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Spirit of Schuyler: Helping and having fun

WATKINS GLEN–The logo for Spirit of Schuyler is “SOS,” which also represents the organization’s mission – to offer a financial life-preserver to county residents who need a little help and have nowhere else to turn.
This weekend, the group celebrated its recent incorporation as an official 501C3 charity at their annual fundraising gathering at Tony Vickio’s sign shop on Route 329 in Watkins Glen.
The group began at a Christmas party, “Probably 15 years ago,” Vickio says.  “We had ideas about helping people during Christmas, and then evolved into an organization where we target people who are working or trying to work – and then something happens.  We’re in it to help the families.”
Vickio’s vision is simple – to raise money, having a little fun in the process, then give it away to make a positive difference in the lives of Schuyler County people who really need it, those who would otherwise “fall through the cracks” because having a job, even when a family is living paycheck to paycheck, disqualifies many from social services assistance.
“In one family, they had only one car for two people and they each worked where they had to drive.  Then the car broke down.  We had their car fixed so they could continue to work. We’ve had quite a few single parents moving into an apartment after, maybe an abusive relationship.  They can’t afford the security deposit or the first month’s rent, but from then on, they’d be okay.  There’s no one thing.  Every application is different,” Vickio explains.
“They’re all people who run up against the hard wall of life and it’s slapped them down a little,” says Gary Whyman, the group’s treasurer. “Most of our clients were recommended by county or civic organizations,  people down on their luck, trying to make it but life threw them a monkey wrench.”
It’s important to note that none of the financial assistance goes directly to those being helped – instead it goes to the landlord, vehicle repair shop or utility company the family owes.  Looking back through the records, Whyman finds the group helped 23 individuals in 2008, 51 in 2009, and by early fall of 2010 had already assisted 49 people.  The average assistance amount per case was about $370 in the past two years.  This effort takes about 1,000 annual volunteer hours.
One of those volunteers is Lorry Johnson, a member of the Board of Directors, who sums up her role in the group as “intake coordinator,” reviewing applications for help.  “We try to be the last resort, after utilizing all the other resources that are out there,” she says.  Her background in human services allows her to often be able to refer people to other helping organizations, like Schuyler Health Check for medical care, pharmacies that offer discounted medications, Mustard Seed Ministries, Social Services and Schuyler Outreach as appropriate.  Sometimes, she notes, The Spirit of Schuyler can pool resources with other agencies so that together they are able to meet a family’s needs.
“We helped a young woman who’d been in a severe accident,” Johnson says.  “She needed assistance getting into an apartment when she got out of the hospital so she and her children could be reunited.  We helped a family where the primary wage earner had dire medical issues – several times - and they needed help paying the mortgage.”
The group never offers money directly to those they’re helping – instead, they will pay the bill for a car repair, to a utility company or a landlord. And there are some bills they are unable to help with.  “We don’t pay for medication,” Johnson says, adding that at times they’ve helped people by suggesting a financial re-arrangement of family resources that will allow Spirit of Schuyler to help.    “Try everything else first,” Whyman says.   “We’re the last resort – the life buoy somebody’s going to throw off the end of the boat just before you go down.”
Saturday night’s party, intended to fund part of this next year’s supply of life preservers, exceeded expectations.  A tired and happy Tony Vickio said that while the final numbers were not yet available, the amount of money raised seemed to be in the neighborhood of $5,700.   
For those unable to attend, donation information, as well as application information for those needing help, is available on the group’s Web site,  Vickio’s fellow board members say that as always, he remains the largest contributor to the organization
“Tony Vickio has contributed an immeasurable amount of money,” Whyman says.  “He donates his own equipment and time, his property… he’s the dream, the vision – the rest of us are just the grease to make that dream go where it’s gotta go.” 


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