Catholic Charities of Columbia and Greene Counties recently received a year-long grant that will allow it to identify the needs of the struggling Hudson City School District and work to improve overall neighborhoods in the rural area.

Catholic Charities received $413,145 to develop "cradle to college" programs and create strong linkages between education, governmental and human services agencies as part of the new Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood.

The agency was one of 15 grantees selected out of more than 200 applicants by the federal Promise Neighborhoods program begun in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

"It's incredible," said Theresa Lux, executive director of Catholic Charities of Columbia and Greene Counties. "We have as a mission and a standard quality of life and human dignity. This will make a huge difference in [families'] lives. There's this sense of hope and opportunity."

More than half of the funds will be used for staffing; other funds will support community events and forums and the formation of adult and youth advisory boards, as well as several working groups.

Catholic Charities will closely partner with the four schools - two of which are classified as low performers - and community organizations.

"The school is at the center of this," Mrs. Lux said: With a graduation rate of 59 percent, the Hudson City School District has been working on reform for several years with Catholic Charities' involvement, focusing on test scores and participation in school activities.

The new project will dig deeper into the home lives of students and intervene earlier in a child's life, promoting school readiness, skillful parenting, access to health care and successful transitions to adulthood.

The grant "recognizes that it's not just school hours" when children need assistance, Mrs. Lux said; "it's all hours of the day."

The project will expand the school district's already fruitful community dialogue by surveying 2,700 children and families for a clearer picture of community needs and gaps in educational services.

Mrs. Lux said this year will be about "really discovering and researching the needs." The survey will track indicators like parental education level, household food security and housing security, the number of books read to a child and the number of hours a child watches television.

"All of this relates back to academic and educational outcomes," Mrs. Lux noted, adding that the ultimate goal is to create a database profiling the area.

Between recent job losses and the lack of public transportation outside of the city, it's difficult for children in rural areas to attend after-school activities or cultural events in Hudson. The grant "gives us that opportunity to take a very hard, realistic look" at things like transportation, Mrs. Lux said.

Catholic Charities will research other funding sources for implementing programs beyond this year, but will also apply for another grant through the same federal program. Community partners had to match 25 percent of the planning grant; they would have to match 50 percent of an implementation grant.

Mrs. Lux said the project will help students rise above generational poverty: "It is hard to set a goal for your child when you're just living day-to-day. This sets that up, gives a promise to their children."