Volunteers of America Upstate New York will commemorate 118 years of service to the Rochester community this March.
VOA Upstate New York is a local, nonprofit human services organization that serves more than 4,000 people every year, helping them to rise out of poverty and become self-reliant through a wide array of programs and services for impoverished children, at-risk youth, homeless individuals and families, veterans, people who have been or are incarcerated and frail seniors.
Volunteers of America was founded in New York on March 8, 1896, to help all those in need, and the organization expanded throughout the nation, establishing a post in Rochester in 1901. Since then, VOA has continuously worked to empower individuals, families and children by providing services that help them to access education, health care, supportive housing, nutrition assistance, financial and career coaching and employment. Through these services and with the support of so many local residents and businesses, VOA makes a positive impact in the lives of those served as well as the entire community.
VOA Upstate New York is a leader in the provision of effective and innovative supportive housing in Rochester, and their continuum of housing programs, including emergency shelter, rapid rehousing and affordable permanent housing, help to alleviate homelessness in Rochester. VOA Upstate New York operates residential units that serve more than 290 people a day and provides housing stability support services for more than 300 formerly homeless households living in scattered site apartments who receive rental assistance. Recently, VOA Upstate New York was awarded two new grants by HUD for nearly $1 million annually to provide rental assistance and support services to help chronically homeless families and individuals access and maintain permanent housing.
VOA Upstate New York launched a new Rapid Rehousing Program in 2018 to minimize the amount of time a homeless individual or family spends in crisis by helping them rapidly access permanent housing through the use of short-term rental subsidies and support services. Once stabilized, participants take responsibility for their rent.
“You think about how many people are so close to being homeless and living on the edge and how easily it happens,” said Angela Harbin, VOA’s regional vice president of housing services. “Our goal is to make this the last episode of homelessness.”
The VOA Children’s Center is one of the leading providers of universal and expanded pre-K programming in the city, serving 279 preschoolers every day, along with 80 children who participate in the center’s after-school programs and infant/toddler child care. The programming helps children to prepare for success in school by offering a high-quality curriculum that helps them to reach cognitive, social, and emotional benchmarks in preparation for entering kindergarten.
“Research has shown that children who have received a quality pre-K educational experience are better positioned to achieve success in grade school, high school and beyond,” said Rob Stedman, vice president of services for children & families for VOA. “Our primary goal is to best prepare our students and families for a successful transition into future education.”
This school year marks the 20th class of preschoolers attending programs at VOA’s Children’s Center, which opened on Lake Avenue in 1998. The center has more than 20 classrooms, large indoor play areas as well as a health center complete with a dental suite.
VOA Upstate New York is also a leader in introducing innovative programs to Rochester. VOA Upstate New York’s Guest House Emergency Family Shelter was the first shelter in Rochester to provide emergency housing to entire families, regardless of family composition. With 13 private rooms for families of various sizes, the Guest House provides shelter to more than 200 families every year and VOA staff helps these families find and access permanent affordable housing and overcome the challenges that contributed to their housing crisis.
Five years ago, VOA Upstate New York launched Camp HEROES in collaboration with the Rochester Police Department, Rochester Fire Department, American Medical Response and the 911 Call Center. The camp provides city children with a week of outdoor activities and is a way to bridge the gap between at-risk youth and first responders. Volunteers of America partners with Rochester Police Officers, Firefighters, EMTs and 911 dispatchers who volunteer their time as camp counselors to build trusting relationships and teach life skills to the campers during a pivotal time for pre-teens and teenagers.
VOA Upstate New York is also a leader in providing evidence-based programming to help reduce recidivism for those who are or have been recently incarcerated. This year, VOA launched a cognitive behavioral intervention program in the Monroe County Correctional Facility funded by a five-year, $1 million grant from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
“This is critical work” said Harbin, “because the people we are serving will be released into Monroe County and we want them to be positive, contributing members of our neighborhoods.”
As VOA looks back on a history of service that spans over two centuries, it looks to the future too.
“We want to continue to make positive change and impact in the community and help people who face unique challenges find a path to stability,” said Harbin.