Death Wish Coffee Co. Owner Mike Brown answers questions from local veterans; and Nick Casey (as Santa Claus) and Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski at Saratoga Coffee Traders. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – This week, local military veterans shared holiday cheer as they celebrated the one-year anniversary of a social event held every Tuesday at Saratoga Coffee Traders, specifically for them to make new friends.
Amy Hughes, program coordinator for the Veterans Peer Connection in Ballston Spa, first organized the coffee meet-up in early November 2016. In the course of almost 60 weeks it was canceled only one Tuesday due to bad weather. “We had ice,” she said.
Hughes said 15 or 20 veterans regularly show up between 5 and 7 p.m. each week to mingle at the coffee shop, located at 447 Broadway. On the Tuesday before Christmas, though, a boisterous crowd of 30 veterans filled the small back room for the occasion.
Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski, chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and a veteran himself after 38 years of service in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, was in attendance with his wife.
Also invited was Death Wish Coffee Company owner Mike Brown, who explained to the crowd that he opened Saratoga Coffee Traders in 2008 before developing his own unique vision for the coffee industry. The veterans applauded his company’s success.
“We do love your coffee,” one man confessed.
Afterward, Brown said it surprised him “how big this is,” noting how Death Wish Coffee Co. offers discounted products to military veterans and strongly supports local firefighters and law enforcement—whose members are often veterans, too.
“This means more than you can really put into words,” offered Nick Casey in his Santa Claus costume. He served in the Air National Guard and met Kinowski during that time.
Casey described the coffee meet-ups on Broadway as “vets for vets,” noting how in the early weeks only two or three people attended.
“I came looking for help and now I’m helping,” he said, after making his rounds with hearty exclamations of “ho-ho-ho.”
Will Ryan, who served in the U.S. Army for eight years, explained how Hughes connects individual veterans in an ongoing mentorship program. He said mentors offer to help struggling veterans with trips to grocery stores, the filing of paperwork for healthcare at the Veterans Administration, or whatever they need.
“I volunteered for the military. I love to serve,” Ryan said. “I wanted to work with veterans, so this is what I found. It just made sense that I would come here to Amy’s program.”
Tory Landry reported that he has served in the National Guard for 19 years, and now works out of the Watervliet Arsenal. He has attended all of the coffee meet-ups in Saratoga Springs, while serving as a mentor for veterans who are deemed “high risk.”
Landry routinely meets with incarcerated veterans at the Saratoga County jail.
“Nobody wants to ask for help,” Landry observed. Veterans “join the military, they succeed in that aspect, so asking for help is tough to do.” But the mentors, he added, can help to “open a dialogue.”
“Saratoga County seems to be very good at establishing that core support foundation…to allow all these events to happen,” Landry said.
The Veterans Peer Connection, a Saratoga County agency supported through New York State grant funds, pays the tab every Tuesday at Saratoga Coffee Traders.
The agency organizes numerous activities throughout the year as well. It has scheduled a free event for veterans on Thursday, Jan. 18 at The Comedy Works, located at 388 Broadway.
Sandy Arnold, who served in the U.S. Army and Reserves for more than 20 years, sat at a table Tuesday night with several more women veterans. She praised the coffee meet-ups arranged by Hughes and the role of Veterans Peer Connection in general.
“It’s really nice. I’ve made a lot of real friends,” Arnold said. “We’re there for each other.”
For more information, call 518-884-4999 or visit the website https://veteranspeertopeer.org/.