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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 16, 2006


Discretion used in chase

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A Guilderland police chase ended in Colonie last month, without incident; no one was hurt because of pursuing officers’ discretion, according to Sergeant Daniel McNally of the Guilderland Police Department.

Scott M. Germain was brought up on 12 separate charges after he refused to pull over for speeding by the Guilderland Police on Church Road, Feb. 11. A police chase then ensued, taking Guilderland Police up the Northway, across Interstate 90 heading east, then west along Washington Avenue Extension, and eventually north up Fuller Road into the town of Colonie.

Germain turned himself in to the custody of Guilderland Police on March 2, after police located his vehicle in the city of Albany and impounded it. The February chase had stopped after police ended the pursuit because of Germain’s extreme recklessness.

"It’s left up to the discretion of the officer," McNally told The Enterprise. "If it is just traffic violations and the driver is a danger to others, then the officer can terminate the pursuit."

According to the arrest report, Germain failed to stop for a marked police vehicle with activated lights and sirens after he was found speeding on Church Road. A check of the vehicle’s registration revealed that it was suspended because of an insurance lapse. As Germain fled north on Interstate 87, he committed various vehicle and traffic violations, while waving to police officers who were attempting to stop him, the report says.

It was after Germain got onto Fuller Road that he began to become increasingly reckless, according to Guilderland Police.

While police were still attempting to stop him on Fuller, Germain crossed into oncoming traffic, accelerated up a hill toward Railroad Avenue while on the wrong side of the road and passing vehicles, and continued through an intersection against a steady redlight.

It was then that officers decided to end the chase, partly because of his recklessness and partly because of information that showed he was wanted for only minor violations, said McNally.

When in pursuit, an officer has to weigh the crime a suspect is wanted for and the danger he poses to the public and pursuing officers, said McNally. "As a superior, I can say ‘terminate the pursuit,’ if I feel there is a danger to the public," he said.

While in police custody, Germain was asked by the arresting officer if he knew why he was there, and Germain responded in a statement, saying, "I know I should have stopped"I wasn’t trying to be smart. I just got into a fight with my girlfriend and didn’t want to lose my car"I know it was stupid. I should have just stopped."

Nobody was injured and no property damage occurred, according to Guilderland Police. Germain was arraigned in Guilderland Town Court and remanded to the Albany County jail.

"It is very seldom that we have a pursuit where it goes for miles and miles," McNally told The Enterprise.

Germain was charged with the following:

— One felony, first-degree reckless endangerment;

— Three misdemeanors, including third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle; operating a motor vehicle with a suspended registration; and reckless driving; and

— Seven infractions, including three counts of speeding; failure to pass a motor vehicle and return to the right; driving left in a no-passing lane; failure to stay in a single lane; failure to obey a police officer; and failure to stop at a redlight.


Going Out for Bob Oates’s finale
Both disturbing and uplifting,
Steel Pier fills the Guilderland stage with dance and drama

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Second chances are there for the taking — if you believe in yourself enough to grasp them.

That’s the message of Steel Pier, a musical set in Depression-era Atlantic City.

The show, which ran for just two months on Broadway, in 1997, is coming this weekend to the Guilderland High School stage.

"We’re the first group in the area to tackle it," said Director Andy Maycock, a high-school English teacher.

The book is by David Thompson, the music by John Kander, the lyrics by Fred Ebb.

Kander and Ebb also created Cabaret and Chicago; this show has that same larger-than-life feel, coming from the pain of the down-and-out and desperate.

"It’s a difficult show to tackle...There’s a lot of dance. The harmonies are tricky," Maycock writes in his director’s notes.

So why did he choose it, especially for high school players.

"It’s Bob Oates’s last year," said Maycock, referring to the Guilderland Players’ long-time choreographer, who is also a physical- education teacher and the high-school’s cross-country coach.

"We decided to tackle a really big dance show for him to go out on," said Maycock.

