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Displaying items by tag: saratoga winter club

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Future Olympians from across the United States will compete for National Short Track Age Group titles at the Saratoga Springs Weibel Ave. Ice Rink, Friday — Sunday, March 23 - 25.  

RACE TIMES:  Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 11:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.  

Hosted by the Saratoga Winter Club, the U.S. Short Track Age Group National Championships and the American Cup 3 Final will offer spectators a first-hand view of the fastest human powered sport.  Starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, current Olympians (returning from South Korea) will give an informal presentation, “Olympian: Vision to Execution;” give demonstrations on equipment and speed skating techniques (with audience participation, at 4 p.m.);

Six Saratoga Winter Club athletes will be competing. In addition, the Ice Cut Food Truck Festival (Saturday, March 24, 11 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.) will offer up a variety of delicious, fun food for spectators: pulled pork, wraps, waffles and more.  Last but not least, The Skate Extravaganza, on Saturday, March 24 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. features music, lights and the 500 meter sprint and 3000 meter relay finals. The Skate Extravaganza races will be some, if not the most exciting events of the weekend. The Saratoga Winter Club has a great history of hosting successful events ranging from local races to World Cup events and has brought up numerous Olympians in both short track and long track skating. This is the largest speed skating competition in the United States and it is the first time in over a decade SWC has been awarded this particular competition, offering our local community the rare opportunity to see, first hand, some of the best speed skaters in the United States.All events are free and open to the public.

Published in Sports
Thursday, 11 January 2018 13:13

Saratoga Winter Club: A Tradition Since 1888

[Photos provided]

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The talk of speedskating in the United States will inevitably bring up the topic of Saratoga Winter Club, which began its rich history in 1888 as the Saratoga Toboggan Club, finally became it’s current form in the 1930’s. Several Olympians have made their way through the club including: John Wurster, 1968 and 1972 US Olympic team member; Rich Wurster, 1972 Olympic team member; Pat Maxwell, 1984 National and World Team Coach and also 1988 Olympic Short Track team coach; in the 1990’s Olympic team members Moria D’Andrea, Kristen Talbot, David Tamborino, and Erin Porter skated on the ice for The Saratoga Winter Club. The winning tradition continued in the 2010 Winter Olympics with Trevor Marsicano. This day and age, aspiring skaters still take to The Saratoga Winter Club ice under the tutelage of five-time Olympic team member Amy PetersonPeck; National Skating Technical Advisor and speed skate maker Paul Marchesse; and Olympic coach Pat Maxwell. Paul Ripchik, current President of The Saratoga Winter Club for the last five years, has had his two children involved in the program for the last ten years.

“We have people coming from all over, one of the girls travels from Southern Connecticut twice a week, three hours each way,” he said in awe.

“Amy Peterson-Peck, when she came to train with Pat Maxwell back in the late 90’s, she stayed, she met a local guy. She now has a family, she has four boys, and she’s keeping it going. Amy carried the American flag into the Olympic games in Salt Lake City. So, over the course of the history of this club, we’ve had over 16 Olympians come out of Saratoga Springs, so every four years people get excited about it,” Ripchik laughed.

The club’s ice season is September through March and then after a little time off, the athletes start dry-land training.

“We try not to do year-round on the ice, especially with the younger kids. We don’t want them to burn out, so they cross-train with soccer or baseball or softball, just as long as they’re active,” he explained.

Ripchik’s two children, Ellie, 13, and Spencer, 15, started with the club at four and five years old.

“Their aunt, Erin Porter, was an Olympian so that’s sort of how I got involved, I married into it,” Ripchik said.

Jennifer Kirsch, from Long Island originally, began ice speedskating at the age of 17.

“I was an in-liner who found out that in-lining wasn’t going to become an Olympic sport, so I became a speedskater,” Kirsch explained.

Kirsch tried out for the 2002 Olympic team and placed twelfth resulting in her making some World Cup teams.

“It’s an honor to be the oldest skater at trials. That was great,” she explained.

Kirsch is only 38 years old.

