of the Groeslon Farm.

But most farms are family businesses and losing a family member to work outside the farm can have an impact.

"When you lose somebody like that, it always puts more stress on somebody else," Ray Paddock said, adding that the farm had to hire more part-time workers.

New health care legislation might change and even help insurance issues for small business owners and farmers. For the time being, farmers such as Ryan and Salisbury still will have to keep their fingers crossed.

Health Coverage

* 14 percent of all members in farmer-operator households did not have health insurance during 2007.

* 20 percent of household members did not have health insurance in homes where farming was the primary occupation of the operator.


FARM Incidents and fatalities

* Approximately 1.8 million full-time workers were employed in production agriculture in the U.S. in 2008.

* Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the nation.

* In 2008, 456 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injuries, a fatality rate of 25.1 deaths per 100,000 workers.


FARM Incidents and fatalities

* In 2006, an estimated 1.12 million children and adolescents younger than 20 lived on farms, with about 590,000 performing work on the farm. Another 307,000 children and adolescents were hired to work on farms.

* On average, 113 youths younger than 20 die annually from farm related injuries, according to data between 1995 and 2002.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service 2009 Report of Health Status and Health Care Access of Farm and Rural Populations;U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Aging farmers

Posted by keshiaclukey on June 24, 2012 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Originally published March 18, 2012 in the Observer-Dispatch

Old McDonald isn't getting any younger

As some farmers age, there's no next generation to take over


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At 61 years old, Omer Loranger can't retire just yet.

"As long as I got my health, I'll keep picking away, I guess," the Barneveld dairy farmer said.

One thing holding him back is he has no one to pass on his life's work to. He and his wife, Robin, will have to sell their farm because his children don't share his enthusiasm for farming.

Meanwhile, about 25 miles away in Verona, several of the van Lieshout children are not only planning on taking over their fathers and uncles' dairy farm, but they already are learning how to run it.

The van Lieshouts are an exception to the norm as fewer young people are going into farming and current farm operators are getting older - many with no one to take over their business.

Nationally, the number of farmers 75 and older grew 20 percent from 2002 to 2007, while the number of operators 25 and younger decreased 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2007 Agriculture Census.

The average age of farm operators in New York state, including Herkimer and Oneida counties, was 56 in 2007, compared to 53 a decade earlier.

More recent numbers were not yet available because the next agriculture census will be done this year. Those numbers, however, are not expected to change dramatically.

While fewer people are looking to become farmers, those who do face a different environment than prior generations, including financial hardship from the recession and more advanced machinery and technology, for which further education is required.

A growing problem

The farm population is aging, said Matt Nelligan, manager of public affairs for the New York State Farm Bureau.

"People are having a harder time passing the farm on to the next generation," he said.

Loranger purchased his farm about 26 years ago from a retiring farmer, who also had no one to take over. Loranger has children - a daughter who is serving in the Air Force and a son who is a tractor-trailer driver.

"They don't want no part of it," he said. "They like their freedom too much. I was brought up on a farm as a kid. I just like it. It ain't because I'm making a lot of money, I just like it."

Loranger's second hope was that his two grandsons might want to take it over.

"They don't want it," he said. "They want a job that pays."

For now, he'll keep going as long as he can and hope someone wants to buy the farm.

"I'm just going to cross that path when it comes."

Farming is costly

One of the reasons fewer young people are entering agriculture is because of the cost, said Jeff Miller, an educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.

"Look at the industry itself, what's the investment?" he asked. "Land, machinery, livestock, livestock buildings … adding up the costs, it's a pretty big expense."

For example, a farm in the 24th Congressional District, which includes Oneida and Herkimer counties, had an average income of $108,761, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Expenses, however, exceeded $85,000 per farm. The net cash income for an individual farm was about $30,000.

Ben Simons, a Remsen dairy farmer and former president of the Oneida County Farm Bureau, said economics is a major factor.

"Farming is not a rich business," he said. "It's a lot of work 24-7, and with the new laws and restrictions that are coming, it's getting tougher."

