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Creating Equity 

UAlbany's School of Social Welfare worked with the city of Albany to offer youth ages 14 to 18 the opportunity to focus on their futures. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 2, 2016) – What happens when a dean, a professor and a youth workforce commissioner put their heads together to solve a problem?

The result was a partnership that offered enrichment activities to almost 100 city youth each Friday at UAlbany’s Downtown Campus this summer.

For Michael Campbell, 15, entering 10th grade at Albany High School, the program helped him fine-tune his long-term plans.

“They wanted us to write down our personal goals, our high school goals and our future goals. I’d like to be a dentist,” said Campbell. “I’m into math and science.”

He counted among the highlights a trip to the Palace Theatre, a visit to UAlbany’s Uptown Campus, where he tried karate, and a barbecue as the program wrapped up.

“It taught me a lot of things,” said Campbell of the enrichment curriculum. “What I learned was how to become healthy physically and emotionally. They also taught us about skills and how to be successful in life.”

Called the Liberty-LIGHT (Learning Initiatives and Gaining Headway Together) Healthy Youth Initiative, the partnership was developed in response to a recent Brandeis University report that named Albany as one of the six worst U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of providing equitable neighborhood opportunities for the healthy development of Hispanic and African-American children.

The program grew out of a shared goal among UAlbany’s Darrell Wheeler, vice provost for public engagement and dean of the School of Social Welfare; Lani V. Jones, a social welfare professor and the principal investigator for Liberty Partnership Programs; and UAlbany alum Jonathan P. Jones, the commissioner of Albany’s Recreation Department, Youth and Workforce Services.

“In an effort to tackle these complex and compounding health and economic disparities in our city, we have to combine our efforts,” said Professor Jones. “When we combine our efforts, we build capacity, ensure sustainability and produce positive youth outcomes. The Liberty-LIGHT, Healthy Youth Initiative stands as a true beacon for engagement.”

In response to the Brandeis report and input from city residents, the city of Albany expanded and revamped its Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), adding a “Fifth Day” professional and education development series aimed at providing exposure to local resources and providing life skills.

The innovative idea to add enrichment activities garnered Albany Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan and the city’s Youth and Workforce Services national recognition when the U.S. Conference of Mayors selected Albany as one of just 10 cities receiving the 2016 Outstanding Achievement City Livability Award.

“Our young people have a great deal of talent, and our aim each year is to use the five weeks we have in SYEP to expose them to the working world, and to train them to be strong employees,” said Jonathan Jones. “This Livability Award confirms that this youth-centered program, which benefits both our young people and employers who depend on their valuable contributions, is an innovative approach to improving the quality of life in our city.”

Professor Lani Jones and her graduate students worked with the city’s staff to develop the "Fifth Day" curriculum, which became an extension of services offered via the Liberty Partnership Programs.

The sessions were held on Fridays in the Husted Amphitheater on the Downtown Campus, and provided 100 youth with knowledge about workforce development, physical and emotional wellness.

Workshops were delivered by UAlbany faculty and staff, and community groups including the North East New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, The Center for Law & Justice, the Albany County Department of Health, the University Counseling Center, School of Social Welfare professors, and experts on health and nutrition.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.