Albany, on the Job
- Training Up and Finding Jobs – During a Pandemic
- Scott Gallup: Creating a Space for Golfers and Walkers at Capital Hills
- Sgt. Joshua Laiacona: Protecting Protesters’ Rights and Residents’ Safety
- Still on the Job, Filling Potholes and Paving
- Encouraging Many to Make Music, Alone Yet Still Together
- Sanitation Crews: Keeping Everyone Safe and the City Clean
- Still Making Certain Your Tap Water is Clean
- Still Inspecting to Ensure Your Home is Safe and Livable
- Finding New Purpose, APD Officers Provide Food and Safety
- City Gardeners Continue to Help
- The Youth Innovation Program Keeps Students Learning
- Even in This Crisis, the Water Department Delivers
Through the pandemic, Mary Kalica, Fiscal and Data Management Coordinator, and Liz Harris, Director of Enrollee Services, were essential staff working more than full-time for Youth and Workforce Services. Liz connects clients with training and work; Mary handles the finances. “We’re a tag team,” Mary says. Both were born and raised in Albany.
Q: What has your work been like during the pandemic?
Liz: Over the last five months, we’ve spent $160,000 through the federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, about the same for a normal year. It’s spent on getting people training and connecting them to employment. It pays for tuition for classes and schools, computer network services, LPN training, classes to get commercial driver’s licenses, for any kind of industry-recognized credential that will allow someone to be more competitive and more employable.
Q. How has the work changed?
Liz: We’ve been trying to keep people out of the office as much as possible. Since COVID-19 we have created a virtual platform to help City residents and Albany County ones. I take about 20 or 30 phone calls a day. Interviews are done with a webcam. Some do training on their own computer, a few who don’t have computers come in to use ours. We also prepare resumes and practice interviewing online. We scan documents and email them, clients take pictures on their phone to send.
Q. Who do you work with?
Liz: We’ve been working with individuals who have been unemployed through no fault of their own who want training to advance and move ahead or get competencies to move on into other career fields. We deal with everybody, entry level, those with lots of experience, single mothers who don't know where to turn. For some, it has been an opportunity for them to discover their passion and move into their dream job.
A lot of LPNs are coming for assistance. We had someone who wasn’t successful with the LPN exam, didn’t pass it twice. Lost her job. We connected her with an organization that paid for her to do the online studying. We paid for her testing. She just called and told me that she's got the certification.
People want to take classes at Albany CanCode – computer coding is big. New Horizons Network Computer Systems is a big one too. Many people need basic digital literacy skills, we sign them up for Metrix Platform, which we have through our department. Once they get a certification, we help them seek employment based on that training. Digital literacy is big. We take it for granted, like how to upload a file or a resume, or Excel. I tell them I’m practicing Excel every day because that’s something I’m striving to get better at. I tell them it’s okay not to know, but you need a plan to figure it out.
Mary: A lot of people are in panic mode, knowing they weren’t going back to the jobs they had. A lot of people weren’t furloughed, they were laid off because of COVID-19. They need to find a new job. We do a little bit of everything to get them one.
Liz: A lot of people realize that if they don’t do something they're going to be left behind in the workforce, realizing they can't retire. Sometimes we get more seasoned employees, because they may not have the technical skills or lack of confidence to move ahead, so we talk them off the ledge. For example, I’m working with a gentleman now who was laid off, but he has a master's degree. He’s been chief of mental health organizations, lots of credentials, but lacks computer skills. So he's actually taking computer networking certification so combined with his background, he’ll be much more marketable.
Mary: Liz reassures them that there’s a place for them somewhere, and that we’ll help them get to that place, that you're just not going to be out on the street with nothing. A lot of people are where they’re at because of COVID. We do what we have to do when we have you do it. You have the 11 o’clock night emails, that’s okay. Our customers are our first priority.
Q. You pay for supplies too …
Liz: We pay for books, calculators, uniforms. We give people money to purchase these essentials – along with their tuition. Sometimes we can pay for testing fees.
