One was a Rotterdam business owner who rebuilt his embroidery shop after a fire burned it to the ground; another a woman who mentors children in Schenectady’s poorest neighborhood. Others included a husband and wife whose Italian eatery has remained “the place where everybody knows your name” despite a changing neighborhood over the decades.
These were just a handful of the 10 businesses, organizations and people honored at the Chamber of Schenectady County’s annual Good News luncheon Thursday at the scenic River Stone Manor in Glenville. Their work in local communities is what chamber staff likes to call “the stories that should have made headlines,” but didn’t. And so they honor them each year with lunch and a crystal plaque.
“We have some organizations and businesses that have stood the test of time,” said Ray Bleser, owner of Northeastern Fine Jewelry and chairman of the chamber’s board. “They’ve survived changes in the economy, shown extraordinary community support, undergone major growth or expansion, launching a unique project or service, or are simply a true success.”
The Schenectady Community Home Inc. had to fail before it could succeed. Otherwise known as the Joan Nicole Prince Home, the nonprofit organization opened in 2006 as a 24-hour bedside care home for individuals near death, and ran solely on community support, individual donations, grants and fundraising.
Three years after it opened on Glenview Drive in Scotia, the recession dampened charitable giving, and the home was forced to close.
“I think we had the most committed group of volunteers,” said Karen McGann, a board member and past board president. “There were people who were with us from the very beginning who fought so hard to get this home open again, and they were absolutely not going to give up.”
At a time when they weren’t sure they would ever open again, the board decided the solution was to expand.
“It sounds counterintuitive,” McGann chuckled.
But the board realized if it could prove the home did more than provide end-of-life care to two residents at a time, they could garner more community support. They expanded community partnerships and began training future healthcare professionals from Albany Medical College, the Ellis Hospital School of Nursing and a host of other institutions. They held bake sales and jewelry sales and galas.
The one-year respite also gave them time to think about a long-term sustainability plan.
“We were so busy doing what we were doing that we never had the time to plan for the future,” said McGann. “So when we closed, it almost gave us an opportunity to sit back, take a breath and say, ‘All right, let’s make a long-term plan for fundraising,’ instead of being on a hamster wheel constantly.”
Good News awards also went to a handful of local restaurant and business owners.
Bruno and Lucy Sacchetti charmed the crowd of more than 100 local officials with stories of feel-good Italian cooking at Peter Pause — a longtime staple of the city of Schenectady’s North Side. They received an award for surviving in the industry as chains move in and their neighborhood changes.
Judy Atchinson, executive director and founder of QUEST, received an award for her nearly two decades of work with the afterschool program in the heart of the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood. She shared stories of the times she picks up kids after school.
“I can be driving down the road — look at me, I’m 71 — with a car full of kids of color, windows open, rap blasting on the radio, and we have a good time,” she said. “But it’s more than a good time. It’s a time when they talk to me or talk to each other. I have no shame. I eavesdrop. I find out about their lives, their school, what they want from life. We enjoy each other’s company.”
Other award winners included:
• Mike Purtorti of First Class Products in Rotterdam. His business burned to the ground several years ago. He relocated to a previous Altamont Avenue location, but had to leave when it was sold. He chose to stay in Rotterdam and rebuild on Hamburg Street.
• Phil Tiberio of EOS Technologies in Schenectady. The family-owned office technology company has survived and thrived through the evolution from typewriters to word processors to computers.
• ShopRite Supermarkets. Since re-entering the Capital Region in 2011, the supermarket chain has run an in-store military promotion, collected donations to benefit military members and their families, sponsored the Schenectady Military Affairs Council’s Veterans’ Day breakfast, and donated food and personnel for Glenville’s 109th Airlift Wing 2011 Fall Festival and 2012 Family Day.
• The Menagias Family. Angelo and Phillip Menagias have run the Blue Ribbon Restaurant in Schenectady since 1977, expanding over the years and entering their famous cheesecake at several festivals, where it’s won first place over and over.
• Joseph DeFilippo of JD Computer Systems. The Schenectady High School graduate launched his business right after high school on upper Union Street. He serves as board president for the Rose Venerini Early Childhood Education Center, and found the program a new home and new funding when it was cut.
• Jim Martin, chairman of the town of Glenville’s Small Business Economic Development Committee. Martin has volunteered his time for the town of Glenville, authoring its first-ever economic development strategic plan and hosting the first community development meeting to showcase properties to real estate developers and property owners.
• Union College. The private liberal arts college was awarded for its longstanding educational offerings in Schenectady and its role as America’s first architecturally designed campus.
This was also the first year the chamber honored organizations that have been in business for more than 100 years. The following were named Centennial Honor Roll Inductees: Schenectady Insurance Agency, Village of Scotia, Felthousen Florists, AAA Northway, SI Group, Curtis Lumber, Union College, The Daily Gazette, The Edison Club, Beyer Furs, Heritage Home For Women, and McNamee, Lochner, Titus & Williams, P.C.