More education required

With no one to take over farms, many are consolidating.

Statewide, the number of farms decreased 2 percent, from 37,255 to 36,352 between 2002 and 2007, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

There now are fewer farms, and those remaining are much larger, Miller said.

The more consolidation however, the more volatile the market gets because the impact is greater when a larger farm goes out of business, he said.

Larger farms also mean a need for more education as machines and technology get more complex and a need to be more business savvy increases.

People are going to school a lot more, said Dave Collins, Oneida County Farm Bureau president and co-owner of Collins Knoll Farm. More are going to college to earn bachelor's degrees in agriculture, and many study technology because of its increased use on the farm.

"You can make money at farming; you can lose a lot of money though, too, if you don't spend it right."

Smaller farms prosper

A bright spot in local agriculture is the number of small farms, which has increased, Miller said.

"You have this whole other group of people just starting in the industry," he said. "They're riding this wave of buying local."

The desire to farm has a lot to do with a passion for agriculture. People who don't grow up on a farm might not know what farming is about, Collins said.

This is one reason the van Lieshout brothers took over Brabant Farm, and at least four of their children plan on continuing that legacy.

"It's definitely an option for me," said Jessica van Lieshout, 14. "I've grown up with it ever since I was born."

Jessica enjoys working with her cousins on the farm, and especially likes working with the cows.

"This is the perfect life," she said. "I cannot imagine life without this."


Young & Homeless

Posted by keshiaclukey on June 24, 2012 at 8:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Originally published July 17, 2011 in the Observer-Dispatch

Young & Homeless

They don't live in a box under a bridge, but many area youths don't have a place that they can call home


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While many people have fond memories of their childhood, Jamar Terry remembers having to sleep in shelters and even cemeteries.

The 18-year-old Connecticut native spent a portion of his youth homeless, growing up in Washington, D.C., before moving to Rome. Seeking shelter, he bounced from friend to friend, relative to relative.

At one point, his mother moved to Texas and Terry stayed behind. He was able to find people to stay with but had no permanent living situation.

"I was in such a depressive state," he said. "I just wanted to give up."

His story is not uncommon.

Due to the harsh economic climate, many youths are finding themselves homeless and often becoming financial and social burdens, experts say.

But homeless youths are more invisible than adults - the true number isn't available because young people might not define themselves as such or utilize services available to them.

There is, however, some data on which to judge the issue:

* In New York state, the number of students between ages 5 and 17 identified as homeless, excluding those in New York City, increased about 67.5 percent between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 school years, according to state Education Department statistics.

* In Oneida County, a one-day survey of youth homelessness in January 2009 compared to January 2007 completed by Social Science Associates of Utica showed an almost 20 percent increase for those ages 15 and younger, and a 168.8 percent increase for those ages 16 to 21.

* And in Herkimer County, the number of homeless youths served over the past five years, specifically for those ages 18 to 20, has increased, said Rachael Case, program director for the Herkimer County Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, run out of Catholic Charities.

Understanding homelessness

Terry is the fourth of nine children. The family came together in Washington, and his older siblings took his three younger siblings with them to Texas. At the suggestion of an older brother, Terry and his mother moved to Rome in August 2009.

From there, Terry's situation worsened. His mother moved to Texas in December 2009. Terry was a high school student alone, without a home and any support.

"My mother was my everything," he said. "I was devastated."

Terry's life finally is turning around through determination, prayer and help from his pastor, and he recently moved into his own apartment.

But the memories of his not-so-distant past remain.

The Stewart B. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines homeless children and youths as those lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. That can be due to a youth running away from home or other factors.

And, according to New York State Runaway and Homeless Youth Program regulations, that includes people up to age 21, said Barbara Gibbs, Oneida County Runaway and Homeless Youth service coordinator.

Homelessness spans all socioeconomic and cultural groups. Teens such as Terry might not show typical signs because they don't display the traits of people that have been homeless for a long period of time, said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C.