Q. Do you work with other organizations?
Liz: We work with SNUG, Mission Accomplished, Trinity Alliance, the Women’s Employment Resource Center, The South End Children’s Café, to provide more holistic support services. Food services, mental health counseling, clothing … whatever people need.
Mary: Liz stops at nothing. I’ve been here 34 years, and I’ve never seen a worker like her. She puts her whole life into her work. I love to listen to her on the phone. She doesn’t turn anyone away. I can't tell you how many people have come in here – before COVID – screaming and jumping up and down about what they’ve accomplished. She’s amazing.
Liz: Mary is amazing too.
Scott Gallup has been the Superintendent at the Capital Hills at Albany Golf Course since 1990. Here he speaks about its recent opening, new safety precautions being taken, how staff is keeping the course up to par, and how he’s balancing the desires of golfers, walkers – and their dogs.
On Course Safety during COVID-19
“We opened the Capital Hills at Albany Golf Course on Tuesday, June 16, about two months later than we usually open. Every day attendance gets better. We’ve spread out our tee times a little bit to avoid congregating on the course. We're also sterilizing carts between every use as well as the range balls and baskets. We no longer have drinking water on the golf course. You just don't want people touching stuff over and over again. What if one of my workers is sick? What if one of the players is sick? Martel’s is selling water and other beverages on the course, which is more hygienic.”
Accommodating Walkers Too
“I’m just happy we were able to accommodate as many people as we did with the walking and the dog walking this spring. It gave people the opportunity to utilize their facility for those two-and-a-half months when they wanted to get outside in a beautiful place where there was plenty of space for social distancing. We had hundreds of people a day, I would say, as long as the weather was halfway decent.
“We've now probably doubled our early morning walkers from this time last year because we’re letting them walk the course before 8 a.m. on weekdays and before 7 a.m. on weekends. This is a huge park: We have 290 acres where people can wander, with all kinds of trails, where other 18-hole golf courses have maybe 110 acres. There’s plenty of room for everybody.
“Dogs are allowed off leash, but they must be under the control of the owner. That’s City law, so dog owners need to be considerate of people who are afraid of dogs. And dog owners should pick up their dog’s waste.”
Year-round Access to the Whalen Way Nature Trail
“All day, people can access the Whalen Way Nature Trail, built to honor former Mayor Thomas Whalen III, who oversaw the renaissance of the golf course. The trail runs 2.7 miles from the golf course parking lot to Normanskill Farm and is open year-round to dog walkers, hikers, and families, but it’s very hilly terrain and not anywhere near as nice as walking on the golf paths surrounded by the beautifully mown grass. [Scott laughs.]
“There’s a blue line that leads you to the Whalen Way trailhead. We ask that people who bring their dogs to keep them leashed on their way there because they have to walk past the clubhouse, passing around the back of the 18th green to the 10th tee. Then they're at the trail. I always try to encourage everybody to enjoy Capital Hills. Some people have a bad attitude about the dog walkers. But you know what, the more people the merrier, is the way I look at it. We're a public service and we're trying to keep everybody happy here.”
Sergeant Joshua Laiacona is employed in APD’s Special Operations unit. He deals with traffic issues, such as accidents, DWI stops and traffic safety campaigns. Sgt. Laiacona also helps oversee logistics around special events. He helped supervise the protest at the Capitol on May 1 that called for the re-opening of N.Y. businesses immediately (Sgt. Laiacona speaks about that in this interview). Since COVID-19 struck, he has also organized fire truck and police birthday parades for both young and old.
On becoming a police officer …
“I always wanted to be a police officer, ever since I can remember. What my parents told me is that we were at some parade, in Albany I'm guessing – it had to be a St. Patrick’s Day Parade or something. I don't remember it. Apparently, I saw these police officers and I was very happy and one of them came over and put his hat on me and was goofing around with me. Ever since then I wanted to be a police officer – in Albany.
“Basically, when I turned 18, my parents were like, ‘Okay, we’re retiring and moving to Arizona, so good luck!’ I went to Sage College. Then 9.11 happened. That’s when I joined the Marine Corps. My grandfather and all his brothers came over from Italy and they all had joined after Pearl Harbor, when they were here as immigrants. And I had such respect for my grandfather, so I figured it was kind of our generation's Pearl Harbor.
