Learning to be an advocate for others is part of the Saint Rose experience, no matter what field students pursue. Meet nine Saint Rose alumni who are making a difference in their communities.
Perry Junjulas G’14
Executive director of The Damien Center in Albany, New York
Perry Junjulas grew up delivering home-cooked meals to local families with his mom, who instilled in him a deep sense of compassion for those in need. He’s been advocating for “the dear neighbor” ever since. As the executive director of The Damien Center, Junjulas ensures community members living with and affected by HIV/AIDS have access to testing, safe housing, healthy meals, mental health services, job assistance, and lifesaving medications. Established in 1988, The Damien Center currently supports 400 community members by providing services and resources for free.
In addition to its live-in residents, the center also offers home delivery of meals and supplies.
“HIV and AIDS is still a real issue for a lot of people in our community,” Junjulas says. “They can’t access medication because they’re struggling with poverty, food insecurity, mental health issues, and substance-use disorders.”
By addressing these barriers, the center connects clients with health services and medications that would otherwise be out of reach.
“There are incredible ways to prevent HIV now,” he says. “But at the end of the day, the meds only work if you put them in your mouth.”
Diagnosed with HIV in 1995, Junjulas views advocating for those in the community as no different than advocating for himself.
“The AIDS movement was built with that passion that was really deep in everybody’s soul,” he says. “I want to do more, and I want to help more people.”
By DENISE DAGNINO
Aaron Sitawisha Carter ’73
BA in History and Political Science
Co-founder and president of Ujima Journey of the Capital District
A social activist since the late 1960s, Aaron Sitawisha Carter has continued his community activism ever since. The co-founder and president of Ujima Journey of the Capital District, Carter organizes trips for local Black children and their parents to learn about their ancestors and history.
“We raise funds by having the children do car washes, teaching them a work ethic,” Carter says. “People tend to help you if you’re helping yourself.”
Among the first full-time male graduates of the College, Carter fought for equal rights, accountability, and representation during the civil rights era.
It was a program of the Congress of African People in 1973 that inspired Carter to act.
“The key thing for Black people,” he noted, “is to have an understanding of self, culture, and institutional development, beyond just going to work.”
Four decades later, he still asks many of the same questions about equality, accountability, and representation. Not dealing with the truth allows problems to grow worse. Now, as then, Black Americans are still seeking voting rights, freedom, justice, and equality. The poorest among us, he says, require better health care and education.
What is your typical day like?
It’s quite busy for a person of 73! I take care of me, which is a job in itself because of my health problems (diabetes).
I am president of Ujima Journey, an organization I cofounded in 1995. We organize trips for local Black children, and their parents, to learn about their ancestors and Black history. Since 1995, we’ve served more than 500 children. We incorporated in 2009 and became tax exempt in 2010.
In the past five years, we’ve traveled mostly around the East coast, such as to the African-American Civil War Museum and the Smithsonian African American History and Cultural Museum in Washington, D.C., and the African burial ground in New York City. In earlier years, we’ve gone as far as Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, and Canada.
Ujima, the third of the seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa, means collective work and responsibility to build and maintain our community together, and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our own and solve them together. We try to implement that in practice.
We try to teach children and parents about self-reliance. Although we seek out help and donations for trips, we seek to take care of us first. We raise funds by having the children do car washes, teaching them a work ethic – people tend to help you if you’re helping yourself.
How did you work during COVID-19?
During the pandemic, we tended to make phone calls and have virtual meetings rather than meeting in person, but we managed to keep things going.
One fundraiser was a calendar of Black artists’ work. We were able to contribute to a food bank run by Kizzy Williams, who runs Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen on Clinton Avenue. We contributed to the African American Cultural Center downtown, and the Youth Factory, a group of Black women who have activities for community youth.
We collected money and matched individuals’ contributions for a lady who lost everything in an electrical fire.
I also belong to the local organizing committee of Justice or Else, which was involved with the Million Man March in 1995 (and again in 2005) and the Justice or Else gathering in Washington, D.C., and Black Wall Street locally in 2015, and I’m one of the founding members of the Capital Region Kwanzaa Coalition.
What did you do before Ujima Journey?
I was a teacher’s aide at Albany High School, and a substitute teacher before that. Before that, I worked for Arthur Eve, the first Black deputy speaker of the New York State Assembly.
I’ve been an activist since 1968 and continued at Saint Rose when I started in 1970. I was one of the first Black students in the Higher Educational Opportunity Program (HEOP; co-founded by Arthur Eve) at Saint Rose. I did a lot of speaking in the student union, and in the classroom, on social matters. I ran into conflict sometimes. But sometimes we need to go through trials and tribulations through working for the good.
In 1973, I went to a program in Newark, New Jersey: the Congress of African People. That aided me in understanding the drive for social change. The key thing for Black people is to have an understanding of self, culture, and institutional development, beyond just going to work. It’s about developing ourselves and our institutions and homes (which is the first institution of all).
This all fits into what’s happening now – you see from whence we have come.
Back in the 1970s, the theme “Stop killer cops” emerged from Black social groups; in the Capital District, Black men like Keith Ballou (1975) and Jesse Davis (1984) were killed by New York State and Albany police. As we struggle as a country, the lack of dealing with issues, and not dealing with the truth, allows things to build up and fester. That was so in my era, and more so now. It’s really crucial now, because our country has to get its act together, or we won’t be what we keep saying we are.
Is America ready for freedom, justice, and equality? That’s what Black people, and people in general, are asking for.
Take healthcare or education: If you treat the people at the bottom right, you treat everybody right. But racism does not provide real equity.
What was it like to be an activist in the 1970s?
My career path has been about making connections with other Black students and activists throughout the Capital Region and initiating activities for social justice. Being in the first class of Black students in the HEOP program created a bond (I believe we were also the first class of males on campus).