Steel Pier is all about dance. The story centers on a 1933 dance marathon, where contestants compete for big prize money.

"Characters show their true colors in a short period of time because they get so little rest," says Maycock.

The band, liberated from the pit, serves as a character itself. The musicians sit on stage, at the back of a dance-hall set, playing bluesy, jazzy, and big-brass tunes.

Besides the marathon dancing, Oates has choreographed some stunning full-stage numbers. In one, 16 girls in short, white sailor dresses with middy collars tap-dance on two different levels, when, suddenly, a chorus of fly-boys pops up from front of the center stage, singing.

"Bob Oates has pulled out all the stops," said Maycock. "We’re marveling at how spectacular it is."

"Mr. Oates is really great at teaching people how to become a dancer," said Zack Tolmie, who plays the leading man. "Some people, at the beginning, couldn’t even keep a beat and, now," he said, referring to four months of rehearsal, "it looks like you’ve been dancing all your life."

"He does it in a fun way," said junior Alyson Lange, the leading lady.

"Even when the going is tough," added Kousha Navidar, another principal player.

"Every week," Maycock continues in his notes, "we’ve agreed this show is bigger than we imagined. More dancing. More music. More scenery. More technical tricks to work out.

"And every week, we’re impressed that our cast, our stage crew, and our orchestra rise to the challenge.

"These are remarkable students with remarkable energy and determination. The singers have learned to dance and the dancers have learned to sing. And along the way, they’ve put on one remarkably difficult show."

The story

"The story follows a stunt pilot named Bill, who has won a raffle to dance with Rita, a woman who gave Charles Lindbergh a kiss when he landed," says Maycock. "Rita is a little bit of a has-been. Bill falls in love with her...The whole play is about second chances."

Rita, though, is secretly married to Mick, who has been fixing dance marathons so Rita wins. "Rita’s really sick of the game. Mick is a master manipulator," said Maycock.

She longs to go home and Mick lets her think the Atlantic City marathon is her last, when he’s really already promoting the next one in St. Louis.

"We see how mean and evil Mick is, how sweet and lovely Rita is," said Maycock. "Is she going to stand up to him" That becomes the question."

The players

The cast is up to the task of a difficult play.

Zack Tolmie, a junior who plays the part of the stunt pilot, Bill Kelly, has been in a number of Guilderland Players’ productions since he was a freshman.

His favorite part was as Officer O’Hara in Arsenic and Old Lace. He spent eight weeks mastering an Irish accent, which he can still slip into.

He plays his Steel Pier part straight — with convincing sincerity despite a difficult ambiguity, not fully revealed until the end of the play. He manages to finesse the part of a character who is, quite literally, too good to be true.

"He’s a character who’s always happy, optimistic," said Tolmie. "He really wants Rita to fall in love with him, but he still feels a lot of pain."

Tolmie found the most challenging part of this show to be playing authentically in the 1930’s setting.

Tolmie, who wants to go to New York University after high school, hasn’t decided yet if he will study medicine or theater.

Alyson Lange, who plays Rita Racine, is sure she wants to pursue a stage career. A junior, she’s been acting since she was five years old.

She considers the New York State Theatre Institute her "home base," having played a variety of parts there.

She even had a stint on Broadway in 2003, in the children’s ensemble for La Boheme. "I can’t even describe it," she said, calling it "the opportunity of a lifetime."

Lange has found being with The Guilderland Players to be "so much fun," she said. "I like acting with people my own age," she explained.

At the same time, her greatest challenge in playing Rita has been portraying someone in her thirties; she’s used to playing a part closer to her age.

How has she managed that"

"I’ve been to thousands of Broadway shows," said Lange. "I listen to how they sound; I see the way they act."

"She is just wonderful," Maycock says of Lange. "The script says Rita is the kind of person you fall in love with right away, and the audience will fall in love with Alyson.

"Her voice is sensitive. It’s trained — light sometimes, angry when it has to be," said the director.

