Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Contact Thomas

Who: Ruth Crotty.

Where: Congress Park.

Q. What are you doing today?

A. Painting. My composition is down this stream, picking up the reflective light and catching some of that beautiful willow tree.

Q. Why did you select this location?

A. I’ve been over here the past two days scouting out locations. My studio is at the Amp Galleries, but the morning light here is quite beautiful.

Q. When did you first come to Saratoga Springs.

A. We just moved in to town a year ago after living between Ballston Spa and Galway. We lived on a 85- acre farm for 44 years. When I first got married we in Saratoga Springs. That was in the early ‘70s. Having lived in the country, we drove everywhere. My goal now is to use my car only once a week, if I have to. I love being able to walk everywhere. I like the availability of everything.

Q. What was it like living in Saratoga Springs during the 1970s?

A. It was basically boarded-up at that point, but we still loved it. The bones of the city, you know? To me, it was aesthetically pleasing even back then. I love the architecture, the homes on North Broadway, the grand scale of the 1800s that was still here and still very much intact.

Q. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A. I always wanted to be an artist. I’ve painted since I was 10 years old and I have a bachelor of fine arts degree from Tyler School of Art in painting.

Q. What are some of the other arts you’re interested in?

A. I like classical music and opera. I love “Carmen.” When I paint in my studio that’s the one that really get my juices flowing. My favorite film? I love “Casablanca.”

Q. Is there something you would like to see more of in the city?

A. To me Saratoga is idyllic. I like the walkability of it. There is so much: the restaurants, the arts and SPAC, the influence of Skidmore. To me, this town has everything.  And the track. I like that it’s here for six weeks. I know August is busy and it could be annoying when you’re trying to do things during the day with the extra cars and the people, but to me, I like that excitement. 

Thursday, 04 May 2017 21:01

City Gifted Parcel on South Broadway

A small parcel of land which sits at a key intersection on South Broadway may soon belong to the city. The property, which once sited a gas station, sits at 209 South Broadway - adjacent to a Dunkin’ Donuts shop - and has been vacant for a decade.

The city first considered using open space funds to purchase the 0.2-acre parcel in 2008 and subsequently develop a pocket park that would feature equine sculptures. Earlier this year, in her State of The City address, city Mayor Joanne Yepsen reported that the Open Space Committee was still actively working to acquire the parcel.

A Memorandum of Understanding issued last week noted that the property owner, David Eshaghian - doing business as the Crown Oil Co. – desired to gift the parcel to the city.

“He spent a lot of time in the city when he was a kid,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen reported. “This will be a nice new gateway to the southern portion of the city.”  

The one condition attached to the gift by the owner is that a memorial plaque be placed at the site in honor of his mother. A recent appraisal set the value of the parcel at $340,000. It has not yet been decided how the city may use the parcel in the future, but an open space area such as a pocket park or small pavilion seems most likely. 

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to enter into a memorandum of understanding – an intention to enter into a contract. Because there had been a gas station on site for decades, the premises will first be inspected prior to the council voting on whether to accept the gift. 

 

Madigan: City 2016 FY Year Ends in A Strong Position

Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan reported Saratoga Springs closed the 2016 fiscal year in a strong financial position.

Unaudited year-end figures reveal a moderate annual operating deficit of $1.056 million - in large part driven by a $750,000 payment to settle a suit filed by The Anderson Group more than 10 years ago, Madigan said. The unaudited operating deficit, excluding this payment, was $306,000, or 0.695 percent of the $44 million 2016 Adopted Budget.

Actual 2016 revenue collected totaled $42,691,435.  Actual 2016 expenditures totaled $43,747,818. 

“The City Departments did a good job managing their 2016 budgets and I hope to see similar results for 2017,” the commissioner said, in a statement.

Unaudited figures indicate the city’s unassigned, unappropriated general fund balance is $9,009,362. The city has 3.3M in restricted (assigned) fund balance in the form of a retirement reserve, insurance reserve, capital reserves, tax stabilization reserve, and other miscellaneous reserves.

