SUNY Ulster program helps women better their lives

Jordan Scruggs

The New Start for Women program at SUNY Ulster is more than just academic courses; currently, 16 area women enrolled in the program will receive a bevy of tuition-free programming addressing things like conflict resolution, test-taking strategies and resume workshops.

Program director Jordan Scruggs was appointed to the post earlier this summer. Scruggs said she feels the community has the obligation to “recognize that we’re only as strong as the weakest link on our community, and that our collective investment in providing better lives and opportunities particularly for women is an investment in the future of our community as a whole.”

Scruggs has a solid resume in community work — she’s a Methodist deacon, chair of Kingston initiative Midtown Rising and a Hudson Valley Fellow at the Good Work Institute. She was Ulster County YWCA Human Rights Advocate of the Year in 2016 and is a member of several local boards, including the Rising Hope Prison Education Initiative and TransArt & Cultural Services.

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“Every community has the resources that they need to solve their own problems, even the communities that struggle,” she said. “The best way to shift a community is to invest in the people that are already there.”

Scruggs said the women chosen for the first run of the program were targeted not just for their economic status, but for their ability to give back to the community — and to each other.

“I have spent the last six years in Kingston working with people in our community who have tremendous talent but limited means and have felt frustrated that there were so many obstacles to their success,” said Scruggs. “As the director of the New Start for Women program, I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with women who have struggled to make ends meet to help them accomplish their goals and realize their potential.”

The oldest woman enrolled in the program is 60, and makes soup for her classmates. Similarly, Scruggs said that the women in the group help each other study and provide each other with childcare options. This semester, the group is enrolled in four business classes — principles of management, computer applications and business, business communication and principles of accounting — and are scheduled for two hour-long lectures per week. The four courses next semester will be supplemented by internships that will hopefully lead to jobs, and Scruggs hopes to find local businesses willing to participate.

“We would be working side by side with the individual to make sure they would be the best employee possible,” said Scruggs. “It’s not that we just throw them into an internship anywhere, we get them into something that feels good for them and for their employers.”

In the next iteration of the program, Scruggs hopes to find 24 local participants and improve the application process — this group of women was put together with help with the Kingston Interfaith Council. The program is financed for the next three years with $1.5 million sourced through the NoVo Foundation and seed money from Kingston businesswoman Darlene Pfeiffer, but Scruggs said she will need to find funding opportunities to keep the program going. She said she will also seek out assistance and programming from local resources and nonprofits for things like case management and mental health resources for the participants.

“People are contacting me on a regular basis to tell me, ‘This is an incredible opportunity, how can I help? How can my business help?’” said Scruggs. “I feel really confident that this is going to be very successful.”

Those who are interested in donating their time or involving their business in the program can call (845) 802-7177 or via email scruggsa@sunyulster.edu. Monetary donations can be made to the SUNY Ulster Foundation.

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