It gave us an academic experience that involved multiple challenges in the classroom: academic reality and our reality. We did double duty: the academic study as well as the study of our social environment and community.
At the time, there was social unrest going on in America. Black people in cities were erupting. There were different numbers of Blacks being drafted to go fight in Vietnam.
We also did a student takeover of Albany High School (which at the time was just one building near the Teacher’s College of New York State). The middle and high schools and various Black student alliances throughout the region were demanding more Black teachers in the school system and more Black studies programs in the high school.
We were fighting for accountability and our Black history. American history is written from the white landowners’ point of view. The founding of the country is based on slavery, 300 years of our labor.
During the takeover, they were supposed to negotiate with us. The police and fire departments came right behind the negotiators and started hitting us with clubs and big heavy chains. That was an experience. Around that time, too, we had a meeting of about 2,000 people in a Catholic church in the South End of Albany. It was one of the biggest gatherings of Black people. There was a lot of social disruption going on.
But there were other things: During my last year at Saint Rose, we had the People’s Festival on Swan Street. That was about the cultural dynamics of bringing Black people together.
What do you do for fun?
There’s the holidays, the Black holidays. Although those involve work, they’re about social reunion: Kwanzaa, Juneteenth, Black History Month. And there’s family and friends. I have two daughters, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Now, because we’re pinned down, I do a lot of phone calling. I’ve met people all over the country, as well as in the Capital Region. I bother people. I call them up.
If I have said anything of value or done anything of value in my life, all praise is to Allah the Creator; all mistakes are truly mine. Amen.
Marianne Winters ’82 studied biology at Saint Rose, but through her liberal arts electives and involvement in student government, she realized she was headed down a different path.
Experiencing interpersonal violence as a young person motivated her to be there for survivors. For more than 35 years, she’s worked to address interpersonal violence, including 11 years as executive director of Safe Passage in Northampton, Massachusetts, which provides support services to domestic violence survivors.
We asked her more about her work.
You’ve worked in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault for nearly four decades, what brought you into this work?
Like so many of my colleagues in this work, I bring my own experience of interpersonal violence as a young person. My motivation was part personal exploration and part the desire to be there for survivors with support that I didn’t know existed. I stayed because of the vision of the movement – that together we could change society for the better.
I’ve read pieces written by you that talk about maintaining hope. Your work is very challenging in that the work always continues – the rates of DV remain high, and they were startling high during the pandemic. How do you maintain your sense of hope and find the strength to keep pushing forward?
Many people think that this work is about hearing all of the horror stories, being witness to the trauma, grief, and hopelessness. And while that’s part of the work, I find hope and inspiration from being witness to the human healing process and the resilience and strength of survivors of violence. Every survivor of violence deserves their own parade; a celebration of their incredible strength. And, I know that I have to work every day on maintaining my own resilience. I work on staying well and keeping perspective. I build in fun and do things that feed me. I spend time outside, play tennis, work on restoring our antique Victorian house, go on RV trips with my wife, and connect with the people in my life – family, friends, and my community of other LGBTQ folks. I try to stay connected to where in my body, where I hold the stress of the work and metabolize it through yoga, exercise, floating on the water on my stand up paddleboard, and enjoying nature.
Did the pandemic reveal any new problems or solutions to you in terms of serving survivors?
At Safe Passage, the pandemic called us to think differently about safety planning with survivors, especially during the beginning of the pandemic when the quarantine rules were quite strict. One of the key options of many survivors’ safety plans was to leave for a short time perhaps, or to a friend’s house, a public place, or shelter. All of a sudden these possibilities were eliminated. All of a sudden, many of the resources essential for safety – temporary shelter with friends, courts, emergency food, restraining orders – were harder to access.
We also had to rethink how to best support the guests in our shelter by renting separate apartments. One of the most difficult things was to work with survivors on guardianship agreements and wills in case they became sick or died. Many survivors were terrified that they would become hospitalized and leave their children in a dangerous situation. One bright spot is that our community stepped up in a big way to provide funds for hotels and apartments, overtime and hazard pay for our essential staff, technology to support our remote work, and funds for gift cards for basic needs like food, school supplies, technology, and rental assistance.
What gains have you seen made in societal awareness and understanding of DV during your career?
Yes, I’ve definitely seen gains and at the same time hear the same comments and questions as 40 years ago. Questions like, “Why does she stay?,” “What did they do to deserve it?” still play out, while there are many more people out there who are more informed and thinking differently. Local organizations and state coalitions addressing sexual and domestic violence have been established and serve as hubs for organizing communities.
Safe Passage is located in a progressive community with a long history of activism and public service. Our community comes out in force for our annual fundraising event, The Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage. The event has grown due to the growing number of participants who raise money from their peers. We were thrilled and astounded to raise $805,000 through last year’s event. This level of participation from across the community is another great indicator that people want to do something about the issues related to domestic violence, and they literally step up to do so.
You’ve spoken a lot about marginalized communities, and how it’s important to consider them when addressing the needs of survivors. Can you talk about how you’ve worked to serve these communities?
Starting with my first training in the mid-1980s I learned that the work to end violence must be linked with the work to end oppression; that it’s all part of one big picture that leaves those most marginalized at a higher level of risk and with fewer resources and options. We are doing a better job and still have a ways to go when it comes to being accessible to entire communities. Anti-blackness and anti-immigrant trauma result in high levels of severe violence and homicide happening to Black women and immigrants. Lack of access results in vulnerability to violence for people with disabilities. And, the violence escalates more quickly when a survivor is marginalized.