“I don’t know if this is bias because he’s my coach, he’s my fiancé, he’s my business partner, and he’s my soulmate but Paul Marchese is definitely my role model. He has done it all and also started his own business and continued to skate. He’s the only person I know that actually loves the sport so much that he’s in it 24/7. He’s passionate about it, he’ll help anyone out. He’s a great coach, a great mentor, but I feel like he can just put everything on a small plate and he’ll be super happy with life,” Kirsch spoke of her coach.

Rebecca Simmons, a 28-year-old speedskater from Rochester originally and now living with her parents in Averill Park, began skating when she was nine. Simmons speed skated in her youth from age nine to thirteen, after that she continued with hockey until the end of college. During graduate school, she picked up her speedskating career again. Simmons also just competed in the Olympic trials.

“Speedskating was supposed to be my retirement and just a fun sport and then I moved home, and Saratoga has had so many people that are just really good and then before you know it, you’re sucked into training and you can’t stop, and now I’m here,” she laughed.

Aside from speedskating, Simmons works in the health field as a pediatrics floor tech in Albany Med and as a delivery room tech in St. Peter’s Hospital. She has a Masters in physiology. Simmons trains for “at least six hours a day. Most weeks it’s seven days a week, so it’s a lot every day.”

Paul Marchese has had a long and fulfilling skating career so far and he’s still going, in any way that he can. Between skating, refereeing, coaching (domestically and internationally), and owning a business that creates skates, he seems to live for the sport. Marchese is from the Catskill area and travels to Saratoga several times a week for The Saratoga Winter Club.

“I started late as a skater. Most of the guys that I had been racing against put on skates for the first time when they were like eight years old. I didn’t start speedskating until I was about 15, so when I was done with that, I felt like I still had things to offer. So that threw me into coaching,” he explained.

“As you grow and gain more experience and you start to hit some crossroads when you are high school age, it’s at that point where some further commitment is needed from them and then you have to manage the skaters more carefully from there to make sure that they don’t do too much but to make sure that they do enough to be competitive, because otherwise they lose interest; they’re not competitive anymore. So, it’s hard to strike that balance when they’re teenagers,” Marchese said of coaching.

When asked what it was like to coach his fiancé, his face began to beam, “she’s fantastic,” he said enthusiastically of Kirsch.

The Saratoga Winter Club will be hosting the US Speedskating Age Group Nationals and America Cup Final the weekend of March 23-25 at the Weibel Ice Rink. This is the second largest speed skating meet held in the US every year and there will be over 200 participants from around the country skating at this event.

Published in Sports
Thursday, 04 January 2018 12:46

Katy Ralston: Local Speedskating Athlete

[Photos provided]

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Katy Ralston, a Saratoga Springs native, has been training in speedskating since she was eight years old and has been training full time since she was 16. Now, at 25-years-old, Ralston has decided to retire. Ralston just participated in her last Olympic Trials, which took place Dec. 15 – 17. The top three women and the top five men made the Olympic team, Ralston finished eighth overall.

“It was pretty much where I was expecting to finish. It would have been great if I had been able to do better or even make the team, but realistically I knew that was where I was sitting. In some races I did better than I expected. It was an okay way to finish out my career,” Ralston stated.

Before Ralston ever started speedskating, she was a soccer player. She will be going to school full time at Salt Lake Community College, where she is considering getting a degree in physical therapy, and will be playing soccer.

“Soccer was my first love for sports. Now that I’m done skating, I’d like to train for soccer and see where that can take me,” she explained.

In 2010, after graduation from high school, Ralston moved to Utah to train full time.

“Doing this for eight years is mentally and physically exhausting. I’m 25 so I’m kind of at the back end of my career, I don’t think I can make it another four years. Its time, I don’t have anything I regret much with skating. It was time to hang up the skates and move on,” Ralston said.

Ralston got her skating start at the Saratoga Winter Club after skating at her families’ frozen farm house pond with her dad.

“My dad had really old speed skates and he was doing cross-overs. I thought it was really cool and he tried to teach me,” she reminisced.

After that, her parents decided she needed to take skating lessons.

“It was kind of a fun activity that young kids do and as I got older, it was more fun and I started getting faster. Back then, the club had a lot of Olympians, World Cup team members, and some National Team members there. That put me in a cool position to train on the same ice as them. They helped me out a lot in wanting to pursue skating further as I got older,” she said. “My family has been really supportive. They’ve been great in helping me afford the equipment and all of the other expenses,” Ralston mused.

