ALBANY — Karin Carreau believes in YouthBuild.
Group programs are in place all over the U.S., all over the world. Young people in their late teens and early 20s — unemployed, out of school and maybe running out of chances — sign up for potential success.
“YouthBuild takes them in and creates a place for them,” said Carreau, the principal at Carreau Consulting & Associates in downtown Albany, who is familiar with YouthBuild in Schenectady — the SEAT Center (Social Enterprise and Training).
“They practice for their GEDs, they have mental health toughness classes and they learn a skill, primarily, but not always in construction,” Carreau also said. “They build from scratch sometimes, or rebuild downtrodden properties in a community and sell them back to the community.”
Carreau represents YouthBuild — and other groups — in the legislative hallways of Albany. She’s where the action is: where lawmakers decide policy and funding.
Carreau’s boutique government-relations firm builds the identity, presence and impact of clients. As a professed voice for the voiceless, Carreau said she represents underrepresented populations.
“At the Capitol, almost all of my clients are nonprofit in the human services industry, working to advocate for policies that impact those who normally wouldn’t have a voice,” said Carreau, seated behind the desk in her comfortable and compact State Street office overlooking downtown Albany.
Carreau, who lives in West Sand Lake, considers working on legislation that impacts thousands of people an honor and privilege. Her current road was not the planned path.
A 1985 graduate of Ichabod Crane High School in Valatie, Columbia County, Carreau believed she might become a clinician, a therapist.
“People who know me never thought that was a good idea,” Carreau said.
She later was an undergraduate student at the University at Albany when she began an internship in Schenectady.
“I was placed in Schenectady as a domestic violence advocate for the YWCA,” Carreau said. “I would help women navigate through that system, try to get access to services, help them with their court appearances.
“I had a young woman who I still to this day remember, her and her 2-year-old child in my office late at night, and I was trying to access different service points for them,” Carreau continued. “I was running into challenges, red tape, and I started wondering, ‘Who writes this stuff?’
“So I went back to school and I talked to a professor, and I learned a little bit about the policy arena and then I got an internship with a social-work policy organization,” Carreau added. “That really increased my appetite for that kind of work.”
Carreau, who graduated from UAlbany in 2001 and also completed graduate work at the university, worked in policy for several years before starting her own business in February 2016. The current legislative session is her 21st.
While some people may only hear about lobbyists during election seasons — when candidates for office insist they will never accept lobbyist or special interest money — Carreau said people working as lobbyists or in government relations are vital for special interest groups that include child welfare and human rights organizations.
“Everyone has a lobbyist at the Capitol,” Carreau said. “If you don’t, you kind of get lost in the shuffle. If you don’t have an organization or a ground person at the Capitol every day, things will happen without any input from the groups they most impact and affect. I think that’s an easy way to describe what we do: We’re impacting change at the ground level of policy development.”
State residents will benefit. Carreau said one of her larger clients is Families Together, a statewide association that represents and works with families whose children struggle with behavioral and emotional issues. The association helps parents navigate through systems that can include mental health, education and criminal justice.
Families Together was a lead organization, Carreau said, on landmark legislation in juvenile justice reform that raised the age of criminal responsibility.
“New York was for years one of only two states in the nation that continued to process and incarcerate 16- and 17-year-olds as adults,” Carreau said. “That meant putting them in adult facilities where they were often preyed upon. We worked on getting that piece of legislation done for about five years. We had two other groups we worked with, but we were one of the lead organizations.”
Like other professionals who are proud of specific accomplishments, Carreau is proud of her work on Timothy’s Law, signed into law by then-Gov. George Pataki in December 2006.
“That was a Schenectady County young man who, after suffering years of mental health issues, committed suicide at the age of 12 in 2001,” Carreau said. “Every year, his parents had a difficult time navigating through the system. He would use up his mental health visits by the end of February.
“It used to be where an insurance company could say you only get 20 mental health benefits per year and we can charge you a higher copay and a higher deductible for those visits,” Carreau said. “People with serious mental illnesses would max out. We worked on that bill for years. We finally got it passed in 2006, and then we saw — literally on the day it passed — we’re talking all of us, every single one us who is an insurance card-carrying member of society, now had unlimited access to mental health benefits, just as they would if they had cardiac issues or kidney issues or you name it.”
Carreau and others in government relations began their busy seasons when the Legislature began its current session in January. Part of the work means reviewing inches-thick budget bills and making sure documents do not contain paragraphs on policy that will negatively affect clients.
“I think all lobbyists live in fear for the next month we’ll miss that one little line that’s hidden on page 862 or something,” Carreau said.
Clients come to town, meetings are scheduled, legislation discussed, press conferences are conducted.
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“You have to have social skills, you have to be tenacious, you have to be assertive, you have to have unending energy,” Carreau said of her position.
Late nights are not uncommon during the session. Carreau said lobbyists will be on the job until 1 or 2 a.m., get some sleep and be back to work early the next morning.
Passion for work well done — and a feeling of accomplishment — keeps Carreau coming back.
“We secured $4.6 million for YouthBuild programs last year,” Carreau said, adding that the money came after years or working with the Legislature and governor’s office.
“We brought them to programs, they went to some of the houses, they met with the kids who were building these houses and it really impacted them,” Carreau said. “That’s the kind of meticulous, diligent work that has to be done. There’s no magic wand when it comes to policy and it’s not ever an overnight process. Sometimes it can take years.
“But when I work on the kinds of issues I work on and for the kinds of populations,” Carreau added, “it’s almost impossible not to maintain your passion.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]