One project that I helped launch was the first hotline in the U.S. for Spanish-speaking survivors in the late 1980s. I was working in a rape crisis center where Spanish-speaking counselors from across the state would come together about once a month. Often, during the meeting, there were two or three who had to leave the meeting and respond to their beepers. They each were covering their organization’s hotlines 24/7, often as the only Spanish speaker in the organization. I worked with the group to propose a model for a statewide hotline, with shared staffing. We took this proposal to the Department of Public Health and were successful in getting it funded. This created better working conditions and less exploitation for the Spanish-speaking counselors and provided each of them with the time to organize their own communities.
A more recent example was during my time at Safe Passage when we realized that our reputation as an organization for women was getting in the way of reaching the large and growing LGBTQ community. I engaged the staff and board in a series of discussions about how we would change our mission and then systematically change our messaging so that we would be seen by survivors from the LGBTQ communities as a place where they would be affirmed and welcomed.
Were you concerned about these issues or other societal issues when you were at Saint Rose? Were you influenced to be an advocate there?
I was a science major at CSR, thinking that I would become a medical provider. I was also exposed to sociology, history, literature, and ethics through my electives, and I was involved in student government. I realize now that I was moving away from my original goal and toward something that would allow me to apply science to helping humans. My advisor, Sister Tess Wysolmerski, encouraged me to explore the breadth of science and had a huge influence on the woman that I am today. She and the other sisters who I learned from showed me how science and spirituality and humanism are all interconnected, rather than a dichotomy of opposing perspectives.
I often find that I apply science to my work – when we use data to do a needs assessment, when working on public policy related to forensics and health care, and most recently when responding to the pandemic. In early 2020, I remember reading about the transmission rates, and then I did the math. It was clear that this virus was moving at exponential rates, and that if I wanted to make sure that our staff and clients were as safe as possible, that we needed to pivot to remote work quickly. I got some push back from some government funders who told a friend and colleague that they thought I might be reacting out of fear. My friend told them that, no actually, Marianne studied science and math, including a class on virology, so I think we should follow her lead on this.
You learned recently you will receive an honorary degree from Smith College this spring at commencement. How does that feel?
It still feels somewhat unbelievable that I would be accepting an honorary degree from Smith. Of course I feel honored and proud of my accomplishments and humbled that I’ll be on the stage with the other amazing honorees.
What do you think may be next for you in your career or beyond your career years?
One of the themes of my work in recent years is the importance of a robust infrastructure for any organization or movement that is working toward social change. I’m interested in figuring out how I can share what I’ve learned and experienced about with other organizations. I’m excited to work on supporting and building up the next generation of leaders in this work.
What would you tell a student who is considering working in your field?
I would say to learn as much about yourself – what gives you joy, what you believe to be your purpose, how you respond to stress and crisis, how you build connections with other humans. Activism is about placing yourself in a long history, on the shoulders of those who came before with a shared vision for a world that is better for future generations. It is also about being a servant leader – one who listens, follows as well as leads, and centers the work on those most closely impacted by the issues.
I believe that the work toward a safer and more just society can happen within every field and endeavor. It requires parents who focused on raising nonviolent children, teachers who know how trauma affects a child’s ability to learn, medical providers who understand the signs that a patient may be abused, artists and poets who can articulate the impact of harm and give us hope, researchers who inquire about the needs and experiences of those most marginalized.
In short, I don’t think of this work as a field, per se, although you can certainly find work at a sexual or domestic violence organization. Many organizations were founded by volunteers and still retain volunteer programs and internships. Jump in and see if the work speaks to your heart.
“Starting with my first training in the mid-1980s, I learned that the work to end violence must be linked with the work to end oppression; that it’s all part of one big picture that leaves those most marginalized at a higher level of risk and with fewer resources and options,” she says.
By JENNIFER GISH
Cheryl Hage-Perez ’82
BS in Social Work
Executive director of the Veterans & Community Housing Coalition in Ballston Spa, New York
Cheryl Hage-Perez ’82 started at Saint Rose as a financially struggling single mom relying on public assistance. She says at Saint Rose she found people who met her where she was in life, enabling her to pursue her education despite the challenges. Today, Hage-Perez is a powerhouse nonprofit director who has rallied unprecedented funds and support for homeless veterans, finding a new way to give back for the help she once received.
In 2016, shortly after becoming executive director of the Veterans & Community Housing Coalition (VCHC) in Ballston Spa, New York, Hage-Perez realized that she needed more funds to accomplish the VCHC’s goals of providing permanent and temporary housing, support services, and outreach and advocacy for homeless veterans and their families in seven New York counties. She hit upon the idea of hosting a gala that would not only raise funds, but honor local veterans.
Now in its seventh year, the gala has grown in scale and prestige.
“Planning for The Seventh Annual Veterans’ Ball to be held on November 6, 2022, it is still very exciting,” Hage-Perez says. To date, the ball has raised close to $500,000 to support the VCHC’s mission.
For her work with veterans, Hage-Perez was honored as a 2018 Woman of Distinction by New York State Senator George A. Amedore, Jr. (“When he called, I had no idea. I said, ‘Is this a joke? How did you get this number?’”). In 2020, Hage-Perez was honored by the Capital District YWCA with the Woman of Achievement award.
Each journey begins with a single step, and Hage-Perez’s journey to nonprofit leadership began long ago.
“At a very young age, I found myself a single mom, a victim of domestic abuse, with no vehicle, making $7,200 a year. I relied on any assistance I could get: Section 8, food stamps, HEAP, Medicaid, WIC, anything to help me through,” she says.
“I had a front-row seat to the struggles of those in need of assistance,” she adds. “For so many, they could see no way out; and with the way they’re treated, you’d think they were taking money out of the workers’ pockets.
“That was my moment. I said, ‘I’m going to help people.”
Support, respect, and family
Hage-Perez had begun her professional career as a mental-health aide at St. Mary’s Hospital in her hometown of Amsterdam but realized that she had to go to college to make more of a difference.
