Q&A with Cassandra Harris-Lockwood

By David Podos

Founder and CEO of For the Good discusses organization’s mission to help the needy; says group may shut down for lack of financial resources

Q: What is For the Good and what services do you provide to the community?

A: We serve the underprivileged, the underserved and under-resourced community here in Utica. Our programs are the study buddy club, community gardens and the Utica Phoenix, Utica’s only independent newspaper.

Q: Let’s talk about the study buddy club. What’s that all about?

A: The study buddy club is a program that grew out of the early days of For the Good, which was around 2002-2003. At that time, Bill Phillips, who was then Fifth Ward councilman for Utica, approached me and discussed his concern that there was a growing number of girl gangs popping up in Utica and could I help. So, I said of course and that began my journey talking to other women who were activists in our area as well as clergy to see how we could work with these young girls, what their concerns were, what problems were they facing etc.

Q: What did you find out?

A: Well, after we had a number of in-depth conversations with them, we came to the conclusion that these girls were suffering from issues of neglect, poverty, lack of resources, hunger and housing, which obviously has a negative impact on a person, is very unhealthy for body, mind and spirit. So, with my relationship with Hamilton College — I was a graduate of Kirkland College, which at the time was a small private liberal arts college for women located on the Hamilton College grounds from 1968-1978— I made some contacts.

In any event, I had an idea that might help these kids. At the time when I was a college student at Kirkland, we had a program called the Utica tutorial project that I was involved in as well as many of my classmates. This was a transformational program that changed young kids for the better; it literally turned their futures around because students like myself and others took the time to show we cared for these kids who were dealing with many of the same issues as these girls who were in gangs. So, I modeled that program with the help of Hamilton College and it is called the study buddy club. Kids get on a bus in Utica, we bus them up to Hamilton College, they get a nutritious meal then they are paired up with their tutor, who is a Hamilton College student.

Q: Tell me about the community garden project you have, its location, who attends to the garden and finally, who receives the vegetables after harvest?

A: In the neighborhood where the garden is located, which by the way is just a block from where For the Good is located, this area is a food desert. What I mean by this is, there are no major grocery stores nearby. The residents who live in this area can go to the few neighborhood convenience stores but these stores are very limited in offering fresh fruits and vegetables which are so vital to good health. In our community garden we grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, all organically cultivated. These are highly nutritious foods that are so good for people. 

The members who attend the garden are from the local community and represent an international array of people. We have many ethnic backgrounds represented offering their particular expertise when it comes to gardening. Many of the people are young teens who are learning new skills, the importance of teamwork and the importance of eating a healthy diet. When the vegetables are ready for picking, the members who have attended the garden receive its harvest. It is a wonderful way for them to celebrate their hard work, and of course eat high quality, organic foods. We also give food from the garden to shut-ins. For example, a woman who lives in the neighborhood recently had a stroke, so we take food over to her; we hang bags of fresh picked green beans onto people’s porches and so forth. We also have another community garden that is located on the east side of Utica.

Q: Does For the Good receive any funds to help with operating costs?

A: Well, right now so far this year we have not received any funding from the city, from the county and or from the state. Last year we did receive some funding from the state which was very helpful. So, unless we receive some financial assistance soon, I might be reaching a point where I am forced to shut this all down.

Q: If someone wanted to help out financially, how would they go about it?

A: We are a 501(c)3, so they can make a direct donation. I would ask that people go to our website, forthegoodinc.org or call 315-797-2417.