Mick Hamilton, Rita’s husband, is played with verve by senior Kousha Navidar.

"I want to go back home," Lange says of her character. "I want to escape Mick. It hurts, the way he abuses me mentally and emotionally."

"He’s a stereotypical power-hungry man," said Navidar of the character he plays. "He’s just out for what he wants. He’s really a street rat at heart with a polished exterior."

"He brings an intensity to the stage," said Maycock of Navidar. "As the emcee, he’s charming, and then you start to see that’s a veneer. Kousha is the kind of guy where there’s never a dull moment. He’ll say, ‘I want to try this,’ and, nine times out of 10, it’s great."

Navidar is a senior who sees his future as wide open. He’ll attend college next year and names his fields of interest more rapidly than a reporter can write them down — English, law, music, art, architecture, math, and "maybe physics" among them.

He’s been acting since he had part in The Elephant’s Child as a first-grader at Guilderland Elementary School.

He’s most recently been in the Young Actors Guild at RPI and in Shakespearean plays directed by Michael Pipa at Guilderland High School.

To play Mick, he cut off his "luxurious hair," Navidar said. "You have to fit the part. Your hair always grows back," he added, with a shrug.

He likes playing the part because it’s "a complex role," Navidar said. He studied a number of plays in preparation, including the part of Scar in The Lion King.

"I looked at how he was manipulative," said Navidar. "It’s tough to be nice and angry at the same time."

The reason he likes acting, Navidar said, is, "It gives you the chance to do whatever you want...to take something and make it your own. It’s the culmination of so much hard work, and it’s a chance to express yourself."

The denouement

The characters show their depth and breadth in the final scenes.

"All my life I’ve been running in place...It cuts like a knife," Lange sings as she dances with mannequin-like figures, echoing the relentless, purposeless rhythms of running in place.

Her song sounds more like a sorrowful shout — straight from the gut, until finally she crumbles at the end.

Her hero, her pilot, Bill, gently helps her up.

A staged wedding at the marathon then elicits real emotions as would-be bride and groom, Rita and Bill, are allowed 15 minutes of privacy together in what Emcee Mick Hamilton calls their "honeymoon tent."

"Down at the end of the boardwalk," says a worldly Rita, "they marry off the midgets every Saturday night." When they pull the tent away, she says, "It’s very tawdry."

What follows, though, is anything but tawdry, as Bill sings to Rita, "First you dream, dream about remarkable things."

Close your eyes, urges the pilot, you can fly.

"Oh, my god, what’s the trick"" cries a realistic Rita when she opens her eyes.

There’s only one way to go — straight ahead, replies Bill. "First you dream," he repeats as the pair sings together in perfect harmony, "Off we go to the sky, straight ahead, you and I."

The dreamlike quality of their exchange is shattered as the tent comes down.

"Bingo! Bango! Bongo!" shouts the emcee. "The honeymoon’s over!"

The final showdown comes when Rita discovers Mick has booked her for another dance marathon.

"Why have you lied to me"" she asks her husband. "Everything you do is a lie."

"Living hand to mouth and pretending it’s fun, that’s a lie," spits back Mick. "St. Louis and a $5,000 cash prize — that’s real."

"I’m going home," retorts Rita, only to learn Mick sold their home a long time ago.

"Wake up!" he shouts and she is forced to return to the dance floor, but stands stock-still on the edge of the stage as he orders, "Everybody dance."

Is she going to stand up to him" Is she going to believe in herself enough to liberate her life"

As the director said: "That becomes the question."

***

Steel Pier opens on the Guilderland High School stage March 16 at 7 p.m. It plays on March 17 and 18 at 8 p.m., and again March 19 at 2 p.m.

Tickets cost $7. They are available at the high school in advance through Joan True, or at the door.


Raising dough for playground at Guilderland Elementary

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The leaders of the Guilderland Elementary School PTA are serious about play.

