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COCOA House in Schenectady eyes summertime improvements

COCOA House in Schenectady eyes summertime improvements

Non-profit group to renovate house next door
COCOA House in Schenectady eyes summertime improvements
William Rivas, executive director of COCOA House, stands in front of his childhood home.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette File Photo

SCHENECTADY — Freshly armed with a new executive director and a fresh round of federal grant funding, COCOA House is preparing to enter the summer with a bang. 

The non-profit group had purchased the vacant home next to their location at 869 Stanley St. in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood and plans to expand there.

As part of the first phase of planned improvements, volunteers will work on interior and exterior renovations. 

COCOA House, partnering with Schenectady Community Ministries (SICM), also wants to add classroom and office space to the new location.

Founded 20 years ago by a Union College student, COCOA (Children of Our Community Open to Achievement) House provides after-school tutoring at the corner of Stanley Street. 

The efforts are part of what William Rivas, the nonprofit’s executive director, envisions as part of broader changes to the afterschool program designed to serve neighborhood youth. 

Recent changes include broadening age eligibility for the center’s programming, a shift from tutoring to more hands-on mentoring and the addition of specialty classes such as a chess club and art classes.

“We’re creating something for the youth and community to take pride in,” said Rivas, who took over leadership of the organization last year.

The work will be completed with the help of $34,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding secured earlier this spring through the city’s Development Office.

The organization is operated and staffed by volunteers from Union College.

For Rivas, the project is personal. The adjacent structure was his childhood home until his family moved away as a result of what he admitted were some “bad decisions” on his part.  

“To be able to help rebuild the community, and utilize that structure, it means a lot to me,” he said.

The developments come after the City Council waived foreclosure fee interest and penalties for the nonprofit last week.

Rivas said the nonprofit owed $5,900 in back taxes. Funds have been raised with community support.

The site will also host a SICM Summer Meal Program which began Thursday and runs daily from 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. until Aug. 30.

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