“As soon as I went to Saint Rose, I just felt it – the sense of family,” Hage-Perez says. “People I didn’t know – adults, teachers, kids – they were all so welcoming and friendly.”
Saint Rose offered the understanding community she sought, as well.
“I knew I would get the attention I needed,” says Hage-Perez, who was working full time, had a 6-year-old son, and was pregnant with her daughter. “It was the best decision of my life.”
Unable to afford a babysitter, Hage-Perez would sometimes bring her son to class, where he would quietly sit and work in his coloring books.
Earning her bachelor’s degree in social work, Hage-Perez gained a strong academic education and vital interpersonal skills. Just as important was seeing how everyone was treated.
“People were always treated with respect, whether they came from families of millionaires, or if they were like me, totally dependent on social services,” Hage-Perez says.
“It took me 10 years to finish my degree, attending part time – my stubbornness paid off! My dad was so supportive and wonderful. When I got my degree, he took it all over the city to show everyone. I graduated in January 1982, and he passed away in April that same year. I always thought, ‘He waited. Just waited.’”
From early in her career, Hage-Perez wanted to attain a leadership position to help the largest number of people.
“I wanted to set policy and make decisions on direction,” she says. “I worked extra shifts, volunteered for extra assignments, read everything I could, asked lots of questions. It was a snowball effect. I started getting promotions. With each promotion, I felt I was in a better place to help.”
She always helped underserved populations, beginning as executive director of the Mental Health Association of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, then executive director of Support Ministries, Inc., which provides housing and support to people with AIDS.
Then, she discovered her ultimate calling. “I kept seeing the words ‘homeless veteran.’ It baffled me – I didn’t understand how a veteran could be homeless,” Hage-Perez says. “The more I looked into it, the more I saw this was a big problem in our country.”
Even coming from a military family with three generations in military service, Hage-Perez was unaware of the many problems facing our veterans, from substance abuse to unemployment.
“They end up homeless. Often it breaks up their family, they wind up alone, and they don’t get their healthcare needs taken care of. And then we get them (at VCHC),” Hage-Perez says.
“We have a 100% success rate recognized by the VA,” she adds. “We have the only female program in New York State for transitional housing, of only seven in the country. This year we will break ground on the first supportive housing program for homeless veteran moms and their children in our area. The funding of this unique program is all from a grassroots campaign.”
Key to the VCHC’s success, she quickly adds, is the strong, unflagging support of the community – including weekly homecooked meals delivered by the Route 50 diner; the Elks’ free dinners and breakfasts; and many others’ donations of cash, furniture, household goods, clothing, and volunteer time.
A look forward – and back
About her amazing ability to organize and fundraise, Hage-Perez says simply, “It’s not a job, it’s a passion. It’s something that comes from your heart when you’re sitting down with someone. It’s everything that you so believe in that it comes naturally.”
At the root of it all is her ability to relate personally to the people she’s working for.
“I’ve been there. It was a part of my life, and it made me who I became,” she says. “You remember sitting in the social-service office and seeing how people were treated. Seeing little children with that blank look in their eyes. And thinking, ‘There must be more for them.’”
As she plans for retirement, she says, “I look back to where it all began. The College of Saint Rose. So much has happened so quickly since the time I spent there. My wonderful family, my fulfilling career, it seems like yesterday I started this journey.
“You never forget.”
“I’ve been there. It was a part of my life, and it made me who I became,” she says. “You remember sitting in the social service office and seeing how people were treated. And thinking, ‘There must be more for them.'”
By IRENE KIM
Judith Enck ’81
BA in History/Political Science
Founder of Beyond Plastics and senior fellow and visiting faculty member at Bennington College
Through multiple reinventions of her career, Judith Enck ’81 has always been a staunch champion for the environment and protecting people’s health. The latest incarnation of her passion is Beyond Plastics (beyondplastics.org), an organization she established in 2019 to end plastic pollution through education, advocacy, and institutional change.
Enck is well equipped to tackle the challenge: She has racked up decades of experience in nonprofit and government agencies, starting with early work for the New York Public Interest Research Group and culminating with her appointment by President Obama to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While with the EPA, she served as administrator of Region 2, supervising a staff of 700 and managing an annual budget of $800 million. She served at the EPA until 2017.
“After serving in the Obama Administration, I wanted to work on a really hard issue that needed more attention,” Enck says. “Of course, that led me to the growing problem of plastic pollution.
“Plastics are entering our rivers and oceans at an alarming rate, are made from fossil fuels and chemicals – making problems of climate change worse, have an abysmal recycle rate of only 8%, and are manufactured in low-income communities of color.”
Enck envisioned Beyond Plastics to mobilize the many people across the country who want to be part of the solution.
“Whether it’s plastic pollution or climate change or water quality, I urge everyone to jump in and do what they can in their communities,” she says.
Enck is also a senior fellow and visiting faculty at Bennington College, where she teaches a Beyond Plastic Pollution class to an eclectic mixture of community members, college students, and high-schoolers.
An embodiment of “think global, act local,” Enck remains a fixture in the Capital Region landscape. She appears each Friday morning on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s Roundtable program (hosted by Joe Donahue ’90).
Another local claim to fame: Enck is the originator of New York State’s “Bottle Bill,” which since 1983 has been keeping litter off our roadsides and out of our landfills.
It was as a Saint Rose undergrad in the late 1970s that Enck discovered her passion for defending the environment. Her first project was to establish, with her friends, the campus recycling program.
Unbottling her potential
In her junior year, the history and political science major embarked on a fateful internship with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).
“The internship gives you real experience: You try to actually pass a bill in the legislature,” she says. “It’s not photocopying and running out for coffee. It’s ‘Here’s a bill, we’ll give you some guidance and support, now go and try to pass it.’ You’re thrown into the deep end of the pool.”
