Agencies across Schenectady County have joined together to assess the community’s health, behaviors and access to care, and they’re going to do it neighborhood by neighborhood, door by door.
If you knock on Jazella Lewis’s door, the 34-year-old mother of two will tell you there are too many children in her neighborhood with nothing to do after school, and that it’s affecting their health as they grow up.
“The children don’t have positive things to do after school and they can get into other things, things that they shouldn’t be doing,” she said. “They’ll follow the wrong crowd and not only will it be not healthy for them physically, but it’s not healthy for them mentally.”
The Schenectady Coalition for a Healthy Community participating organizations:
• American Cancer Society of Northeastern NY
• Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady
• Capital District Center for Independence
• Capital District Child Care Coordinating Council
• Capital District Tobacco Free Coalition
• Capital Region BOCES
• Catholic Charities
• City Mission of Schenectady
• City of Schenectady
• Community Fathers, Inc.
• Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schenectady County
• Ellis Medicine
• Fidelis Care
• Guyanese American Association of Schenectady
• Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, Inc.
• Healthy Capital District Initiative
• Hometown Health Center
• League of Women Voters
• Mohawk Ambulance Service
• MVP Healthcare
• Optimum Health Chiropractic
• Parsons Child and Family Center
• Price Chopper
• Schenectady ARC
• Schenectady City School District
• Schenectady Community Action Program
• Schenectady County Community College
• Schenectady County Department of Social Services
• Schenectady County Probation
• Schenectady County Public Health Services
• Schenectady Free Health Clinic
• Schenectady Inner City Ministry
• Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority
• Schenectady Stand Up Guys
• Schenectady United Neighborhoods
• The Chamber of Schenectady County
• The Schenectady Foundation
• Union College
• Union Graduate College
• United Way
• University at Albany, School of Public Health
• Visiting Nurse Service of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties
That, of course, is precisely what the Schenectady Coalition for a Healthy Community is hoping to learn in a new campaign it is launching Saturday called “UMatter Schenectady.” More than 40 organizations across the county will oversee a door-to-door survey of Schenectady residents in an effort to identify unmet health and social needs, and subsequently build an action plan to address them.
Lewis is one of about 16 trained surveyors who will hit the streets every weekend for the next 12 weeks, starting with the city’s Northside neighborhood. They’ll knock on doors and ask residents questions about their health concerns, transportation, environment and access to good food.
“It’s going to be a cold and windy day, and you have to decide whether you’re going to let this person in and spend your time answering questions that might take up to 20 minutes,” county Legislature Vice Chair Karen Johnson said before a crowd of community members gathered Thursday in the City Hall rotunda. “And they’re not invasive questions, they’re not real personal questions. They’re questions about how your neighborhood affects you. And this is your chance to set policy for the community, to say things to people that are going to change the way the government does business. It’s going to change the way the community agencies support you, and it’s going to make this community a better place.”
That’s the hope, at least. A similar, boots-on-the-ground survey took place in six Chicago communities from 2002 to 2004. Researchers interviewed 1,699 adults and 811 children and discovered that two out of three children in five minority communities were overweight or obese. They also discovered a high proportion of minority adults smoked and a high proportion of children had asthma.
Based on these findings, the research team attracted stakeholders and won grant money to develop interventions and policies that would address the problems.
A survey like the one in Chicago seemed to fit Schenectady like a glove. So last summer, Ellis Medicine president and CEO James Connolly called Robert Carreau, executive director of The Schenectady Foundation.
“Jim had talked to me about what had happened in Chicago and it immediately struck me that this was going to be such an important piece of Schenectady’s future,” said Carreau.
The Foundation awarded the coalition $100,000 to fund the project.
The success of UMatter Schenectady depends largely on the community players involved, said City Mission Executive Director Mike Saccocio.
“This is not a top-down process where some experts are gathered in a room, making assumptions, saying we know what needs to be done,” he said. “The best people to run these sorts of things are the people in the community who have credibility and know how to listen. So as things come up, they might not be just health care-related, they might be something social or something else, and there’s going to be a broad range of resources to help.”
In its first year, UMatter Schenectady will focus on Schenectady neighborhoods. Next year, surveyors will converge on the county’s suburbs and towns to get a more comprehensive picture.
In Brenda Lewis’s neighborhood, surveyors will find a lot of people without transportation and single mothers having trouble paying their rent each month.
“In my community, it’s hard to get to a doctor’s office,” she said. “They don’t have medical transportation that’s needed. And as far as the younger kids, there’s nothing for them to do at all. You know, they can go to the parks, but the older kids take it over with all the violence and everything.”
The Mont Pleasant woman often takes it upon herself to be the community’s go-to. She reassures neighbors that the Bethesda House can help them with their National Grid bill or the Schenectady Community Action Program has diapers if they need them.
As a UMatter surveyor, she’ll have a chance to help her community even more.
“Now that this program is involved, I feel like I’ve got those partners who can help, give me that little push, because sometimes it’s hard on your own.”