3/6/14 meeting: A look inside ‘Circles of Mercy’

Picture 3Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush

Attending (13): Bill Dowd, Murray Forth, Pat Bailey, Peter Brown, Debbie Brown, Jim Leyhane, Doris Calamaras, Dean Calamaras, Terry Brewer, Len Leonidas, Dick Drumm, Rommel Tolentino, Stewart Wagner. (2 reservation no-shows.)

Guests (1): Richard Zazycki.


Program: Circles of Mercy


Richard Zazycki.
Richard Zazycki.

Bill Dowd introduced Richard Zazycki, director of Circles of Mercy in Rensselear, a 15-year-old family aid society sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community.

Richard described his diverse background — nurse, nursing supervisor, EMT, program creator and other community work that led him to take his current position seven years ago.

He explained that Circle of Mercy’s goals — subtitled “Hope and Hospitality” —  include ending the cycle of poverty, especially among women and dependent children.

Catherine McAuley founded the organization in Dublin, Ireland, in 1827 before it came into the realm of the Sisters of Mercy. He said she was, and remains, the inspiration for all of the organization’s efforts.

The organization’s service area fits within our club’s “sphere of influence” and serves several thousand clients, most of them in Rensselaer County. Richard is the only full-time employee. He has a part-time secretary, and all other work is done by a large and dedicated band of volunteers. If they cannot provide a service beyond their current efforts in counseling, job hunting, skills training, clothing, household items, tax preparation, and so on, they act as a referral agency. Richard said that helps eliminate duplication of  effort and creates a larger network of like-minded people.

They also welcome volunteers and donations of clothing, linens and many household items except for electronic items. Circles of Mercy also heads up such projects as Adopt-a-Family at Christmas, the Cate’s Kids Easter Basket Project, and back-to-school supplies. Clothing is dispensed up to once a month per person through the agency’s walk-in clothing store, Catherine’s Closet.

The most recent statistics available show the need for human service agencies such as Circles of Mercy:

  • Rensselaer city’s population is 9,392 persons and has 4,376 households (which is 21.02% growth increase over what the level was in 2000).
  • Population in poverty is 1,630 (17.85%), which is higher than the state average of 14.16% and the national average of 13.82%.
  • Families in poverty are 307 (14.64%), which is higher than the state average of 10.76% and the national average of 10.08%.
  • The percentage of “All People” below the Federal Poverty Level in Rensselaer is 19%, with the amount of children (under 18 years of age ) at 37.7%.
  • The per capita income of Rensselaer is $27,073, lower than the state average of $30,948; but about the same as the national average of $27,334.
  • There are 1,134 households (25.9%) living below the income level of $24,999; with 1,377 (31.4%) collecting Social Security; 842 (19.2%) on retirement income, 241 (5.5%) collecting SSI; 111 (2.5%) on cash public assistance/TANF; and 621 (14.2%) collecting food stamps (SNAP).

Richard’s handouts also included a sample of his twice-a-year newsletter and information about free tax preparation.

During a Q&A session, Len Leonidas said he would like to use his Tiger Cubs kids to work on Easter Baskets. Bill asked him to coordinate that effort and that club members would be glad to contribute materials and baskets. One of Richard’s handouts listed the types of items requested for the baskets.

Circles of Mercy, located on Washington Avenue in Rensselaer, just off Routes 9 & 20, is open daily from are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., except Tuesdays when it stays open to 5 p.m.


Announcements/Business:

CAMPING SCHOLARSHIP — President-elect Bill, presiding in the absence of President April, told us YMCA Director Patrick Ciraulo, a club member, has requested a $300 scholarship to sponsor a student in the Y’s “Circle of Champs” summer camping program. He noted that the treasury could easily handle it since we did not have an exchange student to support this year. Members agreed, without dissent, to do so.

ROTARY RUN — Event coordinator Peter Brown reported that the T-shirts for this year’s Rotary Run have been ordered from the same supplier as last year. The shirts will be gold with blue lettering, the reverse of last year’s color scheme.

• DISTRICT GRANT TRAINING — Bill and Murray Forth reported on the grant training seminar in which they participated last Saturday. Attendance by at least two members is required for a club to be eligible for grants in the next Rotary Year. Bill said a final figure of how much total grant money will be available has not yet been finalized. Murray explained the application process. Bill noted that the application for submission is June 1, and he currently plans to make one to expand our scholarship program. He said he had e-mailed all board members, asking for their thoughts on the project; Four of the other six board members responded.

CPR TRAINING — A reminder that our 3rd annual CPR Certification Course will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, March 15, at Maple Hill High School.
Jim Leyhane reported that the American Red Cross had, to our surprise, tripled its fee for providing course graduates with certification cards, up-charging from the $5 it charged each of first two years to $15 this year. However, it is not mandatory to purchase a card; some people only want the knowledge.

• COLUMBIA H.S. ADVERTISING — Terry Brewer reported he has been contacted by Mike Leonard about advertising in the school’s upcoming publication. Members agreed we should and that the ad space should be used to publicize the Rotary Run.

• THANK YOU — Bill informed the club that Carol Orvis had sent a letter of appreciation for flowers the club sent her after her recent joint replacement surgery. She presently is rehabbing and said she is anxious to rejoin club activities in the summer.


NEXT MEETING: 6:15 p.m. Thursday, March 13, at Quigley’s restaurant. The speaker will be Heidi Hill, site director at Schuyler Mansion in Albany.


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