Faces of Kingston: Jordan Scruggs, Mindy Kole, and Julissa Hernandez | Community Pages | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram

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Faces of Kingston: Jordan Scruggs, Mindy Kole, and Julissa Hernandez

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Jordan Scruggs (center), New Start for Women

What organization(s) are you involved with in Kingston and what is your role?

I’m the board chair for Kingston Midtown Rising; I’m a board member for Transart and Cultural Services; and I’m a deacon at the St. James United Methodist Church.


Where do you go in Kingston to recharge?

I go home and spend time in my backyard, where I can dig in the dirt and garden. I have a wonderful partner to share my home with, and he’s a great supporter and friend who helps me take the space I need to take care of myself.


What is the biggest challenge facing Kingston?

The affordable housing crisis exacerbates every other challenge Kingston is facing, especially mental health and substance abuse. There are women in our program who receive a housing subsidy that is still $400-$500 short per month of what they need to find an apartment, and it’s getting worse all the time.


What is the most woke thing Kingston could do?

Pass comprehensive legislation to regulate rent and offer tenants legal protections against exploitative, extractive landlords and then support the development of community-owned housing.


Where is your favorite place to go in Kingston for a bite or a beer? What do you like about it?

This is such a hard question! If I’m going somewhere for a beer, I’d say either Keegan’s, Rough Draft Bar and Books, or The Anchor. I’m not vegetarian, but I do tend to eat more plant-based meals, so I love going to Sissy’s, Outdated, or Peace Nation for something to eat. But if it’s a big lunch meeting and we want to keep everyone happy, nothing beats Broadway Lights Diner. It was basically an extension of my office at my last job, and they are always so good to me.


Why does your organization’s work matter?

Educational opportunity should be a right not a privilege, and as the cost of higher education continues to increase, community colleges play a critical role in ensuring everyone has access to that right. Educational access is especially critical as our economy changes and we experience broader cultural shifts in our relationship to work and the kinds of work that are available in our country. Community colleges serve as a vital link between under-represented populations and those with limited financial resources and their successful entry into the workforce. As a program of Ulster County Community College, New Start for Women builds on these values to eliminate additional barriers to education that disproportionately impact women. Some of these barriers are as simple as childcare access and some as complicated as addressing histories of domestic violence and abuse.


What challenges/pain points does your organization face?

It's been a real challenge to help the women in our program find safe, affordable housing in our community, and to find mental health supports for trauma recovery. It's hard to focus in school and do your best work if you're worried about where you're going to be living in the next month because you're rent keeps climbing or if you aren't able to get the counseling support you need to deal with your PTSD.


What is one service/offering/event your organization offers that the community might not know about?

Well, probably the program itself, because it is so new-the word is still getting out!


Why do you love living in Kingston?

I love how embraced I have felt by the Kingston community. I am not a native of the area or even from New York State, but there's still a real sense of connection and belonging here after being around for six years that I really appreciate. I like being able to say hello to the same neighbors on my walk to work every morning and that if my daughter isn't with me, they will ask after her.


If you could change one single thing about the city, what would it be?

I wish that our city was less segregated by race and class. New York isn't all that different from where I grew up in rural North Carolina in that regard.


Where do you see Kingston in five years?

If we can stem the tide of gentrification so that investment in our community is made in a way that benefits long-term residents, I have a lot of optimism about where our city will be in five years. There are a lot of resources pouring into our community from really wonderful organizations like the NoVo Foundation, and five years from now I think that we will begin to see the maturation of some of those investments. It's an exciting time to be involved in our community and I feel kind of awed to be a part of it.


Tell me what you've learned from the women in your program.

I think most of the times we hear stories about personal tragedy, they've been cleaned up so that whatever the ending-happy or sad-we come away with a sense of resolution. It's an interesting experience to join people in the thick of things, so to speak, as they are on their journey toward the resolution they will eventually share with others. Helping someone rewrite a narrative of struggle and give them the tools they need to salvage meaning and purpose from their experiences is an incredible privilege. I'm truly in awe of each of the women in this program and what they have already overcome to get here, and to see their courage when so many things are stacked against them makes me so proud to be a woman. We are strong as hell and amazingly resilient. Whatever our students do after they finish the program, I have every confidence that they are going to blow all of us away.

Mindy Kole (left), SUNY Ulster; New Start for Women

What organization(s) are you involved with in Kingston and what is your role?