So I joined the Marine Corps, I was in the Reserves, and then I became a police officer. Then I was activated to go to Iraq. The police department was extremely supportive. I went there and did what I had to do. I was an infantry grunt, as we call it in the Marine Corps, and I went there and came back. I did not re-up because I had already been deployed a couple of times. So I figured it was time. I’d done enough.
On supervising the May 1 protest at the Capitol …
“The Downtown protest on May first was okay. I didn't view it as out of control. We had one guy walking around with a rifle case. At one point, he started to open it and we were on him because we were watching him. Our officers were immediately there. There was never any danger and I think it was more of a symbolic thing. It was an old rifle, like a 1918 Springfield or something. He was putting a bayonet on, and we kind of grabbed it and said, ‘Hey, you know, this might not be a good idea [laughter]. I think we're going to take this and you can come and get it later.’
“But people, if they're upset about something, have a right to protest. The Special Operations unit does countless protests. Some are more orderly than others. But people have the right to go out and do their thing. When they're out there during a crisis like this and they’re not wearing their masks and social distancing, it's annoying, but it's something we have to deal with.
“Part of our job is to make sure that they're safe and that their protest runs okay, in that they're allowed to exercise their rights. But we also have to balance that with the rights of the people of Albany, who are just trying to go about their lives and be safe and do what they have to do. You know, the right to protest doesn't mean you have a right to make other people around you unsafe. So we try to balance needs the best we can so that everybody is safe and secure and everybody's rights are protected. It's not always perfect because not everybody is going to get what they want. Somebody's going to be upset and that's just the truth. You can't please everybody.
“So if we saw people with no masks, we weren’t being authoritarian and demanding anything, but we said, ‘Hey, you know, you should probably have a mask.’ We had boxes of masks in our vehicles and if they said ‘we don't have any,” we handed them out. We said, ‘Try to separate yourselves and stay in your cars, if you can.’
“And that's how we dealt with that, and I believe the weather helped us too, because it did rain. People don't want to stand out in the rain, so it kind of controls the crowd and shortens what they're doing. Some people who might have wanted to show up might have looked at the weather and said, ‘Maybe today is not a good day to protest.’”
Haywanda Watson has been a laborer for the blacktop crew in the City’s Department of General Services for the past two years. Before she was hired with the City, she had 18 years’ experience paving streets in the Capital District with Laborers’ Local 190.
I grew up in Albany and I’ve been here my whole life. As a young girl, I watched my father, Haywood Watson, my grandfather, Willie Longmire, and my uncles Belove Cook, McCell Longmire, and Clarkie Everett all work in laborers’ union or on blacktop crews. I used to watch them from the side of the road and I wanted to do what they were doing. Why? I just loved being outdoors. I was taught to love what I do. I do love what I do. I love the people I work with. I don’t get up for work, get dressed, and think about myself. The blacktop crew is my family; everybody at the Department of General Services, I consider them my family. I hope they feel the same way about me when they go to work. The key to a happy job is liking the people you work with. We laugh. We all get along. I think that’s really important.
I remember sometimes wondering why my Dad wasn’t home yet. When I got older, and did this work, I understood. You can’t just leave a job undone. You have to stay until the job is completed. I use a hand tamper, sometimes the hand roller, and I drive the steel wheel roller. I like working with the blacktop – except the smell. You got to put it down, you have to rake it, and you have to tamp it. I do all those things.
I’m the first woman ever hired on the paving crew in the City. I get a thumbs up from a lot of women. It’s important for women to know they can do this kind of work. Even little girls who want to be like me should know they can do anything they want to do. It would be lovely to see more women out here doing this kind of work. I want to see more women at all construction sites. Anybody can learn.