Ralston’s main coach in Saratoga was Paul Marchese.

“He’s still with the club but  when I was 16 and really decided I wanted to get really good at this and try to go to the Olympics, Marchese really helped me out with getting to the next level. Most recently, my coach is Lin Lin Phun in Utah. She was a gold medalist from China and her medal is from the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. For the past two years I’ve been skating with her,” Ralston explained.

With her full time athletic lifestyle, Ralston has traveled many places and created a family like bond with her teammates, and that is what she’ll “miss the most.”

“The coolest place I’ve traveled to is Seoul, Korea. The people there that come to watch the World Cup there are crazy, they’re so passionate about short track in Korea. The rink fills up with people and it’s a really cool environment to be in as an athlete,” Ralston remembered.

Ralston has seen many accomplishments in the nearly eight years she has invested full time into speed skating.

From 2010-2011, she was a member of the US Junior World Team; from 2010-2012 and 20142018, Ralston was on the US Short Track National Team; in 2011 she placed eighteenth overall in the Junior World Championships; and in 2014 and 2018, she placed eighth overall at the Olympic Trials.

Published in Sports

SARATOGA SPRINGS – This year, Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) is celebrating 25 years of helping the homeless take back their lives and get back on their feet. On Thursday, April 7, the anniversary will be officially commemorated at SOS’s Brighter Days Gala at Longfellows, where the “Help, Hope, Humanity” award will be presented to members of the community that have contributed to SOS’s success and progress over the years.

One of the awardees is former mayor Ken Klotz, who has been involved with SOS since almost the very beginning. Klotz has a unique prospective on the 25 year anniversary of SOS – his involvement in the growth of the organization for over two decades makes him the ideal witness to SOS’s development and achievements.

“What has been really remarkable for me is to see how the services of the shelter have expanded to meet the needs of the community,” said Klotz, who started working with SOS as a member of their board in the early 90’s. “It was small scale in the beginning. Now, if you go to the gala, it fills Longfellows. The community acceptance and support of it is just really striking to me when I look back over the years.”

SOS began at St. Clements Church in January 1992 with just six beds after members of the community and the church decided they had the power to help those who live on the streets. Later that year, SOS moved to a trailer home on East Beekman Street, which had eight available beds.

“I volunteered for overnights there at that point,” said Klotz in regards to the location on East Beekman. “It was an interesting experience. It was a small space, and when it was filled it was claustrophobic.”

Klotz continued helping SOS as a volunteer and in 1995 was able to help even more after getting elected to the city council. In 1997, when SOS did not finish constructing their building at 14 Walworth Street on time, the grant they were supposed to receive from the state was in danger of being pulled. Since it was being built on a city lot, Klotz stepped in, and through the city council and fellow colleagues, was able to steer the grant through. “I was in a position to do something about it,” he said.

Furthermore, Klotz used his position as mayor from 2000 to 2003 as a platform for raising awareness to homelessness. “You have an audience because people are always asking your opinion when you represent the city, so you can bring attention to issues you think are important,” he said. “I want people to know that street life is not attractive. These are not people that want to live miserable lives.”

After serving his two terms as mayor, Klotz was approached by SOS once again in 2006 to be a part of an advisory committee that was focusing on development and fundraising. He has now been on the committee for eight years.

In the last 25 years, SOS has grown and expanded its services exponentially. Starting at just six beds at St. Clements, SOS’s shelters can now house up to 35 men and women at once. SOS has expanded its outreach to local motels and the streets, as well as providing adult and youth drop-in centers for hot meals and showers. Code Blue, which began in 2013, offers shelter for homeless individuals during harsh weather conditions. SOS uses the term “continuum of care” as part of their mission – in other words, not only providing short-term help, but also long-term support for finding housing, jobs and education.

“I think Saratoga Springs, for a small city, has handled this difficult problem as well as you could imagine a city responding,” said Klotz. “We have really good leadership, members of the community that step up, and an enormous number of volunteers. These are the people that are really putting in the work and hours because they don’t think this should be a place where people die on the streets. To me, that says volumes about our community and what a wonderful community it is to live in.”

