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Community Residents Select Projects to Combat Poverty and Reduce Inequality Across Utica

On Thursday, December 7 at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Utica Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) announced its new Utica ESPRI Administrator, Dietra Harvey and held a Town Hall Meeting. Ms. Harvey comes to the project having extensive experience participating in community-based anti-poverty initiatives and many relevant leadership roles. She is the immediate past president of the Utica Oneida County branch of the NAACP, the immediate past vice-chair of the Mohawk Valley Latino Association and the current president of the board of the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley.

Ms. Harvey facilitated the Town Hall process, which provided the residents of Utica an opportunity to weigh in on which poverty reduction project(s) they would like implemented in the coming years.

In a statement, Ms. Harvey said, “Challenges are only opportunities for transformation. Utica ESPRI is the catalyst for community collaboration and a platform for change.”

During the first phase of Utica ESPRI, more 625 voices were documented through focus groups, workgroups, and one-on-one interviews. Conversations focused on transportation, education, housing, childcare, justice, workforce development, health and wellness, and safe neighborhoods.

“From the beginning it has been really awesome, especially to see that Utica is being thought of and taken care of with the ESPRI funding coming to our City. We want to improve our community and do something about education, transportation, childcare and jobs,” said Monica Robinson, Utica resident and ESPRI focus group and workgroup member. “The town hall had a great turn out, the selection of childcare as the number one shows that need identified through the ESPRI process was what the community needed. The place was filled with a lot of positive energy.”

Open to all community residents, the meeting was a culmination of a year’s worth of focus groups, workgroups, and one-on-one interviews all aimed at identifying barriers that prevent people from moving out of poverty, available assets and resources, and prioritizing recommendations for projects needed to assist in eliminating those barriers.

“Overall the town hall was very good. I was glad to see a cross-section of our community,” said Craig Grant, community advocate, and ESPRI focus group member. “The attendance at the town hall was a composite that represented not only the persons who were present but was reflective of those who were not.”

“Basically, I was amazed at the awesome gathering of a diverse group of people on one accord, I really felt the love from the community,” said Marcella Lee, Utica resident and town hall attendee new to ESPRI. “People didn’t see diversity as a barrier; we worked together to select an initiative to improve a need. I was impressed to see it go so well, it was a great accomplishment for our community.”

At the meeting, 200 attendees took part in casting their vote for five projects identified during the first phase of Utica ESPRI. Students age 13 and above were also encouraged to cast their vote. The five projects in voting order are:

1. Child Care Help for a Better Life

The top-voted project, this free or affordable 24-hour childcare program includes a comprehensive family assessment, transportation evaluation and connections to other community resources. The program will be designed to meet the needs of workers and students with children in their care. Goals will be established and realigned as necessary to enable job advancement, higher education attainment and the growth of strong families.

2. Work Smarter - Utica Job Corps
Second most popular,
this program will provide ongoing personal mentor support to assist unemployed 18– 24-year-old residents with job skills, required training, and employer referrals. Employment counseling, housing, child care, family support, transportation and health and wellness resources will enable individuals to maintain employment and establish financial security.

3. HELP Mobile
Phase one of the program is a high-tech recreational vehicle staffed by experts bringing services and information to neighborhoods, schools, agencies, and community events; legal, health and wellness (e.g., immunizations, dental, lead testing, insurance, healthy food), family support services, education, free books and literacy resources, school registration information and training, and employment opportunities. A calendar will publicize the HELP Mobile’s schedule. Phase two will add to HELP Mobile services. A physical location will be explored to provide space for training, events, interviews, technology, referrals, and navigators to assist with client follow-through and mentoring.

4. Housing Resource Director
A qualified individual will help residents and landlords resolve housing issues by coordinating and aligning existing public housing services, non-profit resources, and private agency information. A housing task force will be established to develop a neighborhood strategy promoting affordable and safe housing options, including vacant and abandoned property rehabilitation, lead poisoning prevention, foreclosure diversion, fair housing, walkability, community policing and code enforcement.

5. Accessible Rides-On-Demand
A user-friendly “call-in” transportation assistance program will guide residents to appropriate, affordable and accessible transportation options, day or night, connecting them to work, school, and healthcare appointments.

United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area will lead Utica ESPRI’s next step, creating a request for proposal (RFP) for local faith-based, government and nonprofit organizations to apply for the opportunity to manage one or more of the identified projects. Implementing one or more projects will be dependent upon the results of the RFP.

For more information about Utica ESPRI, please contact Dietra Harvey, United Way Utica ESPRI Administrator at 315–733–4691, ext. 243 or

Background of Utica ESPRI

One year ago, Governor Cuomo announced the City of Utica was to be a recipient of $1.5 million to partner in the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) along with 15 other cities across New York State. Community leaders have been working since to create a plan focused on individuals and families experiencing poverty across Utica.

Utica ESPRI is a collaboration between Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi; Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente; Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri; the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, and United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area.

An estimated three million New Yorkers currently live in poverty, and nearly one million of them are children. In Upstate New York, aging housing, high unemployment, underperforming schools, poor health, and neighborhood crime all create extreme barriers for the region’s most vulnerable residents. State-funded ESPRI is designed to help combat poverty and create economic mobility for New Yorkers in 16-targeted cities with the highest poverty rates, including Utica – where nearly a third of all residents live in poverty. Learn more about Utica ESPRI.

News Coverage

Utica poverty reduction projects identified - WRVO Public Media

Jobs and Child Care: Utica Residents Vote to Fund Two Poverty-Fighting Projects – WKTV News Channel 2

Meeting Scheduled in Efforts to Reduce Poverty in Utica – Spectrum News Central NY

ESPRI-Reducing Poverty in the City Of Utica - WUTR /

Combating poverty takes next step at town hall - Observer-Dispatch