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Neenah Bland G’04 serves on a city task force to guide distribution of $80 million in federal funding.

Earlier this year, the City of Albany, New York, learned it would receive $80 million under the American Rescue Plan to make up for the losses COVID-19 caused. The city sought public input into how the money should be spent. In March, Mayor Kathy Sheehan convened a COVID Recovery Taskforce made up of 40 stakeholders to lend their expertise and listening skills to the process.

Among them is Neenah Bland G’04, executive director of the Albany Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit that provides career assistance, early childhood education, and other supports to underserved families. Staff members include her identical twin sister, Nerissa Bland Roberts, who earned the same Saint Rose degree, a master’s in school counseling, the same year.

Born and raised in Albany, Bland has the background, degree, and professional qualifications to help struggling families. She has also had her share of experiences as a young, single mother who was told she would not succeed. Going to Saint Rose, and doing so alongside her sister, helped build the confidence she needed to thrive in her profession.

“If I had gone anywhere else, and hadn’t had the experiences with the professors and the challenge, I really don’t think I would be sitting here now,” she said.

Here, Bland discusses her work on the task force.

How did you react to being named to take part in Albany’s COVID-19 relief effort?
It was an honor to be seen as a leading expert in the field and asked to share this insight.

On an average day how do you see COVID-19 hurting our families?
I believe COVID-19 has hurt local families in many ways. Families are dealing more with juggling work and family, especially childcare, and the spread of the disease can cripple families that are already struggling in the workplace. Also, families in these communities are experiencing higher death rates and illness due to COVI-19. The stress and trauma of the pandemic, on top of life situations, has played a major role in the health, mental health, and stability of many families.

The task force is divided into working groups. I see that you’re on one devoted to children and families. What is your role?
My role consists of bringing in ideas around community and family needs, providing input on what initiatives might help this sector, and other data regarding what we see in our day-to-day work in these fields.

Since my focus is on low-income families and our most vulnerable populations, it was imperative that we discuss the needs that aff ect this population and see that funds are targeted to those needs.

As an Albany native and head of a service agency, you obviously think a lot about the city’s problems. Through this process, what have you learned?
As a leader of an organization focused on the impoverished community in areas of education, health, housing, and workforce development, I don’t always have an insight into other sectors like economic development, business, infrastructure, and healthcare. The task force allowed me to get a deeper dive into those needs and how we all must come together to create a better Capital Region for all citizens. These funds need to be spread throughout the community in ways that create lasting impact, not temporary fixes or handouts.

In your opinion, what’s the right way to use this money – what specific projects do you embrace for helping Albany recover from COVID-19?
In my opinion, we must focus on strengthening the workforce in all sectors, whether that be skills/education training, job creation, or job retention. We also must focus on barriers that impede this success, like aff ordable, reliable childcare, transportation infrastructure, and services like mental health and trauma support.

These funds need to be spread throughout the community in ways that create lasting impact, not temporary fixes or handouts.”

Do you have hope we will recover?
I do feel hopeful that as a community and people who care about each other, we will stand strong and get through this. I’m hopeful that kindness, support, and understanding will allow all of us to see a brighter future.

By Jane Gottlieb

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