Help for families fades amid budget cuts

HUDSON– Though it’s had some notable success and national recognition for its efforts, the Hudson Family Literacy program may not survive beyond January.

The program, which started 12 years ago to help kids and their parents, many from non-English-speaking families, is based on research that shows a child’s first and most important teacher is his or her parent, and that the early childhood years before school are critically important learning periods.

“The concept was to work with kids and families,” said John L. Edwards Elementary School Principal Carol Gans. “That’s the big difference between Even Start and Head Start, which just works with kids. We started with the family from birth,” she said. 

The Hudson Family Literacy  Program (HFLP) currently serves 30 families and a total of 107 people, mothers, children, and 25 youths at no cost to the families. Services include an early childhood class for two and three-year-olds, after-school tutoring, a six-week, four-day summer day camp, counseling, adult education, help getting a GED or passing Regents exams, transportation to and from school, and help with employment. The program has also  provided for disadvantaged children things that many middle class children take for granted, including trips to local cultural attractions like Olana, the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, Proctor’s Theater in Albany, and  even dinner at formal restaurant rather than one that serves fast food.

HFLP helps parents with adult education, and advises new immigrants on citizenship applications and drivers licenses. So far, 35 participants have become citizens, and two are first-time homeowners who will move into houses on Columbia Street early next year because they were introduced by HFL to the county chapter of Habitat for Humanity. HFL put some clients in contact with Wheels to Work, an organization that provides no-interest loans for car purchases.

“We’ve connected people with resources in the community they don’t know about,” said HFL Director Sophia Becker. Advocates say the program doesn’t need to recruit clients because it benefits from great word of mouth publicity.

This year the school district completed a two-year process of filing for a non-profit foundation eligible to accept funds to support projects like Hudson Family Literacy, but in this tough economy offers for funding have not rushed in.

Columbia Opportunities, Inc., the agency the county uses to provide many social services, has repeatedly applied for grants to support the program but has come up empty handed. The program costs only $1,100 per person per year.

Hudson Family Literacy is an outgrowth of a program started in 1998 under the banner Even Start Network. With support from a federal grant, the program helped both children and parents from low income families acquire reading and language skills. Ms. Gans, the elementary school principal, helped the program expand to assist single parents who dropped out of school, some because of pregnancy, as well as recent immigrant families, including many from the Bengali community. But after the eight years federal funding dwindled. Then Marlene Brody, co-owner of Gallagher Studs, a horse farm in Ghent, and the Four Seasons and Gallagher’s restaurants in New York City, gave a two-year matching grant administered by the Berkshire Taconic Foundation. Later, Columbia Opportunities funded the program, and last year Community Services Block Grant funds from the state came to the rescue. Now that funding, too, is about to disappear.

At this point HFLP stays afloat on a month to month basis.

Kathy Williams, HFLP’s youth advocate, acts as a bridge between the student, school, parents and community, and has helped 40 teens with their education, employment, and parenting during her 2 1/2 years with the program. She even found homes for two  homeless teens.

Funding for Ms. Williams’ youth funds run out December 31. The program is struggling to find the $17,000 it would take to keep Ms. Williams on staff and has asked the school district for help.

“All of us will lose our jobs very shortly,” said Ms. Becker calmly. “But we’re not giving up. We’re still looking for funding.”

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