Rather than living on the street, teens such as Terry end up "couch surfing" - jumping from one residence to another, typically sleeping on a friend's couch one night and another friend's the next.

Couch surfing not only keeps the homeless youth pretty invisible to the system, but encourages their belief that having a roof over their heads keeps them from being labeled as homeless.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there are many reasons young people become homeless:

* Family problems, such as physical or sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction and parental neglect.

* Economic problems. Families lack affordable housing, have limited employment opportunities, insufficient wages, no medical insurance or inadequate welfare benefits.

* Residential instability. Youths might become homeless after being discharged from a residential or institutional placement. These include foster care, jail and mental health facilities.

The impact

The majority of homeless youth in the area is between the ages of 16 and 21. Like Terry, they face many challenges and have a direct impact on the community in which they are staying.

Homeless youth are at high risk for a host of problems, said Steve Darman, director of Social Science Associates and chairman of the Mohawk Valley Housing and Homeless Assistance Coalition.

"They get victimized, don't eat right or take care of themselves. They have health problems," he said.

While homeless, Terry's weight fluctuated greatly as he often went days and weeks without food, he said. He also has asthma, and his family could not always afford medicine. Terry said he remembers living in fear that he would have an attack.

Terry also had problems in school.

At Rome Free Academy, his grades fell and his attendance dropped.

"At one point I had 92 absences from school," he said.

"I felt very ostracized," Terry said about going to school. He described having to wear the same clothes for the entire week and finally not going to school because he was ashamed and didn't want other students to notice.

He remembered thinking, "What are they going to say about me now?"

Homeless youth also experience situational depression and trauma, Donovan said.

"If you try to remove yourself from the situation and you can't, you try to relieve the sadness and trauma through drug and alcohol use," Donovan said.

Services are available, such as counseling, host homes and transitional housing, but the biggest issue is getting the youths to use the services - most of which are voluntary.

They might not do so because they believe there is a stigma around being homeless, Darman said.

"It's not just the resources," Darman said. "It's finding ways to support youth to do some good decision making."

Another problem is youths are unable to find jobs due to their age and living situation, which prevents them from having good hygiene, clothing and the motivation it takes to get up and go to work every day, Donovan said.

Crime can become part of the fabric of their daily existence as well, he said, including sexual exploitation, selling drugs and stealing.

"Homelessness doesn't get better as you get older," Donovan said. "It gets more costly to the community in real economic terms with sheltering them, having police to arrest them, ambulance and doctors to care for their health. Prisons have to house them and neighborhoods have to be subject to the illegal behavior."

When Terry began to have suicidal thoughts, he turned to his church, Kingdom Harvest Apostolic Church in Rome. Members took him in.

Terry said he learned an important lesson from his pastor and workers at the homeless youth program - depend on himself and have faith in God.

"I had to overcome leaning on people," he said.

With a new-found strength, Terry applied for and received temporary assistance. He now has a job at Rome Memorial Hospital as a food and nutrition assistant, and is living in an apartment of his own.

Helping yourself

This fall, Terry will be a senior at RFA, where he is a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. His grades have improved, and Terry plans to complete a four-year bachelor's program and become a radiologist technician.

Terry has since made peace with his mother, whom he talks to on the phone regularly.

"As long as you have faith and believe, you're gonna come out on top," Terry said. "There's always a way out."

Area’s homeless

School district Population Number Homeless Homeless in poverty identified under-identified

Adirondack 1,523 247 3 22

Brookfield 242 57 0 6

Camden 2,617 380 22 16

Clinton 1,580 110 15 4

Dolgeville 888 193 0 19

Frankfort-Schuyler 1,090 160 0 16

Hamilton 693 121 1 11

Herkimer 1,360 248 13 12

Ilion 1,648 313 48 17

Little Falls City 1,097 211 3 18

Madison 512 75 0 8

Mohawk 869 114 6 5

Mount Markham 1,462 216 3 19

New Hartford 2,497 134 4 9

New York Mills 589 72 2 5

Oriskany 727 101 3 7

Poland 681 140 21 7

Remsen 594 74 1 6

Richfield Springs 618 127 5 8

Rome 5,966 1,250 16 109

Sauquoit 1,265 138 0 14

Utica 9,032 3,405 91 250

VVS 2,231 254 4 21

Waterville 1,089 188 0 19

Webb Union Free 345 45 0 5

West Canada Valley 840 109 0 11

Westmoreland 1,206 95 0 10

Whitesboro 3,569 435 2 42

Source: New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Children. Statistics collected by the state Education Department.

