Schenectady’s community heroes honored
Schenectady is fortunate in a number of ways that are often overlooked. One of these is our vibrant charitable sector. We are blessed with outstanding organizations that provide a solid framework through which the community can channel resources in support of our most needy fellow citizens. Arguably, in no other community in the greater Capital Region do organizations work in partnership as broadly and effectively as we do here in Schenectady.
But what really makes Schenectady’s charitable sector stand out are the individuals who reach into their hearts and checkbooks, and put their minds and their hands to work in ways well beyond the ordinary.
That is why The Schenectady Foundation recently honored a group of “Community Heroes” — individuals nominated by their community for having gone above and beyond the call of duty. We wanted to bring attention to these people, not only to praise their endeavors, but to inspire others to become involved and committed and to join us in being part of Schenectady’s transformation.
Our group of heroes was diverse: from corporate CEOs and organizational leaders to volunteers of food pantries and neighborhood organizations. Each, in their own way, has demonstrated exceptional leadership and service, and has been instrumental in bringing about transformation in the community.
Our Community Heroes included people such as Gary Riggi, a Scotia resident who devoted himself tirelessly to the flood relief effort in Rotterdam Junction, and Mark Moran whose passion is to help children with disabilities experience the thrill of riding a bicycle and engaging in sports. Walter Simpkins who, with a bare-bones budget, created and runs a program to keep fathers engaged with their families and children, was recognized, as well as Mary Jane Smith, the volunteer coordinator of the Daily Bread Food Pantry.
Others heroic figures are Rev. Phil Grigsby, who has been a ceaseless voice for justice, equality and compassion; Joanne Tobiessen, the founder of the Working Group on Girls; and Mike Saccocio, the leader of the Bridges Out of Poverty partnership. Our heroes include social workers and nurses like Nicole Baptiste and Margaret Rogers-Meagher at Ellis Medicine, and people working on the ground every day to help people escape poverty, such as Chris Parsons and Nathan Mandsager of the City Mission, as well as business leader Dave Buicko, who has been a visionary and innovative force in revitalizing downtown Schenectady and was instrumental in making the downtown YMCA branch a reality.
In acknowledgement for their inspirational endeavors, The Schenectady Foundation has made a grant in the name of each Community Hero to their affiliated charity in the amount of $10,000 — a total of $100,000 for the community. Each of these organizations will identify an important need it has to put these funds to use in a way that builds its capacity and helps it do something new, better, different or bold for its programs.
The challenge for each organization is to take this unexpected grant and turn it into something that really makes a difference in its efforts over the coming year. We want them to be creative, imaginative, and inspired by the work of their hero.
We want to thank everyone who participated in our Community Hero program. This experience reminded us of how very lucky we are to have a wealth of passion, energy and engagement in our community. And, we can’t wait to find out what great things these people and organizations will do with their grants.
The writer is the executive director of The Schenectady Foundation.