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Rochester Youth Year fellows complete service year

July 24, 2017
group portrait of students wearing ROCHESTER YOUTH YEAR t-shirtsThe 2016-17 Rochester Youth Year Fellows at their Professional Development Day in Buffalo. From left to right: Isaiah Evans (Rochester), Jenny Amaya (Rochester), Abbie Deacon (assistant director, Rochester Center for Community Leadership), Christina Mortellaro (SUNY Geneseo), Hannah Canale (SUNY Geneseo), Angelika Kropiowski (Rochester), Claire Sobraske (Nazareth College), Molly Mackenzie (Rochester), Anna Gershteyn (Rochester), Nu Nu Hna (St. John Fisher College), David Markakis (Rochester), Lisle Coleman (Rochester), Kyle Frink (SUNY Geneseo), Julie Elliot (AmeriCorps VISTA leader), Brad Willows (SUNY Geneseo), and Lee Ana Hess (Roberts Wesleyan College). (University photo / Rochester Center for Community Leadership)

On July 28, seven recent University alumni will attend another graduation ceremony, this one at Rochester City Hall. They’re part of a class of 14 young alumni from area colleges who are completing their year of service in the Rochester Youth Year fellowship program.

In many respects, the fellowship year is an extension of their University educations.

“The fellows build bridges between campus and the community, which has only become more central to the University’s mission since the program was founded,” says Glenn Cerosaletti ’91 ’03 (MA), assistant dean of students and director of the University’s Rochester Center for Community Leadership, which runs the regional program.

Rochester Youth Year is sponsored by AmeriCorps VISTA, its roots stretching back to President John F. Kennedy, who originated the idea. It was founded as Volunteers in Service to America under the Lyndon Johnson Administration in 1965. But while VISTA volunteers usually served farflung regions of the country, Rochester Youth Year is an expression of a more recent impulse in national service: lending your time and resources to your own community. 

Rochester is the fifth-poorest city in America, with a poverty rate of 33.8 percent, according to a September 2016 report prepared for the Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester. The need is tremendous. The role of the fellows is to partner with organizations that already have deep roots in the community. Some fellows lend a hand in developing homegrown leaders, by recruiting and managing volunteers, for example. Others help organizations obtain grants or other sources of funding. 

The role of the fellows is to partner with organizations that already have deep roots in the community. Some fellows lend a hand in developing homegrown leaders, by recruiting and managing volunteers, for example. Others help organizations obtain grants or other sources of funding.

Since Rochester Youth Year’s creation in 2007, 91 students from area colleges have completed a year of service in high-poverty neighborhoods and schools, and have recruited or managed more than 5,500 community volunteers.

“It’s been amazing,” says Jennyfer Amaya ’16, who was a volunteer coordinator at East Upper & Lower Schools, where the University serves as the educational partnership organization. “I’ve been able to learn so much about education and schools, alternative school models, and so much more.”

Rochester Youth Year was awarded its first AmeriCorps VISTA grant in 2008, support Cerosaletti says has been “vital” to the program’s success.

“VISTA brings over half a century of experience in the design and implementation of capacity-building projects in the community, and we’ve benefitted from that,” he says.

The fellows begin their year of service in August and complete it the following July. It’s a full-time position, and AmeriCorps VISTA pays a modest stipend and assistance for healthcare costs.

“RYY is not something one does for the money,” says Anna Gershteyn ’15 (’16 T5), who helped a nonprofit serving two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods to obtain more than $165,000 in funding. “Every person in my cohort genuinely cares about the Rochester community and building capacity for positive change.”

David Markakis ’16 and Isaiah Evans ’16 are Rochester natives who wanted to give back to their community after graduation.

“I love working with our community volunteers,” says Markakis, who works for the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. “They’re amazingly dedicated, and I’m constantly left in awe of their knowledge of and passion for Rochester.”

As Rochester Youth Year turns 10, Cerosaletti is proud to reflect on the dozens of volunteers who have gone on to successful lives. Significantly, about half have remained in Rochester or returned to Rochester, and five of the seven current University fellows will stay in the city.

It’s a point of pride for Cerosaletti.

“The program serves as a bridge for our recent graduates to start their careers right here in Rochester,” he says.

Meet the University fellows

Jennifer AmayaJennyfer Amaya ’16
Archaeology, technology, and historical structures/Italian
East High School
As volunteer coordinator, Jenny managed the school’s wide network of volunteers.

Lisle ColemanLisle Coleman ’16
Anthropology/health, behavior, and society
Rochester City School District: Enrico Fermi School 17
As the community school resource navigator, Lisle worked with the site coordinator to promote holistic access to resources and support within the school.

Isaia EvansIsaiah Evans ’16
Health, behavior, and society
Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association

Isaiah helped coordinate tuition-free summer learning programs for low-income children.

Anna GershteynAnna Gershteyn ’15 (‘16 T5)
Neuroscience, Spanish
Connected Communities

As community liaison for the nonprofit, Anna aided its mission of revitalizing the EMMA (East Main, Mustard Street, and Atlantic Avenue) and Beechwood neighborhoods by working to break the cycle of poverty.

Angelika KropiowskiAngelika Kropiowski ’16
Russian, international relations
Rochester City School District: Reading by Third Grade

Angelika helped create a culturally relevant Parent Resource Guide and supported reading teachers by managing their resource data base.

 molly MackenzieMolly Mackenzie ’16
Health, behavior, and society
Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Rochester
Molly helped develop a new youth financial education program.

David MarkakisDavid Markakis ’15 (’16 T5)
Political science, music
Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative

David helped implement projects within neighborhoods by working in community engagement.

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