Resources for homeless youth


*Herkimer County Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, 894-9917, or the 24-hour hotline, 866-1112. The office is in the Catholic Charities building on 61 West St. in Ilion.


*Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, 339-2649, or the 24-hour crisis hotline, 339-4960. Offices are at 1721 Black River Blvd. in Rome and 1100 Miller St. in Utica.

*The Underground Café, a teen drop-in center, at 714 Washington St. in Utica. Call 735-1345 or stop in. A program of Utica Safe Schools/Healthy Students, the café is a place where teens can go to relax, get help and talk to someone during the day. The program will connect youths with other area programs. Summer hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, until Aug. 27. During the school year, the program runs every day after school from 3 to 6 p.m.

How you can help

*Donate money, gift cards to local stores, nonperishable food items, personal hygiene products such as shampoo and deodorant, bedding and clothing to the Runaway and Homeless Youth programs in Herkimer and Oneida counties. In Herkimer County, call 894-9917. For Oneida County, contact 339-2649.

*Become a host home. Contact the Herkimer County Runaway and Homeless Youth Program at 894-9917. In Oneida County, contact the Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency Runaway and Homeless Youth Program’s Rome location at 339-2649, or Utica site at 733-4873.

Homeless youth programs

Admissions to runaway and homeless youth programs by county:

2009 2008 2007

Herkimer 79 89 95

Oneida 212 182 140

Source: State Office of Children and Family Services: Runaway and Homeless Youth Act annual reports, 2007-2009.


The courage to move on

Posted by keshiaclukey on June 24, 2012 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (3)

Originally published April 24, 2011 in the Observer-Dispatch

The courage to move on Battle to recover a long one



[email protected]

At 20 years old, Gregory Lewis might have to retire soon.

He's not happy with the idea.

Nine months ago, the Marine lance corporal was amidst a firefight with Taliban fighters in Marjeh, Afghanistan, when he took two AK-47 bullets to his right arm.

Now, instead of ferreting out insurgents, the 2008 Sauquoit Valley High School graduate fights daily through the pain of rehabilitation.

While most of his friends still are in college, Lewis must look into new career options and take into consideration that he may never physically or mentally be the same.

What keeps him going is exactly what drew him to military life to begin with - courage, determination and strength.

"This is just being a Marine," Lewis said. "You've gotta deal with the cards you were dealt."

Lewis is one of about 1,500 combat veterans who have returned to the Mohawk Valley after completing at least one tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to an estimate by Stephen Darman, director of Social Science Associates in Utica and a sociology professor at SUNYIT who teaches a class for veterans returning from war.

While data was unavailable on how many of those local returning veterans were injured in combat, Lewis' story is not unique.

And the road to recovery can be long.

But as Lewis, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, spends Easter weekend with his family in the Mohawk Valley, he feels lucky.

As he spoke about his injury, he took a green cord from around his neck. Attached was a small, silver pointed piece of the bullet that had lodged in his forearm.

"This round was meant to kill me, and it didn't," he said. "It's God's way of telling me, 'You're supposed to be around here a little longer,'" he said. "It's my good luck charm."

'Like a rock'

Sitting on his couch while playing with his dog, Toliver, Lewis' blue eyes lit up as he recounted his war experience.

His scout sniper platoon was deployed to Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, on June 13, 2010. Daily patrols came with danger and a sort of excitement, he said.

"It wasn't if you were going to get shot at," he said. "Every day you were going to get shot at."

On July 12, Lewis found himself on the roof of a compound in the midst of a firefight with Taliban fighters.