When asked how he felt about getting the “Help, Hope, Humanity” award, Klotz responded: “I really was floored by it because there are probably 300 people more deserving than I am. I just know how dependent the shelter is on the committed volunteer efforts so many people in the community give to it. I’m just a volunteer like anybody else.”

 

Klotz will be honored at the Brighter Days Gala on April 7, along with Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle, and Vincent, Patty, Ronald and Michele Riggi for their philanthropy toward SOS. Tickets to the gala are $100 and proceeds will benefit the over 1,000 men and women SOS helps each year. For more information about Shelters of Saratoga, and to make reservations for the Brighter Days Gala, visit sheltersofsaratoga.org. 

Published in News
Friday, 29 January 2016 13:53

Hot Potato at the Freezing Point:

Homeless Seek Shelter at Saratoga Hospital ER

SARATOGA SPRINGS – What you have here is a textbook case about an unfunded government mandate in action. Well intentioned, perhaps, but in this case it has to date led local organizations, also well intentioned, but in some cases underfunded, in others under-equipped, to scramble for an effective solution to fulfill the mandate. Meanwhile, the weakest segment of our society – our homeless – has their safety and very lives in limbo.

 

On Sunday, January 3, in advance of an anticipated drop in New York City’s temperature and large snowfall amounts, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order requiring local governments to take identified homeless people off the streets and into shelters, by force, if necessary, once the temperature reaches 32 degrees or below. While many statewide were quick to criticize the force component of the order, it became an economic issue locally this week. 

 

The City of Saratoga Springs Code Blue Shelter is operated by Shelters of Saratoga at the Salvation Army on Woodlawn Avenue. The shelter is “triggered,” or goes into operation, when the temperature is expected to drop below 20 degrees, or when a foot of snowfall is expected.  It should be noted that this is a benchmark that has been used by many similar organizations throughout the state. After the Governor’s mandate, the local Code Blue Shelter continued to operate under that same threshold, as they had no immediate way to secure the funding to keep it open more often.

 

“We’re certainly willing to look at (raising the threshold),” said Shelters of Saratoga’s (SOS) Executive Director Mike Finocchi. “We actually did raise it once, from 10 to 20 degrees. The issue with us is securing funding for the costs involved, and of course staffing. We are primarily a volunteer organization, and though we get some grant money, we are principally funded through generous donations from the community.” Finocchi said that the Code Blue Shelter accommodates an average of 38 people when open.

 

During the overnight hours of Tuesday/Wednesday, January 22/23, the temperature was below freezing, but not cold enough to activate the Code Blue Facility. A subset of the homeless population, 10 to 12 people, was transported to the emergency room at Saratoga Hospital to seek an alternative shelter. Some have speculated that a homeless volunteer transported this group; other sources have told Saratoga TODAY that a part time resident of the shelter had organized the group of people. Regardless, the people appeared on the hospital’s doorstep.

 

For it’s part, Saratoga Hospital did all it could to accommodate the unexpected people, despite the fact that it’s Emergency Department is not set up to do this kind of hosting. A statement released by Saratoga Hospital’s Vice President for Community Engagement, Amy Raimo on Wednesday, January 27 seemed to strike a proper chord: Caring and yet not possessing the proper facilities. The statement read in part:

 

“Last night, approximately 10 to 12 people from the homeless community were brought to our Emergency Department…. We have had this occur before, but this is the largest number we have accommodated.

 

The Hospital has a long-standing practice: If someone from the community comes to the Hospital, we will not turn them away. We will be as responsive as we can be to meet their needs. However, we are not equipped to be a shelter, and refer anyone in need to the local community organizations best prepared to help. As always, our primary focus is to take care of our patients, but we will continue to work closely with local authorities and organizations to identify the best solutions when there is a need and we can help.”

 

As stated above, Shelters of Saratoga’s people have more than expressed willingness to raise the threshold to activate Code Blue. Perhaps this is a good time to enlist the reader to consider making, or making another, donation to help fund this worthy cause. Visit SheltersOfSaratoga.org for information. Meanwhile, this remains a story in progress that is frustrating to well-meaning people that are seeking a solution. And the homeless remain in limbo.

