By Skills

SCHENECTADY — A long-vacant house on Stanley Street is on track to be a career center for teenagers.

The COCOA House, which stands next door, has secured funding to turn the building into a business and entrepreneurship education center, and hopes to complete the work by the end of the year.

Children of Our Community Open to Achievement, founded in 1996, provides mentoring to younger children at 869 Stanley St. That building will be connected with a single porch to the house at 867 Stanley St., which will be dedicated to helping older children prepare for careers.

The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority’s board on Wednesday approved $50,000 for exterior improvements. The remainder of the $195,000 project budget will be covered by private donations; Community Development Block Grant money via the city of Schenectady; and funding from the Capital Region Land Bank.

COCOA House Executive Director William Rivas said Thursday it’s an exciting development — the organization has owned 867 Stanley for years but its previous attempts to put it to use never got off the ground, and it has languished there, vacant and deteriorating.

“We’re looking to start the work at the end of next month and we’re looking to have it done by the end of the year,” Rivas said.

“The greatest part of this for me is I grew up in that home,” he added.

He said his own formative years were marked with poor decisions, bad behavior and arrests, but the support of his wife and his love for their daughter turned him around. He hopes the teen center — which doesn’t have a name yet — will provide the same kind of turning point for youths or prevent them from going in the wrong direction in the first place.

“There’s a generation of youth that [society] believes have been lost,” Rivas said. “If we provide the right mentorship we can create opportunities for them.”

The teen center will have social resources, mentoring and a strong business education component for teens.

“We’re looking to turn my old dining room into a business center with a virtual wall where kids can have mentorship,” Rivas said.

Another organization that helps youths find a career path — the Schenectady SEAT Center — is partnering with COCOA as general contractor, Rivas said, and COCOA is interviewing local contractors and subcontractors so that the investment stays within the community. It will be a gut rehab, he added. 

He’s hopeful that teenagers in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood will see people of color working on the project and realize that they, too, could go into business for themselves.

“Those things we don’t always believe we have access to coming from the community,” Rivas said.

This content was originally published here.

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