Utica is known and celebrated for its rich diversity and cultural variety. It’s also home to dedicated organizations and groups that allow the city’s diverse population to thrive and live enriched lives.
Thea Bowman House is living proof of this; it’s an institution that has served Utica for more than three decades, providing a safe, nurturing environment for children and families that walk through its doors.
The organization was established in 1986 as the Agape House, which reflected a commitment to lead with “agape,” an ancient Greek term that means “the highest form of love, charity.” In its early history, the organization began as an after-school program for children in West Utica. Over time, it expanded programs and services, becoming Thea Bowman House in 1996. With the name change came new offerings, such as childcare, childcare assistance, a food and clothing pantry and a reading program. On-site support services, counseling, education and safety planning for people facing domestic and community violence are also offered through the organization’s DOVE—or “Domestic Violence Ended” —program.
The organization takes its name from Sister Thea Bowman, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who devoted her life to promoting peace and harmony among people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. As an advocate for cultural inclusivity, a bridgebuilder between races, and someone who embodied the essence of agape, Thea Bowman was a natural choice when it came time to rename the facility.
The agency prides itself on a caring and compassionate environment that enables culturally diverse children and families to reach their full potential in hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty. Through its educational and social enrichment programs, Thea Bowman House is doing its part to achieve that goal. In 2018, nearly 350 children were served through its childcare programs, and more than 108,000 meals were provided to them. And, with the help of its food pantry, more than 46,000 meals were given to 5,000 individuals.
Since 1990, The Community Foundation and its donors have awarded Thea Bowman House more than 80 grants totaling over $485,000 to support a variety of needs, ranging from reading and childcare programs to operational expenses such as renovations and equipment.
One notable program receiving support year after year is “Reading Rockets,” a summer literacy effort. For children and young adults living in poverty, keeping up educationally with their peers during the summer months is a struggle. It’s not uncommon for them to drop several reading levels during this time, creating an uneven playing field when classes resume in the fall. The five-week summer reading program was started in an effort to combat this. Literacy classes are provided to school-age children under the direction of certified teachers. While working on crucial skills that improve reading and writing, the children are also able to engage in activities that help improve their grammar, comprehension, vocabulary and mathematical literacy.
“The Reading Rockets program that Thea Bowman House has developed isn’t just about learning to read,” said Lindsey Costello, donor relations manager at The Community Foundation. “It’s about boosting these children’s self-esteem, preparing them for the next grade and ultimately setting them up for academic success that inspires lifelong learning.”
Thea Bowman herself once said, “If each one of us would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light”. Through acts of kindness, promoting good-will and embracing love, Thea Bowman House is giving each and every one of its patrons the ability to shine, lighting a path forward to a bright future filled with endless possibilities.