Since its creation in 1996, New Yorkers For Children (NYFC) has put more than $55 million to work to improve the lives of children in foster care in New York City. The organization specifically focuses on helping older children transition out of the child welfare system through college scholarships, academic tutoring and job training programs and networking.
We spoke with Executive Director Saroya Friedman-Gonzalez about the challenges children in foster care face, the importance of education and the legacy of the organization’s founder, Nicholas Scoppetta. The son of Italian immigrants and a legendary New York City public servant, Scoppetta passed away earlier this year.
"We're focused on the importance of education and the role it plays in helping the youth we serve become successful adults."
What prompted Nicholas Scoppetta to launch New Yorkers For Children?
Nick Scoppetta spent some of his formative years in foster care, so this was a very personal issue for him. He understood the challenges that youth in the foster care system face better than anyone. When the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) was formed in 1996, Scoppetta was appointed as its first commissioner. He quickly realized that in order to spur innovation and pilot new programs that could change the lives of youth in foster care, ACS would need a nonprofit partner. So he, alongside founding board member Susan Burden, created New Yorkers For Children with the goal of creating programs that the government wasn’t funding.
Why the focus on older children over the age of 12 in particular?
Today, there are more resources for older youth in foster care, but this wasn’t always the case. Years ago, older youth and those aging out of the system were not a focal point for attention and support. Scoppetta saw a real gap that needed to be filled and was very focused on the importance of education and the role it plays in helping the youth we serve become successful adults. Things have improved as a result, but today, many young people still age out of foster care without sufficient guidance or direction on how to start on their path to self-sufficiency and what comes next both in terms of college and careers. And if there is not a family safety net, then the need for the support that NYFC provides is even more important.
How has NYFC helped that segment of the foster population?
We serve more than 1,000 youth a year. Even though the number of youth in foster care has declined from 40,000 in 1996 to less than 10,000 today, our focus remains steady. Advocating for education as a driver of upward social mobility is a huge piece of our work. We have three scholarship programs, which include tutoring and mental health support, a youth advisory board, and a myriad of innovative and pilot programs that we partner with ACS on. About 85 percent of youth in our guardian scholars program graduate on time—that's compared to three to 10 percent of all youth in foster care. To date, 40 percent of the youth that graduated college have gone on to pursue advanced degrees in areas such as medicine or law. We expect this percentage to continue to grow. Many have earned teaching degrees—they're almost always in helping professions. Many want to give back.
New Yorkers For Children recently hosted its fall gala, which raised $1.3 million. What are some of the challenges and advantages of raising funds as a New York- based nonprofit?
We're very lucky because we have incredible event chairs, board members and corporate sponsors. We have two big events every year—a fall gala and a spring dance—as well as several smaller events. We have a lot of very loyal supporters that care so much about our organization and who are incredibly generous, both financially and also with their time. It has a lot to do with the fact that they can see the results of our work in the community. Of the $55 million we've raised over the last 20 years, nearly all of our money goes into the hands of youth.
What are some of your plans for the future?
We want to do more! There is more interest in and awareness of the challenges facing youth in foster care, and we're trying to bring together partners and leverage our unique relationship with the ACS to effect greater change. Right now, we're increasing the scope of our college scholarship and mentoring programs by expanding to more colleges—that's been a big priority for us. Our expanded scholarship program, newly named Nick’s Scholars, is named after our beloved founder. We're also working to expand the numbers of grants we are able to give. Housing and transportation continue to be huge challenges, and we’ve been working on an initiative with City University of New York and ACS to provide students with year-round housing.