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Nonprofit "runner ups" get new grant money to help prevent, treat lead poisoning

A rusty pipe on the ground
Stew Milne
Millions of homes built before 1978 still contain lead-based paint, which produce harmful flakes and dust.

In continuing efforts to raise awareness about lead testing and to prevent lead poisoning, the Central New York Community Foundation this week announced it will be splitting $130,000 among three local nonprofits serving some of Syracuse’s most vulnerable families.

Baby Back Inc., the local chapter of the United Way and the Syracuse Peacemaking Project were all "runners up" in a public vote held in May, where Syracuse residents got to choose who would get a $150,000 Foundation grant. That "winner" was the Village Birth International & Sankofa Reproductive Health & Healing Center’s Lead Awareness Expansion Project, which uses doulas and community engagement programs in the fight against lead poisoning.

Darrell Buckingham, who manages the community initiatives of the CNY Community Foundation, said the May vote came after a series of public meetings and listening sessions with families directly impacted by lead poisoning, who shared invaluable feedback about their specific needs.

“We didn’t want all that great work of nine months to go to waste,” Buckingham said, so he and his colleagues thought, “How about we consider funding versions of those projects? And perhaps they could be all going on around the same time, to really create impact.”

That's where the additional $130,000 comes in, of which $50,000 will go to Baby Back Inc, for its educational and testing programs. The local United Way branch will get $30,000 to offer free Lyft rides for families going to and from the pediatrician’s office and blood labs, for testing and results.

However, a blood test may just be the start of a longer process, says Buckingham, especially when the results prove lead poisoning. So the third nonprofit, Syracuse Peacemaking Project, which received $50,000 of the new grant, will help guide families "on really getting their kids or their homes in a much safer place," he said.  

Buckingham says this wraparound approach — from education to aftercare — is vital in combating lead poisoning, which often comes through water or paint in older homes, and can cause numerous health problems, from developmental delays in children, to cancer and other diseases in adults. And at significantly higher rates in lower-income neighborhoods.

Research from the Onondaga Health Department has found that twice as many Black children in Syracuse had elevated levels of lead compared to white children.

The Community Foundation established LeadSafeCNY in 2018, committing to invest $2 million to fund a variety of resources. The total amount invested to date is just over $2.1 million.

For more information, visit the LeadSafeCNYwebsite.

Editor's note: The Central New York Community Foundation is a financial supporter of WAER.

Natasha Senjanovic teaches radio broadcasting at the Newhouse School while overseeing student journalists at WAER and creating original reporting for the station. She can also be heard hosting All Things Considered some weekday afternoons.
Morgan Caviness is an undergraduate student who just earned her associates degree at Onondaga Community College for Broadcast Media and Communications and plans to continue studying Broadcast and Mass Communication at SUNY Oswego where she is expected to graduate May of 2025. As a student contributor at WAER, Morgan helps produce digital radio stories.