SCHENECTADY — As he prepares to take on his new role as executive director of Schenectady Community Ministries (SiCM), The Rev. Amaury Tañon-Santos already has a plan in mind for how he can get to know the city, and how the community can get to know him.
Tañon-Santos is scheduled to start as SiCM’s executive director on March 15, and when the weather improves later in the spring, he’s planning to hit the pavement with a number of other faith leaders in the community, going on a series of pilgrimages from neighborhood to neighborhood.
“It would allow me, personally, to get to know the neighborhoods better,” Tañon-Santos said during an interview Wednesday at SiCM’s offices on Albany Street. “But, I think it’ll also provide an opportunity for communities in those neighborhoods to see faith leaders walking the ground, saying our prayers and thoughts, and also engaging them in conversation.
“For us to be able to share our ethics, but also, more importantly, to be able to sit down and hear their stories that we ought to continue to respond to.”
Tañon-Santos, an Albany resident, is hopeful that approach will help him entrench a sense of familiarity and kinship with the community.
Currently the Synod Networker for the Synod of the Northeast — the regional community of Presbyterians in New York, New Jersey and New England — Tañon-Santos will move into his full-time role in March, relieving current acting executive director Jo-Anne Rafalik.
Tañon-Santos does so at what he believes is “an exciting time” for SiCM as the organization continues not only its current programs, including the operation of the city’s largest food pantry, but also to help expand the 53-year-old partnership of 50 congregations in its work for social justice and racial reconciliation.
“We’re going to be social justice pursuers,” he said. “We’re going to be agents of racial reconciliation.”
That work includes expanding upon SiCM’s interfaith partnerships. The organization already works with both the Congregation Gates of Heaven synagogue and the local Unitarian community, and is reaching out for more partnerships with the area’s Sikh and Muslim communities.
“We’ve already been dabbling into this interfaith kind of work,” Tañon-Santos, “but we want to get deeper.”
Tañon-Santos also hopes to partner with numerous secular groups that are already engaged in social justice work throughout the city.
“SiCM is not walking in to be social justice agents and racial reconciliation agents thinking there’s nothing going on,” he said. “Schenectady has deep, profound organizing doing that, and we want to partner with what’s going on.”
Tañon-Santos was attracted to the job with SiCM because of the chance to work in the city environment. His graduate work focused on urban ministry and urban studies, and before taking on his current position at Synod of the Northeast, Tañon-Santos was a pastor in inner city congregations in Westchester County and Elizabeth, New Jersey.
At SiCM, he’ll enter during a time of expansion. The group is in the midst of a major construction project to renovate and add to its office facility — where the organization’s Patty’s Place and St. Joseph’s Place programs are headquartered.
Currently under construction is a two-story addition that will include a conference facility and additional office space. It will also connect the main office to the large garage out back, where multiple projects are underway.
When complete, the garage will include a clinic where local residents can get basic medical consultation through a partnership with Ellis Hospital, as well as a “teaching kitchen” where Tañon-Santos is hoping to bring in local restaurateurs to help give those who benefit from SiCM’s food pantry and its partnership with Schenectady Urban Farms some helpful ideas for what to prepare with the food that’s provided.
“Just bring it together,” he said, “so people don’t just see food grow or see food available, but know what to do with it and be able to get that together.”
Though Tañon-Santos is excited about many of the upcoming projects, he’s also well aware that keeping SiCM’s biggest “stake in the ground,” the food pantry that currently services more than 100 local families several times per week through both grab-and-go and home delivery, is paramount.
That includes preparations for SiCM’s summer meals program for local youths, for which planning is beginning to get into swing even as the organization awaits continued guidance from the state for how to operate under the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re beginning to plan that,” he said, “but also expecting that some of the pandemic regulations are still going to be in place — and waiting for the state to give us the regulations. We need to balance all that out.”