Albany Medical Center Partners With Baby Institute

Albany Med to Partner with the Baby Institute to Impact Education in Albany Partnership Creates New Model for the Medical Center

ALBANY, N.Y., June 28, 2016 – In an effort to make a positive impact on the well-being of children in inner-city neighborhoods and on education in the City of Albany, Albany Medical Center today announced a ground-breaking community-based partnership. 

James J. Barba, president and CEO of Albany Medical Center, and Noelene Smith, M.S.W., founder and executive director of the Baby Institute, officially launched a four-year affiliation in which Albany Med will be a major funder and supporter of the Albany-based grassroots organization created to help parents improve children’s readiness for school. 

The Baby Institute’s objective, according to Smith, is to increase children’s literary and language skills by helping parents understand how to help them become ready for pre-k and kindergarten. It stresses both parenting skills and the importance of literacy and language skills, predictors of future academic success. During the year, the Baby Institute conducts workshops for parents to empower them to become a child’s “first teacher” and advocate; it also holds a summer program for children. Created in 2010 by Smith, it currently serves more than 100 parents a year from Arbor Hill, West Hill and the South End, in addition to their infants and toddlers. 

This partnership is the result of a pledge Barba made to the community last year when, in accepting the Community of Excellence Award from The College of Saint Rose, he discussed a common urban challenge that impacts children. 

“I was no longer content to sit on the sidelines and watch as our city struggled, as many cities do, with an educational system that works for some and not for others,” Barba said. “Most frequently, ‘the others’ are the most vulnerable population – the children from at-risk neighborhoods, the under-served, the poorest. Through no fault of their own, too many of these children are doomed to continue in the cycle of poverty.”  

“At the Saint Rose luncheon,” he continued, “I promised that we, the leaders in our community – my colleagues at the Medical Center among them – would join the efforts to formulate practical approaches to this complex problem.” 

Over the last year Barba and a diverse panel of Albany Med employees explored a myriad of ways for the institution to tackle the human elements affecting K-12 education, those away-from-school factors that affect whether children thrive in the classroom. 

The panel consulted with SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who created The Albany Promise, with Albany Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan, and with a host of education experts and community leaders. It took a cue from the work of Albany County’s Department for Children, Youth and Families. Ultimately it narrowed its focus to early childhood education in Albany’s under-served neighborhoods, and selected the Baby Institute as a partner.

“As many as 40 percent of children nationwide are not ready for kindergarten. They lack the foundational cognitive and social-emotional skills needed, and this level of unpreparedness can have a long-term effect on their educational success,” said SUNY Chancellor Zimpher. “Addressing this is not solely a school responsibility or a parent responsibility. It is a community responsibility, and this partnership between Albany Medical Center and the Baby Institute is precisely the kind of community partnership that can and will make a difference. SUNY and The Albany Promise will be proud to support this partnership, which is certain to have a positive impact on kindergarten readiness among City of Albany students.”

According to Albany Mayor Sheehan, “Albany Med’s investment is good news for Albany parents, who want what’s the best for their children, and for Albany children, who deserve the best foundation we can provide for their learning. This investment by Albany Med, under Jim Barba’s leadership, strengthens the grassroots Baby Institute, and the result will be a greater number of Albany children who will arrive at Albany’s schools prepared and eager to learn. As they succeed, so does Albany.” 

The partnership, according to Barba and Smith, will involve collaborations with a number of organizations, including the New York Council of Nonprofits Inc. to manage the Baby Institute’s business operations and build organization, and the Albany Housing Authority, from which Albany Med is leasing the community space at the Ida Yarbrough Homes for a permanent location for the Baby Institute. While the Medical Center will buttress the Baby Institute with funding, oversight and administrative support, by design, it will not be absorbed into the Albany Med system, but rather remain its own 501(c)(3) within the community where it was born, helping to ensure it retains its grassroots identity.  

“I greatly appreciate Albany Med committing significant resources to this effort, and together with our partners, we will build a sustainable organization and a strong foundation for the future to serve more parents and children and enhance our program,” said Smith, also noting that down the road the Baby Institute will add a public health component and will work with The Albany Promise, SUNY and others to develop measures for success in order to build best practices.

“The program,” she continued, “teaches parents to become their child’s first advocate, and shows them how to be better parents, how to prepare children for school, how to read to their children, how to talk to their children, how to help them help their children learn to love learning.” 

This neighborhood program has reached more than 350 parents over the past six years, helping start the process of creating a culture of success in at-risk neighborhoods and improving the kindergarten readiness rate – thus starting children on the road to academic success.

The Baby Institute partnership reflects Albany Med’s commitment to the community, according to Barba. “Community service is a platform in our current strategic plan,” he said. “Given our size, our people and our special expertise, we know the Medical Center can have a significant positive impact on our community, and we pledged to contribute to the well-being of the City of Albany, the broader Capital Region and beyond by supporting initiatives that help the economy and organizations that contribute to the region’s quality of life.

The Baby Institute’s partners include the Albany City School District, Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Albany County Legislature, Albany Housing Authority, Albany Medical Center, Albany Promise, City of Albany, The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, County of Albany, First Presbyterian Church, New York Council of Nonprofits, Inc., Ronald McDonald House Charities, State University of New York (SUNY) and United Way of the Greater Capital Region.