Early this spring Rome Free Academy senior Jordan Purrington was shocked when her mom, a monitor at Staley Elementary School, came home and told her a student wasn’t coming to school because he didn’t have proper shoes.
“It broke my heart but it also motivated me,” Jordan said. “There are so many kids in our community who are struggling to obtain basic necessities.”
Working with the union-led Connected Community Schools network, Jordan didn’t just get shoes for the young student. Thinking bigger, she organized a “Coins for a Cause” community fundraiser to establish an ongoing emergency fund for students.
“The response has been amazing. After asking for help via social media, we now have 15 businesses with loose change collection jars,” she said. “We raised more than $200 in just a couple weeks. It’s just loose change but it really adds up.”
At a community schools celebration Monday, the Rome Teachers Association showed their strong support, presenting Jordan with a $1,000 donation to kick-start the emergency fund. “We couldn’t be prouder of you,” said Rome TA President Rob Wood.
The emergency fund will be available for a wide array of needs, whether it’s for a pair of warm boots in the winter, a pair of sneakers that a child needs for gym class, or to cover a co-pay that a struggling family can’t afford for a medical appointment.
“These needs arise daily, and it is sometimes the turning point for our students on whether they have a productive day or even a productive life,” said Melissa Roys, executive director of Connected Community Schools. “If every student were free from the distraction of worrying where their next meal is coming from, or where they will be sleeping tonight, they can truly be engaged in their education.”
Roys said the emergency fund is a welcome addition to the community school network, which serves Rome and recently expanded to include neighboring Waterville and Dolgeville. Community schools serve as the hubs of their communities by providing basic wraparound services and enrichment opportunities to students and families in need.
In the last year, the pandemic has highlighted tremendous community needs and the important role community schools can play. Since last March, Roys said the network has distributed 1.2 million pounds of food — that’s 8,365,000 meals — to more than 32,000 individuals.
They were also able to provide hygiene supplies to 5,700 individuals, school supplies to 3,500 students; and 675,000 snacks to students and classrooms. In addition, staff using the LINK support system assisted 1,200 individuals with referrals to more than 3,500 services and resources. COVID-19 hit hard, Roys said. “It hit our students, teachers, families and community — and we know the after-effects will continue for years to come.”
Roys noted the strong backing of educators and their unions. “None of this would have been possible without the generous support of the community, our schools, our unions – the Rome TA, Waterville TA, Dolgeville TA and community funders,” she said. “We speak about community, but community is only a word unless it is put into action. Today is a prime example of community and connecting being put into action.”
Wood thanked NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers for help getting the community schools program off the ground. Back in 2013, he and fellow union officer Joe Eurto attended an AFT conference, thanks to support from NYSUT. The two spent the four-hour train ride back home talking about how a labor-management partnership could bring community schools to Rome. They received a series of grants from the AFT, along with state funding, to make it a reality. Superintendent Peter Blake said the initiative shows the value of partnership and collaboration.
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said the Central New York community school network is a model that should be replicated around the state.
“It’s so encouraging to be here today,” Pallotta said. “You should be proud of what you’ve already accomplished.”
Pallotta said he was especially touched by Jordan’s words and actions.
“When I go home and talk to my family about this day, I’m going to say I saw hope,” Pallotta said. “I didn’t see talk. You have really done so much good. We look to the students to make the changes in the world that need to happen.”