A Beacon of Light in Upstate New York

  • Ashley Nackos
  • November 28, 2023

We always feel lucky when we’re introduced to advocates working hard in their communities to make families (especially babies) happier, healthier, and safer. Jane Gerling is exactly such an advocate and we were so pleased to partner with her on a program to help bring DockATot Kind Bassinets and Sleep Bags to her community in upstate New York. 


Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the type of community service work that you do.

I was fortunate enough to work for Head Start for 30 years.  It gave me a great deal of respect for the determination of families struggling with all of the challenges that are caused by poverty.  My husband has always been a strong advocate for ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to succeed, especially children. 


What are the organizations you work with and their main missions?

The "Baby Box" Program is a project of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, NY.  Members of this active congregation contribute items, assemble the contents for the boxes, deliver them to agencies or families, and volunteer at programs such as "Toddler Time" at the Boys and Girls Club.  The "Baby Box" Program was made possible by an innovation grant from the Synod of the Northeast.  (pcgny.org, www.synodne.org)

We have both been a part of Success for Geneva's Children that started in 1997 and Geneva 2030 which began in 2011.  The main mission of both organizations is to use data to inform decision making and harness the resources of the entire community - to support the education of Geneva's children from "cradle to career."  Looking at all of the available data for the children in our community led us to the conclusion that we needed to start earlier than age three or four.  Birth to three years of age is a critical time for the healthy development of children.  


What’s unique about the Geneva (and surrounding) community?

Geneva, NY is a small city located between Syracuse and Rochester in upstate New York.  The population of the city is approximately 12,600.  Geneva is a microcosm of a much larger city.  The poverty rate is much higher than the poverty rate for the surrounding towns in Ontario County.  It follows that a high percentage of the children in the schools qualify for free and reduced lunch.  Geneva has a very diverse population.  Three colleges, Cornell Agri-Tech, a hospital, and multiple businesses are located here.  The tourist industry is important to the economy.  The tagline for Geneva is "Uniquely Urban". 


Can you share an example of the families that you typically work with and how you reach them?

We try to connect with underserved families that lack a safe place for a newborn to sleep.  We received a message from the coordinator of the Healthy Families Program, they were aware of a mom with a premature infant who had recently gone home from the hospital.  The mom was sharing a bed with the premature infant and a toddler.  We connected with the Geneva Boys and Girls Club since they have a large food distribution program.  A baby box and food were delivered on a very snowy January day.  Another baby box was delivered to a homeless woman who was living in temporary housing in a motel several days before she gave birth.  Some of the agencies that we work with are listed below:

Healthy Families Ontario and Yates Counties, a program of Prevent Child Abuse, NY   cfr.info@cfresources.org

Agri-Business Head Start, a migrant and seasonal migrant Head Start Program

Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, provides services to domestic abuse victims    shflny.org

Local OB/GYN and Pediatrics Offices


What are some additional resources available to the families with young children in the Geneva area?

The Geneva Boys and Girls Club offers a Toddler Time Program six mornings a week.  The gym is set up as an indoor play area with free breakfast foods and free books provided by Geneva Reads.  They provide free diapers, wipes, formula, and pantry items if requested.  Transportation is arranged, if needed.  Every Saturday a pancake breakfast is served.  Additional services are being added, such as counseling and parenting groups.  The program is free and open to every family with infants and toddlers.  The program is funded through donations and grants. 

We believe that if we can build in supports and connections that take stress off of parents, there will be better outcomes for everyone in the family, especially the infants and toddlers.   Economists would probably point out that a community saves money by investing in better outcomes for infants and toddlers.  It follows that there will be a huge savings on the social and emotional development of the children, as well. 


If any of our DockATot fans are interested in helping, are there any websites to donate to or organizations that might have local chapters where they can contribute?

Geneva Boys and Girls Club: bgcgeneva.org, Chris Lavin 315-759-6060

Geneva Reads: genevareads.org

Presbyterian Church in Geneva: pcgny.orgoffice@pcgny.org, Jane Gerling 315-789-1343

Boys and Girls Clubs of America: https://www.bgca.org/

Success for Geneva's Children: https://successforgenevaschildren.org/

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