I am the Associate Dean of Adult Learning at SUNY Ulster. We are working with so many wonderful community partners to provide support and services for New Start for Women (NSW) students. People and organizations like Darlene Pfeiffer, NoVo Foundation, Raising Hope, the YMCA and YWCA, Rondout Savings Bank and Ulster Savings Bank, the chamber, Working for Women, as well as the SUNY Ulster community of faculty and staff-and there are so many more. The NSW program could never be successful without these amazing community partners.


Where do you go in Kingston to recharge?

I enjoy the beautiful coffee shops in Kingston. I love to grab a (large!) latte, sit, and work on my computer, catch up on emails, or read my Kindle. These spots are also great places to have meetings, so relaxing. Kingston has fabulous coffee shops.


What is the biggest challenge facing Kingston?

Affordable housing and transportation-we see these as important barriers to success for students in the NSW program.


Why does your organization’s work matter?

There are thousands of people in Kingston and Ulster County living below the Federal poverty level or the United Way ALICE survival budget, many of them women and single moms. We know that education, without helping students address the barriers to success that they face, is not enough, especially at the community college level. Barriers like affordable childcare, transportation, health services, lack of access to internet service and technology and many, many others. SUNY Ulster’s New Start for Women is an innovative program designed to help women in our community who are living below the federal poverty level or ALICE household survival budget earn a one-year General Management Certificate and an internship with the goal of obtaining living wage employment and economic mobility. Working with our community partners the program offers a plethora of wraparound services and workshops to help our students in the program overcome as many barriers to success as possible.


What challenges/pain points does your organization face?

The societal barriers to success that our students in the program face are frequent, numerous, and difficult. With our community partners, we are working with them every day to solve as many problems as possible to help keep them on course in the program.


Tell me what you've learned from the women in your program.

I have always thought I have grit and persistence, and I am very grateful. From our students in the New Start for Women program I have learned the true definition of these terms. Even though they face numerous barriers I previously mentioned on a daily, ongoing basis, they persist; they are incredibly determined to succeed and so grateful for what they have. These women are my heroes. I love them all. Jordan, Julissa and I will jump through hoops of fire to help them be successful in New Start.


Julissa Hernandez (right), SUNY Ulster; New Start for Women

What organization(s) are you involved with in Kingston and what is your role?

I currently work at the Kingston Center for SUNY Ulster as a Program Assistant for the New Start for Women program (NSW). As a Program Assistant, I constantly work with SUNY Ulster and NoVo Foundations to manage accurate, efficient, and complete grant reporting and record-keeping for the program. Jordan and Mindy are the perfect teammates. I have learned so much already and they make the workplace a fun environment for the women and for me. They are always available to the women in whatever they need and it really shows how passionate they are for this program.


Where do you go in Kingston to recharge?

Since I live in New Paltz, the place I go to recharge is at the SUNY New Paltz campus since they have an amazing view of the Shawangunk Ridge.


What is the biggest challenge facing Kingston?

Transportation.


What is the most woke thing Kingston could do?

More bus transportation for people to not just go to work but also do errands in the city. I have noticed how there is a lot of transferring from bus to bus, which may delay someone to get to work or their appointments.


Where is your favorite place to go in Kingston for a bite or a beer? What do you like about it?

My favorite place I have gone for a bite in Kingston is King’s Valley Diner. Their service is phenomenal and the presentation of the food is really great.


Why does your organization’s work matter?

Our organization's work matters because we give women the opportunity to get an education with wrap-around support, such as child care, transportation, tutoring, career workshops and other resources at no cost to the women.


What challenges/pain points does your organization face?

Even though I just started working with the New Start for Women, I have observed that the program has many resources for the women. But one of the challenges that we face as the program is that the cohort sometimes struggles with the stress of trauma, being a single mother, and the current struggles they are facing. This causes the women to not stay focused during classes. Nonetheless, to say that the women have the strength in wanting to become successful, and every day they come in ready to learn something new and to continue pushing themselves. There is not a day that goes by that the women don’t say to me, “I’m so grateful for this program.”


What is one service/offering/event your organization offers that the community might not know about?

The program assists the women in obtaining the professional network needed for gainful employment. We have workshops for resume building and mock interviews. In addition, there are also workshops that go in deeper about their personality types and how they can use them in a workplace.


If you could change one single thing about Kingston what would it be?

There should be more paid internships and better paying jobs for the residents that are in need of a job near their home.

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