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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 20, 2009

After jail or rehab
Father Young’s flagmen signal the way to a safe landing

By Philippa Stasiuk

“The stars aligned for me,” said David Hussey, a banquet captain at the Schuyler Inn in Menands, describing the day when he was given the option of drug treatment over jail time.

The boyish looking 25-year-old was about to do six months for driving drunk when his lawyer learned that an Honor Court representative was in the courtroom. Honor Court, a 26-year-old program of Father Peter Young, offers non-violent offenders who have committed alcohol- or drug-related crimes an opportunity to go to drug treatment instead of jail.

Within 15 minutes, Hussey was evaluated and deemed a good candidate for the program. For the next five hours, administrators in Young’s employment guided Hussey through the various bureaucratic hoops and he entered Altamont House for inpatient treatment by eight that evening.

Before getting caught, Hussey spent 20 of his 25 years addicted to drugs, he said. His parents were both heroin addicts and “deadheads,” followers of the music band the Grateful Dead, he said. He traveled with them around the country while his father transported LSD and his mother injected him with drugs to keep him from fussing, he said, after birthing him while high on LSD in the back of a bus.

Hussey is one of thousands of New Yorkers who, before sinking further — to prison, serious criminal behavior, or homelessness — got caught in the web of help that Father Peter Young has spun in the last half a century. Young began helping the needy over 50 years ago, working the streets of Albany’s south end. Today, he oversees a $20 million organization that has 90 residential sites in the state, in-patient treatment centers, halfway houses, and contracts with various agencies and companies to hire the people he is training.

Young’s program is called Glidepath and his mission is to create taxpayers. He describes what addicts need to recover as a stool with three legs: treatment, housing, and employment. Throughout the state, under his various organizations, Young’s workforce performs the behemoth task of helping over three thousand people a day who are facing every difficulty imaginable.

Peter Kelsey, director for the school for culinary and hotel operations at the Schuyler Inn, one of Young’s properties, described how Glidepath works. “We identify the services that people need when they come into our programs,” he said. “They might have issues pertaining to criminal justice, maintaining employment, suffer from spousal abuse, learning disabilities, or are simply disenfranchised. Usually the common denominator is addictive behavior.”

Glidepath, Kelsey explained, is a name that comes from Young’s years in the Navy over 50 years ago. “The concept comes from aircraft carriers,” he said. “Flagmen need to bring planes down to a level field on the ship. We don’t give mandates, but instead try to give leadership and guidance so the pilot can land. It’s a step-down process from intensive treatment and we’re the flagmen.”

Despite the perpetual struggle for funding and the threadbare appearance of the Schuyler Inn, which was a motel in a former life, there is robust evidence that Young’s programs work. A study done by the State University of New York School of Criminal Justice in 1997 found that people who went through the Father Young programs returned to prison or violated their paroles only 8 percent of the time, as opposed to 80 percent for those who did not participate.

Up from the underbelly

Like the hotel that it once was, the Schuyler Inn provides rooms and hospitality for a shifting group of residents. War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have just completed treatment at the facility on the Berne-Altamont Road perched above the village can rent a room cheaply while they slowly jigsaw their lives together.

On Tuesday morning, in room 102, Mashama Burns, the executive chef and culinary teacher, is describing the kitchen hierarchy with her latest batch of students. They don’t seem to mind that the class is in a dingy hotel room complete with textured “popcorn” walls, stained carpet, and a shower.

Ron, who grew up in Queens, heard of Young’s programs while in prison and decided to write to him before he was even released. (The Enterprise is using just the first names of the Schuyler Inn residents who requested anonymity.) “He said when you get out, you come and see me and I’ve been rolling ever since,” said Ron. “My biggest dream is to live life and never go back to jail.”

Many who work at the facility on Broadway in Menands went through Young’s job training and perhaps drug treatment before that. Kelsey describes the practice of hiring their own graduates as Young’s “philosophy of the wounded healer” whereby, “an individual who has been wounded by the disease of addiction can recover by working hands-on with other students.”

Sous-chef Sylvester Floyd, who cooks meals and helps with classes, is an example of this philosophy 14 years in the making. Floyd began his rehabilitation in prison but continued his treatment with Young once he got out. He then embarked on culinary training, citing a love of cooking, and has been moving up the kitchen’s ladder ever since.

Burns, the head chef, reiterates the symbolic importance of having him around. “Sly is the connection between recovery and the culinary program. He shows that this is not a waste of time,” said Burns. “It can change your life around.”

According to Judy Troilo, director of Vocational and Employment Services with Peter Young, the kind of person who benefits from job training is returning to the surface of society after living in its underbelly.

“Nine times out of 10, their brain muscle has atrophied,” said Troilo. “Maybe if they get in a class,” she said, “they can get their skills up again.” Troilo said the reason that the culinary training is so popular is because it’s a “forgiving industry” where a record tarnished by a drug- or alcohol-related offense is not a roadblock to getting a job.

Burns says that in her cooking classes, many students already have some experience but they need to return to the basics. “The most important things we learn are kitchen safety and sanitation, which we plug away at from beginning to end.”

Graduation day

On Aug. 7, the latest batch of Young’s students, including Hussey, graduated from their four-month training course. While students and their families sat at the tables in back, the front comprised the cheering sections: the multitudes of staff working at Young’s different agencies to address the individual needs of the students.

Young described the strategies for catching people as they fall as synergy. “We want to offer people a positive, clean, and sober environment,” he said. “Then we want to train them for a job and we try to avoid a silo kind of action. We have various programs that specialize in different things but we want them to relate to one another so we can best serve our clients.”

The gratitude from these “clients” is palpable. As Hussey presides over a lunchtime event, he describes his overall goal as “anything I can give back to Father Young. He got me clean after 20 years of use and now I have a future.”

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