The Water Fund ended 2016 with a positive assigned unappropriated fund balance of $2.9 million - the fifth consecutive year the water fund reported an operating surplus.  The Sewer Fund has an assigned unappropriated fund balance for 2016 of 1.8M.  This is the seventh consecutive year that the sewer fund reported an operating surplus, Madigan said.

Vandalized Statues Restored and Returned to Congress Park

The “Day” and “Night” Urns and “Pan” statue in the Italian Gardens have been restored and were installed in Congress Park last Friday, said Department of Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.  The urns and statue were vandalized last year.

The Day and Night Urns - inspired by the individual marble reliefs “Day” and “Night” by artist Bertel Thorvaldsen - were originally placed in Congress Park more than a century ago. Improvements were made in the urn bases to increase stability for the cast-iron pieces, along with new drainage to prevent long-term water damage. Additional stability was added to the base of the Pan statue to prevent any future vandalism, Scirocco said. 

How To Grieve Your Assessment

Finance Commissioner John Franck announced a "How to Grieve your Assessment” class will be held 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday May 9 in the City Council Room.

Residents wishing to grieve their assessment must submit an application with documentation to the Assessment Office prior to Grievance Day, which is Tuesday, May 23. For more information, and to download a Grievance Packet, go to: http://www.saratoga-springs.org/DocumentCenter/View/4213.

Preservation Foundation Honored for 40 years of Preserving Historic City Sights

City Mayor Joanne Yepsen presented a proclamation on behalf of the city to honor the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and recognize the organization’s 40 years of preserving the architectural, cultural and landscaped heritage of Saratoga Springs. 

“Had it not been for their efforts over the years, many of the historic sights and places we take for granted today would be known to us only through old photographs and memories,” Yepsen said. “In preserving our past, they have also preserved our identity.  Their work is an indispensable part of what makes Saratoga Springs one of our country’s best known and loved places.”  

Bike to Work Day May 19

The Capital Region “Bike to Work Challenge” will take place in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady Counties on Friday, May 19. Trophies will be awarded in each county to both small (20 or less employees) and large organizations with the largest number of riders, and to the person who rides the longest distance.

The Municipal Challenge will award a trophy for the highest percent participation for any municipality in the region, in which the mayor or supervisor rode to work.

Bike to School Day will take place May 10 and, by county, the school with the most participating students will be awarded a trophy.  For more information or to register, go to https://capitalmoves.org/b2w518/ 

Upcoming Meetings

The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 8 at City Hall.

The Planning Board will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 11 at City Hall. 

SCHUYLERVILLE - The Hudson River village that played a vital role in the turning point of the American Revolution can add “The Demon of Screamin’” to its feathered cap of historical significance. 

Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and daughter Liv Tyler - an actress perhaps best known for her role in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy - visited the adjoined Saratoga villages of Schuylerville and Victory in January after learning of their 19th century ancestral ties to the community.

Those local connections came to light in an episode of the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?” which premiered on the TLC channel this week.

Steven Tyler’s great-great-grandfather, George Washington Elliott, was a drummer who was present at the battle of Antietam and at Gettysburg. He set down roots in Saratoga County while in his 20s, shortly after the Civil War.

“I can see my dad in his face,” Liv Tyler told Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts, after being shown a photograph in a 1912 brochure during a segment that depicted “Mr. and Mrs. George Elliott and family, Schuylerville, N.Y.” with their 17 children.

Liv Tyler, the daughter of Steven Tyler and Nashville based singer, songwriter and pop culture icon Bebe Buell, was filmed while driving around Saratoga and visiting the office of the Saratoga County Clerk in Ballston Spa. She was joined by her dad at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Victory, where in the shadow of the a 155-foot tall Saratoga Monument, they visited the burial sites of their ancestors.

 

Prospect Hill.JPG

 

“I thought it was a fun show and great piece of history about her family,” said the Saratoga Town Historian Sean Kelleher. “When you start doing these family searches, you just never know what you’re going to find.”

