Knox Youth Council members resign to form not-for-profit

— Photo from Maria DeLucia-Evans

Children cheer at a soccer camp put on by the newly-created Helderberg Family & Community Organization, which was started by former Knox Youth Council members.

HILLTOWNS — Six people have resigned from the Knox Youth Council and have gone on to form a new organization with a goal of reaching out to youth and families in and around the four Helderberg Hilltowns.

The new group, the Helderberg Family & Community Organization, was formed a few months ago, said Maria Delucia-Evans, a founding member and a former member of the town’s youth council. Her husband, Peter Evans, was another member of the youth council who recently resigned and joined the new organization.

Knox Youth Council Coordinator Maryellen Gillis’s resignation was accepted at the regular Knox Town Board meeting on July 10, and will take effect July 31. She is another founding member of the Helderberg Family & Community Organization.

She has served as the town’s youth council coordinator for the last three years and was most recently heading efforts to build a new playground at Knox Town Park. The playground was scheduled to be put together in a community build last weekend, with $125,000 coming from the state, but was delayed due to a problem with the manufacturer, said Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis.

“I am looking forward to serving the town and the community in a larger capacity for the organization,” said Gillis, of her departure from her town position.

She said she hopes that her role with the new organization can continue to help the town in a different way.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said.

Five other youth council members — including Delucia-Evans and her husband as well as Darcy Cyr, Sandray Quay, and Sara Pasquini — had their resignations accepted at a special town board meeting on July 17. Lefkaditis said that that no specific reasons were given for the resignations, but at the meeting he told his fellow board members that these members were leaving to start their new group.

“It’s my understanding that the small group of members who left the KYC want to focus on growing the new entity and the Town Board and I are very excited to see what they come up with,” he wrote in response to emailed questions from The Enterprise, later adding that he would be willing to have the town work with the group.

“It’s all about the kids.  And whatever is best for them is what the Town should be pursuing,” he wrote.

Lefkaditis confirmed that only two members are currently remaining on the Knox Youth Council, but said that the previous number of eight members was arbitrary, and “can be easily amended by appointing any of the active volunteers,” or by the board formally appointing members.

Gillis told The Enterprise that she is also looking forward to working with the town and the new Knox Youth Council, adding that working with local youth programs is one of the goals of the Helderberg organization. This would not be limited to towns, she said, but would also include churches, fire departments, Kiwanis clubs, and other community groups, noting that the Kiwanis Club of the Helderbergs has already offered some assistance to the group.

Currently, the organization is focusing on reaching out to communities in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, Gillis said.

She added that she does not want to compete with existing programming, but instead to find “gaps” in what is already being offered and provide new opportunities for youth and families in the area.

Gillis said that the driving factor in creating the Helderberg Family & Community Organization is funding programs. The goal of the new organization, she said, is to provide as many programs as possible for the least economic impact to the community.

“It was extremely difficult to apply for or receive grant money and donations,” she said of her work for the Knox Youth Council.

Gillis was paid $500 a year as the youth council coordinator, which she says she used to buy materials and supplies for the programs to supplement the budget. According to the town’s website, the youth council received $6,000 for 2018.

While heading the youth council, Gillis had approached businesses for sponsorships but was told by many that they would not be involved with a town government, but would donate to not-for-profits, she said.

“The best route would be to organize a nonprofit,” she said.

Gillis said that both Lefkaditis and Albany County Legislator Travis Stevens suggested taking the not-for-profit route so that she could offer more programming.

Gillis said that she wants the new organization to serve as a unifying force to connect children and families who may not be able to interact simply because of geography.

“They’re developing lifelong friendships,” she explained of kids who have participated in Hilltown-wide programs.

In many areas of the Hilltowns, young people may have trouble developing these friendships because their homes are more isolated and not in a neighborhood.

“That is a challenge for families that live up here,” explained Gillis. She said that the sense of community in more suburban areas like Guilderland may be harder to attain in the Hilltowns for this reason.

“There are so many ways of giving children a sense of community and that’s what we’re looking at,” she said.

The organization is now forming its bylaws committee, said Delucia-Evans. She said that the organization also intends to hold a community-wide meeting to gather ideas, and would follow with regular meetings after that.

“Everybody’s welcome,” she said, of the initial meeting.

The development of the organization’s bylaws is one of the final steps before becoming a not-for-profit, said Gillis. The group has filed with the state for the application and is now a corporation. The organizational meeting, which would include establishing the bylaws, is scheduled for September, said Gillis. Officers would also be elected then, she said.

Local libraries and churches may be meeting places said Delucia-Evans. She surmises that the locations would change with each meeting to be closer to wherever an event or program is to take place. Events and meeting dates will be shared on social media and in The Altamont Enterprise, she said.

The current group involved in writing the bylaws and organizing other aspects has been kept rather small, said Gillis, and includes members from both Berne and Knox. But she said that people from communities all over the area are welcome to join, and that there are a number of people already interested. Once the organization is set up, the group will reach out to youth council leaders and other community members, she said.

Gillis said the organization is taking inspiration from other not-for-profits involved in community affairs like the Voorheesville School and Community Foundation, which works with both the school and local government and recently raised money to provide a playground for Voorheesville Elementary School.

Delucia-Evans also noted that the Friends of Thacher Park is another example of an organization working alongside a government administration, i

The group has already organized and held two events:

— A soccer camp held during the week of July 9 that included students from Voorheesville, Berne-Knox-Westerlo, and Schoharie school districts and coaches from the BKW and Schoharie districts. An ice-cream fundraiser at the end of the school year helped pay for the camp; and

— A five-kilometer race held during the town of Knox’s Pucker Street Fair on June 30.

“Maryellen really spearheaded the 5K race,” said DeLucia-Evans.

The events are indicative of another reason the group formed, according to Delucia-Evans, to be “as inclusive as possible” of participants from different areas, and of volunteers who can offer varying amounts of time.

She said that she hopes that the organization can partner with local youth councils in the area, including in Knox.

“We certainly welcome anybody to join,” she said.

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