Trybendis grew up in Moriah, graduated from Clinton Community College with an Associate’s degree in Humanities and then earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Literacy from SUNY Plattsburgh. She spent eight years as a teacher and reading specialist in the Elizabethtown-Lewis School District and is completing her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. As the assistant principal at Beekmantown Central School for three years she wrote a $3 million Extended Learning Time Grant that she helped implement before taking on her current role as Director of North Country THRIVE— a unique partnership of education institutions, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and others designed to improve the lives of North Country residents and improve economic prosperity.
The idea for THRIVE was born from a discussion between community and businesses leaders in Clinton County that was followed by a business summit in March 2010. A sub- sequent workforce development roundtable identified education as being a critical component to developing and supporting a workforce that would attract new businesses and promote expansion of existing businesses. THRIVE is housed at SUNY Plattsburgh, which is the sponsoring institution.
There are about 80 similar initiatives nationwide that collectively make up the Strive Together Network— a national movement to improve education for every child from cradle to career. The North Country branch joined the national initiative in 2012 and officially became North Country THRIVE in 2015. The idea is that there are a multitude of organizations that have a shared goal and have been trying to separately achieve that goal and vying for the same resources. “We are more effective and more efficient when we all work together,” Trybendis said.
The economic reality of the North Country is that 41% of the population is economically disadvantaged. This includes families living below the federal poverty level as well as those who are asset limited, income constrained and employed (ALICE). There are more than 172,000 people in the 2,850 square miles that make up the North Country, which includes Franklin, Essex, and Clinton Counties. This kind of data is incredibly valuable as Trybendis writes grant proposals. “Knowing about the people you serve,” she explained,” allows you to better serve their needs and leads to better outcomes.”
Currently, the main focus areas of THRIVE are improving kindergarten readiness, creating a regional cradle to career grant database, and the North Country Americorps VISTA project. Data plays a key role in all the work that THRIVE does. “If you have the right data you can find the right resources,” Trybendis emphasized. In the three years she has been leading the North Country THRIVE initiative, she has written four grants for pre-kindergarten programs in area school districts and a four-year Americorps VISTA grant which in its first year provided about 21,000 hours of professional service for our region.
“Brittany was instrumental in bringing Americorp VISTA to our region,” John Bernardi, CEO of the United Way of the Adirondack Region emphasized. The Vista program has been called a domestic Peace Corp, where members create opportunities for organizations and institutions. “We are very fortunate to have this program in our region,” Bernardi observed.
VISTA is funded through the federal government. The North Country THRIVE Vista Project has been funded for three more years, at which point the program director will be able to reapply for funding. VISTA members are paid a salary of $12,000 per year and gain valuable experience and professional development. Trybendis has been impressed with the enthusiasm and motivation of the VISTA members and the work they have been able to accomplish. The popularity of the program can be measured by the enthusiasm of the 180 applicants who have applied for 14 positions for 2019.
Trybendis goal is to continue to improve outcomes and find better assessments tools. “Sometimes we use data as a hammer rather than a flashlight,” she said. She credits community support and the innovative ideas of people in the North Country for the program’s success.