Schenectady County

GE workers raise $20K for vocational education

The men who ran through the streets of Schenectady on Friday, waving a handmade Olympic torch, never
GE employees Reza Sarrafi, left, and Paul DiConza jog along Rosa Road towards GE Global Research in Niskayuna during the GE Walk for Education on Friday. The walk was to benefit Northeast Parent and Child Society.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
GE employees Reza Sarrafi, left, and Paul DiConza jog along Rosa Road towards GE Global Research in Niskayuna during the GE Walk for Education on Friday. The walk was to benefit Northeast Parent and Child Society.

Categories: Schenectady County

The men who ran through the streets of Schenectady on Friday, waving a handmade Olympic torch, never needed vocational services after high school.

None of them dropped out of high school or graduated but foundered, searching for a job where they could make a living on just what they’d learned through 12th grade.

But for children who are facing that dilemma, the highly educated engineers and scientists at General Electric raised $20,000 in an hour of intense exercise on Friday.

More than 200 General Electric employees joined together to raise the funds for vocational training. Northeast Parent & Child Society will put the money toward creating a Career Development Center for high school drop-outs and grads who don’t have the skills to earn a living wage.

GE workers said they feel particularly close to children who are struggling to find a blue-collar job, the sort of work that used to be readily available in the city — from locomotive manufacturers, agricultural machinery builders and from GE itself.

The company used to run an apprenticeship program for high school graduates who could then enter GE management without a college degree, but it was phased out years ago. Nowadays, employees spend thousands of hours a year helping children — tutoring them on basic math principles, running science fairs and even painting new classrooms.

“We have a commitment to children and education,” said Ted Chrimes, senior human resources manager at GE Power Generation. “These children are close to our heart.”

Employees walked on all three Capital Region campuses (Schenectady, Niskayuna and Albany), while 10 workers ran from the main plant in Schenectady to GE Global Research in Niskayuna, three miles away. The rest of the nearly 200 participants walked three miles at their workplace. Counting all the runners and walkers, 51 countries were represented, leading the group to dub the event the “GE Olympics.” They carried their own version of an Olympic torch in honor of the fact that GE is a sponsor of the Beijing Olympics.

Many employees said they agreed to help with the fund-raiser because they enjoy volunteering. But for some, it was personal.

“I come from a very poor background in India,” said Kapil Singh, who organized the event as the community service leader of the GE Asian Pacific American Forum. “I can understand the manner — you get a feeling that life is not fair. If you can give someone a hand, you can raise them up to the next level. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Students from Northeast also joined in, saying they wanted to give back instead of just accepting help from their community.

“I try to volunteer every chance I can,” said Sydney Hulett, 18. “I like to give back to the community rather than sitting on a couch all day. You should do something that helps everyone, instead of just yourself.”

Northeast student Gracie Guilder, 16, added that she wanted to help raise money even though the funds will go toward the agency’s new Career Development Center, which she doesn’t ever plan to use.

“I’m going to go to college,” she explained. “But it helps other people who need the help. I like to do things like this.”

Northeast executive director Jim Johans said his agency and GE have the country’s longest standing relationship between a child welfare program and a corporation. The two joined forces 120 years ago when the Schenectady Children’s Home opened just five months after GE-founder Thomas Edison arrived in Schenectady.

“Since 1888, Northeast and GE have worked together to change the lives of over 100,000 children,” Johans said.

Northeast needs to raise $1.9 million to open the Career Development Center. Earlier this week, the agency received a $750,000 state grant.

The center would be located on the first floor of the agency’s office building at 530 Franklin St. It would provide job training skills to high school drop-outs and graduates who haven’t found a job but aren’t heading to college. The agency will train them in various occupations that do not require a college degree, including digital imaging, emergency medical services, construction and brownfield cleanup.

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