 

Finocchi added a note of irony. “On that night,” he said, “we actually had six rooms available at our regular shelter (on Walworth Street), which operates year-round. But nobody called us.”

Published in News
Friday, 03 July 2015 09:33

Addressing Homelessness in Saratoga Springs

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Former construction worker Don Petersimes, 54, relaxed his lanky form into the Shelters of Saratoga couch with a contradictory air of confidence and nervousness. This was a man who had proven he could survive anything life threw at him, but could not be sure that life had stopped throwing.

Petersimes told his story without rancour or self-pity, accepting the results of the economic downtown with a shrug, and acknowledging his own mistakes in a straightforward manner. His only sign of frustration was with the inconsistency of support systems for people trying to rebuild after losing their homes and livelihoods.

“They make it so hard that you give up,” Petersimes said. “If you’re getting $186 a month in food stamps, then go get a part-time job for 20 hours a week, they cut you back to $46. You get penalized for doing better instead of helping you to keep going up.”

A construction worker who was battling alcoholism, he began working part-time so he could take care of his ailing mother.

“She had cancer, and I wanted her to see a sober son,” Petersimes said. And he did it. When she died, he had nowhere to go. The owner of the small company he worked for decided to get out of the construction business, so with no home and no job, he fell off the wagon.

“I stayed out on the streets for seven years,” he said. During that time, he witnessed both the best and worst of humanity play out in real time as government, businesses, service providers and citizenry tried to figure out what to do with him and others experiencing homelessness.

“We'd get blankets from the shelters and have to hide them during the day,” Petersimes said. He described how homeless people have to hide their belongings such as identification, marriage and birth certificates, toothbrushes and old photographs, while they are out looking for work or housing or help. He has seen those things get stolen or found and thrown away.

“I’ve seen police officers laughing while taking a knife and cutting up tents behind the bank near Price Chopper in the woods,” Petersimes said. “They told us to leave, and we did, but they didn’t give the folks who had tents the chance to take them down.” He cleared his throat and sat back, silent for a moment in the memory of seeing one person laugh while another's few worldly goods were being taken before their eyes.

Michael A. Finocchi is the executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, Inc. (SOS). When he met Petersimes, it had been three years since the homeless man had been sober.

“He had been given so much misinformation that he didn't have any incentive left to get sober,” said Finocchi. So they talked, not about alcoholism or where to go for help, but about music.

“I am not my disease,” said Petersimes. “Mike was the first person who seemed to realize that.”

Petersimes plays the guitar, and has earned money as a street performer. Finocchi was able to draw him out and get him talking about his love for music, and before long Petersimes was confiding in him.

“Don wants to be sober,” said Finocchi. “He doesn't want to be homeless. He just needed someone to believe in him and help him navigate the system.”

Finocchi has a clear view of the successes and failings of governmental and charitable institutions in the effort to help the homeless. SOS is the only shelter serving three counties, so he knows it is imperative that the shelter help its guests utilize all available resources so they can get back into jobs and housing as soon as possible, even if the system sometimes feels like one step forward and two steps back.

“You know you can only get cold food with food stamps,” Petersimes said. No home means no stove, so he could not buy meat or pasta or rice or most of the foods allowed with food stamps. “There's hot food at the soup kitchen, but then you have to deal with all the others. Some are crazy.”

Petersimes is representative of any intelligent adult whose paycheck-to-paycheck life could turn into homelessness with a single misstep or sudden life change, like illness or job loss.

Finocchi said, “You'd be surprised how many people have come through here who have said they had a house, a job for fifteen years, and lost everything when they were laid off. Family trouble came right after losing the house, and it spirals.”

We live in a society that punishes the inability to pay bills with more bills, so if just one more thing goes wrong financially, even the most hard-working intelligent person can end up in a hole he cannot climb out of alone – and that hole is sometimes homelessness.

“We assisted more than 400 people here last year,” said Finocchi. The facility is a home, with a comfortable living room and fireplace, books, a large kitchen where Petersimes cooks for his new extended family, bedrooms reminiscent of college dorms, dedicated case workers and a household filled with guests seeking to build a new life.

