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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

Families Together pulling the plug in the Hilltowns?

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — After six years of serving the Hilltowns, Families Together is running out of the money necessary to sustain its site in Berne.

This coming fall, the six-year, $9.4 million pool of federal grant money from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will go dry. In search of a solution, and feedback from the community on the need for the services it provides, Families Together will hold two town hall meetings in February.

“Albany County received the grant from the federal government in September of 2004, and we administer a portion of it so we can have family resource centers,” said Brooke Schewe this week. Schewe became director of Families Together in Albany County in 2007.

“One of these centers was placed in the Hilltowns,” Schewe said. “The second was a suburban site in Colonie, and the urban site was in Albany.” The Hilltown site officially began operation in January of 2006, Schewe said.

Families Together in Albany County works to support children and families of children, between birth and age 21, with social, emotional or behavioral concerns. This includes giving psycho-social behavioral assessments, providing transportation to and from medical appointments, and acting as a support system for a child or parent in court, or a parent attending a school board meeting.

“With the grant money running out, we want to ensure that services and family resources are maintained up in the Hilltowns,” said Schewe, “so, we’re looking to co-locate services in the Hilltowns to save money.”

Kathie Bishop works at Families Together as a parent partner — a parent of a child with needs similar to those of the children in the families the agency serves. She is unsure of how services were to be maintained once the grant money ran out.

“[The state] hoped that each center would be sustained from outside sources once the grant went away, either through line items or donations,” Bishop said. “I’m not sure how they wanted the site to be maintained. Part of the grant was to find sustainability, whose responsibility it was to facilitate that is still in question,” she said.

“They’re not saying we don’t have jobs, they’re just saying we don’t have a site in Berne,” Bishop said. “Sometime in the coming year, we will be downsized or eliminated.”

The resource center is currently located in rented space at St. John’s Lutheran Church in East Berne. With the end possibly in sight for Families Together’s Hilltown site, the organization will turn to the community for input at two meetings:

The first, at Berne Town Hall, will take place on Feb. 2; the second, at Westerlo Town Hall, will be on Feb. 26. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m.

“We’ve basically scheduled an open forum just to get this information out to families and residents, and see what kind of interest and support there is to maintain a resource center in the community,” Bishop said. “We want to know what the families out there think we need.”

The only other service of this kind nearby is the Hilltown Community Resource Center, supported by Catholic charities and centered in Westerlo.

“Services in the Hilltowns come and go,” Schewe said. “This is a community with a lot of very diverse needs because of its isolation and transportation issues, as opposed to an urban setting, or even some of the suburbs, where you can just hop on the bus,” she said.

“Our offices at St. John’s are maintained through September,” Bishop said. “The grant right now is paying for us to stay in this building — that includes all forms of maintenance. Our question right now is, what happens when our grant fades away in the fall?”

“It’s a scary economic time,” Schewe concluded, “and we all need to work together as a community to come up with solutions. I know this kind of resource is needed in the Hilltowns,” she said. “I’ve gotten close with a lot of the families, and I’ve seen some real miracles.”

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