They have just launched a cookie-dough sale, the latest in a series of fund-raisers for new playgrounds at the school.

Irene Jurek, who chairs the playground committee for the Parent-Teacher Association, paused for a moment Monday from her work assembling packets for the cookie-dough sale, to flip through reams of research that show the importance of play.

Topics ranged from the ability of students to concentrate better after they’ve exercised to the importance of recess for psycho-social reasons.

"In the classroom, the teacher is there," said Jurek. "In the playground, the children make the rules. They have to learn how to share, and take turns."

"If this playground needs to come down, all that would be left is open space for play," said PTA President Carmen Valverde. She also said that the new playgrounds will be accessible to students with handicaps.

Currently, the school has two playgrounds, built in the early 1980’s. The small playground is used by kindergartners and students in the programs run by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. The large playground is used by students in first through fifth grades.

The playgrounds, said Jurek, "are at the end of their useful life."

The new small playground will cost about $38,000 and the new large playground will cost about $58,000. The women stressed that there is no money in the school-district budget for playgrounds.

Their hope is that the cookie-dough sale, which runs through March 23, will bring in the final funds needed for the kindergarten playground.

"At this point, we have $34,000," said Valverde. "We’re hoping to raise at least $3,000."

Arsenic concerns

The wood components in the playgrounds have caused concerns.

There are problems with bees and splinters, said Valverde.

Also, in 2003, the Consumer Product Safety Commission affirmed that arsenic-treated wood — meant to foil bugs and prevent rot — poses health risks to children, who frequently put their hands in their mouths. Arsenic can cause lung and bladder cancer.

"Kids and arsenic don’t mix," said Jurek.

Neil Sanders, the school district’s assistant superintendent for business, told The Enterprise earlier that several of the district’s schools have wooden play structures. He said the school playgrounds have not been tested for arsenic because there is no requirement to do so.

Suzanne Ackerman, a press officer for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, confirmed that no tests are required.

"There was a voluntary phase-out," she told The Enterprise earlier. She was referring to a 2002 EPA announcement that the wood industry had voluntarily agreed to phase out wood treated with CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenic) for residential use by the end of 2003. The EPA stated, however, it did not believe there was any reason to remove or replace existing arsenic-treated structures.

"It’s up to the consumer," said Ackerman. "There is no legal requirement for a school to remove existing play sets treated with CCA. They can coat it with a sealant."

Ackerman stated, "EPA does not believe there is a need for consumers or schools to remove existing structures, such as playground equipment...However, the guidance we have issued for consumers in working with CCA-treated wood is also applicable to schools."

She added, "It certainly would be a good idea for schools to check precautions, to keep anyone from coming into direct contact with sawdust."

Sanders said that the Guilderland School District annually treats its wooden playgrounds with sealant.

He said that the district also follows the other two EPA guidelines: Staff have children wash their hands after using the playground; and no food contact is allowed with the wood.

Sanders concluded: "Pressure-treated wood is used just about everywhere."

Three years of fund-raising

The new playgrounds at Guilderland Elementary will not use wood, but rather rigid plastic-covered steel components. The non-wood parts of the old playgrounds — including swing sets and a rock-climbing wall — will be incorporated into the new play spaces.

The equipment is being purchased from Parkitects, a family-owned company chosen by a PTA committee that considered several alternatives, said Valverde.

"This is our third year raising money," she said.

Money has come from a score of fund-raising efforts, including the sale of gifts, entertainment books, and hams.

The PTA has also hosted several family-friendly activities, including a harvest dinner, a bowlathon, a carnival, and two golf outings.

"The teachers had a raffle with donated items like a walk in the park with the principal," said Valverde. "The kids bought tickets. It was school-wide." Guilderland Elementary has 585 students, she said.

A bulletin board outside of the cafeteria, titled "Slide to Success," has pictures of the proposed play equipment. The center of the board has a giant slide, with red paper blocks marking the amount of money raised so far.