Then he was thrown back. He had been hit.

"I knew what happened right away ... It hit me like a rock," he said.

Taught to do a once over of himself, Lewis said he initially did not find anything wrong. But when he went to stand up he saw it: his forearm was hanging down.

The bullets nearly destroyed his right arm - one hit his forearm, and the other entered his bicep before exiting cleanly through his back.

"I turned to my buddies and said, 'I just got shot.' Everybody lit up," he said.

Lewis was the first person in his platoon to suffer a serious injury, he said. His friends worked fast to put a tourniquet on his arm. He climbed down the ladder from the rooftop and waited about 40 minutes for the medevac helicopter.

"My buddies were making me laugh saying, 'Oh it's just a scratch,'" said Lewis, who described the pain as an intense burning.

"I didn't realize how bad it was," he said.

When he arrived back at camp, Lewis was greeted by doctors and nurses, whom he joked with by saying, "Can you bandage me up so I can go back?"

Transition from war zone

Lewis' arm was splinted. He underwent 13 surgeries, one in Afghanistan and two in Germany, he said.

"That's how I spent my 20th birthday, in a hospital bed in Germany," Lewis said.

He had a metal plate and eight pins put into his arm. On July 18, he returned to the United States and then underwent several surgeries at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., his family at his side.

Lewis had a skin graft taken from his thigh and placed on his arm to help with reconstruction.

"The skin was the essential building block forming my arm back into an arm," he said.

By the end, Lewis had more than 30 screws put into his arm. After five weeks of being in bed with his arm suspended from an IV pole, he was released from the hospital.

Veterans returning from combat often fit into one of three categories, said Lauren Love, Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn program manager for the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

* They transition well. They had a good deployment, a lot of support from family and friends, and no injuries. The adjustment period for them may be pretty brief, spanning a couple of months, she said.

* Veterans may come back with an injury, mental or physical, or both. For them, the recovery period is a bit more difficult, and they may be dealing with sleep disturbances, irritability, mood changes and have trouble re-acclimating to civilian life, Love said. Those symptoms may take six to eight months for some veterans to resolve.

* Some return with more severe physical injuries such as amputations, burns and traumatic brain injury.

"For those folks, that readjustment period may be much longer," Love said.

They may have difficulty finding a job or returning to the work they had, she said.

'A long process'

After surgery, Lewis' arm was extremely sore. The skin graft added another injury from which his body had to heal: "It felt like a serious case of road rash," he said.

From August through November, Lewis worked on regaining mobility after having his arm stuck in a 45-degree angle for weeks at the hospital.

Every day, he would wake up to throbbing pain.

Since, Lewis has had physical therapy three times a week. He can now move his arm more than the doctors ever thought possible, he said.

Every physical gain comes as a surprise - one morning in November, he discovered he could once again move his wrist.

Today, Lewis' fingers are able to grasp, but not extend, something he still is working on. He wakes up every morning, works on stretching his fingers and raising his arm over his head. He continues this throughout the day and before he goes to sleep.

"It was a long process getting where I am today," he said.

To kick his recovery into high gear, Lewis started going to the gym every day. He can now do 20 pull-ups, and is regaining muscle in his forearm and bicep.

"The nerves are starting to fire and regenerate, that alone is like a miracle," Lewis said.

The injury has not taken him away from doing activities he loves such as hunting and fishing, but it has affected some activities such as driving, he said.

Being right handed, Lewis also has had to teach himself to use his left hand for daily activities such as writing.

"Just going from signing my name to writing sentences took months," he said.

Readjusting to life

The effects of Lewis' time in Afghanistan go beyond his physical scars.

"The experience itself transforms you in one way or another," be it a visible or invisible injury, said Ward Halverson, a child, family and veterans therapist out of Herkimer who is a combat veteran and was director of Mental Health for Detainee Operations at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, while in the U.S. Army Reserves from 2005 to 2006.

In Afghanistan, Lewis had to be constantly on edge, he said, "my head was on a swivel." That's something that has been difficult to switch off since he returned home.