As her project, Enck was given the Returnable Container Act, a.k.a. Bottle Bill, which would require consumers to pay a five-cent deposit on soda containers.
“I couldn’t pass it my first year, which I found very frustrating, so I did something no one had ever done before: I did the internship with NYPIRG a second time, while juggling a few classes at the same time,” she says.
The bill still didn’t pass. But Enck was determined to see the bill become law. After graduating in 1981, she took a job with Environmental Advocates as office manager for $100 a week.
“The deal was: During the week, I could lobby to help pass the Bottle Bill. On Saturday, I was the office manager,” Enck says.
In 1982, the bill passed.
“It was a really big environmental victory and dramatically increased statewide recycling rates, reduced litter, created jobs, and gave me the idea that if you worked really hard and were politically savvy, you could pass bills in the New York State legislature,” she says. “Without my fully realizing it, passage of that bill into law launched my environmental protection career (and got many soda and beer manufacturers mad at me).”
Protecting the environment and continuing the conversation
These days, Enck happily telecommutes from her home in Rensselaer County.
“I dragged my husband to New York City for the last seven years, so this time, he picked where we were going to live,” she says. “We’re in a passive solar house that we built 33 years ago with our own hands, on a dirt road on top of a mountain – the opposite of our former Bedford-Stuyvesant home in Brooklyn.”
She’s no stranger to rustic neighborhoods, having grown up in the Catskills.
“I went to a small Catholic high school in Greene County, where girls were not encouraged to apply to four-year colleges,” Enck says.
If it hadn’t been for a supportive young social-studies teacher, Chris Patka ’75, Enck might not be where she is today.
“I had never talked to a college recruiter; I didn’t even know how to apply,” she says. “But my teacher pulled me by the ear and said, ‘I’m bringing you to visit Saint Rose.’ She opened my eyes to what was possible. If it hadn’t been for her, I might not have gone to college. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think I would have been so aspirational in terms of what I wanted to do.”
It was during her first Saint Rose semester that Enck met the women who were to become her closest lifelong friends (and start the recycling program).
“After dinner, we’d stay in the dining hall and talk for hours,” she says. “We talked constantly, went to political rallies together, went to mixers; we looked out for each other. It was four years of a nonstop conversation that continues to this day.
“You meet really nice students and professors at Saint Rose,” Enck adds. “These are people who are outward looking and see the world bigger than their own needs. Saint Rose students and graduates care about the earth and what condition we are leaving it for future generations. Saint Rose was pivotal in getting me focused on the outside world and giving me opportunities to effect change. I’m really proud to be a Saint Rose graduate.”
By IRENE KIM
Destiny Watkins ’14
BS in Management
Leader of training and technical assistance at the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region
When it was time for Saint Rose management student Destiny Watkins ’14 to arrange an internship in her senior year, the program coordinator at the Huether School of Business asked her interests. Custom cake-baking, Watkins replied, and singing, songwriting, small businesses, and making purses.
“She told me she might have the perfect match – the Community Loan Fund,” recalled Watkins, now 29. “It was right nearby and helped a list of companies. I didn’t have a specific part of business I was interested in, but she thought I could at least get an overview.”
Seven years later, she discussed the experience from her office at the Loan Fund, where she was recently promoted to a top post: leader of training and technical assistance. Recent weeks had found her reaching out to Spa Halcyon in Albany, Coiled Salon in Schenectady, and the just-opened Sugar Fairy Bakes in Mechanicville – each which she helped move from concept to reality. At the same time, Watkins was due to talk to someone about an e-commerce jewelry business and someone hoping to open a laundromat in an urban neighborhood where such services are in high demand.
The 37-year-old Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region extends such opportunities in 11 counties to underrepresented communities, women, and individuals with low incomes who have strong ideas but perhaps not the funding options or traditional business background to see them through on their own. The organization helps clients establish their businesses and makes start-up loans, using money that individuals, nonprofit organizations, and commercial banks contribute.
Since her Saint Rose internship, Watkins has played a role in getting dozens of small businesses, including massage therapists, natural hair salons, nail salons, daycare centers, construction companies, marketing firms, clothing designers, and nonprofits, off the ground.
When it works, she said she is joyful and pleased to visit shops and restaurants. Regardless, Watkins always sees value in allowing people to share their ideas.
“For around 30 percent who we talk to, it’s just an introductory meeting. If we meet two to three times about half are going to launch,” she explained. “You have to keep the same energy with everyone, so you are not talking people out of things but placing your perspective on it. Sometimes I say, ‘As much as I believe in your idea, we have to be realistic.’”
Sometimes, she said, prospective business owners return with a concept that is either similar to or unlike the original.
In addition to talking through hundreds of ideas, Watkins has put together a resource guide to show would-be entrepreneurs where to turn and offered training on the finer points of business. She has helped clients write business plans complete with anticipated expenses and revenue, collaborated with the lending staff on loans, and followed up regularly with funded businesses.
She first saw the power of the work as a Saint Rose intern, when a woman approached the Loan Fund eager to open a social space for people who encounter barriers to getting jobs. She was struck by how the organization listened and connected her to potential partners.
“I said, ‘This is really interesting. You get to help people do all different things,’” Watkins recalls. “So many people are trying to close the gaps in their communities.”
A New York City native, Watkins grew up in Albany. She came to Saint Rose because of its urban setting and the short commute. While interested in a college experience, she lived at home in order to save money, and also worked. The flexible scheduling – including the ability to take night classes – made all the difference. Her mother convinced her of the value of a business degree.
A singer and composer, Watkins also enjoyed Saint Rose music theory classes and the music students she befriended. She took chemistry and meteorology – admittedly, not her strongest subjects – to fulfill academic requirements. “It was a home away from home, almost,” Watkins said.
