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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 25, 2010

Funding for BKW Connections disconnected

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — As one in a series of budgetary sacrifices this year, the Hilltowns will likely be losing its county-funded BKW Connections program, housed in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, which serves children with behavioral or developmental problems.

“BKW Connections is a program in jeopardy,” said Brian Bell, Director of community relations at St. Catherine’s Center for Children, which provides the service. “At St. Catherine’s, we offer all kinds of services: homeless shelters; foster-care programs; residential programs where kids actually live in our homes. The kids may be abused or neglected, the courts intervene, and the kids end up living with us, and we provide therapy and counseling.”

The 13-year-old BKW Connections program serves about 20 students a year, Bell said. It cost $80,000 in 2009, and is expected to cost roughly $100,000 if it lasts through 2010.

Albany County Legislator Alexander “Sandy” Gordon told The Enterprise this week that Margaret Diggs, executive director for the Albany County Youth Bureau, is expected to attend Hilltown board meetings in March to explore possible options for providing similar services in the absence of BKW Connections.

“It’s a shame to see this kind of service going away, seeing that two things can happen,” Gordon said. “First, people who are being served being dropped somewhere along the way before they’ve made their way beyond needing those services; and second, those that are dropped, are they just going to show up needing other services in a more severe condition in the near or long-term future?”

The general goal of the BKW Connections program is to help children to interact successfully with their parents, peers, and teachers, thereby helping them to better function in school in a broader sense. This is done through team-building activities, helping students set goals for themselves, and bi-weekly visits to students’ homes.

“The BKW Connections program is one among many programs that fall under the heading of prevention,” Bell said. “Residential programs are designed to help at-risk families, to equip them with the tools to remain together. The county’s funding sources out there said, ‘Look, if we can catch the family before it breaks up, and the child doesn’t end up in a residential program, and the family doesn’t end up homeless, it’s money well spent.”

Now, that money is running out, but BKW Connections is currently St. Catherine’s only program that faces elimination, he said.

Bonnie Conklin, who coordinates the program from BKW, said she is unsure of whether or not the program will end before the school year concludes.

“I was informed that it could be at any date; nothing’s etched in stone,” Conklin said. “Hopefully, they can extend it through the school year, but that’s totally up to the county. They’re trying their best to keep all these services open, but there’re going to be cuts, and we don’t know where it’s going to be.”

The situation with BKW Connections is an example of “the head-on collision between needs and resources,” Legislator Gordon said this week.

“There are a number of identified needs,” he said. “Right now, there are questions of how we can cover all the needs that there are with the resources we have.”

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