It is not known what prompted the relocation to the Schuylerville area of George Elliott, who had African-America roots. In the 19th century, the greater Schuylerville area counted two Abolitionist Societies who lobbied politicians, published abolitionist papers, and invited speakers into their communities - Frederick Douglass among them, according to Village of Schuylerville Historian Kristina Saddlemire. 

In the village by the latter part of the 19th century, local kids found their winter recreation ice skating on the frozen canal. They attended classes at Schuylerville’s Union Free School, a four-story building that stood on Green and University Streets, and played host to a visiting music teacher from Northumberland who would arrive by pony and provide piano lessons for the entire family.  

Research conducted independently of the show points to at least one member of the Elliott family being employed at the historic textile mill building in Victory, Kelleher said.

The family were members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Schuylerville.  Of George and Eliza’s 17 kids, 15 were born in Au Sable Forks.

“Two of the children - Jennie May, and Arthur - were born in Schuylerville,” said Don Papson, co-founder and curator of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum, in Ausable Chasm, N.Y.

Jennie May Elliott was born in 1889, and Arthur Earnest Elliott two years later. According to a 1976 obituary, Arthur was a groundskeeper who had been employed By Skidmore College and lived in Saratoga Springs for many years. Jennie May’s descendant, Mary Briscoe, currently lives in Watervliet. She recalled meeting many of her relatives as a young girl growing up in Victory, where she lived until the age of six, before relocating during the 1940s. Watching the TV episode, Briscoe said she was able to learn more about her own ancestors, particularly those who lived during the Civil War Era and beyond.

Steven Tyler’s mother, and Liv Tyler’s grandmother, Susan Ray Tallarico – whose maiden name was Blancha - was the daughter of Bessie June Blancha (Elliott), who in turn was the daughter of Robert J. Elliott and Edna Wheeler. Robert J. Elliott was one of the sons of George and Eliza Elliot, the first members of the family to settle in Saratoga.  Their connection to Schuylerville and Victory seems to have lasted at least until the early part of the 20th century.  

“Robert J. Elliott married Edna Wheeler. She was the daughter of Charles E. Wheeler, who as much as I can figure out was a photographer in the village,” Papson said.  Advertisements published in local newspapers in the early 1900s take note of photographer C.E. Wheeler’s a shop located on Broadway in Schuylerville.

The historians best pin-pointed the family home as having sat on Pearl Street in the village of Victory and just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on nearby Grove Street in Schuylerville. 

 

pearl.jpg

 

Who: Marianne Barker.

Where: Impressions of Saratoga, Broadway.

Q. When did you first come to Saratoga Springs.

A. 1980. From Long Island.

Q. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the city in that time?

A. It’s gotten so much busier.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge the city faces in the future?

A. Managing the growth and maintaining the character of downtown, its independent nature. The growth is great, it’s a sign of progress, but it also changes the dynamic.  So, maintaining a balance.

Q. What are you doing today?

A. Placing orders, looking for summer staff.  

Q. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A. A veterinarian. I was going to be a large animal vet. I was on my way to do that when I met Dave, my husband. He started a screen printing company and I said: well I’ll help him for a couple of years then go back to school. I deferred my acceptance to Cornell, and here I am, without a single regret. I love this.      

Q. Do you have animals?    

A. I’ve always had dogs, kitties, horses on and off. We have a mini-horse here, he’s a mascot for the store. His name is Upset, named for the horse that beat Man o’War.    

Q. What brush have you had with fame?

A. I was lucky enough three years ago to be invited by Congressman Tonko to go to the State of The Union address. So, I did that. There was President Obama, and Michelle Obama was sitting with one of the guys from “Duck Dynasty.” That was pretty cool. Just sitting in this crowd of people and thinking of all the historical things that happened in that room was amazing.  I still get chills thinking about it.

Q. What’s the best concert you attended?

A. Garth Brooks. It was a fantastic show, country music fan or not. And Tina Turner has to take the cake at SPAC. That’s my favorite.     

