Health and Human Services Day 2017

By Tim Ferlito, Account Manager Resource Development at United Way of Central New York.  –  Our Health and Human Services class day took its theme from a local service that not enough people know about: the 211 information line. 211 and exist to provide a connection between ordinary citizens with needs and the local organizations that meet those needs. It’s where you turn when you don’t know where to turn. Inspired by this, our call to action for the day – Get Connected, Get Answers, Take Action –was created.

After a brief outline to the class from team members Davanna Marks and Charla Roth, our day began with a welcome from Alan Thornton, the Executive Director of Rescue Mission, whose organization generously hosted our class for the day. He discussed their mission and some of the major programs they administer. We would get a closer look at these programs later on our tour.

Our first major topic was hunger, which we divided into two separate presentations. Team member Adrienne Kelley introduced our first speaker,  Kathleen Stress (LGS 2012), Executive Director of Food Bank of Central New York. Her presentation titled, “Hunger at Home” brought to vivid clarity just how much Ms. Stress cares passionately about those who are most vulnerable and most easily affected when it comes to hunger – children.

Kathleen Paice Froio introduced our next presenter, Joseph Nimeh, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Golisano Children’s Hospital, whose discussion, “Food Insecurities – What About Our Kids?” was eye-opening. His discussion was data driven, and held an emphasis on the correlation of hunger and poverty. Both presenters gave the room new perspectives on the effects of hunger on a community.

Next up was a panel discussion introduced by team member Dave Kilpatrick and moderated by Rescue Mission’s Alan Thornton. Present was a good cross-section of local agencies dealing with poverty: Ocesa Keaton (Exec. Director of Greater Syracuse HOPE Initiative and a LGS 2017 class member), Andrew Lunetta (Founder/Exec. Director of A Tiny Home For Good), Michael Melara (Exec. Director, Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, LGS 2004), Sharon Owens (Exec. Director, Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility) and Marsha Tait (Exec. Director, LiteracyCNY).

Class members got an intense, inside-perspective discussion on poverty and how it affects communities and individuals. We learned about the effects of poverty on health, education, and employment opportunities. We heard how poverty is felt differently in the city versus suburbs and rural areas, as well as how it affects the well-being of infants and senior citizens. Without a doubt, everyone present walked away with information they didn’t have before.

The final presentation of our morning session was introduced by team member Tim Ferlito and brought the topic of Syracuse’s and Central New York’s refugee population to the fore. Beth Broadway (LGS 2002), Executive Director of InterFaith Works, treated us to a myth-busting presentation about what it means to be a refugee. The class was definitely receptive in learning more about the different nationalities, religions and backgrounds of the thousands of refugees that have come to call Central New York home.

We broke for lunch and stretched our legs on the way over to the food services building. Many classmates could be overheard expressing their surprise at just how tasty and healthful the meal being served was. We heard from Karl Dawkins, the Director of Food Services at the Rescue Mission. He related to us the many different balls that he has to juggle – securing food, prepping it, coordinating staff and volunteers, managing schedules, and more – in order to make certain that anyone in search of a nourishing meal gets one.

We broke into groups for a close-up tour of Rescue Mission and more of what they do. Enthusiastic and educated staff brought us around to see living quarters, medical facilities, exercise rooms, day programs, the Rescue Mission store, employment advisors, caseworkers and more. If the class came to the Rescue Mission thinking all the organization did was provide food and shelter – we came away with a greater respect and admiration for all they are able to accomplish with what resources they have.

We returned to our classroom where, after a quick break, we settled in for an enlightening topic introduced by classmate Jamie VanDerVeeken – that of the need for mental health services for children and teens. Guiding the topic was Wanda Fremont, MD at Upstate Medical University. In her brief, but impactful presentation, we came to learn about children and families in crisis, and the desperate need for services that can meet a wide array of urgent need. You could not walk away from this presentation without supporting the need for expanded services in this area.

The discussion of mental health continued with our next speaker, James Megna, MD, also from Upstate Medical University. Introduced by Cory Murray, Dr. Megna expanded the discussion to that of adult mental health and the growing need of access to care. Lack of coverage by insurance, a low number of facilities in the area and the pervading social stigma surrounding the need and treatment of mental health remain strong barriers to the widespread access of this needed aspect of one’s health.

Classmate Kathleen Paice Froio ushered us toward the next topic, which was of some interest to people in the room: Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Sharon Brangman, Chief of Upstate’s Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease gave us a look into the disease and its cost to those afflicted with the disease, as well as their caretakers. Class members were definitely surprised by some of the statistics – 14% of senior citizens are afflicted with some sort of dementia – and listened to the information with great intent. We also got to learn the surprising number of classmates who have, or had, a family member suffering from the disease.

Our design team would like to take the opportunity to thank every single person who made the day what it was: informative, enlightening, inspiring, impactful and relatable. In our pursuit to take care of our families and careers, we often forget to take care of ourselves and consider whether we feel centered, and spiritually and physically healthful. When it comes to our community, we sometimes forget there are real lives behind labels.  Discussions regarding mental health, hunger and poverty are situations that face so many around us every day with real consequences for all of us if not addressed. This class day was a call to stop and consider our health as a whole and as individuals.