Former Orphanage Now Helping Kids Learn, Stay Off Streets: Seeks More Help

Sep 3, 2015

Congress Member John Katko visits The Determination Center in Syracuse, pledging to help with fundraising, education of inner city youth.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

  A former orphanage in Syracuse has been turned into a place that’s trying to improve learning - and the future - for some of Syracuse’s less fortunate children.  The Determination Center got some attention from the area’s Congressional representative Wednesday that just might help.

The link between poverty and poor school performance is pretty well known.  The Determination Center on Syracuse’s Southwest Side is trying to do something about it…but might be toiling in obscurity.  Congress Member John Katko took a tour … and noted how kids need help overcoming the issues of poverty.

“The family issues, teenage moms having babies, the lack of nutrition, the lack of reading skills and trying to get them caught up.  You’re talking about trying to teach them simply how to read at third grade, and suburban districts are on to bigger and better things already.  That’s why places like this are so important.”

The center is the vision of Bettie Graham, who founded it in 2007.  She and her sons draw very little salary to help 75-to-80 children in after school and summer programs. 

Bettie Graham outfitted the Center's computer room with funding provided by the John Ben Snow Foundation. Graham says the older kids with computer skills help the younger ones learn.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

  “We do help with homework.  We do different types of things, helping the kids, helping the families.  We do different types of activities; take them outside their norms, golfing, bowling, baseball, whatever they want to do, that’s what we do.”

Graham focuses on reading with the children…there’s a stocked library, a computer room, other classrooms and play space.  but the center also has anti-gang programs, parenting for young mothers, and a real men, real fathers program – Keep kids off the streets…save their lives she says.  Her efforts drew the attention of Gregg Cooper…who’s now Board President.

“I went through the classrooms and saw the kids eager to learn, respectful, learning discipline and really eating it up.  It wasn’t a situation where they felt like they had to be here; they wanted to be here and they wanted to learn.  They wanted the atmosphere and the loving nature of Bettie Graham with these kids is just amazing.”

The Determination Center is housed in a former orphanage that Bettie Graham rents from Catholic Charities. The Center serves 75-80 children a day, many who can't pay anything. The Board is seeking donations and volunteer support.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

  Cooper encourages donations…but also wants people to volunteer– maybe retired music instructors, or English teachers, or phys-ed teachers -- who could help the kids. 

Volunteer help is needed in: Programming, Classroom Assistance, Maintenance, Donor Relations, Grant Writing, Meals for Kids.

Information about donating or volunteering is at  



Mrs. Graham insists that the kids complete their homework prior to engaging in any extracurricular activities. Upon arrival, the kids head to a designated classroom & get to work. When questions arise, staff members or volunteers are present to assist. 


Everyone at the Center has a stake in this--Mrs. Graham, the staff, volunteers, and even the kids. There are always opportunities to listen, give advice, and serve as role models when social or academic issues arise.


Here you'll find a handful of kids working on school projects or playing computer games.


A quiet room for reading or working on small-group projects--this is also a cozy space for guest presentations to ~8-10 students.


Interested students sing and learn the basics of music production (weekly). 


On Tuesdays throughout the academic year, a core group of kids rehearse for a fun Determination Center (original) play.


Upstairs in the gym, whenever there's some energy to burn--and a staff member to supervise.


Offered weekly, free of charge: martial arts fundamentals.


Once all academic work has been completed!