Thursday, 27 April 2017 15:21

New SPAC Series Seats Audience On Stage

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is launching a new programming series this summer that seats audiences directly on the stage of the iconic amphitheater.

The onstage seating capacity in the unique format is 300. The entire audience will sit onstage with the artists and no other seats will be sold for the four-concert series. 

“Positioning audiences onstage for this series will offer them a unique, visceral experience – a connection with the performance unlike anything they have experienced previously,” SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said, in a statement.

The series takes place on four consecutive evenings in August.  New York City jazz band The Hot Sardines perform on Aug.7;  Time for Three, and its three classically trained musicians — violinists Nicholas Kendall and Charles Yang, and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer – perform Aug. 14;  Classical, hip-hop and R&B fused ensemble Black Violin – whose members have appeared at President Obama's Inaugural and three Super Bowls – perform Aug. 21, and three-time Grammy Award nominated Afro-Cuban music group Tiempo Libre will perform on Aug. 28.

Tickets to SPAC on Stage are limited and are $40 to $50, and available at spac.org beginning May 3. And check out this video clip about the series: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrSakvGGmHo&feature=youtu.be

SARATOGA SPRINGS – This weekend’s concert by The Orchestra of St. Luke’s will mark the second of six concerts brought to Saratoga Springs this year born of a newly forged partnership between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 

The collaboration between the two venues, each which has staged more than a half-century of performances, will encompass jointly curated and presented programs at both venues, with the location varying by season.

The Orchestra of St. Lukes, one of Americas foremost chamber orchestras, will make a first-ever appearance in the Capital Region on April 25 in an exclusive performance at Lena’s café.

“I was in New York in January talking with some friends over coffee when they mentioned they had this program of baroque chamber music they were doing,” recalled SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol.  “It was written by Bach to be performed at Café Zimmerman - a coffeehouse in Leipzig where all the artists and intellectuals would gather at the time Bach was living there. When I heard it was at a coffeehouse, I thought: Oh my God, that has got to come to Caffè Lena. It’s a perfect collaboration between SPAC and Caffè Lena.” 

And while this weekend’s show is sold out, tickets are still available for the third spring program, which will be staged at Caffè Lena May 4 and features Louisville, Kentucky-based folk band Harpeth Rising.  Tickets are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2910973.

In June, the series shifts to SPAC, where three free Sunday afternoon concerts, one each in June, July, and August will be staged at the new gazebo.

“Very soon we’ll be announcing the summer component to the partnership which will include a monthly Caffè Lena Day at SPAC,” Sobol explained.  “It’ll be the whole afternoon, from 12 to 5, and families will be able to come and hang and make music a real part of the afternoon in the park.”  The three summer concerts are being curated by the café’s executive director, Sarah Craig.

“When we sat down and started talking about artists, every band Sarah mentioned to me I flipped over. Everything she mentioned I love,” Sobol said.

“I looked for artists that have a huge energy and a rich intensity that can hold up well in an outdoor environment,” said Craig, adding that the schedule of musicians, when solidified, could number as many as three performers on each of the three days. And while the teaming-up of the two Saratoga Springs powerhouses marks the first official collaboration between the venues, there is a long list of artists – from Bob Dylan to Melanie to Don McLean – who have performed at both, as well as a synergy historically fostered by Lena Spencer, who invited musicians appearing on the SPAC stage to come and perform after-hour concerts at her Phila Street café.

With six months under her belt as the new leader at SPAC, Sobol said one goal is creating new ventures while maintaining the venue’s time-honored traditions. 

“I was being very conservative until I got the lay of the land. I haven’t touched the big resident companies because they’re so important to the DNA of SPAC, but we’ve been making some enhancements – like this Caffè Lena partnership, and within the next couple of weeks we’re going to be announcing all sorts of partnerships with some of our other cultural family members,” Sobol said. “There are so many organizations here, my feeling is the more we all work together the more we raise Saratoga up.“ 

Who: Matt McCabe.