The PTA leaders are well aware of concerns about childhood obesity. A plan to give away free cookies to students this week to kick off the sale was canceled because of health concerns, particularly for students with nut allergies.

"Our bake sales are getting healthier," said Jurek, noting granola bars and fruit are replacing brownies.

"But the cookies always sell first," said Valverde.

She went on to stress that, with the current cookie-dough sale, kids are not being targeted.

"We’re not selling them to the kids; we’re selling them to the parents," she said. "They control what the kids eat."

Sally Foster, which markets its product as "Premium Collection Gourmet Cookie Dough," says that 40 percent of the purchase price goes to the school. The dough comes in 10 flavors and can be stored in a freezer for a year.

"Cookies are a big money-maker," said Valverde.

The new playground equipment is tentatively scheduled for delivery on July 17, said Jurek, which means the money has to be raised by June 17.

"That’s why we need this sale to be a success," she said.


Lucky at lottery
Guilderland man wins $5 million

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Luck changes.

Louis Sgambellone was hit by a delivery truck outside of a Stewart’s shop 25 years ago, when he was 12, and yesterday he was awarded $5 million from the New York Lottery as the payout from a ticket he bought at that very same shop.

Sgambellone, a Guilderland resident who works as a partner and manager at Mad Dog Recording Studios, bought the ticket at the Stewart’s at 1827 Western Ave. in Westmere.

"He’s an everyday customer," Dave Martin, who works at the store, told The Enterprise on Wednesday. "It’s great to see something nice happen to him."

It’s also been nice for the shop, Martin said: "Sales have gone up." And there was a special perk for one of the clerks.

"I gave my truck to the girl who sold me the ticket," said Sgambellone at a press conference held by the State Lottery to present his winnings. "I wanted to share my fortune, so I gave her my ’05 Dakota."

Brenda Matthews, the clerk who sold the ticket, was at the event and said of the gift, "It’s bigger than any tip I’ve gotten."

This isn’t the fist lottery win for Sgambellone. He also won $10,000 in the Cashword Instant game and $2,500 in another Win For Life game.

His latest win will bring him $5,000 a week for life, which could well exceed the $5 million minimum, in the Set For Life scratch-off game.

Sgambellone doesn’t plan any major lifestyle changes with his winnings. He said he might move to a bigger apartment, visit family in California — and he’ll keep playing the Lottery.

"I got some in my pocket," said Sgambellone of tickets he has bought since his last win.


Valek to split East Lydius lot in two

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Despite a neighbor’s claims a land-survey is incorrect, the planning board last Wednesday gave conceptual approval for Gerald Valek to divide his lot in two.

Valek asked to subdivide .68 of an acre into two lots on East Lydius Street. His neighbor, Robert Tracy, told the board that his survey from the 1960’s shows the property line differently.

"My house is 49 feet from the center of the road," Tracy said. About the surveys, he said, "Mine is accurate. His is inaccurate."

Land surveyor Mark Blackstone represented Valek. Blackstone said that one reason for the survey discrepancy is that, according to the deed, the construction setback used was from the center of a 99-foot town right-of-way. The pavement of East Lydius Street is not in the center of the right-of-way, he said, so that dimensions marked from the center of the pavement are incorrect.

Tracy said that he disagrees with the lot line.

"I will defer to our counsel on that," planning board Chairman Stephen Feeney said. "Mr. Blackstone is a professional surveyor."

Planning board Attorney Linda Clark was not present.

Board member Terry Coburn asked Tracy, "Are you opposed to the subdivision""

"Yes," Tracy said.

Feeney said that the lot line discrepancy is not the biggest issue for the board to consider on the application.

Town Planner Jan Weston said that two variances are needed, because each proposed lot is 12 feet short of the R-15 zoning minimum standards, and the house is 15 feet short of the required setback.

Blackstone told the board that the Albany County Department of Health has met with the applicant twice. He proposed to put in a new septic system for the house and the newly-created lot.

