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STEP takes a leap over to St. Anthony's on the Southside

By Joanne Beck
October 2022 file photo of Carla Mindler
2022 File Photo of Carla Mindler when she was explaining a need for Social Services to fill the gap left by no more STAR with the Student Transformation and Empowerment Program (STEP), and on Monday, she explained that STEP was now in need -- of new space -- since its current contract at Robert Morris was being terminated after this school year.
Photo by Joanne Beck

In October 2022, Social Services Commissioner Carla Mindler was figuring out how to fill a gap when the STAR program ended, and the Student Transformation and Empowerment Program (STEP) was put in its place and operated at Robert Morris in Batavia. 

This year, Mindler had to find new space for STEP when she learned that Robert Morris would no longer be able to house the program and its middle and high school student participants after the end of this school year, she said. 

As it happens, she knew a guy who knew a guy — Ryan Macdonald of City Church — who offered to rent out a portion of St. Anthony’s for the county-run program. 

“So I'm looking to enter into a lease agreement with City Church, which is doing the business of St. Anthony's Church, to move the STEP program. We were notified by Batavia City School District that Robert Morris would not be available after the school year, so we've been looking for a site. We did find this location, it absolutely meets all of our needs,” Mindler said during Monday’s Human Services meeting. “We have access to all of the rooms, we have a gym, we have classrooms, we have an office. I had to go to the school district and ask that they terminate our lease early because it went through August, and we wanted to move in sooner just so we didn't lose the spot. And we're also hoping to move between when they're off for Christmas. So we're looking to start this January 1.”

The contract with the school district was $3,000 a month for Robert Morris, and it will be $3,500 a month for St. Anthony’s, she said. 

The program includes academic lessons, physical exercise, and behavioral therapists. It is considered a preventive program for at-risk youth within child welfare and prevention.

STAR had an ongoing contract for these services, and program leaders did not renew the contract last fall, leaving a potential void that Social Services personnel opted to pick up. That included the hiring of full-time adolescent behavioral specialists I and II, and a full-time adolescent behavioral coordinator to work directly with the youth in their homes and schools to mentor, guide and assist them with their required tasks.

There have been about 40 kids in the program, Mindler has previously said. 

“So we need two classrooms because we keep the kids separated by age, so kind of the middle school and high school kids. We have an office for the program coordinator, then we need access to the gym because we like to get them moving, especially in the morning. They do their exercises, calisthenics, and we have them back there in the afternoon,” she said. “We need space for when the therapist comes in and does group meetings with the kids. And so it's all right there kind of on the floor. It really checks all of our boxes. So we don't want to lose the space.”

The committee agreed to pass along the contract to Ways & Means, and then it will go to the full county Legislature for a final vote. 

If approved, the contract would be for $3,500 a month from Jan. 1, 2024, to Dec. 31, 2028, for St. Anthony’s Church at 114 Liberty St., Batavia. The expenses are paid out of funding for Community Optional Preventive Services, which are 36.3 percent local share, or $15,246 per year. 

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