Where: Saratoga Guitar, 480 Broadway.

Q. When did you first come to Saratoga Springs.

April of ’94, and I opened the store in June.

Q. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the city in that time?

A. In the last 23 years there have been quite a few changes in the landscape with the high-rises, the condominiums and more storefronts. It’s a city on the move. It’s growing. I don’t think it’s as rampant as some might think. It’s a small city, so the changes are more amplified but the image is there because of the success of downtown.   

Q. What are you doing today?

A. Re-stringing guitars, trying to pay bills.

Q. Do you still play guitar and sing on stage?    

A. I still do with whoever will have me. I play at the Olde Bryan Inn during racing season with some guitar compadres, and throughout the year I do a host of other concerts, benefits and gigs as they arise.        

Q. What brush have you had with fame?

A. Being the business this is and with the bands touring through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and attend a lot of concerts, go backstage and meet many of the artists. You get the occasional celebrity coming to town on their own R&R who stumble in. I remember Sam Shepard the actor coming in. He was very nice.  

Q. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A. A veterinarian. That was all I ever thought of being. That and a baseball player. Everything else happened by accident.      

Q. You were city Commissioner of Finance for Four Years. Do you miss it?

A. I love being able to serve the public, but the vacuum gets filled immediately. When you’re in, you’re in. When you’re out, you’re out. And life fills up, so I have that time to miss it. I certainly look back on it fondly. It was a challenge, but it I did my best and I thoroughly enjoyed working for the people of Saratoga Springs.    

Thursday, 20 April 2017 17:05

Notes From City Hall

Workshop Set for Affordable Housing Ordinance

A City Council workshop on the much-debated SPA Housing Ordinance will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 4 at City Hall, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen announced this week. The ordinance, if approved, would have a citywide effect on future development.   

A New Home for Retired Police Horse Jupiter

The council authorized an agreement - at no cost to the city -  to allow the transfer of retired police horse Jupiter to police officer Aaron Moore, who will care for “my fellow officer and partner as he transitions into retirement after serving our community.”  Jupiter, who is 24, will be transferred to Ballston Lake, “where he will be well taken care of by my wife and myself,” Moore wrote, in a letter read to the council by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen.

Council Gives Thumbs-Up to Pitney Meadows Community Farm PUD

The council unanimously accepted a SEQRA Determination and approved the proposed Pitney Meadows Community Farm PUD - reporting that the project will not have a significant adverse impact on the environment.  The PUD, or Planned Unit Development, was sought for the development of a 35,000+ square foot agricultural center at the Pitney Meadows Farm, on West Avenue. The center will sit on a small non-farming portion of the land.

Projects slated to begin later this year include the development of the community gardens, the children’s greenhouse, gardens, and some trails and the renovation and repurposing of 11 historic buildings currently on the farm.

Last November, the council approved the $1.165 million city purchase of the development rights of the 166-acre Pitney Farm, to ensure the farm land remains a farm in perpetuity.

City Approves Purchase of Lands Adjacent to Loughberry Lake

The City Council unanimously approved the city’s purchase of two parcels of land, amounting to just over two acres, adjacent to Loughberry Lake. The parcels are just north of state Route 50 and will be purchased from Krista and Jason Tommell for $135,000 in Open Space Bond Funds. As well, $5,000 was approved for expenses associated with the purchase.

Should Loughberry Lake no longer be used as a reservoir in the future, the parcel could potentially serve as a pocket park with access to the waterfront for active or passive recreation.

Learn How to Grieve Your Assessment

A Grievance Class will be held 5:30 p.m. on May 9 at City Hall, Accounts Commissioner John Franck announced this week.

Grievance Day in Saratoga Springs is Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Grievance board members will be hearing grievances from 9 a.m. – noon; 1 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Residents can choose morning, afternoon or evening sessions and must submit completed application and documentation to the Assessment Office in order to be scheduled for a time. Applications will be available after May 1.

