Life from the bottom up: Program helps homeless strive in your neighborhood

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Local ambassador programs give area homeless opportunities to rise from poverty to sustainability.

In a perfect world, there would be a home for everyone and everyone in a home. But there are far too many homeless people who know that simply isn’t true.

Instead, it takes a compassionate community to help get them off the streets. Fortunately, the Capital Region is filled with them.

People from all walks of life have come together to give homeless men and women a chance to get a job and a shot at happiness they had long ago forgotten.

“I really just never trusted people before,” Bob Wishart said. “I love people now.”

No one knows the streets of Schenectady like Wishart and Trevor Wilkes. Both men were homeless. The streets is where they hit bottom but also where life began again at the City Mission in Schenectady.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Wishart said.

“Now they can look up to me and seeing their dad is working and doing the right thing, so it’s important,” Wilkes said.

They have much to be proud of. Wishart has a full-time job as a facilities manager for the Paul Mitchell School in Schenectady.

Both also work as a Schenectady Ambassador, a one-year training program at the City Mission that helped them get drug free, taught them life skills, and put them back to work.

The program began in 2008 when Proctors and the City Mission of Schenectady joined forces.

“People come into the community and don’t know where to park, where to get something to eat, where the bathrooms are in Proctors,” Proctors CEO Philip Morris said. “And [City Mission of Schenectady Executive Director] Michael [Saccocio] said, ‘We could do that. I could train people to do that.”

Ambassadors can be seen wearing matching jackets and big smiles while directing traffic and greeting Proctors Theater goers.

“One of the great things about the Ambassador Program is that you know you are making a difference,” Saccocio said. “You know it because hundreds of people are saying thank you.”

The program has become so successful, the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless started one in Albany in 2015.

“I was kind of in the slumps a little bit,” Albany Ambassador Gary Winbush said. “As soon as I got this job, I thought, ‘I feel nice. I love coming to work.’”

“Listen, I did this in the past, and it didn’t work,” Albany Ambassador Kenneth Hicks said. “Now I can do this and give back to the community, and it makes me feel better.”

The Albany Ambassadors help people cross the street and show them where to park whenever there is a performance at Capital Repertory Theater and Park Playhouse.

Key Bank funds the program so that everyone gets a paycheck. The bank sees it as a way to not only create jobs for the homeless population but also help them strengthen their resumes.

“The hardest thing to do is get your first job, which is what these guys are doing; their first job,” Key Bank Regional President Ruth Mahoney said. “They have references. They are showing up. Then they are ready to get their second job, and then they are able to get off the streets and into the work force. And then they feel good because they are contributing, and everybody wins. It’s a win win.

Key Bank and MVP help pay for the Ambassador Programs. In addition, an ambassador fundraiser is held in Schenectady each year.

The 2016 fundraiser will take place on June 22. Call the mission if you’d like to help.

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