The business classes went beyond the books to show what it actually takes to start and run a small business. She particularly enjoyed business law and management classes that got into the nuts and bolts of business planning and risk assessment.
Watkins is most grateful for the internship that led her to her current position. A required part of all majors in the College’s Huether School of Business, she considers internship experiences crucial.
And she approaches her work with a mindset of innovation. Watkins has launched Emerging Investor Network, which is an effort to encourage millennials to make small investments – even $100 – in the Loan Fund to connect the next generation to its mission.
“You better your community and gain some interest at the same time,” she said. “And we push a lot of borrower/investor engagement, which allows our investors to see their ‘investment’ at work.”
“You have to keep the same energy with everyone, so you are not talking people out of things but placing your perspective on it,” she says.
By JANE M. GOTTLIEB
Tracie Killar ’86
BA in Communications
Executive director and founder of the South End Children’s Cafe in Albany, New York
As a communications director with a local nonprofit, Tracie Killar spent the first five years of her career writing about other people doing good things in the community. She woke up one day and realized she wanted to be the person doing the things.
She hasn’t slowed down since.
Killar started the South End Children’s Cafe in Albany’s South End neighborhood in 2015 because she noticed there was a stigma around traditional soup kitchens. She vowed to create a welcoming space for children that not only addressed food inequality but also provided a variety of enrichment programs, including mental health, nutrition, exercise, and academic assistance.
Despite not having grown up in a home where food brought family members together, she soon realized she could “lead with love” while positively impacting wellness for local children.
During the pandemic, she pivoted her afterschool children’s programs to provide hot meals and groceries to more than 500 children and their families.
No matter how busy she is coordinating frequent food drives, managing team meetings, and overseeing a staff of paid and volunteer employees, Killar still greets every child who walks through her doors with a smile and asks about their day.
“People helping people is a beautiful thing,” she says.
By DENISE DAGNINO
Bill Stoneman G’12
MSED in Social Studies Secondary Education
Founder of the Vegetable Project, Albany, New York
On a small plot of land at the edge of the Albany High School campus, there is a garden. In the winter, it looks relatively unassuming, with the previous year’s crops laying dormant. But with the right person guiding them, students can still learn something valuable among the garden’s plots.
“Even on a cold day in the winter, I can show someone that the marigolds that grew here last summer have seeds in them, and that the seeds are designed to be out here in the cold,” explains Bill Stoneman, G’12 on a cold February morning.
For the 63-year-old Stoneman, tactile learning and time spent outdoors are the key to a truly holistic approach to education. Stoneman finished his master’s degree in secondary social studies at Saint Rose in 2012 and brings these techniques to the forefront with the Vegetable Project, an extracurricular program at Albany High School and the Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School in Albany that not only teaches students about gardening and healthy eating, but about the importance of getting outside, creating something with their own hands, and fostering healthy relationships with adults.
“I can give (a seed) to you and say, ‘You can pull them apart,’ and you can see how they have a little kind of wing on it that helps it spread out when the wind is blowing,” he says, pulling a seed from a browning cilantro plant before explaining that, when ground up, those seeds become coriander. “For the individual, who certainly might be a kid who never saw a seed, or thinks they come in little paper envelopes, I think this is important.”
In 2009, Stoneman started a gardening program at Myers Middle School; at the time, his daughter was in eighth grade. Stoneman and other parents at Myers had a mission of creating hands-on learning opportunities for children in Albany by building gardens, growing plants, and exposing kids – especially those from underserved communities – to nature. By 2015, the program had grown into the Vegetable Project. That same year, Stoneman and his collaborators formally organized as a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
“We’re parents of kids in the schools, and we’re not 100% crazy about everything that we vicariously experienced through our kids, but also feel like it’s better to be involved than just to complain,” he explains. Thirteen years later, the Vegetable Project is still bringing parents, teachers, and other school staff together.
“If we are going to foster a sense in another generation that this is the only planet we ever have to live on, and that if we don’t take care of it we might be in great danger, we have more of a fighting chance if we get them outside,” Stoneman says.
Before he came to Saint Rose, Stoneman spent most of his adult life working in journalism. After a while, he decided it was time to figure out what his next venture should be. Although it wasn’t the path he expected, Stoneman pursued his master’s degree in education in his early 50s. He says he always took a nontraditional approach to higher education: He received his bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State University in California after transferring from SUNY Fredonia, but it wasn’t a straight shot from high school to college.
“It took me 19 years from high school to get my bachelor’s degree,” Stoneman says. He describes himself as being a “miserable student” in his youth, who had sworn to himself that the last thing he would do is pursue a career in education.
“I would like to think that informs me differently as a teacher,” he explains. “I feel for the kid who doesn’t feel like school is for them.”
While he was the oldest student in every class while at Saint Rose, that wasn’t a barrier. Instead, he found he was able to bring a different perspective to his classes and to his experiences as a student, especially when he started student teaching.
“(It) was a bit more of an eye-opener,” he says. “because it’s not until you’re actually in a classroom that you have a much stronger sense of what works and what doesn’t.”
He also credits his time at Saint Rose for giving him the tools he needed to understand how to effectively work with students. In particular, the theories of intrinsic versus extrinsic reward and authoritarian and authoritative means of communication, both of which he learned about while pursuing his master’s degree, have had a lasting impact on how he’s structured the Vegetable Project.
“I saw a paragraph in an educational psychology textbook,” he says, “and I said, ‘My goodness, this is more important than everything else.’ Years later, I’m convinced you can’t be a teacher unless you can explain what those mean.”
Teaching middle- and high-schoolers how to garden isn’t the only goal Stoneman has for the Vegetable Project. For him, it’s a matter of creating equity. According to the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, 16% of children in Albany County are living in poverty.