Now, he often runs through a checklist in his head - doing things such as always checking reflections in mirrors and windows.

"It's being aware of your surroundings," Lewis said.

Many combat veterans go through this, Halverson said.

"That's what keeps you alive and a functional soldier in theater," he said. "When you come home to America, you have to stop, readjust, and be more trusting of your environment."

Most combat veterans are hyper-vigilant, Darman said. They can have difficulty sleeping, and sometimes self medicate with substances such as alcohol, he said.

Support key

When Lewis came back, his mother said he had difficulty sleeping and would hear rounds firing.

"Most of the young men are jumpy when a loud noise comes," Stefany Scharf Lewis said.

She no longer sees those particular symptoms in her son, but his personality is somewhat different: "He's more short-tempered."

To help, Stefany Scharf Lewis read books about helping her son cope with anger.

"He would say whatever he felt like, whatever was on his mind," she said. "We don't see any of that now. ... He's starting to become more reacclimated here," she said.

The family also practiced tough love, never allowing Gregory Lewis to feel bad about his situation.

His father, John Lewis, is a firefighter in Utica, and has helped his son stay focused on what he will do with his future, she said. His brother and sister also have played a large role in helping him stay positive, lending an ear when needed.

"Each one of us is lending our support in whatever way we can," she said.

The future

The biggest frustration for Gregory Lewis is what he will do next.

He's looking at "what I have to do now to achieve the life that I still want," Lewis said. "It was easier with two arms at 100 percent, now I have one working at 60 percent. ... I'm going to take it for what it's worth. ... My body is the way it is."

He hopes to join the Utica Fire Academy and follow in his father's footsteps.

At the same time, he struggles with wanting to be with his platoon when it redeploys to Afghanistan in October.

The doctors have told him this will not be an option and have suggested he retire and receive a medical discharge. Lewis hasn't fully accepted that yet.

"In the Marines, words are never solid until you're doing it at that moment," Lewis said.

That feeling of wanting to return to combat is not uncommon for veterans, even those who have been injured, Darman said.

"It's a real tight, tight, tight bond that they develop in war. They miss that," he said. "They miss the highs, the excitement, the adrenaline, they miss getting shot at. They don't miss the horrors."

Being in the military gives service members a sense of purpose, Darman said.

"Pain is just something you've got to fight through," Lewis said. "I've been a Marine the last three years of my life. That's what I signed up to do. ... I love being a Marine. I don't regret it at all."


Title: U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal.

Age: 20.

From: Sauquoit.

High school: 2008 Sauquoit Valley High School graduate.

Stationed at: Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Deployed: On June 13, 2010, to Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan.

Date wounded: July 12, 2010.

Decorations: Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a valor device.


The number of service members killed in action since 2001 who listed a New York home address or were stationed in New York. Eleven of them were from the Mohawk Valley.

Iraq: 284* Afghanistan: 149

Source: NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs

Wounded in action

The number of service members wounded in action in Iraq or Afghanistan as of April 4 who listed a New York home address or were stationed in New York. Eleven of them were from the Mohawk Valley.

United States: 42,913

New York: 1,891

Note: Local numbers were unavailable

Source: U.S. Department of Defense casualty summary


There are many ways you can support local veterans returning from combat.

*Welcome them back. Host a community celebration, fly your flag or just tell a veteran you’re glad they are home.

*Be sensitive. You may be curious about a loved one’s service overseas, but don’t push for details. They will share stories if they want to.

*Supporting programs that help veterans such as those that provide day care or offer jobs.

*Volunteer at or donate to a veterans outreach center.


There are many ways you can support local veterans returning from combat.

*Welcome them back. Host a community celebration, fly your flag or just tell a veteran you’re glad they are home.

*Be sensitive. You may be curious about a loved one’s service overseas, but don’t push for details. They will share stories if they want to.

*Supporting programs that help veterans such as those that provide day care or offer jobs.

*Volunteer at or donate to a veterans outreach center.



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