Upcoming Meetings

The Planning Board will hold a workshop at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 24 and a full meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at City Hall. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at City Hall.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – By the time the early 1970s rolled around, any promise perceived of a train bound for glory on a fast track to the Aquarian Age had instead become supplanted by a cranky subway car departing a graffiti-stained station with a congregation of misfits aboard.

It is these characters of humanity – Rake the hustler, Fick the junkie, Al the alcoholic, and Franny the transvestite prostitute – put on display, in all their grit and glory in the staging of Skidmore Theater’s presentation of “Balm In Gilead.” The play, scripted by Lanford Wilson, premiered Off Off Broadway at La MaMa in 1965 and a generation later re-set to take place in the early 1970s.

The geography is uptown Manhattan, the setting an all-night diner where characters drift in and out against a backdrop of booths and swiveling stools that lean on a cheesy, diamond-motif counter topped by metal napkin holders, red and yellow plastic-spout squeeze bottles, and a big, clunky cash register.

Under the direction of Phil Soltanoff -  a veteran of recent projects staged in Austin, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York City - the two dozen or so Skidmore College players convincingly convey a scenario with a talented realism that certainly pre-dates the time before their own existence on earth if not their parents, in providing a voyeuristic experience of a collection of characters whose lives are simultaneously humorous and tragic.

Sydney Tennant portrays the doe-eyed Darlene - a naïve, newly transplanted New Yorker - with credible splendor, marathon monologuing deep into the night, expressing every single thought that pours from her mind with a blend of child-like innocence and annoying animation. She engages even the most hardened characters seated in the 24-hour diner in a shared humanity, if only for a fleeting moment. When she concludes her soliloquy by saying “Anyway, to make a long story short…” it cracks everyone up, characters and audience alike.  

In John - the grungy, apron-draped cafe manager portrayed by Jacob Hudson who alternates his time between cooking in the kitchen and showing non-paying customers the door - and Kay, the yellow- garbed waitress played by Anabel Milton who runs around taking coffee orders and wiping down tables – the play depicts a solid foundation of the drab, bleak realities of the working class. It stands in high contrast to the commotion of platinum blonde wigs and wounded blue jeans, hot pants, leather thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, silver sequined miniskirts and post-hippie fringe in a sleaze-and-glam cacophony that lives somewhere between a New York Dolls concert and a Starsky & Hutch TV show. 

Lulu Fairclough-Stewart especially shines as the oh-so-bored, scarlet-haired Ann, providing a perfect foil to Darlene’s ramblings, nursing a cigarette and firmly encased in her hard shell of emotional body armor, before heading back into the street, past a shuttered bodega and an alleyway framed by trash, to make her living. Chris Naughton is convincing as well in a lead role as the mustached drug dealer Joe, for whom the naïve Darlene falls.  

The ensemble as a whole weaves its work like a large orchestra, a series of direct and non-direct actions conveying the mayhem with an authenticity; These student actors bring the scenes to life.

 An appropriate soundtrack blares out the diner jukebox throughout: Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River,” “Thunder Road,” and “Jungleland,” and “Waltzing Matilda” sung by Tom Waits, that fittingly sprinkles the optimistic hope of escape onto on-the-nod moments of despair. 

After the final curtain call, the characters return for one more go-around the diner, reminiscent of the dusky cycling at the conclusion of the Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter,” and which leaves the open question: are we moving on to a grander time in this life, or being forced to return to our destiny, time and again?

Skidmore Theater Presents “Balm In Gilead,” by Lanford Wilson. Director: Phil Soltanoff.

Performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23.   Skidmore College: Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Mainstage. Tickets are $12 adult, $8 students and faculty. After the April 22 performance of Balm in Gilead, the Skidmore Theater Department will host its annual house party. “That 70’s House Party,” is a celebratory event to recognize the department’s achievements this year.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The twins are 13 now, the effort to fulfill their special needs a continuing work-in-progress.  