“This is missing from a lot of kids’ lives, and the kids whose lives are in the greatest stress,” he says. “I don’t see any of the decisionmakers regarding access to and exposure to contact with green grass and fresh air and blue skies as being something that is not the fault of the district.”
Stoneman also believes it’s just as important that his students learn how to trust adults and feel good about learning as it is for them to get hands-on experience with nature.
Not every student who tries out the program sticks around, but Stoneman doesn’t see this as a failure. He’s also made a point to make the Vegetable Project accessible for Albany students, not requiring permission slips or official sign-ups to join.
“If they have no interest in gardening, but they gain trust in some adults in their life, that would be fantastic,” he says.
Now, Stoneman and the board of the Vegetable Project are focusing on securing funding and expanding their programs within the City School District of Albany. This spring, he launched a milk jug garden program with more than 300 students at Myers Middle School and Albany High. For this project, Stoneman and the teachers help students create miniature greenhouses by drilling small holes in the top and bottom of recycled milk jugs, cutting them horizontally to make a hinged container, and filling them with potting soil and seeds. After about five weeks, the seeds will start to sprout, and the students will be able to plant them in the garden.
“Right there is an opportunity for kids to get their hands dirty,” Stoneman says. “That is a tactile experience.”
Above all else, Stoneman hopes to make a lasting impact on his community and the children who call it home.
“It takes a certain amount of determination to say, ‘This is important, and we’re losing kids if we don’t do these things,’” he says. “It’s not like the little miniature greenhouse is the be all and end all, but it’s the vehicle for making an awful lot of those little connections that you want to happen within every kid.”
By SARAH HEIKKINEN
Doreen Kelly ’64
BA in Education/History and Political Science
Retired principal and teacher and now volunteer and board member for People for Cats in Falmouth, Massachusetts
After 30 years as a teacher in the Boston public schools, where in the 1980s, she helped introduce computers for the first time in the elementary and middle schools, Doreen Kelly finished a 40-year education career as principal at Cottage Street School in Sharon, Massachusetts.
In her retirement, Kelly began working with People for Cats, an all-volunteer organization that operates a non-kill cat shelter, coordinates adoptions, and reduces the stray and feral population through spaying and neutering.
Before we get into rescue work, can you tell me a little bit about your career and what brought you into the field of education?
Originally, I planned to enter the medical field and become a nurse, but I had rheumatic fever as a child and was not accepted into nursing schools. At that time, cardiac issues were treated by requiring the patient to avoid most physical activity. Nurses’ training is physically challenging; requiring a lot of heavy lifting and working long, demanding hours. I decided to explore the technical side of medicine, so I entered Saint Rose as a biology major. Fortunately, I soon realized it would be more important and rewarding for me to work with and help people. I decided to major in history and become a teacher. I’m so glad I made this change because the field of education opened doors for me that I couldn’t have predicted. In the end, I never actually had the opportunity to teach history, but my history major gave me a solid background and an appreciation of the past; be it the history of the Boston public schools or the role of computers in our world today.
Looking back, I can’t say I had any major “aha moments” regarding my choice to become a teacher, but I do remember my wonderful education in Albany public schools where I was taught by some extraordinary and progressive teachers. They not only provided basic subject matter but were also keenly interested in my interests, talents, and future. Several of the teachers I had at Phillip Schuyler High School were Saint Rose graduates, and two of them were very instrumental in my applying to Saint Rose. Helen Warren, my guidance counselor, and Mary Moran, niece of one of the founders of Saint Rose – Sister John Joseph Moran, was my drama teacher. I worried that Saint Rose was way out of my league but both graduates urged me to apply to Saint Rose. With their encouragement, and I think a good word put to the right people at CSR, I was admitted!
After graduation, I had a 40-year career in public education. I started in Boston during the early days of desegregation just before bussing for racial equality began in the city. Fellow Boston educators involved me in the racial equality struggle helping me determine my direction and showed me there is more to teaching than being in a classroom. My career in Boston public schools lasted for 30 years and started with elementary teaching, then I moved to a brand new elementary school, which was based on the open classroom model. My final assignment in Boston in the early ’80s was at the newly created Office of Technology. At this time, computers were not in the elementary or middle schools and only minimally in high schools. My job, technology education specialist, along with three other women, was to introduce computers to the elementary and middle schools. On paper, it appeared to be a very glamorous job, but in the early days, it was a lot of carrying computers and those very heavy monitors from my car to makeshift computer education classrooms, which were often located on the second or third floor! I reluctantly left Boston public schools to become principal of the Cottage Street School in Sharon, Massachusetts. Becoming principal of the elementary school turned out to be my dream job and the culmination of my previous experiences.
We see you’ve been volunteering for People for Cats since 2003. What got you involved with animal rescue?
When I retired I had many things I hoped to do, and two things were at the top of the list. One was to join the volunteers at People for Cats (PFC) in Falmouth, Massachusetts. They started their work in the early ’90s without the benefit of a shelter and only a few women who adopted and cared for cats from their homes. I’ve always loved cats and for most of my life have had a cat or two. The work these women did with so little financial support was inspirational to me, and years before I retired I knew I would like to join this hardworking group.
People for Cats is a non-kill cat shelter that finds good homes for adoptable stray and surrendered cats and kittens. It also is dedicated to reducing the stray and feral population by spay/neutering them.
There is no paid staff, and the volunteers are seriously dedicated to these tasks because they absolutely love the cats. I was eager to become part of PFC and the good work they were doing.
The other goal I had for my retirement was to paint more, and as it turns out, when I retired, the Falmouth Artist group was still as vibrant and inviting as it was when I painted with them in the early ’80s. Several times since I’ve joined both groups, I’ve been able to combine my passions by donating paintings to the cat flea market and painting cat portraits for myself and several friends. At the Falmouth Art Center, I became part of a pastel painting class that coincidently is taught by a Saint Rose graduate from Albany, New York. Betsy Payne Cook ’72 has become my teacher, mentor, and a very good friend.