“A homeless person will be the person who wants help and doesn’t know how to navigate the system. A vagrant doesn’t want to make a change,” said Finocchi. He said he walks alone or sometimes with members of the police department downtown, talking to the homeless and letting them know what help is available to them.

“There’s nothing for them to do during the day,” he said. Some will panhandle downtown and try to find places to sleep or sit, partly because there is no where for them to go. Once in awhile someone will get into trouble with the law, but it is rare that it is ever anything serious.

According to Lieutenant Robert H. Jillson
, Investigations' Division Commander and Public Information Officer of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, arrests of homeless individuals typically revolve around quality of life offences, not assaults or robberies.

“We’ll see open container violations, disorderly contact such as public urination, or trespassing,” said Jillson. “We’ll get calls for lingering, but that’s not illegal. When we get those calls, we’ll go assess the situation, but usually they are not doing anything wrong.”

Finocchi said a drop-in center would make a big difference. “It could provide case management, clothes, toothbrushes, and basic daily needs,” he said. He has seen very successful ones and, as a member of the Mayor's Housing Task Force, hopes to work with the City to have one created downtown.

“With the combined forces of the Code Blue Steering Committee and the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, we’re working on a continuum of care from emergency shelter to permanent housing,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “I really appreciate the partnership I have with the local service agencies. We’ve had some great successes already, and have accomplished an end to Veterans’ homelessness. A drop-in center is one of the ideas being considered for future, but staffing is a real issue.”

The Mayor’s Housing Task Force meets once a month and is made up of ten government, private, and nonprofit representatives assessing current and considering future housing needs in Saratoga. The Task Force is considering the needs of artists, young professionals, and other populations as well as homeless individuals.

The Saratoga Springs community as a whole has been working very hard to help eradicate homelessness, and the local service providers express their gratitude in every conversation. That said, there is an overwhelming amount of work yet to be done, and government, citizens, and providers are all being asked to step up to the challenge.

“We get about 300 people who don’t even live here who need socks, shoes a meal or something, and we don’t turn them away. If we don’t have it, we tell them to come back the next day and we go get it,” said Finocchi.

The organization has developed a capital improvement plan to address these pressing needs. More information about the project and how to support it is located at www.sheltersofsaratoga.org/help-us/expansion/.

Franklin Center just completed a capital campaign and is holding a celebration of its new food pantry on July 14 from 6 to 7 p.m. For more information about Franklin Community Center visit the website www.franklincommunitycenter.org.

The efforts of these organizations and others in the area are a bright spot in the complicated road out of homelessness, and Petersimes is more than grateful.

“My sobriety is my first success,” Petersimes said. He is 62 days sober. “Then, in the wonderful friends I've made through my sobriety. I have hope again that I can have a life, that I can support myself on my own. I may need a little help getting there, but I have that here. I have help getting to doctor's appointments and meetings and job searches. The most support I've ever had is right here, at Shelters of Saratoga.” 

He paused thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “There's this quote that I read once, but it's always stuck with me. That faith is in the presence of things unseen, but hope is faith in the presence of things seen. What they have done here is hope because I can see it. They showed it to me here – between Code Blue and the counselors and Mike [Finocchi]– they showed me that there is hope.”

Published in News
Friday, 29 May 2015 10:57

Homeless in Saratoga County

First in a three-part series exploring solutions.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Over the last few weeks, mingled with discussions about street performers and their impact – positive and negative – on business in downtown Saratoga Springs, many questions arose about the impact of the homeless population as well, especially vagrants who would block doorways or panhandle near business establishment entryways. 

Gregory Veitch, chief of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, has been working with service providers and local businesses regularly. He understands the concerns of the business community, and recently spoke at the Saratoga Springs City Council on the subject, where he assured members and attendees that the department will uphold the law while honoring people’s Constitutional rights. 

“You can’t arrest your way out of a homeless or vagrancy issue,” he said in a telephone interview. “We can arrest for criminal behavior, like lewdness or public urination, but we can’t arrest people for being homeless.”