If I see someone on the crew doing something that I think is dangerous, I let them know. It’s not about me; it’s about all of us. You have to look out for everybody that you work with. It’s not just the blacktop crew. It’s all the employees at DGS because sometimes workers come from other crews to help. You have to look out for each other because at the end of the day we all want to go home safe and sound to our loved ones and our families. That’s why safety is very important to me. If you’re not paying attention, bad things can happen in the blink of an eye. I like to remind drivers passing by to please slow down, pay attention, to be alert and be careful out there because that way fewer construction workers will get hurt or killed, which happens every year.
There’s lighter traffic now but we haven’t let our safety guard down. We’re still looking out for one another, we’re making sure people aren’t flying through safety zones. I wear a mask and a face shield at work. I’m a little concerned about getting laid off due to the pandemic. They do things by seniority here. But it’s not just me. The way things are going now, everyone is concerned. But there’s nothing you can do. You just gotta pray for one another. The world is on pause. We have to come together as one and keep lifting each other’s spirits. That’s all.
All over the City, we fill a lot of potholes, handle complaints, do overlays – which are bigger patches – and we pave streets. If the roads aren’t maintained, they just get worse and drivers will tear up their cars. I take pride in the work I do. To do great work, you have to love what you do. I want to make sure it’s done properly. You have to be patient. Fill the holes, but make sure they’re not high. You want it nice and smooth and make sure it’s not going to come back up.
We’re still getting it done. We’re still out working full-time. And we’re being safe. The last thing I want to ask is that all drivers slow down and honk your horn when you’re passing a work crew for the sake of your sisters’ and brothers’ safety. Please, please be careful.
This past weekend, the City’s Dept. of Cultural Affairs conducted the City’s first Virtual Tulip Festival ever. Earlier this Spring, with the help of the entire Department, Keith Morales, Special Events Coordinator, launched the #CapitalCovers project, which solicits Capital District musicians to send in their covers of songs they love. In the past seven weeks, 52 songs have been submitted. Keith, a UAlbany grad, plays acoustic guitar, DJs and makes beats with his friends. He has been booking and promoting concerts for 15+ years in New York City and now Albany. I sat down with Keith to discuss the project and how you can submit your at-home performances or recorded on-stage ones.
Dennis Gaffney, Communications Coordinator: Where did the idea for #CapitalCovers Challenge come from?
Keith Morales, Special Events Coordinator: “In the City’s Office of Cultural Affairs, we have meetings where we sit down and try to be creative. About seven weeks ago, when our usual events were cancelled, we knew we needed to provide content to the community. So what can we do? I’ve been wanting to do a cover challenge for years since I’ve worked with bands my whole life, and I suggested, ‘Let’s do a cover challenge.’ Everyone liked the idea and then Ryan Murray, our Public Relations Coordinator, jumped in and said, ‘Let’s make it like the Ice Bucket Challenge and have performers nominate other people to participate.’ So it went from a good idea to a great idea, from one person making music to a whole community inspiring other artists to create content. The goal was now to make a video and call your friend or fellow musician and let them know, “I had the courage to do a Bill Withers cover, let me see what you got.”
How does it work?
“We did a call-out initially on our social media pages and said, ‘Okay, Capital Region artists, submit your covers and nominate three people.’ Then our partners WEXT, EQX, Nippertown, NYS State Musicians & RadioRadioX offered to help. The artist can submit whatever cover they want. It doesn’t matter what genre. Then you challenge three musicians to also create a cover. And then we review the video and make sure it doesn’t have any cursing – that it’s basically family-friendly. And then we post it on social media, and we tag all the artists they mention, and the artists will come to us or we’ll reach out to them – we’ve done it both ways. And normally these new ones will come in the next week or so. It’s a chain effect, so they’re coming in droves now. Now, I’d say every day we’re getting two to three covers. And it’s still growing. I could see this going on for the next two months. And we want to expand this to all Creatives like the graphic arts community. I really think we’ve just scratched the surface.”
Are the musicians amateurs or professionals?
“We have a good mix. I’ve seen everything from college students who don’t normally play music to a mother, father and son trio recording a song. We also received submissions from popular names in the Capital Region music community. It’s inspiring others as they find out ‘anyone can do this!’”
