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By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – It’s a scene that brings tears to Karmen Smallwood’s eyes simply reflecting upon it: Local youth, sitting side-by-side with police officers, sharing a family-style dinner, chatting about their lives, smiling, bonding, and just plain being human…vulnerable.
Dubbed “The Police Initiative,” the three month old program was created after the recent onset of violence in the City of Poughkeepsie. A joint undertaking, Smallwood reached out to White Plains Youth Bureau Director, Frank Williams Jr., suggesting its implementation.
Involving 15 kids per each one week session, the Initiative’s results have been nothing short of magical. They are also one of the biggest successes Smallwood is quick to cite since she took over the position as Assistant Commissioner for Youth Services of Dutchess County on January 1, 2020. The other program which fills her with pride is Pleasant Valley-based Camp Nooteeming, aimed at exposing kids to new environments, while helping them understand the impact of their actions on the environment as well as make healthy choices.
“It’s been an awesome journey; I have grown professionally in so many ways, especially with grant management and monitoring programs we fund,” reflected Smallwood. “I never imagined how many different programs I would be involved in; with ones such as The Police Initiative, it’s been phenomenal seeing the barriers come down, and the officers being vulnerable while the kids connecting and seeing them really relate in the community.”
It’s just those types of shifts that Smallwood aspired to assisting with creating when she stepped into the Assistant Commissioner role. A lifelong Dutchess County resident as well as mother of two, Smallwood carries nine years of experience as a parole officer, numerous leadership roles in community relations, as well as a genuine belief in as well as calling to help all children reach their full potential. So, when she was charged with the awesome responsibility of overseeing the County’s Path to Promise Initiative, ensuring all young people in Dutchess County, birth-19, have needed assets to achieve into adulthood, she was immediately energized. Also asked to evaluate, plan, initiate, coordinate and monitor the Youth Development Framework, Smallwood has been diligently at work, remaining positive, while constantly envisioning even more she wants to create and transform within the youth realm.
“I really want to work on a mentoring piece; programs are great, but kids need connections with adults-role models,” said Smallwood. “I also want them to learn life skills- such as; budgeting, a perspective on how to manage life, interviewing and relationship skills as well as general health and nutrition and career counseling.”
The vision continues. It contains a bustling youth center with infinite possibilities, guided by bonding and accountability.
“Once the youth center is up and running, I want it to be a real hub for youth services, really allowing for those critical connecting of dots for families,” explained Smallwood. “I also want to be able to track our progress over time by really looking at the research and data; otherwise, we just aren’t doing our job.”
It’s a mission- calling that Smallwood is intent on believing will reduce many of the challenging issues youth are experiencing. A huge proponent of visualization, Smallwood yearns for youth to see their futures in a positive light, and then, fostered by caring mentors, focus in and do the work to make their dreams come true.
“If you can see it, you can be it,” smiles Smallwood as she reflects upon her encouraging-and constantly evolving- journey over the past 26 months as Assistant Commissioner for Youth Development.
Pausing, while considering how much she has learned and grown from the experience so far, Smallwood is ready to tackle whatever lies ahead with the position. After all, its epicenter is just far too important to give anything less than her very best.
“I’m passionate about young people; they truly energize me to want more, work harder,” affirmed Smallwood. “I have an obligation to do whatever I can to make them successful, both for them and the future of our community.”