Have you always loved animals?
I’ve always loved animals, and especially cats. There is something about a cat’s independent, yet gentle way that speaks to me.
What are you most proud to have accomplished with the organization?
I guess there are two things. First, I was part of the People for Cats Board that took the steps to bring PFC’s shelter into the 21st century and to expand the services and facilities so we are able to keep the cats in a very healthy facility and assist many more cats and their owners than we could previously. As a board, we worked very hard investigating the possible options for a location for the shelter and seeking contractors and fundraisers to assist us. There were many challenges along the way as we worked with the town boards, abutters and neighbors, contractors and architects. The new shelter was designed to provide an environment to maintain our cats’ good health, sustain a pleasant situation for our volunteers, and provide a welcoming place for visitors and adopters. The new shelter opened in October 2011. Aside from doing the daily work of cleaning, feeding, and caring for cats, what are the other things that I do? Presently, I handle the PFC ordering and sales of PFC clothing at all of our town-wide events, advertise found cats in local publications, edit the weekly PFC column, write grants to sustain the Veterinary Care Assistance Fund, bring cats to the vet, create slideshows, flyers, and PR items, and probably a million other things that turn up during the course of a year!
The other thing I am very proud of is I was instrumental in starting a community outreach program that provides veterinary care at reduced prices to eligible cat owners. I have written several grants that support the Veterinary Care Assistance Fund (VCAF), which helps local cat owners who are having financial difficulties. The pandemic has been particularly difficult for many of Falmouth’s pet owners who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic shutdowns and the economic turndown. Since we have a very large seasonal economy, many of our residents depend on summer months for a substantial part of their income. They have found themselves out of work or with decreased hours of employment due to workplace closures, new regulations, and a tempered summer season. Overall, many residents are living close to or below the poverty level and unable to afford veterinary fees, which have risen significantly due to increases in operating expenses. I am on the hotline for the VCAF every other week and have an opportunity to talk to our clients who need financial help. They tell me about their cat’s medical issues and how much they love their cats. The comfort of having an animal when so many other things are going wrong in your life or out of your control, is incalculable. The VCAF has provided over $200,000 to Cape residents for cats’ veterinary care since 2006. Being able to provide comfort and support to these cat owners is extremely rewarding.
What has your volunteer work with the rescue taught you?
Volunteering at People for Cats gives me the opportunity to get to know many members of the community. It helps me realize that in addition to being a wonderful vacation and retirement area, Falmouth also has residents struggling to pay for their basic needs. For these residents who are cat owners, an unexpected cat related medical problem or maintaining their cat’s basic healthcare can be financially impossible. It’s been my privilege to get to know many Falmouth residents who are in this category and to hear about their hardships and help them. In the course of my volunteer work, having the opportunity to see life from someone else’s perspective is a gift. Being able to help these cat owners is personally very satisfying, and even more important is keeping their beloved cat well.
We imagine you can’t help but have a cat or two of your own. Can you tell us about your pets? How hard is it to not take all the cats home?
My grandmother always had cats, and she lived downstairs from us. I always loved her cats and considered them my cats, too. The first time I brought a cat to my own home was when I was a sophomore in high school. I was coming home from a basketball game and transferring buses at State and Pearl streets in Albany when I saw a small orange kitten. He was obviously lost and needed a safe place. I picked him up, placed him under my trench coat, and got on the bus. I knew my mother was not going to be thrilled with the surprise, but with my grandmother’s help, Timmy found a forever home with us.
I’ve adopted three cats from People for Cats. Tony, who spent 6 months living outdoors underneath someone’s deck until he was rescued by PFC. He turned out to be a wonderful companion, who cared for and took care of Lady Jane my next PFC cat, who was named Scum by her abusive owner. It was amazing how these two very unlike cats loved each other. When I adopted Lady Jane, I was prepared to keep them separate until they eventually through careful planning got to know each other, but when I brought in Lady Jane’s carrier, Tony was there waiting. I decided to see what was going to happen if I put the carrier down. Tony went up and sniffed the carrier and Lady Jane through the grill. There was no howling or hissing, so I tentatively opened the carrier’s door, and Lady Jane came out. They touched noses, rubbed up against each other, and the rest was history. Lady Jane was with me for 18 wonderful years; a sweeter or more affectionate cat could not be found. Now Maggie, whose owner needed to go to a nursing home, has come from PFC to take up residence. It didn’t take her a long to fit right in.
How hard is it to not take all the cats home?
It gets easier the longer I’m volunteering at PFC because I know there are so many people out there looking for the perfect cat for their own home, and amazingly, there is always a home for even what we feared were unadoptable cats.
How did your time at Saint Rose shape your life?
My time at Saint Rose was very eye-opening and world-expanding for a young protestant woman from the South End of Albany. I found wonderful friends there, discovered that nuns were real people and wonderful teachers and realized that, yes, it was possible to broaden my outlook and goals for the future.
Saint Rose provided inspirational teachers who taught us that one person can really make a difference.
Dr. Doris Grumbach, Sister Mary Rosina and Dr. George Lukas contributed to my education and personal growth. I still keep track of 103-year-old Doris Grumbach by reading her memoirs about her own life journey. She encouraged my love for writing in her freshman English course. Sister Rosina, who became a good friend during my time at the College, taught me the importance of speaking up and letting my voice be heard. Dr. Lukas, whose his first-hand knowledge of the Revolution of Hungary in 1956 makes me wish I could hear his views on Ukraine, sparked my interest in Russian history with his animated lectures and personal accounts.