A new nonprofit group calls Schenectady home: The Guyanese American Association of Schenectady.
Organized by local businessmen, educators, and professionals in June, the association has an ambitious first-year agenda that includes hosting Indo-Caribbean and other special events, acting as a bridge for newcomers and residents to city services and working with officials to redevelop Grout Park Athletic Field off Route 146 into a cricket facility with international regulation standards.
The president of the association is John Mootooveren, an accountant who works in Albany.
“We have a wonderful, vibrant team, and everybody is up to the task. We know what we’re getting into. Everybody is committed to it,” Mootooveren said. “We need the organization and its benefit to the community. We need to educate our people so that they can be more involved in the day-to-day activities of what goes on in Schenectady.”
GAAS will collect donations and sponsorships and host fundraising events to pay for its operations.
“Whatever we get from events and from the organization we will put it back into the community to benefit not just Guyanese but everyone,” Mootooveren said.
“Our People, Our Community” is the slogan for the organization. There is no fee to become a member, but contact information — a name and an address — is required to register.
Mootooveren said meetings are held every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. at 1001 State St. in Schenectady.
The purpose of the group is to promote activities that benefit the community through cultural and civic efforts and to provide adaptive services — to educate residents and newcomers about city policies, helping them transition into the community without problems, according to Mootooveren.
“We want them to become more effective citizens in Schenectady,” he said. “People need to get involved and be more aware of what’s going on around them.”
GAAS plans to hold a Diwali festival on Oct. 3 at Grout Park and a Phagwah celebration in the spring.
The revitalization of Grout Park is a major component of GAAS’s work. The organization is in the early stages of city and county approval to develop the park to make it an international cricket ground for the community to use, Mootooveren said.
A site plan and rendering for the new cricket field that will accommodate hardball and softball styles of play has been submitted to the city and county.
“They are actually reviewing it right now,” he said.
An executive member of GAAS is Schenectady County District 2 Legislator Phillip Fields, who represents the Mont Pleasant, Hamilton Hill, Central State Street, Upper Union Street and Woodlawn areas of the city.
Fields said the work on Grout Park is a part of a greater effort by the county to allot funds for park improvements throughout the area — $2 million was set aside a few years ago for such improvements, he said.
“We’re in the process of evaluating what is to be needed as far as the improvements at Grout Park, and we’re working with the city Office of General Services to determine the steps of what costs the county will share and what expense other parties will contribute to the development of Grout Park,” he said.
Fields said there are many cricket games going on in Schenectady, including a softball cricket league, the Schenectady Softball Association, which has been around for the past five years, and a hardball cricket team, the TriCity Cricket Club, which formed in 1980.
“The reality is having these multiple teams — they can all come together and play,” he said. “We would like to centralize, along with the city, where these games are being played. Right now, they’re scattered in Central Park, Mont Pleasant, Grout Park and the Hillside area.”
Another factor driving a centralized location for cricket games is a concern for the lack of bathroom facilities at some of the current game locations.
“You need to have these type of basic elements,” Fields said. “That’s one of the issues the city is trying to work on.”
He said he met with all of the local cricket teams — both softball and hardball — not long ago.
“We all came to the conclusion about the uses of the field at Grout Park and how the layout of the ground should look like,” Fields said. “There are some other changes that the city is suggesting that we will accommodate. All the cricket teams in Schenectady are on board with the site improvement of the field at Grout Park and are willing to see this field developed.
“It’s not just Guyanese who are involved with the cricket league — multinational players from South Africa, Nepal, Australian, America, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Barbados, England, Trinidad, are helping out with the decisions about the land,” Fields added.
Since people with Caribbean roots have grown up with the sport of cricket, loving it as Americans love baseball, developing Grout Park was something natural for GAAS to do, so people can bring their families and partake in educational and cultural events at the park as well, according to Fields.
“The organization will also get permits to use Grout Park for other events throughout the year,” he said.
Mootooveren believes the new cricket facility will create a landmark within upstate New York and the Northeast and do more to promote cultural activities more openly.
“Rather than hosting them at halls, we will try to bring them to the park, where we can accommodate big gatherings,” he said.
Fields believes GAAS’s efforts with Grout Park will benefit the business community.
“At the end of the day, all of this goes before the City Council for their approval at some point and we’re all trying to improve the city,” Fields said. “This will definitely attract economic development as far as increasing use of restaurants and hotels. In the event of any major cricket competition in the area, this would be a benefit for city business. And that’s why its important to have some sort of cricket facility, to attract the players, players’ families and friends to the area in facilities that are accessible for all participants and attendees. That’s really the drive — increasing economic development activity in the city and the county.”
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