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Community Members Get First Glimpse of SPAC Thanks to Outreach Program

SCHENECTADY & SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Local drummer Heath Cohen hadn’t been to SPAC in years.

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So when the opportunity presented itself in the form of a bus bringing Schenectady residents to the venue Monday night, he took full advantage.

Cohen, a Schenectady resident, grew up in the Capital Region and moved back to the area in 2014. He rarely attends performances at the venue, and he is glad his community is offering him a free way to see some live drumming and meet new friends.

“How many people don’t have cars in the area or use bus lines to get places?” Cohen said. “And now they have a chance to go all the way out to Saratoga and see a wonderful thing through the health center. That’s really cool.”

This summer, Hometown Health Centers is hosting its first-ever “Summer Nights at SPAC” program, which is providing more than 120 residents a chance to experience the magic of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. For some, it’s their first time. Attendees are able to get free transportation via bus from the Schenectady office, take a free meal ticket for the venue and sit at provided amphitheater seating during classical performances this summer.

Hometown Health Center General Counsel Paul Jesep contacted SPAC officials earlier in the year to coordinate the free shows for residents. He says SPAC officials took a tour of the Hometown Health Centers facility in Schenectady, were incredibly accommodating and offered Hometown Health five shows for residents to attend.

Because this is the facility’s first year with the program, Jesep said, he wanted to see how residents responded before agreeing to five shows, so he booked three.

Still, the buses are completely booked.

“Those who have attended, certainly the feedback we received from the ballet was overwhelmingly successful,” Jesep said.

Jesep recalls during the first trip a mother who had never been to SPAC taking her daughters and making special dresses for them. He also remembers young girls returning from the performance and talking about pursuing ballet.
“We believe that well-being is not just about the mind and body, but it’s also about soul and spirit, and certainly the arts enhance the well-being of individuals,” Jesep said.

On Monday, multiple families excitedly packed a school bus to catch a performance of Tony-winning production “Fela!” Families, many with young kids, waited in the lobby of Hometown Health in anticipation of the musical about Fela Kuti, the founding father of Afrobeat.

Even Hometown Health board member Nichele Darby, who joined the board in May, was looking forward to her first SPAC performance. She said many community members have come to her and couldn’t believe that the buses to SPAC were something that would ever be offered.

“A lot of people in the community have never been to SPAC,” Darby said. “They’ve never been to a show.”

She was looking forward to hearing drummers on Monday night and experiencing the creativity that comes along with the performing arts.

“I want to hear that they had a good time,” Darby said. “I want to hear, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen anything like that before.’ A lot of the children in the community are so creative as far as dancing and music and the arts. For them to be able to see something like this come full view, [I hope this is] inspiration to continue the arts.”

On Saturday, more people are expected to board the bus to catch a glimpse of the Philadelphia Symphony performing the score to “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” a performance that draws in crowds of families each year.

The Daily Gazette (July 30, 2019)

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