Saratoga Springs

Adirondack Trust Company goes ‘Above and Beyond’ to fight opioid addiction

Bank's hiking challenge raises funds
Stephan R. von Schenk, President and CEO of Adirondack Trust, at his office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, February 4, 2019.
Stephan R. von Schenk, President and CEO of Adirondack Trust, at his office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, February 4, 2019.

As opioid addiction continues to devastate the region, communities are coming together to support those fighting the insidious disease in new and more holistic ways.

Last summer, more than 100 Capital Region hikers laced up their boots for the cause as part of the Above and Beyond Challenge, a new program designed to raise both funds and awareness for the Saratoga Community Health Center’s Addiction Medicine Program.

The fundraiser, dreamed up by Adirondack Trust Company Director and CEO Stephan R. von Schenk, raised $70,000 for the Addiction Medicine Program between June and October.

The Above and Beyond Challenge was designed with three goals in mind, according to von Schenk. “Raising money for the Addiction Medicine Program at the Community Health Center – that was first and foremost, but we wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t your typical golf outing, or gala,” he said.

The second goal was to build awareness for the work of the Addiction Medicine Program.

“The third and most important reason for this was to get people who were recovering from addiction, their friends [and] their families, involved in something that was healthy.” The program sought to bring people battling addiction from various angles into the mountains to experience the wonders of the Adirondacks.

“The Adirondacks have been providing spiritual and physical healing for generations and generations,” said von Schenk.

Whether it was someone struggling with addiction themselves, their family, friends, or care providers, von Schenk said the program welcomed all.  “[We wanted to] get them out where they can feel a sense of normalcy. For people recovering from addiction, group therapy is very important but you don’t really feel normal in those settings. In hiking clubs, you’re just another hiker,” he said.

Adirondack Trust Company- Mount Marcy
Edward Lenz, Chrystal Sylvester, Steve von Schenk, Zuzana Bystrianska, Carolyn von Schenk, Holly Marek
Adirondack Trust Company: Mount Marcy
Edward Lenz, Chrystal Sylvester, Steve von Schenk, Zuzana Bystrianska, Carolyn von Schenk, Holly Marek

In all, the challenge hosted 40 hikes and more than 100 hikers. Groups ranged from two to 16 hikers. “What was important was that we never identified who was recovering and who wasn’t. That’s not what we wanted to do with the program. We wanted to make everyone feel normal and just like they’re part of a hiking group. Some were friends, some were family members, but it was all important that they were involved in that process,” he added.

With 30 sponsors, individuals and companies donating anywhere between $25 and $10,000,  the program raised $70,000 by October. “We had no idea how much we would raise. This was a brand new concept and we had no way of gauging it,” said von Schenk. He expects even greater participation next year as more people learn about the challenge.

“I don’t know of anyone who is not touched in some way by addiction whether it’s family, friends or business associates. We are all touched by this disease.”

He praised the Addiction Medicine Program, saying, ”It has a unique approach, a more holistic approach [in addition to] all the traditional methods. They are treating people with the notion that they are people. The whole philosophy is to treat this as it is a disease and not a moral failing. So many people treat this as a moral failing. It is not. It is a hardcore disease just like diabetes or cancer.”

Von Schenk said the funds raised by the challenge will be allocated towards holistic therapies at the Addiction Medicine Program – “things like yoga, meditation and reiki, in addition to the normal addiction therapies that have been in place for years and years. It will bring it all together in a more holistic way.

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The Addiction Medicine Program’s mission statement emphasizes a nonjudgmental and respectful philosophy toward its patients.

“We haven’t even reached the tipping point of the opioid crisis yet,” said Joshua Zamer, the medical director of the Addiction Medicine Program in a press release. “The funds raised by the Above and Beyond Challenge will help us continue to expand our Addiction Medicine Program to meet rapidly emerging needs. I can’t tell you how grateful we are for The Adirondack Trust Company’s support for the Challenge.”

The guided hikes, ranging from two to 13 miles, were provided at no cost to the hikers in the program.

“We didn’t want anyone to have to pay. We didn’t want to create any barriers to getting people into the mountains,” said von Schenk. That means the $70,000 raised by the program came primarily from corporate sponsors.

The Adirondack Trust Company agreed to be the primary sponsor at $10,000 and Roohan Realty quickly agreed to be a t-shirt sponsor after learning about the challenge.

Sponsors could “purchase” peaks – $2,000 for a high peak in the Adirondacks, $1,000 for a mountain in the Saranac 6 and $500 for a mountain in the Lake George 12. Once the hikers reached the summit they’d unfurl a banner with the name of the sponsor and take photos to post to social media.

The idea for the Above and Beyond Challenge, according to von Schenk, was fostered by his wife, Carolyn. The couple ticked off all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks as well as the Saranac 12 over the course of 13 years. They summited 26 of the 46 high peaks in just two years. The couple has three sons, who von Schenk said all participated in the program. “It was a real family event.”

Von Schenk, who grew up in the Bronx and attended SUNY Albany graduate school before deciding to raise a family in Clifton Park, has been with the Adirondack Trust Company for 15 years. “The bank is very generous to the community. It’s what community banks do. We give up our time, talent and treasures to this community and have for 100 years.”

In addition to founding the challenge and guiding hikes, Von Schenk embarked on an ambitious trek with his son, Paul, underneath the Above and Beyond Challenge umbrella. “We attempted to do 10 of the peaks in the Great Range of the Adirondacks.” The 10 peak challenge would have totaled out at 24 miles. “Paul raised peer to peer money – $12,000 to do this challenge.” After running out of daylight;the father-son pair ended the day just short of their goal, completing eight out of the 10 peaks and hiking 21 miles over a 16 hour period.

“What a lot of people learned along the way is that hiking a mountain is a lot like the journey to recovery. It’s not easy. There’s nothing easy about climbing a mountain. There’s nothing easy about recovery but the reward at the summit – you see this beautiful vista. It’s glorious. It’s worth the journey.”

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Categories: Business, Saratoga County

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