Kids Come First

Oct. 14-20, 2004
Kids Come First
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Bishop Foery Foundation Provides Services and Hope for Inner-City Children

Children from ages six to 12 with backpacks slung over their shoulders converged on the Bishop Foery Building, on West Onondaga Street on a sunny day in September, anticipating snacks, playing with friends and getting help with their homework. The students are given academic support and an opportunity to socialize in a safe environment. They also learn lessons in respect.

The After School Program offered at the Bishop Foery Foundation is just one of the many services provided to inner-city children who may not have parental supervision or guidance at home. The foundation is a division of Onondaga County Catholic Charities and has been serving the underprivileged in Syracuse since 1948. The staff and volunteers at Bishop Foery structure themselves under Msgr. Charles Brady’s famous expression, “God Love Ya,” to emphasize that God loves all people. One of the most basic characteristics of the agency is to provide genuine concern for youth while promoting educational and social growth.

Larry King, executive director of the Bishop Foery Foundation, said that the services the foundation offers are needed more than ever before. “It’s very violent out there,” he said. “We have to get these kids off the streets.” King believes that there are tough times ahead due to an increase in violence in the neighborhood as well as budget cuts in the public schools. “Education helps break the cycle of poverty,” said King. “It gives you hope.” King is very concerned about the city schools and the dwindling budgets that eliminate breakfast and lunch programs, school bus monitors and teacher assistant positions. “These are the people who are hands-on,” said King. “They are the ones that are on the front lines fighting the battles.”

King is passionate about his concern for the welfare of the inner-city children. “Bishop Foery Foundation is able to offer these children a safe environment, a place where they can learn educationally, socially and recreationally,” said King. “Kids want discipline and consistency and friendship. Kids who can’t read want to learn. Kids who don’t know how to socialize can learn that, too,” he said. In the After School Program, the children are placed in small groups of six to eight, led by volunteers and staff. Activities include arts and crafts, sports and one-on-one tutoring. There is also a homework club –– a time set aside each day to complete homework assignments and receive additional help if needed. The After School Program sees between 25 to 45 children per day coming from several surrounding city schools.

Star Rice has five children, three of whom benefit from the programs offered at Bishop Foery. Rice is a full-time student at Onondaga Community College (OCC) and holds a part time job in addition to caring for her children. The Bishop Foery Program allows Rice to concentrate on her studies knowing her children have a safe environment to go to after school. “My daughter couldn’t wait to get here,” said Rice, referring her daughter’s first year in the program. “Every night my son shows me the papers he’s done during his tutoring and we check the homework he’s completed at the foundation.” Rice said that she’s very familiar with the program because for the last 11 years, members of her family have benefited from the program through either the services offered or working at Bishop Foery.

The summer program at Bishop Foery averages about 70 children per day, with approximately 30 volunteers and staff providing support and recreation. Field trips to area beaches, parks, ballgames and movie theaters are scheduled throughout the summer. The program is free of charge and lunch is provided. In addition to the summer program and the After School Program, the Bishop Foery Foundation offers the CHOICES Program –– a program developed for children ages six through 12 to teach abstinence, healthy options, self-esteem and communication skills. The YESS Program, a similar program for children ages nine to 17, has been eliminated due to budget cuts; as has the Parenting Program –– classes offered to teen parents to teach them parenting skills. “There aren’t enough programs like this offered in Syracuse,” said King. “When it ended, we continued to receive phone calls from the Department of Social Services and other agencies. Often, parenting skill classes are court-mandated as a way for agencies to work with families and keep the children in the home and out of foster homes,” he said.

When not focusing on their own programs, the foundation is busy co-sponsoring other community events, King said. One of the most popular events is the annual Thanksgiving dinner that the Bishop Foery Foundation co-sponsors with the National Association of Negro Women Professionals Club (NAN) through Syracuse University. “The dinner has taken on a new life,” said King. “This is our 15th year doing it. It started out that we needed two turkeys, now we need 20.” The sit-down dinner requires more than 60 volunteer servers and over 100 volunteers in total to ensure its continued success. However, shrinking budgets continue to challenge the staff and volunteers. “We don’t have money in the budget for the Thanksgiving dinner,” said King. “Over the years, more than 17 organizations have helped us finance it. We count on their generosity of time and resources.”

In addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, the NAN group and the Bishop Foery Foundation sponsor Halloween, Easter and Christmas celebrations. “When we can get the kids out into the community to experience something they wouldn’t usually experience, we try to do that,” said King. Rice said that the most important thing about Bishop Foery is that it gets kids off the streets and doing something positive. “As I was heading to OCC at 8:30 in the morning, I already saw teens hanging out on the corner,” said Rice. “When I returned from class, there was the truant officer chasing them down.”

King and his staff of nine committed professionals want people to know how much they care and try to make a difference each and every day. “That’s the best thing someone could know about the Bishop Foery Foundation,” said King.

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