Palmer sticks with Equinox because it helped him find the right path

The Enterprise – Sean Mulkerrin

Giovanni Palmer, 19, of Albany, was honored this week at the 34th Annual Albany Rotary Youth Recognition Awards. After using Equinox’s Youth Outreach Center services, Palmer now works there as a youth leader.

ALBANY COUNTY – Giovanni Palmer was hired last month to be a youth leader at Equinox.

Why, after graduating from high school, did he continue to come here?

“Once in my lifetime, I had chosen the wrong path,” he said. He added that Equinox is a place where someone can come hang out and be safe.

His friends no longer come here, he said.

Palmer, 19, was asked while he was at Equinox helping younger kids, what were his friends doing, the opposite?

“Yes,” he answered.  

His father has been in a Pennsylvania jail since 2012 or 2013, he said.

He talks to his father on the phone, Palmer said.

His father encourages him “not to follow, but to lead,” he said, and to keep his head in the books. His father knows the path that lay ahead if he were to stray.

Palmer was recognized this week because of a proposal Brian Barr made to a group of Rotarians 34 years ago.

Barr, a social worker, was well aware of the daily struggles that young people in the foster-care system face. The struggle to cope with a different neighborhood, a different school, and a different set of teachers and expectations. The major adjustments they had to make in their lives contrasted with so many children who have had the advantage of stability in school, home, and family.

Brittany Cebula, a program manager at Equinox, told The Enterprise that Palmer had not been in the foster-care system, but said that he “definitely had some severe, unstable housing.”

Barr realized that young people with challenging backgrounds are often overlooked at a time of year when many organizations celebrate high achievers.

He wanted to honor the overlooked who are “evidencing indomitable spirit, amazing courage, and tremendous persistence and resilience in their daily lives that, through no fault of their own, have been thrown at them.”

The group told Barr, “If you can form that alliance, let’s try it for a year and see how it works.”

Barr did form an alliance.

“Thirty-four years later, fortunately, folks agreed that it worked and was certainly worth its while,” Barr said.  

Now, each year, the Rotary Club seeks a youth from each of six agencies — St. Catherine’s Center for Children, Parsons Child and Family Center, the La Salle School, St. Anne Institute, Community Maternity Services, and Equinox — who has demonstrated strength or accomplishment to show them that the community does care.

Palmer was nominated by Equinox and honored this week at the 34th Annual Rotary Youth Recognition Awards.

Cebula said that Palmer works with her and other staff to help with group discussions and awareness campaigns on topics like drug use, safe sex, and relationships.

She said that Palmer was selected because of how much of a positive role model he has been, and said that he has been an outstanding member of the community.

Cebula said that Palmer is level-headed, and has an adult rationale.

“He’s had things in his own life that he’s pushed through,” she said, and, because of that, the staff at Equinox thought that Palmer could help others with similar obstacles.

Palmer first came to Equinox in 2016, tagging along with his brother, Devontae, who was in dance battles in the basement of the Equinox building on Central Avenue in Albany. When the weather turned cold, Palmer would turn up to play basketball.

Palmer was pulled out of Albany High School for continuously missing classes, he said.

Cebula said that Palmer lived just inside the radius of what Albany High School considers walking distance – which according to its handbook is one-and-a-half miles. She and another Equinox employee fought to get Palmer a bus pass to no avail, she said.

Palmer was then placed in the Abrookin Career and Technical Center, a part of Albany High School, less than a mile from his home, and with a 10 a.m. start time, to earn his high school equivalency diploma, which he did.

He plans to go to school in the fall, to Hudson Valley Community College. He said that he’d like to study business or marketing.

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