The Columbia County Youth Bureau’s Jessica Nabozny and the county Board of Supervisors is excited about a new program called “Think Differently.”
The initiative, she said, “provides a supportive and inclusive environment for individuals with special needs.”
“We want to change the way we as a community relate to everyone of every ability,” Nabozny said. “‘Think Differently’ originally targeted the population on the autistic spectrum, but any programs or projects that we promote are really targeting any population with a disability. We want to create an all-inclusive environment for everyone.”
Nabozny and the Youth Bureau are collaborating on “Think Differently” with the Mental Health Center and Director Michael Cole.
Currently, one of the main “Think Differently” activities is sensory-friendly movie nights, Nabozny explained.
“The sound levels are down and the lighting is up, and people can get up and do whatever they feel they need to do. They can talk during the movie,” she said.
The initial movie night was held at the Crandell Theatre in Chatham in early April, and was deemed a success. Cosmic Cinemas in Hudson also plans to offer the movie nights. The movies are family-friendly, for those with special needs of all ages.
Looking ahead, Nabozny said that going forward there’s hope for a sensory-friendly opportunity at the Columbia County Fair.
But that’s not all that is going on at the Youth Bureau.
Last year, the Youth Bureau was awarded approximately $30,000 to initiate an awareness campaign addressing sexually exploited youth and the human-trafficking epidemic, Nabozny said.
In collaboration with the Mental Health Association, a billboard advertising awareness campaign was initiated and professional training — school districts’ teachers and staff; law enforcement agencies; human and youth service workers; hospitals and doctors’ offices — provided to help recognize the signs of exploitation and trafficking.
Because of this, Columbia County is now considered a Safe Harbour county. As such, Nabozny said, funding will be provided for the next four years to provide services to anyone in need.
In addition, the Youth Bureau allocates funding — supplied by the state Office of Children & Family Services — to the following youth-serving agencies throughout the county: Family Resource Centers, Columbia Opportunities–Literacy Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension, REACH Center, and Girl Scouts of NENY. Also, Common Ground, Morris Memorial, Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, and Operation Unite NY.
Over the years, funding from the state has dropped from close to $90,000 to $60,000, Nabozny said. “We’re doing as much as we can with less.”
For the past decade or so, the Youth Bureau has administered grant funding from the National Junior Tennis Foundation, allowing for the operation of summer tennis programs at the City of Hudson/Hudson City School District, Crellin Park in Chatham, and Livingston Town Park. Approximately 75 youth are served through this program, said Nabozny, who also serves as the instructor in Hudson and Livingston.
The county Youth Bureau remains a member of the Capital District Youth Bureau Association, for which Nabozny serves as secretary. Under the umbrella of the NYS Association of Youth Bureaus, the group lobbies for increased funding, seeks changes in youth programming regulations, and continues to promote positive youth development.
Reach Matt Murell at email@example.com.