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Advocating for Those Who Can’t

September 30, 2014

by Jessica LePore

A not-for-profit agency on Madison Avenue that advocates for the rights of children with mental disabilities will sponsor a movie screening tonight in Schenectady.

Families Together in New York State will sponsor “Kids for Ca$h” at 6:30 p.m. at Proctors Theater on State Street. The documentary is about a judicial scandal in Pennsylvania in 2008 when more than 3,000 children were jailed for petty crimes.

The Families agency at 737 Madison Ave. assists children with mental health issues and many of the employees have firsthand knowledge.

Families Together

Families Together

As Executive Director for Families Together, Paige Pierce administers the statewide program, shapes policies and implements systems for change at the state level.

“I serve as a liaison between families and policy makers and on a number of statewide, regional and local committees, boards and coalitions. With the goal of enhancing services to families of children with social, emotional, behavioral an dither cross-systems challenges and having the family voice heard and respected at every decision making table,” said Pierce.

The majority of the employees who work in the Albany location have children with a mental health disability and these advocates rely on each other and their own experiences to help others. The main concern of these representatives for Families Together is that children with mental disabilities are heard, and this means that they help parents learn effective advocacy whether it be in a school or a doctors office.

One employee who has been with the organization for 12 years and has four children of her own, Laurie Rivera, is a communications assistant. She spoke about how important her job is because of her history with her own children who have mental disabilities. Rivera takes her experiences and uses them to help the future of current clients.

Families Together originated in Albany and now has chapters throughout the state including 10 parent advisers who sit in the five regions of the office of mental health and do site reviews making sure the children and families they oversee have everything they need.

“Parent advisers are used to give the parent voice and perspective for the children,” said Daphnne Brown, director of family involvement and outreach.

Families Together guides parents in helping their children and young adults to age 26 – they provide resources such as referring parents to the proper site for their children and programs that help students interact with each other and people who can help them.

One main program is called Youth Power, a network partnered with Families Together. This program is a network of young people labeled for their mental illness who are looking to seek change and make a better future.

Head of Youth Power, Zach Garafalo, talked about how they try to improve policies and services for young people.

Group members between the ages of 12 to 28 in Youth Power can relate to each other Garafalo said.

“We are all young people who have been in some sort of state system, so we use our experiences to make these other kid’s lives a little better.”

Youth Power Member, Jude Killar who has Down syndrome and anxiety with secondary depression, talked about his experience at the program, “I am part of youth power, I like it a lot. We come up with some ideas together on what is going to happen in the future.”IMG_09001-300x225

Employees and volunteers at Youth Power and Families Together are trying to build community. The membership donation is kept at a low rate of $15 per individual and has other rates for families and other donators.

“It is more important for us to build members, rather than donations, that is why our membership fee is so low,” said Tracie Killar, communications director.

Tickets for tonight’s Kids for Ca$h at 432 State St. featuring a documentary and panel is $10 a ticket. A discussion will be held after the event including executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, Robert Schwartz, Schenectady county director of probation, Joseph Mancini, associate professor at the University at Albany School of Criminal Justice, Megan C. Kurlychek, and executive director of the Center of Law and Justice, Dr. Alice Green.

Taking a big part in the upcoming event Brad Hansen, public policy coordinator, knows the impact this had for the kids involved, “I know if I had been incarcerated as a kid I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be working or have gone to college and a lot of those opportunities are taken away.”

Since 1993, the events and programs sponsored by Families Together lets others know that there is always someone who cares and really keep the advocacy for children with mental disabilities known.

Killar encourages anyone who is seeking support to call their toll free information and referral line, “I think it might be the first time people pick up the phone and I feel really confident that when they call they will get someone who is helpful for them.”

Toll-free Info & Referral Line: 1-888-326-8644


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