By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services, a Clifton Park organization focused on providing help to disadvantaged families and youths, will be celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year.
CAPTAIN (Community Action for Parents, Teens and Interested Neighbors) is a volunteer nonprofit that employs just over 20 people, but it has hundreds of volunteers, ranging from elementary school aged on up. CAPTAIN hosts a plethora of programs for families who are struggling or living in poverty, such as an emergency food pantry, and giving programs that provide children with everything ranging from holiday gifts to essential clothing.
CAPTIN also has one of only three youth shelters in Upstate New York. Last year, 108 young people were housed at the shelter, nine of which were from Clifton Park. There is also a street outreach program, which helps get local youths who are living on the streets or in some cases, involved with human trafficking, out of those situations. In 2016, CAPTAIN was able to get 68 homeless kids off the street safely.
But CAPTAIN came from humble beginnings. In 1977, a group of concerned community members, who noticed the rise of issues such as teen suicide, drug use, pregnancy, and homelessness, formed a grass-roots organization meant to provide those who needed it with assistance, and a space in which they would be safe. CAPTAIN also provided other teenagers with a place to volunteer and work in their free time.
“The kids really had no resources,” Sue Catroppa, executive director of CAPTAIN said. “They had nothing to do, they had nowhere to work, they had nowhere to go. It was basically just school and home.”
Catroppa said that all it took to get started was a group of engaged residents sitting around a kitchen table who decided to take action to make the town a better place for kids. Now, while the main hub of operations is housed in Saratoga County, CAPTAIN’s programs stretch all over the Capital Region. The first fundraising drive in 1978 brought in around $6000, and received permanent 501(c)(3) status in 1984.
Through a combination of state, town, and federal funding, it currently boasts a budget of $2 million. Since advertising is expensive, Catroppa said, a lot of the awareness of CAPTAIN comes via word of mouth, and their high involvement in community programs.
Powered to a significant extent by student volunteers, CAPTAIN has three student spots on its board of directors. As students age out of high school and exit their board positions, younger students move to fill those vacant positions, leading to an ongoing cycle of different personalities and skill sets on the board.
Catroppa mentioned the phone calls CAPTAIN receives constantly from now adults who relied on the services when they were young. Those people, while they have moved on to have families and steady jobs, she said, always seems to remember that CAPTAIN was able to serve as a safety net when they often had no other form of support. CAPTAIN tends to leave an effect on people, whether they were volunteers, or stayed in the shelter, she said
“It’s a just kind of a life affirming kind of thing,” she said, “We’ve touched so many lives in 40 years.”
CAPTAIN will be celebrating its birthday in October, but the upcoming milestone doesn’t mean Captain has any plans to slow down, Catroppa said. She pointed out that, while it’s important to recognize CAPTAIN’s journey, it’s just as crucial to not slow down.
“It doesn’t just end here,” she said. “It goes forward too.”