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Between A City And A Promise

Over the weekend, Family Promise opened a new day center along Albany's New Scotland Avenue. The appearance of the program in the upscale neighborhood has some cheering, others scratching their heads.

The Clinton Avenue-based agency's new facilities in the former parsonage of Bethany Reformed Church offer struggling families a place to "shower, do laundry and receive case management services." Parents of pre-schoolers will be able to drop children off while older kids will be driven to school from the New Scotland Avenue facility.  Social service agencies will refer families to the program.

Sunday's ribbon-cutting was the fruition of months of planning.  Mary Giordano is Executive Director of Family Promise of the Capital Region.     "This has been in the process of coming together for more than two years. We've reached out to many congregations and asked them to consider hosting families while look for affordable housing in the Capital Region.  So the fact that we now have 11 congregations, we'd love to have a few more, and we think we're gonna get more."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Mayor Kathy Sheehan addressed the gathering:   "This is about the city of Albany continuing to be a place where we help one another. It's that simple. And I'm also a neighbor. I walked here. I live right behind here. And so having this located here in our neighborhood is also such a wonderful thing that we can welcome people that we know, that they're going to be able to come here, that they are going to be loved by the people who have reached out and who have said that they're going to help these families, which is what we need, and then also, I will say, it took longer than we wanted it to, but I think it's also an example of where government worked."

Part of the delay involved getting the project past the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, where it was opposed by neighborhood activist Joe Sullivan, who isn't convinced the Day Center is a "wonderful thing."   "This is actually gonna be the death knell of the city, this Family Promise/Bethany thing, because this is the last best neighborhood in the city of Albany, and once this is destroyed, there's not gonna be a city tax base, who's gonna support the city schools and city government?"

Speaking along busy New Scotland Avenue as he walked toward Crescent Drive, Sullivan said he suspects Family Promise is part of "a bigger operation."  "You know people who are going to come into here, are not going to be the poor black people in Albany, they're going to be illegal aliens, that's who's gonna come into this neighborhood. And look at that empty lot down there on the corner behind the gas station, seven acres? I predict that'll be low-income housing."

Sullivan, the Conservative Party candidate in the last mayoral election, has been outspoken in his opposition to the project and countless other city issues.  

So what does Family Promise hold for Albany? Mayor Sheehan is bullish.   "It brought attention to what is happening here in such a positive way. And I think it really showed for all the churches involved, all the people involved, the community that came forward and supported it, I think it sends a really strong message to families that are struggling, that you are welcome here in the city of Albany, that we want you to thrive, that we want to help you, and so, in many ways, there is a silver lining, and I'm so happy that we are here today. Thank-you."

Family Promise is funded entirely by private donations.  To learn more visit www.familypromiseofthecapitalregion.org

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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