By Kassie Parisi
SARATOGA COUNTY — CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services has a successful 4o years of helping local kids and families under its belt, but the group is not resting on its laurels. There is more work to be done.
CAPTAIN, a non-profit, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a party that saw current volunteers and employees come together with volunteers who had gathered around a kitchen table four decades ago with the goal of helping local kids.
“There was love, and there was energy, there was really good energy. It was like a reunion of old friends,” said Sue Catroppa, executive director of CAPTAIN.
At its core, CAPTAIN is, and has always been, a grassroots organization. The group, whose first donation in 1977 was $600 has blossomed into an almost $2 million-a-year organization, and there are now at least 240 volunteers across CAPTAIN’s 25 different programs.
Residents of Southern Saratoga County value CAPTAIN and respond to the need for volunteers, Catroppa said, but there remains a need for funding as well, so the programs can continue to function in the future.
Funding comes from various places: some people recently have asked friends and family members to donate to CAPTAIN in lieu of birthday or wedding gifts. At the reunion celebration CAPTAIN announced a newly launched endowment called The Anchor Society.
“Non-profits are tough,” Catroppa said. “It’s tough to continue to fund them and do the work we do on a shoestring budget.”
Funding, she added, is crucial in allowing CAPTAIN to be flexible enough to tackle issues as they shift. There are 19 towns that the group covers in Saratoga County, each with its own needs.
“We have to be responsive to changes in society,” she added.
Those changes include increased use of technology by kids, and an explosion of opioid use in suburban communities, she said.
As the rest of Saratoga County searches to find ways to combat the growing opioid epidemic, including filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and physicians who could be overprescribing the highly addictive drugs, CAPTAIN is focusing on educating parents and children about drugs before kids use them.
CAPTAIN is also monitoring increases in human trafficking in the area, Catroppa said. Since kids have high access to technology, it has become easier for predators to connect with, and ultimately abduct them.
“What we’re seeing now is, it’s not just disenfranchised kids who are getting sucked in. It’s middle class kids,” she said. “This is happening in our world. And I can only see that happening more.”
CAPTAIN consistently works with Shenendehowa Central School District and local law enforcement to stem the flow of human trafficking. The organization has an extensive street-outreach program focused on getting kids and young adults off the street and into stable living situations, but will soon be able to ramp up those efforts. CAPTAIN was recently offered a partnership with the Vecino Group, who are proposing to build an affordable housing project in Saratoga Springs.
Vecino Group offered CAPTAIN 10 units to use for transitional youth housing and New York State has approved a state grant to manage the apartments and provide on-site, full-time support for the residents. Catroppa said that the project is estimated to be completed in 2019, and the target age will be people 17 to 24 years old.
But CAPTAIN isn’t only dealing with negative changes. During the summer, CAPTAIN announced that it would be merging with Community Human Services, another non-profit based in Schenectady that focuses on providing care for senior citizens.
The merger process began in June and is still waiting for final approval from the state and could take a few more months to be finalized, Catroppa said, but for all intents and purposes, CHS and CAPTAIN are now fully immersed in working together. The merger means that CAPTAIN will be able to expand its programs to serve senior citizens, as well as children and families.
The fact that CAPTAIN needs to stick around, Catroppa explained, is unfortunate — but it’s good it’s crucial that it’s here.
“I’d love to work ourselves out of business. It’s not going to happen. Hunger is not going away. Poverty is not going away,” Catroppa said. “We just want to be there, to be that agency that can help people, lift people up, and build brighter futures. That’s what we do, in whatever form or shape that takes.”