The Astor D. Rice Foundation, a community organization, received $150,000 from the City of Binghamton. The money will fund a new program to serve at-risk middle school students and their families in the Binghamton Central School District.

On Sept. 7, the foundation, in conjunction with Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham, announced the new Families Achieve Community Empowerment program (FACE) for students at Binghamton’s East Middle School. The goal of the program is to provide intervention services for students to prevent high-risk behaviors, decrease disciplinary action in school, work to create a stronger sense of community and improve family communication. Longer-term goals include increasing graduation rates, seeing less instances of adult and juvenile crimes within the district and improving general mental health and well-being.

Amy Rice, executive director at the Foundation, elaborated on how the FACE program originated and the critical issues it looks to address.

“The FACE program was inspired after conducting community conversations and interviews with students, parents, school staff and other community stakeholders,” Rice wrote in an email. “Many of those interviewed identified critical gaps in youth and family services. The Astor D. Rice Foundation’s FACE Program will provide these students and their families with early interventions, much-needed support and resources to help them strengthen the family unit and succeed.”

The foundation, a nonprofit founded by Binghamton native King Rice and his family, is named in honor of his father, Astor Rice, and is focused on providing support for families in the City of Binghamton by working with community members. (3)

Naorah Rimkunas, an assistant professor in Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs, described the importance of deliberately focusing on middle school students’ development.

“[BU] Community Schools is thrilled to see this opportunity for youth and families in our town,” Rimkunas wrote in an email. “Middle school can be an especially hard time for youth — academically and socially — and the challenge continues to grow. This can be a vulnerable time for middle schoolers, but also an opportunity for them to learn positive behaviors and critical thinking skills to make good decisions.”

The Foundation is also focused on providing mentoring services and recreational programs to students at East Middle School. They will also look to provide parents with support groups to help them deal with difficult situations.

Rice agreed on the importance of the middle school students’ development, adding how the new initiative will work to address issues faced by students and their families.

“Middle school years are a critical time in a youth’s academic and social development,” Rice wrote. “With support from the City of Binghamton, the Astor D. Rice Foundation will use a multi-systemic approach to include students, parents, school staff and the wider community in addressing underlying family issues that lead to at-risk behaviors among youth.”

Funding for the program comes from the City of Binghamton’s $1 million youth fund, primarily financed with federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and announced by Kraham in the fall of 2022, Rice said that the Community Foundation of South Central New York facilitated a competitive funding process for the program.

Binghamton Deputy Mayor Megan Heiman said that the additional support will benefit students struggling with the impact of COVID-19.

“Ask any teacher or social worker, and they will tell you the pandemic affected kids and teens in a deep way,” Heiman wrote in an email. “And we’re still seeing the effects, from mental health to academic outcomes and behaviors. The funding for the Astor D. Rice Foundation helps fill a gap in youth services focused on middle schoolers and their families.”

The FACE program is just the latest of the City’s financial commitments to its youth, with a total of $500,000 already having been distributed from the youth fund since its inception to programs such as the Boys & Girls Club of Binghamton, Lourdes Youth Services and Street Addiction Institute.

Kweku Antwi-Obeng, a junior majoring in computer science, expressed optimism about the initiatives’ potential benefits for Binghamton students.

“It’s great to see the effort made by the City of Binghamton, and the Astor D. Rice Foundation, on behalf of its youth.” Antwi-Obeng said. “I really hope this serves as a beacon of hope to the younger generation of Binghamton to achieve their dreams and goals.”