“Warm sunshine on my face,” “Having a pulse” and “Waking up this morning” — those are what formerly homeless veterans are thankful for this Thanksgiving.
“What are you thankful for?” It’s the question that’s often asked around the Thanksgiving dinner table, or maybe afterward, when bellies are full of turkey and stuffing.
For more than 150 formerly homeless men who live at 845 Commons, a housing facility run by Capital Region YMCA in Schenectady, being thankful is something they do every day.
Executive Director Lou Magliocca said 59 of the 150 residents at the Commons are formerly homeless veterans.
The staff at 845 Commons, located at 845 Broadway, help the men with housing, hygiene, food, rehabilitation, medical appointments and more.
“This work has shaped my life,” Magliocca said. “When you see these needy guys come to you, and with time, they get a bounce back in their step, it makes you thankful for what you have. I’m so thankful for these guys and what they’ve taught me.”
The men enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner Tuesday afternoon, which is an annual tradition for them, Magliocca said.
Rich Saccocio of Schenectady served in Vietnam for five years, and said he remembers spending Thanksgiving and the holiday season overseas like it was yesterday.
“Thanksgiving Day over there was sad,” Saccocio remembered Tuesday. “We missed our families so much. When we returned, it felt so good to enjoy it with people you didn’t know you would see again.”
Saccocio spends his days at 845 Commons serving as a deacon at St. Peter’s Chapel, which operates within the housing facility.
“I don’t feel I did anything special in Vietnam — I was just another grain of sand on the beach,” Saccocio said. “I never lost my faith, and it’s what got me through. It’s taught me how to have simple rules for a happy life: God first, give generously and forgive quickly, because you never know what day will be your last.”
This Thanksgiving, Saccocio said he hopes people will have an “attitude of gratitude.”
“So many people say, ‘I have nothing to be grateful for,’ but there are miracles all around us,” Saccocio said. “Waking up in the morning is a miracle. If you have a pulse, you have something to be grateful for.”
Ron Knoblauch served as a third class petty officer in the Navy in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 1979 to 1983.
“Being in the service made me grateful for seeing another day,” Knoblauch said during his Thanksgiving dinner.
Before he came to the YMCA in 2013, Knoblauch was homeless after caring for his father, who passed away.
After his father’s house was sold, Knoblauch couldn’t afford rent, he said, and lived in an abandoned building that had no electricity or heat for over two months.
“Now, I’m doing well,” Knoblauch said. “The YMCA has helped me keep myself clean from alcohol and marijuana. I go to church every Sunday and I’m just staying positive.”
Knoblauch encourages people to not be afraid or ashamed to go for help if they need it.
“Go to every agency that could help you, from City Hall to churches or monasteries or the City Mission,” Knoblauch said. “If you’re in need, someone will lead you to where you’re meant to be.
“I’m just so grateful to have a hot meal, a warm bed and a roof over my head,” he added. “There’s no more cold nights for me. People don’t realize how good they have it until they have nothing — until things get taken away from them.”
Richard Lloyd served as an E-2 in the Air Force, and said after leaving the service he lived on the streets in New York City for about nine months.
“It’s hard to take handouts or benefits,” Lloyd said. “Some homeless people just want to be left alone, and enjoy their freedom. If you want to help the voluntary homeless, just be there — buy them a meal, a coat or a pair of shoes.”
While he was living on the streets, Lloyd met a friend who helped him survive and became a father figure to him.
“One day I saw him beaten to death,” Lloyd recalled. “When I saw him like that, I came to the realization that I have a life, and I have to get off the street.”
Lloyd walked the 150 miles from New York to Albany, where he’s originally from. Since then, he has suffered five minor strokes, and with his medical issues, is unable to work and has lived at the YMCA for the past five years.
“I’m so grateful I still have my mind,” Lloyd said. “I’m grateful that I’m alive — that I can get up and feel the warm sunshine on my face. So many people here have been through such trauma that they’re not aware of what’s in front of them, or that there’s a sun at all.
“Being able to feel and see the sky and the beautiful sunshine is such a gift we should never take for granted,” Lloyd said. “Thanksgiving is about family and being together, and is a day when people should appreciate having what they need, because having what you need allows you to live.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, [email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter.