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Stuck in park: an idle Boys and Girls Club vehicle.

photo:Joe Putrock

You Can’t Get Anywhere From Here

The Albany Boys and Girls Club struggles without funding for transportation


Two vans and a bus sit with-out license plates in front of the Delaware Avenue Albany Boys and Girls Club. The exteriors of the vehicles are lined with rust and jagged edges. The interiors are ragged. The rough plastic seats are all split in two with their foam guts hanging out. The floors are worn through to the metal bottom. One of the vans reads in bright red and blue, “Donated by Pepsi.”

“That was donated a long time ago. I don’t think Pepsi would want to see it at the moment,” said club director Penny Holmes. “I doubt we could get a dealer to take them from us!” added Pamela Landers, director of development.

The vans have sat unused since January of this year, a change that coincided with the club’s unexpectedly small 2005 budget. While having the vans off the road means the club won’t be doing most of its trips to the Catskill mountains, the Helderbergs or local colleges or to other Boys and Girls Clubs for tournaments, it also means kids won’t be riding around in vans that have upwards of 200,000 miles on them. “I don’t know how the wheels are staying on them,” said John Kearney, a Boys and Girls Club alumnus and Albany Democratic Committee secretary. “Combine all their vans and you couldn’t get a halfway decent vehicle out of it.”

Due to the cost of upkeep and insurance on the vans (which adds up to around $20,000 a year) and to a tightening budget, “It came down to, do we cut employees or vehicle expenses? That’s somebody’s salary, and we decided staffing was more important,” said Holmes.

And so, during this spring break, kids from the Delaware Avenue club went fishing in Washington Park. The fishing trip took the place of past spring trips that included a visit to Marist College. “Now when we go somewhere out of town we have to hire someone,” said Holmes. “Therefore, we have to be very selective as to what we do.”

Most summers, the club runs five camp sessions on its 1,000-acre camp Thacher Opportunity on Lawson Lake. This summer the club must reduce the number of sessions to two. “It’s going to cost us $30,000 to have kids transported to the camps over the course of seven weeks,” Holmes explained.

The club’s trips are sometimes the kids’ only escape from their usual surroundings. “These kids don’t usually get a chance to get six blocks from where they live,” said Landers. “They don’t know what is going on within walking distance. They just aren’t going to be exposed.”

Having the buses off the road also cuts into things like staff training and a dinner program that benefits 250 area teens. The vans allowed staff to make fewer trips when shopping and delivering meals. Now staff must make multiple trips in their own vehicles to buy ingredients for the dinners and to deliver them around the Capital Region.

The club’s financial trouble is a result of combined cuts in federal and county funding, a decline in private donations and an increased cost of operations. “The Capital District is a mecca for nonprofits,” said Landers. “We realize everyone from corporations to other nonprofits are feeling the crunch. I was hired to create new money and to diversify funding so that if we get cut we don’t feel it that bad, but the new money is replacing the old.”

While the Club is struggling just like every other nonprofit, its longstanding connections to the community give it an edge others don’t have. Some of Albany’s most prominent political figures are alumni of the club, including Kearney, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Albany County Executive Michael Breslin. Kearney has been actively seeking out club alumni such as Jennings to help raise money and galvanize interest in the club.

Although Kearney’s alumni project is still in what he calls a brainstorming process, he has already gone forward with the help of Mayor Jennings in trying to procure transportation to the club’s summer camp through CDTA. At this time it isn’t clear whether CDTA will agree. “It’s just a Band-Aid solution,” says Kearney, “But it’s a start.”

—David King

What a Week

Got a Pulse? Grab a Gun!

Army recruiters looking to fill the front lines of the “War on Terror” aren’t letting enlistment rules get in the way of restocking their ranks, according to a recent report by CBS News. Military records indicate that nearly one out of every five recruiters was caught helping potential recruits cheat on their aptitude tests, pass drug tests, hide their mental-health evaluations or circumvent enlistment regulations in other ways—including one incident in which a recruit was permitted to begin his military career just after finishing a three-week stay in a psychiatric ward.

Voting in Vain

Not only does New York state have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation, but New Yorkers’ votes are more likely to get thrown out than those of any other state’s residents. According to a recently released report by the New York Public Interest Research Group, New York residents cast the second highest number of provisional ballots—used whenever someone has been left off the region’s registered voter lists due to changing residence or other factors—in the November 2004 election, but more than half of these ballots ended up being invalidated. While voters-rights groups continue to press for Election Day registration, a policy that they say will reduce the number of junked votes, state lawmakers have yet to decide on the standards for such a system. Democrats in the Legislature continue to argue for a broad definition of acceptable identification at polling sites, but Republicans favor a narrow list.

If You Don’t Like the Game, Change the Rules

Changes in the House of Representatives’ ethics rules designed to let Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay off the hook for a laundry list of lobbyist-funded trips and sketchy campaign-financing activities were reversed last week, by a 406-20 vote. The rules—enacted in January—allowed ethics complaints to be dismissed if no action was taken within 45 days and effectively negated any regulation by the House’s bipartisan ethics committee.

It takes two to make a thing go right: Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg.

photo:John Whipple

You’re in This Together

Two bills seek to keep parenting a two-person job, reminding ex-spouses that sharing is caring


Supporters of shared par-enting and reforms relative to divorced parents gathered in the Legislative Office Building of Empire State Plaza on Tuesday, hoping to spread awareness of two bills currently under committee review in Legislature judiciary committees, and to promote shared parenting.

As Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Nassau) put it, “Parents need to say, we will work together, even if we can’t live together.”

State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-Suffolk) sponsored the Shared Parenting Legislation, which establishes shared parenting as a priority for divorcees, and spells out priority options of custody, so a court could consider the next highest priority if joint custody cannot be established. The goal is to keep both parents in the picture, to make sure there is a standard procedure if the court finds shared parenting is unacceptable, and to discourage courts from making a biased decision favoring one parent, by making it clear that both ought to be part of their children’s lives.

Current law doesn’t prevent a court from outlining a shared-parenting plan, but it rarely happens that custody works this way. According to justification notes of the bill, in more than 95 percent of separation or divorce cases, sole custody goes to the mother with limited visitation rights for the father.

Sen. Johnson and the National Institute of Mental Health have maintained not having both parents in a minor’s life is detrimental to childhood development. “Just because parents don’t agree, it doesn’t mean the children shouldn’t have both parents,” Johnson said. He is hoping the Judiciary Committee chair will send the bill to the Senate floor, confident it will pass a vote.

The Family Court Reform Act of 2005 is being sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Kolb (R-Onondaga). It has a similar purpose as the Shared Parenting Legislation and includes the presence of an independent evaluator, and family mediation. The independent evaluator would investigate whether there is a threat of domestic violence or abuse, and would “investigate the family dynamic” to provide information for the court. The bill also advocates parenting plans and would require parents to participate in family counseling and mediation.

George Courtney of the Father’s Rights Association agrees with Sen. Johnson and Rep. Kolb. He feels judges have “unrestrained discretion” in family court, often making biased decisions. According to Courtney, if neither parent has a criminal record and the child’s well being is not in danger, each parent should be treated equally. “How can you excommunicate one parent and call that equal?” Courtney said.

Speakers agreed the judiciary has been too free with its discretion. “There are judges who believe they are legislators,” said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Kings), “but we are the ones who legislate. Their job is to interpret.”

—Kevin Abbott

Loose Ends

New York state resoundingly rejected the St. Lawrence Cement Plant proposal [“Some Cranberry Sauce With Your Cement Plant?” Newsfront, Dec. 2, 2002] for the city of Hudson on Tuesday, saying it would have a negative effect on the shoreline and stymie economic recovery along the Hudson River. The Hudson City Council also voted 7-3 to reject the proposal on Tuesday. St. Lawrence could appeal, but it appears to face an uphill battle if it does so. . . . The oddly named Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 [“Reforming Bankruptcy, One Screwed Family at a Time,” Looking Up, April 7] passed the House of Representatives last Thursday (April 14) by a 302-126 margin. The measure, which will drastically limit who qualifies for bankruptcy relief, had already passed the Senate, and President George W. Bush has indicated he will sign it into law. Not willing to let the defeat pass quietly, MoveOn PAC has collected $572,000 worth of pledges for radio ads targeting key representatives who voted for the bill. . . . On April 13, Y & S Homes was denied a zoning variance to turn the Tyler Arms veterans’ home on Madison Avenue in Albany into graduate student housing [“Movin’ On,” Newsfront, April 14], leaving the status of the home (which is losing money monthly) and its remaining tenants in limbo. . . . Trying to balance out the $11 million of state and federal funds devoted to “abstinence-only” education in New York state [“Abstaining From the Truth,” Newsfront, Dec. 9, 2004], members of Concerned Clergy for Choice met with New York legislators on April 12 to advocate for the Healthy Teens Act (A. 6619). The act would create a grant program to support comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sex-education programs. . . . Besicorp-Empire Development Co. [“Rensselaer Surrenders,” Newsfront, May 27, 2004] has received all of its state permits to open a newsprint-recycling and cogeneration facility and a natural-gas-fueled power station on the waterfront in the city of Rensselaer. Construction is expected to start this summer, and operations in 2007.

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