It sounds like everyone is jumping in …
“That’s the most inspiring part. I have never heard of a lot of these artists. You have the regular staples of the Capital Region you see all the time at the Alive at Fives and such, and then you see a submission like Maria Carlucci, a senior at SUNY Binghamton. She’s also a part-time Primary Care Assistant at Albany Medical Center and studying for her MCATS. Her mother submitted the video for her as Maria was upset her graduation ceremony had been cancelled. Her submission was very impressive, especially considering she’s not a full-time musician. She covered Alec Benjamin’s “6 Ft Apart” and it was one of my favorites. It’s so relevant to what’s going on right now. Another favorite of mine was Justin Friello who has been around the music scene but I hadn’t heard of him. Since the shutdown, he’s created over 20 covers on his YouTube Channel. The cover he submitted to us was Mary J. Blige’s ‘No More Drama.” At first, I thought, ‘This is going to be super difficult to pull off, since it’s just him and an electric guitar.” I pressed play and he rocked the performance. His voice was amazing. What’s really great for us as event planners is that when we open up again we’ll have quite a range of artists to book. The possibilities have expanded exponentially for us. The other day we had the musician Ed Conway submit his cover and he challenged his son. I’m excited to see where this goes, because it feels like it’s just getting started.”
It sounds like The Challenge might continue after the pandemic.
“Yeah, I think it’s something we’re going to keep going. We can do a specific genre or a specific legend artist. The amount of Bill Withers covers and John Prine covers [both have died during the pandemic – John Prine from COVID-19] shows people are still inspired by them. Going forward, it’s something to think about.”
It sounds like down the road, you could be releasing CDs and streaming these.
“It’s funny you say that because one of my musician friends from the Bronx – that’s where I’m from – decided he would get together with each of his musician friends and do a song with each of them. He now has a whole album of different songs, all covers, so that’s absolutely something we can do, perhaps to even raise money in the future.”
So how do people send you a song?
“Just email it to me, put ‘Capital Covers’ in the subject line, and list your name, the song you’re covering, and the songwriter’s name. At the end, nominate three musicians in the Capital Region to take The Challenge. Then sign a waiver to allow us to play video. You don’t have to nominate a lead singer. I’ve seen a drummer and bassist nominated and they both got to sing, so the challenge is for anybody. It can be someone of any age and music of any genre. One of my favorites was Sam Hatfield. He did ‘Use Me’ by Bill Withers. He’s younger but you wouldn’t be able to tell by listening to this video. He’s challenged his friends and they’ve sent in submissions and they’re all really good. It doesn’t have to be an acoustic cover, which is most of what we get. If you’re a singer and don’t play an instrument, and don’t have someone to play behind you, you can put a track in the background. Kind of like “The Voice” or “American Idol.” I encourage that. Or a rap or R&B. Any kind of genre. Singers can just press play and belt away – that would be awesome too. Then we’ll post it. We have about two weeks lined up in advance now. We’re at the point where we’re considering doing two a day.”
You’re not screening them in terms of quality or talent?
“We try not to just pick the ones we think are best. We’re trying to be as inclusive as possible. Some of the video quality on the submissions range from grainy IPhone videos to professional edited videos. We will post them all on our YouTube Channel. The truth is, I haven’t heard anything that isn’t good. The important part is being creative and challenging yourself and others. Even if you think it’s not your best performance, you should submit it, because there’s no judgement here. We just want to bring the community together and encourage everyone to sing a song and be creative.”
Do people need to save the songs in any kind of file format?
“We prefer the MP4 format, but any video format is fine. People can send it via Dropbox or Google Drive. Sometimes people are trying to send a file that’s too big. Kmorales@albanyny.gov has a Dropbox attached to it so they can send it there easily. We prefer a file because we’re putting it on our YouTube Channel, Public Access TV, Facebook and Instagram. If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. You can send your YouTube link from your own page and we will share it.
How do people see the covers people have sent in?
