FRIDAY TALK WITH…Kyra Yon | News | fltimes.com – Finger Lakes Times | Team Cansler

Evening editor Louise Hoffman Broach interviewed Kyra Yon via email. Yon is the program manager for Healthy Families Wayne, a division of the Wayne County Program of Action. Here’s what Kyra had to say about the important work of Healthy Families Wayne and Wayne CAP:

LHB: You have long been committed to empowering young people. How do you think they are doing right now in the world or in the Finger Lakes world?

KY: I have called the children in my programs or classrooms my “babies”. Some of today’s children need time and attention from caring adults. The parent-child bond begins in the womb. Screen time has allowed children to see the world, so to speak. It has allowed them to be creative and social, to be exposed to things their young minds sometimes can’t comprehend and to be tech savvy.

LHB: What do you think are the biggest challenges young people and young families face, and how are the Finger Lakes Community Action Programs addressing these challenges?

KY: I believe that there are now more single-parent households. Some children struggle with the stress of a stressed-out parent or grandparent trying to make a living and be a parent. FLCA offers options and recommendations to alleviate these stressful circumstances. The FLCA website is a one stop shop with great programs and contact information to ask questions, get references to services you need, and links to several FLCA services. Go to http://www.fingerlakescommunityaction.org/programs.

LHB: How has programming changed over the years – what are you focusing on now versus, say, 10 years ago? Is teenage pregnancy still a problem?

KY: Teen pregnancy is still a reality. Teenage brains are still growing well into their 20s, so raising a child, taking care of yourself, or relying on others for help can be overwhelming. Healthy Families is a grant from the Office of Children and Family Services, which also supports pregnant and raising teens. We connect with the 11 school districts in Wayne County and offer services not only to teenagers, but also to parents of students who are pregnant or have a newborn.

LHB: Do you think the after school programs are effective and how they help to encourage children in a positive way?

KY: The after-school program is effective in keeping the children in a safe, supervised and activity-filled atmosphere during the 3-6 pm hours. It helps the family as a respite for a parent, a child, a way to find employment, sometimes for free or at low cost.

LHB: How do you see the work of programming for children of color – how do you promote inclusion not only there but in all the programs you oversee? Do you still find some institutional racism?

KY: As a black woman born during the civil rights movement, I have had my fair share of racist comments, attitudes, and actions in my life and in Wayne County as well. FLCA is an equal opportunity agency in both hiring and programming. Cultural humility is practiced as much as possible. FLCA is a grant-funded agency that makes many grant contracts. Our contracts have requirements for enrollment. ALL families must meet the eligibility requirements to be considered for entry.

Sometimes there are waiting lists, income guidelines, age limits and first come first served etc that we have to follow. For example, a racially diverse selection of families is shown in our Healthy Families brochure. It’s important for people to see themselves. Minority teachers, frontline to leaders are key for people of color to feel included.

Implicit biases are definitely there. News media and entertainment show few role models of minorities and put the spotlight on the problems. When there are people who have little contact with minorities, these images on TV can be the most persuasive, but who is the one telling the story?

LHB: There are many agencies in the Finger Lakes with similar responsibilities – how do you integrate what you do with them? How does FLCA work to offer customers comprehensive services?

KY: Letters of Intent (MOUs) are used to formalize a relationship with other programs in the community. Both programs formulate statements of intent to offer referrals, services, training, etc. I attend community meetings that present programs, sit on advisory boards and boards, as do other FLCA employees. Due to Covid, virtual platforms became a must as meetings, outreach and home visits were conducted via Zoom, Duo, phone and email. FLCA has talented grantees who bring the programs needed to serve the needs of the people of our Finger Lakes region. Even within the FLCA program areas, there is collaboration and referrals based 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 father met my mother on a blind date. He said he needed someone who knew how to behave to attend a beautiful wedding. Dad was in the Air Force based at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY. They would date and get married and then have me. Papa was in the Korean conflict and in Vietnam.

My parents were extremely reserved, strict and very responsible when it came to their children. My brother was born in 1969. We were both born on military bases. We traveled to the Philippines and eventually settled in Utica when my father retired. Our family took vacations every year, some to family parks like 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 some friends, and then there were people who were wondering how we bought the house. My parents saw that I was at school with pregnant students. They taught me that they didn’t approve of premarital sex. However, they knew that I would not be in their presence all the time.

My mother, who was in the state library system, brought home age-appropriate films and books that explained sexuality. My parents were also honest with their answers when I had questions. My father used what I call “kitchen table talks”. He gave me a male perspective on sexuality and (wanted) to give me a hint of what to expect. He taught me that the word NO has to come early in the relationship. I shared some of these stories in my health class when I was teaching a sexuality unit in eighth grade. I was able to teach this subject without any problems because it was shown to me from an early age.

LHB: How did you choose SUNY Brockport for your degrees? What made you decide to go back to school to do your Masters 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 go to Daemen College in Amherst, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me there. SUNY Brockport was my second choice, and it was here that I found Health Sciences education as an option for a major. I did my bachelor’s degree, worked as a social worker and health educator for the schools and community authorities. When a scholarship ended, it was close to my heart to return for my master’s degree. I wanted to do online courses because it’s a bit tiring. I attended the graduate school open house and found that I could apply for the Diversity Fellowship to pay for my tuition. I was selected for the fellowship in exchange for a 15-hour weekly stipend to work in the Health Sciences and Education departments. I traveled to campus 2-4 days a week depending on my schedule as online learning was not offered in my department. I received my MS Ed in 2012.

LHB: You have been with Wayne CAP for a long time in various capacities. What drew you to the agency and how do you see your role as FLCA moves into 2023?

KY: My current ex-husband and I moved to Lyon in 2000. After my maternity leave I went looking for a job. I met several employees who were interested in me working with them. As a former NYS certified teacher and social worker, they felt I could add something 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 staff and learned more about what FLCA had to offer.

At some point I worked for FLCA as the first coordinator for the new Advantage After School program at Lyons Elementary School in 2002-03. I have since served on the board of directors of Wayne CAP Inc. From 2006 to 2010, I was rehired as director of the community-based youth pregnancy prevention program. We have worked with the school districts and communities of Sodus and Lyon to provide education and activities for youth ages 11-19. I returned to FLCA in 2014-17 as an Advantage After-School Director for three school districts. From 2017 to present, Healthy Families Wayne is the program I lead now. I look forward to continuing my time at 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 of the City of God World Prayer Center in Savannah. I have found through trials and circumstances that God is a constant companion and can be trusted.

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