Recognizing the complexity of the issue, the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association (DBA) invited homelessness service providers to speak at its general meeting on May 20, chaired by Tim Holmes, proprietor of Wheatfields Restaurant and president of the DBA. The topic was so well-received that anticipated attendance forced a venue change from Hattie’s Restaurant to a larger space in Northshire Bookstore. 

Mike Finocchi, Executive Director of Shelters of Saratoga, Maggie Fronk, Executive Director of Wellspring, and Jamie Williams, Associate Director of the Franklin Community Center all answered questions and gave an overview of the situation and services available to the homeless population in Saratoga County. 

“It was very well attended,” said Fronk. “At least 60 people were there. Although the impetus of the meeting was vagrancy, the tone of the meeting was very much about what is being done now and what can businesses do to help with solutions. There has never been a doubt about the compassion and community investment of our community leaders. Code Blue could not exist without businesses providing dinners and other fundraisers.”

Code Blue Saratoga Springs is an emergency shelter serving homeless people who might otherwise remain unsheltered during periods of extreme winter weather. Wellspring, formerly Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, offers crisis intervention and survivor services support to more than 1,000 clients annually, providing safe housing to adults and children either fleeing or homeless because of domestic violence, as well as comprehensive support in the form of counseling, legal advocacy, and case management. 

“Domestic violence is the primary cause of family homelessness,” said Fronk. “Vagrancy is such a small proportion of the homeless population, yet they have been causing difficulties.  It’s hard when homelessness impacts a business’s bottom line. I champion the idea of nonprofits and businesses getting together to build bridges toward solutions.” 

Todd Shimkus, CCE, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, arrived at the May 20 meeting with a tangible idea to help both businesses and the homeless population: the new Saratoga Cares Card, which began from a conversation Shimkus had with Heidi Owen-West of Lifestyles of Saratoga six days earlier about a meeting she had with Mayor Joanne Yepsen and several nonprofit organizations the previous day. 

“The idea for the Saratoga Cares Card came from that conversation, and Anita Paley, Executive Director at Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, took the lead,” said Shimkus. “To help Anita, I reached out and offered to get it printed and distributed at no cost to EOC. She sent me the information they had compiled. Christianne Smith of Designsmith Studio volunteered to create the card. She worked with Camelot Printing to get the first 1,000 printed within about 12 hours, so that we could distribute them at the DBA meeting on Wednesday.” 

They printed and distributed 1,000 cards last week and plan to distribute another 5,000 this week. The information on the cards was provided by local social services agencies, who recommend that the best way the community can help those in need is to get them in contact with the range of agencies who are here to help them. 

“That really is the purpose of the card,” said Shimkus. “Each of the agencies listed has a proven track record of really making a positive difference in the lives of those who come to them for support and assistance.” Businesses can hand the cards to members of the homeless population or to their customers, encouraging them to hand the cards instead of money to panhandlers.  

Several ideas were discussed at the meeting, but the take-away for most businesses was the realization that there are foundational support systems available in the community that are too few to address the growing numbers of the homeless locally. 

Finocchi of Shelters of Saratoga, 14 Walworth St, Saratoga Springs, said that last year, according to Code Blue, more than 400 people were assisted through the bitter cold winter, almost twice the number of the year before. 

“The homeless community is a strong community,” said Finocchi. “They look out for each other, and this winter was so harsh that the ones utilizing Code Blue got to their friends and told them to get inside. Word of mouth got them indoors and saved lives. There was so much snow they couldn’t even pitch a tent. ”

There were many suggestions and ideas discussed at the meeting, everything from more foot patrols to expanding available services. Finocchi brought up the Friendship House that closed a couple years ago.

“There’s nothing for the homeless population to do during the day,” he said, “With Friendship House gone, they have nowhere to go but downtown.” The facility was open during business hours offering services to the homeless, such as case management, clothes, and basic daily needs. 

“There’s a drop-in center in Schenectady that is making a world of difference - Bethesda House,” said Finocchi. “That’s what we need here – a drop-in center. Friendship house kind of did it, but we need a full center.” 

According to Maddy Zanetti, vice president of DBA and principle of Impressions of Saratoga, the constructive conversations from the meeting will be ongoing. 

“I think everyone who came left with a positive outlook knowing that the Chamber and DBA are working in concert with service providers and with City officials,” said Zanetti.

