Five 2015 University of Rochester graduates were honored at the annual luncheon for the Rochester Youth Year program Jan. 22 at the Staybridge Suites: They are Julie Elliot, Kendra Hester, Morgan Kennedy, Rachel Sonnet and John Wilson.
Rochester Youth Year is administered by the Rochester Regional Network and spearheaded by UR’s Rochester Center for Community Leadership. It involves seven local colleges—The College at Brockport, Nazareth College, Roberts Wesleyan, Rochester Institute of Technology, St. John Fisher, SUNY Geneseo and the University of Rochester. Students serve their host organizations to create or expand sustainable, community-centered initiatives. The students honored are in service through July, so the luncheon marked the halfway point of their term.
Sponsored by AmeriCorps VISTA, RYY is able to recruit passionate and responsible graduating seniors to take roles in different areas to address issues such as poverty, youth education and medical care.
John Wilson is an outreach coordinator at Anthony Jordan’s Community Place clinic on Parsells Avenue. As a Molecular Genetics and Psychology major, Wilson keeps an eye on issues like the social determinants of health and how people can access affordable, culturally sensitive and patient-centered care no matter who they are. He is actively involved in community-based organizations, health promotions and literary initiatives on behalf of Jordan Health’s 10 locations at community health fairs. Meanwhile, he has built sustainable partnerships among community stakeholders and developed a new internship program at Jordan Health for UR undergraduates.
Wilson plans to attend medical school. He said he has learned a lot about the complexities of modern healthcare through this experience. Engaged with patients about issues surrounding their health, Wilson is determined to improve the access of medical care for the underserved populations. He plans to earn the dual MD/MPH degrees to have a career as a physician-researcher.
Morgan Kennedy, raised on a dairy farm outside of Dansville, N.Y., graduated last year as a neuroscience major. She serves at RCSD Enrico Fermi School 17. Both RCSD and City of Rochester seek to develop the community school model. Kennedy helped out with the plan and implementation of the model, including building strong community partnerships, improving parent engagement and developing a system of coordinated wrap-around care to students and their families. With the promotion of equality in the surrounding neighborhood, School 17 aims to achieve the vision of being a “beacon at the center of an urban village”.
Kendra Hester, from Chicago, majored in Public Health and Psychology. She has an impressive project going on at the Center for Youth Crisis Nursery.
The Crisis Nursery is an acute preventative service meant to remove children from crises to prevent trauma. Her primary role is volunteer coordination, but now that she has created a sustainable system by having volunteers sign up online, she is able to spend more time with other responsibilities. One of her major tasks is to connect the Department of Social Services to help facilitate the clients’ need for permanent childcare/childcare assistance.
“I’ve met with a DSS representative who gave me a plethora of information and resources to add to my research.” Hester said.
From this meeting, she has created a guide for Crisis Nursery staff and volunteers to use to help parents navigate using DSS, the application process, and the correct location depending on needs. In the near future, she plans on dispensing more information for parents, something tangible that they can take home. In this way, parents can digest the information later and deal with the situation when the crisis subsides.
Hester loves what she is doing at the nursery right now.
“Not only am I getting professional development, but I’m also changing myself,” she said. “I’m definitely more open, tolerant, and aware of the issues families face in our community.”
Hester speaks highly of program manager Faith Davignon.”It’s her drive and passion for our families that makes everyone else works so hard,” she said. “She’s definitely an inspiration to me.”
Julie Elliot, who majored in American Studies, works on a program called “CURCS” (Connecting Universities to Rochester City Schools).The umbrella program brings students from local universities into RCSD to act as classrooms volunteers, tutors, mentors, and role models. College students of all backgrounds are welcome to join the program, and the minimum volunteering time is only two hours a week, which is very conducive to student schedules. The program also “connects” college student associations to RCSD through workshops or other specific initiatives.
One day in October, while collaborating with one of the school coordinators about CURCS, Elliot bumped into a little girl in the main office. They started talking and made each other laugh.
“Perhaps that girl was looking for a mentor.” Elliot told the coordinator.
A few days later, the little girl became her protege.
“It was fate!”Elliot said. “Her mom had called the school asking if someone could find her daughter a mentor the day I ran into her.”
The first meeting went well.
“We were going to practice reading and when I opened the book, the main character’s name was Julie. Double fate.”
Now, Elliot has met her once a week for four months and plans to continue for the service year.
Rachel Sonnet, a political science major, was raised in the North Hills area of Pittsburgh. She serves at the University of Rochester’s Teen Health and Success Partnership. THSP offers employment opportunities for local youth at the University of Rochester through a partnership with Hillside Work Scholarship Connection. She fosters engagement between the undergraduates at the University and the THSP students through the tutoring program and the partnerships with various on-campus clubs. Sonnet envisioned and launched a program called UR Education Allies, which encompasses tutoring, college mentoring, and enrichment programming. She is excited to see her students succeeding with their regents exams and receiving their college acceptances.
Matias Piva is the VISTA leader through July 2016. He is a 2014 UR graduate who majored in Psychology and Philosophy. He served as a RYY fellow at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County on their pilot urban 4-H program, CITIZEN U. Piva mentors the VISTA members through professional training sessions, recruiting the next class of VISTA members and host sites. As a contact person, Piva also supported other RYY fellows in their various projects.
According to RYY’s web page, the city of Rochester ranks has the highest poverty rate in the nation, with 50.1 percent youth under 18 living in poverty. On the other hand, Rochester ranks the fifth in the nation in volunteering for the year 2014. Approximately 292,300 residents here donated $25 or more to charities.
With more students participating in the social justice program like RYY, it is possible to alleviate the current situation and benefit the whole Rochester community.