“So we post a Capital Cover every weekday at noon on our Albany Events Youtube & Facebook pages. We give the artists a heads-up because they’re excited and they want their friends and family to see it. I've gotten lots of positive feedback from the artists saying, ‘This is amazing, thanks so much for doing this, this is so great for the community.’ This gives people something to distract themselves and something to look forward to. We all know it’s hard to be creative when you’re locked up at home. Some people say, ‘Can we send another one?’ and I say, ‘Send them away.” The least we’ll do is post it on our YouTube channel. I think that’s the best part of this – it’s the inspiration this has unleashed. And the radio stations are excited. They are sharing these on their social media channels. We now have local artists who have never played a show before being noticed by local radio stations. If this is a passion of theirs and they want to do a show, they’re that much closer to doing it. They get confidence.”
Do you have advice about getting good sound quality?
“A lot of those who submit know what they’re doing. But we want it to be raw, in a way. It doesn’t need to be professional quality sound. We love the person who sits on their couch, puts their phone down, and records. The one recommendation is if they do use a phone, put it sideways, which will make it fit better on social media. If they do that, their video production value will go up immediately.”
*The Bill Withers song “Lean on Me” has become an anthem for frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic.
Torrence Lacy, an Equipment Operator for the City of Albany’s Department of General Services, has lived in Albany his entire life and has been collecting trash for the City for 33 years, making him the longest serving sanitation worker in the City. He talked about his work during a short stop on Maxwell Street, off of Whitehall Road, one recent morning.
“When I was young, I used to do this with my father, picking up trash for a private hauler. If I know anything, it’s trash. Kathy [Mayor Sheehan] says we’re essential workers, and we are, getting the trash off the street. I drive the truck. I like the hours, driving, my crew -- I got two good guys, Damien Fulton and Ramón Dejesus.”
Damien jumps in: “We have the ability to make a positive impact. We play a small part, taking out people’s garbage, but we try to be as effective as we can. We go the extra mile. We see some cardboard blowing in the wind, we pick it up. People will come out and ask us if we can take an extra bag, and we do.”
Torrence: “These days, we’re picking up 15 to 20 tons a day. Before this hit, we picked up about 12, 13, 14 tons a day. Because everyone is home and cleaning out their basement or attic, we’re picking up more every day.”
“We start at 4 a.m., like today, and on holidays we clock in at 2 a.m. We run straight through the morning, no breaks. Occasionally, people wave and say thank you.”
“Since the virus, we’re working four weeks on and two weeks off to make sure if anyone gets sick, we don’t all get sick, because if that happened, there’d be no one to pick up garbage. We wear gloves. The masks are uncomfortable and hot, but we know we have to wear them. We spray the trucks down at the end of every day, like we were doing. Now the three of us also sanitize the inside of the cab, the steering wheel, the door handles. We just do what we gotta do to keep everyone safe and the City clean.”
Anthony Rinelli, the Albany Water Department’s Lab Tech who tests tap water around the City to make sure it’s clean, understands the importance of his job during the pandemic.
“Humans can’t live without clean water,” he says. “Seventy percent of our bodies are water. You drink it, you cook with it, you shower with it, and you wash your clothes with it.” Unclean water would not only make more people sick in the City of Albany, it would further stress health workers focusing on the pandemic. “It’s a trickledown effect,” he explains. If people got sick from unclean water, they’d need EMTs to take them to hospitals and health workers to treat them. That would pull health care workers away from addressing those with COVID-19 and also increase the chances of spreading the virus.
“If one link in the chain breaks, then the whole chain breaks,” says Anthony, who wears his mask to protect himself and prevent the spread of the virus. He also uses hand sanitizer after every stop and changes his gloves. He never gets any closer than six feet to anyone. His visits are almost invisible; often no one knows he’s come or gone. “Because I’m going from place to place, I don’t want to be that person who’s a carrier,” he says.
Three days a week, Anthony makes the rounds to up to 10 businesses as well as City of Albany offices, gathering water samples from around the City. For example, he stops at bathrooms at Dunkin’ and Stewart’s stores to take water from the bathroom tap. Anthony returns to the water lab at the Feura Bush Water Filtration Plant in the afternoon, where he works with Rob Adams and Jeremy Terrill, Senior Lab Techs, to test the water, making sure there are no unsafe chemicals or bacteria present. “They are just as important as me,” Anthony says of all his co-workers.