At the agenda review, Feeney told the board that the property has "good sand in there," and that he was "not concerned" with the property passing percolation tests.

"He’s going to pull up his septic -- you can do it," he said.

At the meeting, Feeney told the Valeks, "If you make the health department happy, you make us happy."

Tracy said that the 13.5-foot side setback does not account for the Valek’s Bilco door foundation.

Blackstone said he will apply for a sideyard variance, rather than try to redesign the subdivision.

Feeney told Blackstone that the plan must show adequate sight-distance for the driveway.

"Conceptually, this is fine," said board member Paul Caputo. "I’m certainly satisfied with Mr. Blackstone’s application." He said that the town should "get to the bottom" of the survey discrepancy.

Other business In other business, the board:

— Approved a site plan for Aldo Vignolesi’s application for a special use permit to open a 24-seat pizzeria in Cosimo’s Plaza on Western Avenue; and

— Sent an official recommendation for a variance to allow four lots on Gun Club Road. Earlier this month, the planning board continued a public hearing for Daniel Rucinski, who wants to subdivide eight acres of agricultural land into four lots.

A 20-foot-wide strip of land had been added to the plan to meet the two-acre minimum subdivision standard for agricultural properties. At the previous meeting, the board had suggested that the plan eliminate the strip and leave the lots at 1.75 acres.


Stitching birds
Young artist heals self and others as project takes wing

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALBANY — Emily Rawitsch has a flock of paper cranes hanging in her kitchen. The birds are tiny and perfect, folded of bright paper.

They were made by her mother, Sara, who died just over a year ago, on Christmas Eve, of ovarian cancer.

"She smiled to the last day of her life," said her daughter. "And she made things for people."

Sara Dean Rawitsch, a first-grade teacher who was raised in Altamont, was passionate about making things with her hands. She braided rugs, sewed clothes, quilted coverlets, and wove baskets.

As she battled cancer, she folded paper cranes for people she loved.

Her daughter Emily on Saturday morning, perched on the edge of a couch in her Albany apartment, told the story of the paper cranes, made through origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. A girl who was ill after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima set out to fold a thousand paper cranes to make herself well again. She died before she finished the task but those she loved finished for her.

Emily Rawitsch has started on a flight of fancy herself. It began with the idea of turning a bra into a bird and, now, after hours of long work, the project is about to take wing.

The 22-year-old artist is creating an installation called "Transcend," which will be exhibited at Pi Naturals in Troy from April 7 to 29. The exhibit is to answer the question, "When you lose someone you love, how do you transcend the pain and celebrate life""

Rawitsch admires the artist Ross Bleckner who lost his lover to AIDS.

"His paintings ask how to mourn; they celebrate and commemorate," she said.

In October, Rawitsch was one of a group of artists asked by Albany to create works about cancer. She was to display art about breast cancer in a storefront.

Rawitsch had already started work when the project was canceled.

"I’m a Type A go-getter," said the slender young woman who moves with quick bird-like motions and talks rapidly, hopping with alacrity from one subject to the next, never lighting too long.

"It’s about healing"

When she was first thinking about breast-cancer art, Rawitsch thought of bras.

"It just came to me...I ran into my bedroom and got one out of my closet," she recalled.

With just two tries, she was able to transforming a bra into a bird. The unhooked back strap became the wings, and the cups, with a tuck or two, sewed together became the body of the bird. No part of the bra was discarded; the hook in back became the hook from which to hang the bird.

"It was like bras were meant to be birds," Rawitsch concluded.

Looking at a bundle of them nesting now in her kitchen, she said fondly, "Some are like baby chicks and others are like flying hens."

Rawitsch sent out a mass e-mail with the subject heading "Request for Bras," describing her project.

The response was astounding.

"I sent it out on a Monday," she said. "Tuesday, I started getting calls from all over."

Women she didn’t know sent bras, some of them with personal stories about themselves or about people they had loved who had survived cancer or who had died from the disease.

