Schenectady

HERE FOR GOOD: Schenectady Hindu Temple and Community Center serves as hub for Guyanese population

Left: The Schenectady Hindu Temple. Right: Justine Feder-Lailer administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Brandon Mandalal of Schenectady at the Guyanese Community Center at the temple last month.
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Left: The Schenectady Hindu Temple. Right: Justine Feder-Lailer administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Brandon Mandalal of Schenectady at the Guyanese Community Center at the temple last month.

The Schenectady Hindu Temple and Community Center’s bright orange exterior would likely catch anyone’s eyes as they walk past. The inside of the building is just the same — cheerful colors such as light pink line some of the walls.

The temple, originally St. Thomas Church, has been refurbished and renovated to meet the community’s needs. Now there’s a push to acquire the house next to the center so it can continue expanding to benefit the community.

The house was previously a rectory for St. Thomas Church before it was sold. The hope is that once it’s repurchased, it can become a food pantry and space for children after school, said George Ramson, treasurer of the center, which serves many in Schenectady’s Guyanese community.

“We find that most of the time the pantries are on the other side of the city,” Ramson said.

The focus of that space would serve to spotlight the work the center is already doing. It’s considered the hub of the community — a place for worship, education, food and help, Ramson said.

That sentiment was obvious earlier this month when the center held a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the basement of the temple as tables lined the stage where dancers would normally perform.

Ramson, who moved to Schenectady in the 1970s to attend the University at Albany, ended up staying in the area to work and build a life here. He became involved with former Schenectady Mayor Al Jurczynski’s plan to bring people of Guyanese descent to the area from New York City after seeing abandoned homes that needed owners and businesses that needed employees.

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“When I came here there were only a handful of Guyanese,” Ramson said.

Today, the Guyanese represent nearly half the city’s foreign-born population, a count of 5,588 of the city’s more than 11,000 residents born in other countries, according to data from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, which cites five-year estimates from the American Community Survey, a demographics study of the Census Bureau.

With the exception of 2012, Schenectady’s Guyana-born population has had a year-over-year increase every year since 2010, when there were 2,605 city residents born in Guyana.

By contrast, there were just 508 Guyana-born residents in Schenectady in 2000, according to the study.

Residents suggest the number is probably much higher, however, noting how many families they themselves have influenced into moving here.

Ramson said that during the early 2000s, tours of buses of Guyanese people from New York City would come through, and he would talk to people about the community and what it had to offer. His time spent in the community since the 1970s, and the fact that he came from a family with ties to the Guyanese government, likely made more people feel comfortable, he said.

“I would talk to them about the area and my perspective as a Guyanese,” he said.

Now the community center also plays a prominent role in helping people transition and feel comfortable after moving to the area. Oftentimes the children moving to the area assimilate more quickly into the community, Ramson said. The temple and center have given others a place to keep their culture alive in the community while offering assistance with paperwork and other challenges they may first face when arriving.

There’s a library in the center that provides books for all ages, including for those looking to get a GED. Religious events such as Diwali — the festival of lights — take place at the temple.

“We also help people get jobs,” said Ravi Ishamel, president of the center.

Ishamel moved from Guyana to the U.S. in 2000. He was living in the Bronx until 2003, when he decided he no longer wanted to deal with New York City crowds. He moved to Schenectady because it was similar to his hometown in Guyana.

“I was looking for more of a quieter place to raise a child,” he said.

He eventually got involved with the community center.

Ishamel and Ramson both said the center enables the Guyanese to continue to grow.

“I think the Guyanese community is becoming a force of its own,” Ramson said.

But both said that for the center to keep expanding and aiding more members of the community, it needs support. Ishamel said the doors to the center are open to everyone. 

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said.

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

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