When anyone he meets asks, Anthony explains that COVID-19 is not in the water. “Person-to-person contact is how it’s spread,” he tells them.
Anthony’s boss, Dr. Rifat Hussain, Lab Director at the Water Facility, is impressed by his work attitude - he liked his job before the pandemic and still does. But she worries about the safety of all essential workers, including Anthony. “He has a risky job going into the field every day,” Rifat says. “He has a big responsibility on his shoulders and I remind him almost every day to take precautions. Ideally, everyone should be home to stop the spread and save lives. But somebody has to do this job.”
In cities like Albany, a pandemic doesn’t prevent water pipes from breaking, apartments from becoming infested with bugs, or vacant buildings from falling into disrepair.
Dan Sherman, Senior Building Inspector, knows this firsthand. During the COVID-19 shutdown, Dan and other building and code inspectors in the City’s Department of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance are still working to make sure buildings, like the office and residential one at 526 Central Avenue, are safe. They also ensure that apartments and homes are livable for those already in them.
“We still must do our best to make sure buildings are habitable,” Dan says.
In these times, inspectors are only conducting “essential” calls, which are those that are considered a threat to life or health. After a recent fire on McCarty Avenue, Dan inspected the home to make sure it was safe enough for the family to return. He’s also inspected buildings with structural problems to see if they can be repaired or need to be demolished. Eileen Halloran, a Building Inspector, has been checking rehabs on Clinton Avenue to make sure they are all up to code so people can move in.
When building or code inspectors need to go indoors, they do “zero contact inspections,” which are those in which inspectors avoid contact with people or anything else, such as doorknobs and countertops, that may carry the virus. When they must enter a building, inspectors wear masks and gloves and ask people inside to leave the premises. They also wash their hands before and after entry. Inspectors almost always do their paperwork at home to make sure Code offices at 200 Henry Johnson Boulevard, currently closed to the public, remain free of contamination for those workers who still must come in.
Inspectors also are focusing on examining building exteriors as well as vacant buildings in the City, citing owners who have let them fall into disrepair. The idea is to get these buildings fixed before they deteriorate to the point they must be demolished.
“There’s still plenty of important work to do,” Dan says. “The key is to get it done while also keeping our staff and the public safe.”
When COVID-19 closed Albany’s public schools March 16, School Resource Officers Chris English, George Brice, Me-Asia Timmons, and Nicole Reddix quickly found a new way to serve. It wasn’t at all what the four Albany Police Department officers expected they’d be doing this spring, but it’s proven essential.
Each day, shortly after 11 a.m., they go to various schools and pick up from 30 to 60 brown bags, each filled with a healthy lunch and a breakfast put together by volunteers and school staff. The officers load them in the back seats and trunks of their police cars and begin their rounds to students’ homes in the City. They still wear their uniforms, but have added gloves and masks, and the officers regularly clean their hands with sanitizer. They knock on a door, step back to ensure safe distancing, and wait for a child, parent, or grandparent to pick up the food.
“It feels good,” says Officer English, who notes that the address list has steadily grown. “You get to see people you are helping, and you’re getting them healthy food they would normally get at school. An essential need is being met. It also helps relieve the financial burden on many families.”
The rest of the day, the four officers make sure the locked schools are secure and stop at parks and other spots where young people gather to discuss safe practices and make sure they’re respecting social distancing. Recently, the four police officers also have put out a call to their fellow officers for essential goods such as diapers, toilet paper and canned goods that they can drop off to families with emergency needs.
While officers get thank you’s wherever they go, Officer English says the real credit for the food delivery service belongs to school staff, particularly the food service workers and volunteers. “We get the accolades, but they’re doing all the behind-the-scenes work and are the driving force behind the effort,” Officer English says. “They’re the champions.” Officer English also insists on giving APD patrol officers their due. “They are the backbone of the police force, and they’re still keeping people safe and handling emergencies. We can do what we’re doing because they’re on the job.”