So, Rawitsch decided to continue on her own, expanding to include all cancer, not just breast cancer.

"To me, it’s about healing," she said. "The effects are universal....Bras are intimate, just like the experience of cancer. Birds represent being set free, transcending...."

Rawitsch used to worry that people would "be offended that I’m touching bras or using bras." She said, "I want to make sure people get it’s not a silly thing."

She also said, that, after sewing so many hundred bras into birds, "I’m not even fazed by bras. I’ll be sewing on them in a waiting room or announcing in the grocery story, ‘I got five more bras.’"

Opening day

Rawitsch’s exhibit has expanded from the original storefront as the bras keep on coming. She plans to accept as many as are donated. The one-time e-mail has taken on a life of its own as recipients copy it and share it with friends.

Rawitsch’s small Albany apartment is filled with hundreds of bras — some of them already transformed into birds.

On Saturday, she opened a box that has just arrived from Cincinnati, Ohio, packed with bras.

The bras arrive in bursts from new places. "People talk to their friends," Rawitsch said. "When it hit Missouri, for a week, I was getting all these bras from Missouri."

She’s gotten bras, so far, from 21 states and two foreign countries — one from England and one from Germany.

"Most of them are from people I do not know," she said. "They are all strangers."

Some of them are fancy white lacy bras bought for a wedding day; others are sexy with leopard spots or black lace; still others are utilitarian plain white; while others are flowered or dotted.

They will be displayed in an exhibit which opens Friday, April 7, at Pi Naturals, Inc. in Troy in the shop’s gallery-style space.

Her friend, Josh McIntosh, who designs sets for theaters in New York City and television shows like Law and Order has volunteered to construct a scaffolding that will display the soaring birds.

"His mom is a breast-cancer survivor," Rawitsch said.

Rawitsch applied for and received a small grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts, which will pay for the structural material, she said.

"My vision is the birds will start in a cluster to transcend out to the ceiling," she said. "I want them to be set free."

April 7 will be filled with events to raise awareness about cancer. Bellevue Woman’s Hospital is supplying a mobile mammography van from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at no or low cost to women who qualify. Appointments should be made in advance by calling 1-888-423-36.

An information tent will be set up, filled with booths staffed by local cancer-awareness organizations. Rawitsch secured the 20-by-80-foot tent in case of rain.

"It’s going to be like a festival. The street will be shut down," she said of the block at 2217 Fifth Avenue in Troy.

Rawitsch even got the churches on the street to donate their parking spaces for the event.

"Everything’s been donated," she said. "I’m focusing on the healing. The other groups can speak for themselves as to what they can offer."

The installation’s unveiling will take place at 5:30 and run till 9 p.m. A $10 donation is suggested. The money will be given to Gilda’s Club of the Capital Region, which offers support for those living with cancer, and for their friends and families. E. Stewart Jones, the Troy law firm, will match up to $5,000, she said.

Rawitsch, who anticipates the event will draw 700 to 1,000 people, has put it all together herself.

All she’s still looking for are volunteers to help on the day of the opening — setting up, welcoming people, and cleaning up.

"This project is using everything I’ve learned in 22 years of life," said Rawitsch.

"I came from a creative family," she said. "My mom and dad both taught first grade."

Her sister, Elizabeth, was editor at the Guilderland High School Journal and lives now in New Hampshire, where she works editing.

Elizabeth Rawitsch is folding 1,000 paper cranes for the April 7 opening "for people to take in memory of Mom," said Rawitsch.

"My mother was an incredible sewer, quilter, basket weaver. I’ve been sewing since I was five," said Rawitsch. "I made clothes for my dolls as a kid and made my own clothes in high school."

Like her mother, she was a Guilderland High School graduate.

After graduating in 2001, she started her college education at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated from The College of Saint Rose in 2005 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design.

She works now as a graphic designer at Spiral Design Studio in Albany.