Fronk agrees. “Before now, all these discussions have been ‘siloed’ meetings, involving just providers or just businesses,” she said. “This is the first time that I’m aware of that we built a bridge between those silos, which will lead to more collaboration and information sharing.”

Zanetti added that attendees also gained a better sense of how hard it is for services to get the funds they need to meet the growing demand and that everyone needs to pull together. 

“Nobody asks to be homeless,” said Finocchi. “We’re all just one paycheck away from it.”

Published in News
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 11:49

Becoming Homeless in Saratoga Springs

By Barry Potoker

For Saratoga Today

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Barry Potoker, Executive Director of Saratoga Builders Association, was a participant in “A Day Without A Home” on Wednesday, November 20 sponsored by the Saratoga County Housing Committee which commemorated Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. He was given the profile of “Eric” and went through the intake process at the Shelters of Saratoga (SOS). This is his account:

I never thought that it could ever happen to me, but it did. It was a surreal experience and happened so fast. My girlfriend of several years kicked me out of her house with just the clothes on my back. I had no where to go or live. I had officially become homeless.

My name is Eric and I’m 27. I do have a decent job at a restaurant working for minimum wage and unfortunately I have been battling chronic bronchitis for many years. Needless to say, I have no health insurance. My situation felt desperate and I had nowhere to turn. Embarrassed and ashamed, I showed up at the Shelters of Saratoga for help.

I was welcomed by a reassuring woman at the front desk and immediately turned over to a case worker. His name was Graham. In my uneasy state, he was encouraging, knowledgeable and supportive. We spent about a half hour reviewing the rules of the Shelter, filling out some paperwork, and most importantly talking about all the resources at my disposal to help get me back on my feet in 60 days or less. A sense of hope and relief came over me as I was accepted into this temporary home. 

Because I came to the Shelter, many services from other organizations and agencies were now available to me. I was eligible to have my bronchitis treated at the Saratoga Community Health Center run by Saratoga Hospital. I received a complimentary three-month membership to the YMCA. In addition, I was given a $50 certificate to obtain some more clothes at Treasures. If I had been a veteran, the Saratoga County RPC was ready to assist me. The critical element would be the ongoing work with my case worker to help me find an affordable apartment and look for a better job if I so desired. Graham showed me around the house, the community computer, living room, and the kitchen where all the folks staying at the Shelter cook for themselves. He then took me to my small, but comfortable room with bunk beds, which I will share with three others in transition situations similar to mine. This will be my place to begin anew. On the way however, we did make a stop at a closet brimming with clothes, for me to pick out some extra things to wear. I was so very fortunate to be in a caring, safe place to help me get through this difficult and scary time in my life.

My time taking part in “A Day Without A Home” was both enlightening and worthwhile. Not only did I feel the despair and helplessness of being alone without a home, but I was introduced to a world of unknowns and possibilities for those in need. Yes, my awareness of this unfamiliar topic (to me) was truly enriched. 

There was an evening wrap-up event at the Saratoga Arts Center focused on those who volunteered to participate in this special day. They each spoke of their personal “homeless” experiences and provided some meaningful insights of the various agencies. The Skidmore College Dance Improvisation class even performed a demonstration of abstract emotions, thoughts and ideas relative to homelessness and the associated challenges. It was excellent and moving to say the least. And to top it off, we had a homeless couple right from the street join us during the event. They sat in the crowd listening to us talk about the subject matter, jumping in from time to time. It was an incredibly sad yet sobering night for us all.  

On a final note, as I was leaving the Shelters of Saratoga, something happened that was quite profound for me. I passed a man that attended high school with me entering the Shelter. He did not look well, but I still recognized him. He not only appeared homeless but the receptionist had already called 911 to get an ambulance for him. The day certainly had a personal impact on me.

 

Published in News

The homeless—Individuals without shelter or a place to call their own—a wide-spread problem across the country.

Veterans—men and women who have served our country and sacrificed to ensure our safety and freedom.

Homeless veterans—two words that should never be included in the same sentence. A travesty. Those service members once walking in stride, dressed in uniform, their heads held high, focused; and for one reason or another, now find themselves seeking shelter, warmth and a place to rest their somber bodies.

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