Evening Editor Louise Hoffman Broach interviewed Kyra Yon by email. Yon is program manager for Healthy Families Wayne, a division of Wayne County Action Program. Here is what Kyra had to say about the important work Healthy Families Wayne and Wayne CAP are doing:
LHB: You have worked to empower young people for a long time. How do you think they are doing in the world right now, or in the world of the Finger Lakes?
KY: I have called the children in my programs or classroom my “babies.” Some of today’s children are needing time and attention from caring adults. Parent-child bonding begins in the womb. Screen time has allowed for kids to see the world, so to say. It has allowed them to be creative, social, exposed to things their young minds can’t comprehend sometimes, and to be tech-savvy.
LHB: What do you think are the biggest challenges young people, and young families, are facing, and how are the Finger Lakes Community Action programs dealing with those challenges?
KY: I believe that there are more single-parent households now. Some kids are dealing with the stress of a stressed-out parent or grandparent trying to make a living and being a parent. FLCA offers options and referrals to help relieve those stressful circumstances. FLCA’s website is a one-stop shop of great programming and contact information to ask questions, get referrals to needed services, and links to several FLCA services. Go to http://www.fingerlakescommunityaction.org/programs.
LHB: How has programming changed over the years — what are you concentrating on now as opposed to say, 10 years ago? Is teen pregnancy still a problem?
KY: Teen pregnancy is still a reality. Teen’s brains are still growing well into their 20s, so parenting a child, taking care of yourself ,or relying on others for help can be overwhelming. Healthy Families is a grant through the Office of Children and Family Services that services pregnant and parenting teens as well. We outreach to the 11 school districts in Wayne County, which includes offering services to not only teens, but parents of students who are pregnant or have a newborn.
LHB: Do you think the after-school programs are effective, and how do they work to encourage kids in positive ways?
KY: After-school programming is effective in that during the hours of 3-6 p.m., kids are in a safe, supervised and activity-laden atmosphere. It helps the family as a respite for a parent, a child, a way to gain employment, sometimes for free or at a low cost.
LHB: How do you see programming working for children of color — how do you encourage inclusiveness not only there, but in all the programs you oversee? Do you still find some institutional racism present?
KY: As a Black woman born during the Civil Rights Movement, I’ve had my fair share of racist comments, attitudes, and actions in my life, as well as in Wayne County. FLCA is an equal-opportunity agency, in hiring and in programming. Cultural humility is practiced as much as humanly possible. FLCA is a grant-funded agency that runs by many grant contracts. Our contracts have requirements for enrollment. ALL families must meet the requirements to be considered for participation.
At times there are waiting lists, income guidelines, age limits, and first-come, first-served, etc., we must follow. For example, in Healthy Families, our brochure has a racially diverse array of families pictured. It’s important that people see themselves. Minority teachers, front line to management staff are key for people of color to feel included.
Implicit biases are definitely present. News media and entertainment show few minority role models and put a spotlight on the issues. When there are people who have little contact with minorities, those images on TV can be most convincing, but who is the one telling the story?
LHB: There are many agencies in the Finger Lakes with similar missions — how do you integrate what you do with them? How does FLCA work to provide comprehensive services to clients?
KY: Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are used to formalize a relationship with other programs in the community. Both programs word-smith a MOU to offer referrals, services, training etc. I attend community meetings that showcase programs, sit on advisory boards and boards of directors, as do other FLCA staff. Due to covid, virtual platforms became a must as meetings, outreach, home visits were done by Zoom, Duo, phone and email. FLCA has talented grant-writers on staff to bring in the needed programs to meet the needs of the people in our Finger Lakes Region. Even within FLCA programming areas, there is collaboration and referrals depending on the needs of the family.
LHB: Tell me about your background. I saw that you grew up in a military family. Tell me about your family; how did they influence you to pursue a career in health science?
KY: My dad met my mom on a blind date. He said he needed someone who knew how to act to attend a nice wedding. Dad was in the Air Force, stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y. They would date and marry and then have me. Dad was in the Korean Conflict and Vietnam.
My parents were fiercely private, strict and very responsible when it came to their kids. My brother was born in 1969. Both of us were born on military bases. We traveled to the Philippines and finally settled in Utica when my father retired. Our family took vacations yearly, some of which were to family-fun parks such as Disney World and Enchanted Forest. My parents bought their first house in 1975. We were the second Black family to move into the neighborhood. We made a few friends, and then there were those who wondered how we bought the house. My parents saw that I was in school with students who were getting pregnant. They taught me that premarital sex was not what they agreed with. However, they knew I would not be in their presence at all times.
My mom, being in the state library system, brought home age-appropriate movies and books that explained sexuality. My parents also were honest with their answers when I had questions. My dad would have what I call “kitchen-table conversations.” He gave me a man’s perspective about sexuality and (wanted) to give me a heads-up on what to expect. He taught me that the word NO had to happen early on in the relationship. I’ve told some of those stories in my health class, when I taught an eighth-grade sexuality unit. I was comfortable teaching that topic as it was modeled to me at an early age.
LHB: How did you pick SUNY Brockport for your degrees? What motivated you to go back to school to get your master’s, and what did it mean to you to be the first diversity fellow in the Department of Health Sciences there?
KY: I originally wanted to attend Daemen College in Amherst, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me there. SUNY Brockport was my second choice, and where I found Health Science education as a choice for a major. I received my bachelor’s degree, worked as an outreach worker and a health educator for the schools and community agencies. When a grant ended, it was on my heart to go back for my master’s degree. I wanted to do online courses since it’s a bit of a drive. I attended the graduate school open house and found that the Diversity Fellowship was available to apply for to pay my tuition. I was chosen for the Fellowship, and I received a stipend in exchange for 15 hours a week working with the Health Science and Education departments. I drove to campus 2-4 days a week, depending on my schedule, as online learning was not being offered in my department. I received my M.S. Ed in 2012.
LHB: You have been with Wayne CAP in several capacities for a long time. What brought you to the agency, and how do you see your role as FLCA moves ahead into 2023?
KY: My now-ex-husband and I moved to Lyons in 2000. After my maternity leave was over, I went job hunting. I met several staff who were interested in me working with them. As a former NYS-certified teacher and outreach worker, they felt I had something to add to the agency. I ended up working for Eastern Wayne County Even Start as an AmeriCorps/Family Educator for two years. Even Start, in turn, rented an office in a FLCA-owned building where I met more of the staff and became familiar with more of what FLCA had to offer.
At some point, I worked for FLCA as the first coordinator for the new Advantage After School program at the Lyons Elementary School in 2002-03. I have been on the board of directors since then at Wayne CAP Inc. I was again hired on as director of the community-based Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program from 2006-10. We worked with the Sodus and Lyons school districts and communities to offer education and activities for teens 11-19 years of age. I came back to FLCA in 2014-17 as the Advantage After-School Director for three school districts. From 2017 to the present, Healthy Families Wayne is the program I manage now. I see going forward, to continue my time with FLCA in this role.
LHB: What else should we know about you?
KY: I am a licensed and ordained pastor. I attend and am a trustee at City of God World Prayer Center in (the town of) Savannah. I’ve found that through trial and circumstance, God is a constant companion and can be trusted.