"My mom passed away when I was still in college," she said. "I’m glad I got to be here to spend two years with her."

In putting together the opening day for "Transcend," Rawitsch has used the leadership skills she honed as her class president in high school and since in roles such as being on the board of directors of the Troy-Cohoes YWCA.

She has used the organizational and networking skills she’s developed at her current job for Spiral.

Rawitsch has also used her moxie. She describes, for example, asking the owner of a local liquor store, Capital Wine, for 50 cases of wine.

"He said, ‘Are you nuts"’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘That’s a lot of wine.’"

After she explained her project, the store owner contacted a supplier in California, Barefoot Cellars of Modesto, which made the donation.

"I’ve really been wracking up all my contacts," she said. "I’m not afraid to hear no."

She explains the outpouring of support by saying, "Curses can be blessings. I have not met someone yet who has not been affected by cancer...Cancer leaves you feeling helpless...I’m giving people something to do."

Reviving "a lost art"

The project has taken up all of her spare time for months, but Rawitsch has no regrets.

"I’m getting a lot of satisfaction out of doing this, out of helping other people," she said.

"Some of these bras come with handwritten letters, two or three pages long," she said. "These women tell me their stories. Sometimes there’s a note, and I tuck those inside and sew them in."

Her artist’s statement for the installation says, "I transform each bra into a bird to symbolize rising above and being set free. I place the name of the person being commemorated inside as a private homage."

Reading some of the letters or taking phone calls from some of the bra donors, Rawitsch said, "It’s emotional....there are times I would break down in tears."

Recalling one telephone call from a stranger, she said, "One woman called to say her sister was just diagnosed with cancer. Her birthday was coming up and things were not looking too promising. For her birthday, they gave her a bra to send into this installation as a gift....

"I got another call from a woman who was just diagnosed and she said, ‘I hope I can come to your opening. I might not make it that long.’

"I really didn’t anticipate this when I sent the e-mail."

Rawitsch feels a personal connection to the women whose bras she is transforming.

"In the beginning, I was stubborn. I wanted to sew them all myself, every single one."

But now she has friends helping her. An accomplished seamstress, Rawitsch can sew a bra into a bird in about three-quarters of an hour. Her friends take longer.

"My mom was always a part of sewing circles," she said. "It’s kind of a lost art. It’s been great having my friends help. We’re sitting here in my apartment," she said, gesturing to the white-walled space filled with modern art and clean-lined furniture, "sewing, talking about intimate things...There’s something really powerful and meditative about the process."

Her mother, she said, used to say that sewing was her religion so Rawitsch feels she’s connecting to her when she’s sewing for this project.

Spiraling dream

Rawitsch’s dream is to take her birds on the road, much the way the AIDS quilt travels from city to city, raising awareness, offering healing and hope.

"I could see this as a project that, every time it’s shown, it’s larger and larger. It could turn into a full-time job," she said, stressing this is a dream and she’s very pleased with her current work and the support Spiral has given to her project — including setting up a website: www.brabirds.org.

Her father, Peter Rawitsch, helped her put together packets to send to celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey.

"I need to find someone to fund the project — a company or a celebrity," she said of making the installation national.

Rawitsch has applied for a copyright on the bra birds to protect herself as an artist.

"I went into this hoping not to lose too much money; I’ve never had a goal to make money off of this, and I don’t want anyone else to use it that way," she said.

Asked what she thought her mother would think of her project, Rawitsch said, "I’m sure she’d be so proud."

Her eyes filled with tears as she answered and, ever the organizer, she said, "I’m planning on having boxes of Kleenexes at the show....This is like art therapy...."

Then she went on, completing her answer to the question, "People don’t know how to open up. They’re scared. I’m finally okay talking about the emotional side of it....Everything I’m doing is in the spirit of my mom. Everything she did was so positive...I’m like my mother; I’m not afraid to talk from the bottom of my heart."


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