“I have to say my boys have some difficult challenges, but they’re hard workers and every day they make progress, every day they learn,” explains the boys’ mother, Kristin Howarth. “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. You just keep pushing and keep teaching and keep helping them make those milestones.”

A little over a decade ago, Howarth and her husband relocated to upstate New York. The twins were about 18 months old when The Howarths noticed the boys seemed delayed in meeting some of their developmental milestones.

“We started a music program with the boys when they were just over a year. We looked around at the group and saw what the other kids were doing and what my kids weren’t,” Howarth recalled. “At around a year old there’s a certain number of words that a typically-developing child will say, that our guys were not saying. It made me ask some questions. It was a significant factor that made us speak out and have discussions with our pediatrician,” Howarth says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for general development using standardized, validated tools at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months, or whenever a parent or provider has a concern.  

By their first birthday, a child will typically say “mama” and “dada” and voice exclamations like “uh-oh!” as well as trying to repeat words they hear from their parents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s milestones checklist may downloaded here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf.

An early intervention therapist was sent to work with the family, visiting the home four days a week over the next six months, after which Gavin and Noah were diagnosed with autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

“When you do hear it, it’s a blow and all of these things you picture as a parent come crashing down: Will my children ever play sports? Will they have friends and go to the prom? Will they drive? will they get married?” she wondered. There’s no welcoming committee when your child is diagnosed with autism. No one comes and knocks on your door to say: Here are some things that you can do; Here’s a go-to guide. You basically leave the doctor’s office after that diagnosis and you think: What do I do now?”

The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children, in multiple communities in the United States, has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD - roughly 30 percent higher than estimates previously reported in 2012. The data also show that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls.

Howarth searched the Internet, but answers were hard to come by a decade ago. “They were diagnosed at just over two years of age and it quickly became pretty obvious to us that there weren’t a lot of resources in our area, short of traveling down to Albany,” she says. “It was a challenge because we live up in Queensbury. We figured, why can’t we create it? So, we did.”

Gavin and Noah were the driving force behind the creation of Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA). The organization provides resources, education, recreation and advocacy services. Howarth provides advocacy, program development, consulting and education through the group. 

“It was a very emotional time and that was also one of the factors in starting the group. We wanted to give children as many opportunities as we could, just like their typically developing peers, because they’re kids first. Autism is secondary.”  

Howarth’s group is comprised of volunteers who help connect parents with children diagnosed with autism, with resources.   “We also provide activities every month so parents can get together with their children and talk to other families and meet other people in their school district - families involved in the group, somebody they can feel comfortable talking with,” says Howarth, who adds that she has also accessed valuable services from Saratoga Bridges. “They have some wonderful things that provide services for families such as ours.”

UNYAA and Saratoga Bridges are teaming up to co-host this weekend’s Autism Expo at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The family event will feature more than 85 vendors and exhibitors, a variety of activities and games, arts and crafts, and sensory toys for kids.  More than 1,000 people are expected to attend Sunday’s expo.

“It’s an amazing event under one roof. We have all these resources for families who can talk to different vendors, providers, and people who offer different services for kids in the spectrum,” Howarth says.

ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

“They have to be taught in a different way and broken down into simple steps. People don’t really understand what autism is, but really, it’s just that their brains are wired differently. They don’t learn the way we do, or they may not interpret things the way we do,” Howarth says.

All of the causes of ASD are not known. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental and genetic factors.

“They look typical, but they don’t process information – both incoming and outgoing – so it can be a challenge for them to just pick up those social cues like another child might.”

The sixth annual Autism Expo will be held noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The event is free and features exhibitors from camps, school programs pre-k through college, technological apps for autism, recreation and therapeutic programs, a bounce house and arts and crafts.

Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA) is a not-for-profit alliance formed by dedicated parents of children experiencing the affects of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For more information, go to: http://www.upstatenyautism.org/. Saratoga Bridges has provided programs to people with disabilities and their families for more than 60 years. For more information, go to: http://www.saratogabridges.org/

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