Much of Albany’s life has had to pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, but City gardeners continue to help keep spring and summer plantings on schedule. Jena Commerford, Acting Supervisor for Gardens, and Naquier White have spent much of this spring at the greenhouse at Normanskill Farm growing flowers, shrubs, and trees designed to make Albany’s parks and streets beautiful. “It’s just two of us doing gardens right now,” says Jena.
This cool April day, Jena and Naquier are planting seeds for annual flowers in the greenhouse, a humid 90 degrees. “We’re planting zinnias, celosia, a few varieties of amaranth, and we also have some nasturtiums and seashell cosmos,” says Jena. "We’re also planting sunflowers because they're happy flowers and we want to spread happiness, especially this year." Jena likes being outdoors, and as she talks outside the hothouse, an eagle soars overhead, sheep graze in a nearby field, and police horses stand in the next door stable. The horse manure is composted and then used in the hothouse.
Come June, the annuals will be planted in beds in Washington Park, around the Martin Luther King statue in Lincoln Park, and in median strips, such as at the corner of Manning and New Scotland and at The Point. About the same time, tropical plants, such as banana trees, rubber trees, elephant ears, and yuccas will be dispersed around the City. Tulip bulbs were planted last fall and their leaves are now cutting up through the soil. Their flowers are expected to bloom from mid-April to mid-May.
Jena, first hired by the City in 2008, has worked in forestry and helped out in sanitation and recycling as well. But gardening is her joy. “I think it’s important to keep the City beautiful,” Jena says. “It keeps spirits high. With all the social isolation, this shows life continues on. When people go for their walks, they can see flowers blooming. Nature keeps coming.
Until recently, 30 Albany students, age 14 to 18, who are in the City’s Youth Innovation Program, got together after school each day and worked on preparing for jobs and careers. But on March 16, students were told that the in-person classes were closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, the leaders of the Program, Diamond Quiles, Youth Outreach Coordinator for the City’s Department of Youth and Workforce Services, and Willie White, who leads My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper, decided to take the learning online and on March 23, the students began communicating with staff using Google Classroom and Zoom.
The first week the students were taught how to stay safe against the COVID-19 virus and worked in groups to create Instagram posts (albany_yoo) for the City’s Youth Opportunity Office. Diamond and Willie also connected students to local online wellness sites, such as Root3D, a wellness center on South Pearl Street, and Heartspace Yoga, located near Washington Park, where they can take free online yoga and wellness classes.
This week, staff is reviewing student resumes and providing tutoring for the school classes students are still taking online. Students built their own website about redlining and other social injustices, part of the website for Albany’s Underground Railroad History Project, a history program based at the home on Livingston Avenue once used to help escaped slaves find their way to freedom.
“It’s good to bring awareness to our students and just stay in touch,” says Diamond of the continued online education efforts. “They’re brilliant kids and they need support and resources to grow into successful individuals. We don’t want that to stop now, so we’re working to keep them engaged and learning any way we can.
Every day, Albany’s Feura Bush Water Filtration Plant delivers its standard 18 million gallons of water to the City of Albany. “We continue to operate at full capacity,” says Joe DeGiovine, the Plant's facilities manager.
Their job at the plant is critical, but even more so now during the COVID-19 outbreak. “We consider ourselves first responders,” says Joe. “Water is the first line of public safety. Safe drinking water is a basic human need. We need clean water for sanitation, and our firefighters also depend on it.”
Clean water continues to flow throughout the City, and plant operators were on the phone recently with all of their suppliers to make sure chemicals used to treat the City's drinking water were still available and on their way.
Plant managers are ensuring employee safety by maintaining social distancing and putting up disinfectant stations around the plant. “Our staff is essential,” says Dan Rohrmiller, the chief plant water operator at Feura Bush. “Our operators are working around the clock, 24/7.” They’ve also covered each other’s shifts and are working in smaller crews, so if one person becomes sick, others won’t, and the plant can still operate at full capacity.
“We’ve been very fortunate here,” says Joe. “We’ve been able to keep stress levels very low and everyone is working together. We cannot fail. We’re committed to handling every issue as it comes.”