Schenectady County

Program pairs new college grads with nonprofits

A new program that lends a hand to the area’s nonprofit agencies while helping recent graduates find

A new program that lends a hand to the area’s nonprofit agencies while helping recent graduates find their sense of self has been introduced in Schenectady.

Realizing the community’s demand for volunteers to help those in need and the growing number of young adults looking for meaningful work after college, the First Reformed Church of Schenectady is hoping to fill that void locally.

This year, the church launched its new service program, “The Covenanters.” Similar to the full-time work already done by the church’s missionaries, the new program pairs young adults with nonprofit agencies that will provide them with work similar to their future career goals.

“One reason was we wanted to step into the gap left when the AmeriCorps funding from this area was taken away,” said the Rev. Stacey Midge, explaining the need for the program. “And the other was the recognition that young people are looking for avenues to do service and to take some time before they go on to grad school or a career to do something meaningful in a community.”

The church reached out to local schools, affiliated colleges and Reformed churches throughout the country to seek out applicants. Twelve young adults applied to the program’s introductory year, and four were accepted.

Chris Henry, Erin Winn and Ksenoya Zhuzha are all now living together in a two-bedroom apartment on Union Street. They will soon be joined by a fourth Covenanter from Germany, Senad Ademaj.

A graduate of Central College in Wisconsin with a degree in political science, Winn is working at the YWCA of Schenectady to help women who were victims of abuse find jobs. She reads cover letters and checks résumés to help the women broaden their chances of getting hired after extended periods of unemployment. Winn hopes it will help her build connections for the future and gain experience.

Zhuzha also works with the women of the YWCA. The Ukraine native is a recent graduate of Union College.

“I have a degree in psychology, so I thought it would be interesting to work with the women and gain some experience with them,” she said.

Zhuzha works with those who seek help from the YWCA to organize their personal finances and set realistic goals for the future, including helping with job placement alongside Winn.

Each participant in the Covenanter program gets free room and board and a $500 stipend per month through money the church raised for missionary projects. The program will remain small for the first three years as an experiment. If community need continues to grow, the program could expand, explained Midge.

“We want to see how this works out first,” said Midge.

Iowa resident Chris Henry, 23, is hoping to one day become a youth pastor. He learned of the new program while interning at a church in Michigan. He is now working with the Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s food pantry in the mornings and the Damien Center — a meeting place for those afflicted with HIV and AIDS — at night.

“I think this will help me learn about the other stuff youth pastors have to deal with, because they don’t just get to hang out with kids all day,” Henry said. “They have to volunteer and organize events, so this will help me finish the mold of what I think a youth pastor should be.”

Winn and Henry also arrived in time to help with the cleanup efforts after Hurricane Irene.

While Henry helped take in extra food donations at SICM, both young adults helped those affected in Schoharie County.

“I’m glad that I was able to help people as they recover from the flood. It was amazing to see and be a part of all the support that has been offered to Schoharie as it rebuilds,” said Winn.

The fourth covenanter, Ademaj, is expected within the next week. He will be able to work with the church to pick a nonprofit that is appropriate for the work he hopes to do later on in life.

“We’re hoping this both helps the community and provides the youths with an expanded view of the world,” said Midge.

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