United Way Announces Opening of Childcare Center

Utica Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) Project Announced

July 15, 2020 – Utica, NY

United Way of the Mohawk Valley (United Way MV) announced the much-anticipated project details and sneak peek of Academics First, the Utica ESPRI childcare center powered by United Way. The childcare center is located on the first floor of the DeSales Center on Genesee Street in Utica. This space that now hosts this brand-new, first-of-its-kind extended day childcare center in the Mohawk Valley, was renovated into a state-of-the-art facility.

More than 800 voices were documented through focus groups, workgroups, one-on-one interviews, and town hall meetings. Conversations focused on transportation, education, housing, childcare, justice, workforce development, health and wellness, and safe neighborhoods. Childcare was chosen by the community as the most pressing need to help alleviate some of the burden families in poverty face. Academics First officially opened on July 6, 2020 with hours of operation Monday through Friday, 6:00am – 6:00pm. The center plans to extend hours into evenings and weekends to support the community need.

“This project is centered on providing safe, affordable childcare, which will soon operate during both traditional and non-traditional hours, 7 days a week, for families in our community who need it most. We have the chance to be a model for change and to demand that this be the minimum, not the exception,” stated Erin Gutierrez Matt, United Way MV Executive Director.

Utica ESPRI was designed to meet the needs of our community to enable job advancement, higher education attainment and the growth of strong families. The local agency, Academics First, was selected as the award recipient to operate the childcare center by the ESPRI Review and Selection Committee consisting of United Way, Utica ESPRI’s Core Team, Oneida County Department of Social Services, Working Solutions, Workforce Development, Empowered Pathways and the Childcare Council. Academics First is an African American led organization that serves a diverse population of marginalized and at-risk youth and families in the city of Utica. The childcare center provides care for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old and will offer extended operating hours during weekday evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Utica ESPRI’s Core Team led by United Way MV includes Congressman Anthony Brinidisi, Commissioner of NYS Office of General Services RoAnn Destito as the NYS Governor’s office appointed liaison, Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, The Community Foundation of Oneida and Herkimer Counties and community residents have been working to address one of our communities greatest needs.

“The pandemic has highlighted the dire need for childcare resources in our community. We know our kids need access to top-notch resources, and that starts with early education and flexibility for working parents,” said Congressman Anthony Brindisi. “I was glad to work with the Core Team at United Way to get this project started, and I look forward to seeing the great work Academics First will do for the Utica area. I’m working every day to bring back more federal funding to our district so we can create more good-paying jobs and give every child and family access to resources like Academics First.”

The Utica ESPRI project is funding start-up and initial operating costs for the extended day childcare center. It will employ approximately 30 staff, including teachers, administrators, family advocates, a nutritionist, and kitchen and maintenance staff. These positions will be 30 new jobs that did not previously exist. Operating in full compliance with the NYS Licensing Authority, NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), the center will only be staffed by qualified childcare teachers and directors.

United Way of the Mohawk Valley has secured a total of $2.23 million to invest in bringing the Utica ESPRI extended day childcare center to fruition.

  • Utica ESPRI began in 2016 when NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the City of Utica was to be the recipient of $1.5 million to support a community-driven poverty reduction strategy that would increase economic opportunity for all New Yorkers. United Way was chosen as the lead of this project.  
  • Since that initial investment United Way was awarded $100,000 from the Empire State Development Grants Program by Governor Andrew Cuomo through the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) and the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) to further fund Utica ESPRI.
  • Last year, another $55,000 from the City of Utica Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) was awarded to United Way for Utica ESPRI to assist in bringing this innovative project to the City of Utica.
  • The most recent investment from NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo was an additional $575,000 to continue the states support of this project which is vital to providing a needed recourse to community members.

“By listening to the community, it became clear the need for childcare was a huge hurdle in combatting poverty,” stated city of Utica Mayor, Robert Palmieri. “I am pleased the childcare center has come to fruition as it will be a tremendous asset our residents. I commend United Way for coordinating this project, and I thank our government and non-government partners for their support of this worthy initiative.”

Recruitment for employment opportunities and child/family enrollment is underway. To sign up to enroll a child and inquire about employment opportunities, visit Academics First’s website at acedemicsfirstutica.org or call 315-624-0272.