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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 21, 2011
Tipple tops community Caregivers, moving from state to local work with passion
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Thomas Tipple has gone from managing $3.8 billion a year to managing $300,000.
“This seems every bit as important, or more so,” said Tipple, who started work on Monday as the executive director of Community Caregivers, a not-for-profit organization that harnesses the energy and skills of volunteers to provide free services for Albany County residents in need.
“It’s about helping neighbors and making a difference you can see,” said the recently retired deputy commissioner for the state’s Office of Children and Family Services.
Tipple, 57, and his wife, Melissa, have lived in Guilderland for 15 years. He grew up in Delmar. His mother stayed home to raise three boys Tipple is the middle child while his father, a State Trooper, worked his way up the ranks, retiring as a captain. His father then became the commissioner of public safety in the town where he lived Bethlehem.
Following a similar pattern of moving from an important statewide post to a smaller community post, Tipple said of his father, “He had a similar motivation to professionalize.”
Tipple went on about Community Caregivers, “The difference between this organization and others I’ve been involved with, with funding and with review of funding I’ve always been on the other side of the table it’s really volunteer driven, making an effective use of resources to help people in the community. It taps into the best of people, helping their neighbors.”
Tipple said his Catholic upbringing he attended St. Thomas Elementary School taught him the importance of helping others. “When your values are not just about making money or getting ahead,” he said, “this is an ideal job.”
Those who hired him believe in turn that Tipple is the ideal leader for Community Caregivers.
“Tom has knowledge of the organization; his wife is a volunteer,” said Christopher Cassidy, president of the board of directors for Community Caregivers. “He has vast experience in management with over 20 years in the Division of Budget; that’s a great plus for us…He understands the numbers and has terrific ties to the public sector to help us navigate as a non-profit.”
Tipple will develop fund-raising programs, create a yearly development plan, and oversee grant applications, said Cassidy, as well as working with the program director and serving as the group’s spokesman.
Over 50 people applied for the post, which was vacated last fall when Diane Cameron Pascone, after five years as executive director, left to work for another not-for-profit organization.
The selection committee, which whittled the final field from 15 applicants, to seven, and then to three was “in 100-percent agreement on Tom,” said Cassidy.
He is being paid an annual salary of $50,000, which is down from the $60,000 salary Cameron Pascone was hired on in 2005.
“We are trying to be extremely fiscally conservative and to be the best stewards we possibly can be of every dollar given to the organization,” said Cassidy when asked about the cut in salary. “That’s what we could afford to pay. We are just thrilled to have gotten someone of Tom’s caliber.”
Cassidy concluded, “He is the face of our organization and he has a wonderful ability.”
The Community Caregivers has evolved rapidly since its founding in 1994 by a handful of volunteers in Altamont. It’s first three locations were rent-free in the basement of St. John’s Lutheran Church in the village; then at the Fountain View Senior Assisted Living Center in Guilderland; and then at the former Helderberg Bible Chapel on Gun Club Road in Altamont, which developer Jeff Thomas refurbished for the organization.
In the summer of 2008, the agency moved to its current location off of Route 20 in the heart of Guilderland.
Over the years, the organization’s coverage area has grown along with its office space. It now serves not only the town of Guilderland but parts of Bethlehem, New Scotland, Berne, and Knox as well. The handful of volunteers had grown to over 560 in 2008 when the organization moved its offices.
The number of clients and the services offered them have expanded as well, and include transportation for the elderly and disabled, shopping, respite for caregivers, meal preparation and delivery, light housekeeping, minor repairs and yard work, home visits and reassurance calls, assistance with paperwork and correspondence, and referrals to other agencies.
During her tenure, Cameron Pascone, who followed a series of short-time directors, started new programs and support groups for those dealing with dementia; taught courses to help caregivers express themselves in writing; and worked with county and state offices for the aging.
When she left, Christine Damon, who had just joined the staff as the program director, also took over the duties of executive director until a replacement could be found.
A certified “aging in place” specialist, Damon had worked with Catholic Charities, where she was responsible for elder care, respite, and caregiver support. She also had served as a caregiver herself for her father, her mother, and her uncle.
Damon will now focus on programs to assist clients and volunteers, including managing client cases, running orientation sessions for volunteers, and developing a volunteer recruitment program.
Tipple said this week that his immediate focus would be fiscal. “The fiscal times today are really grim,” he said. “I think the challenge is to build an organization that has the right mix of funding from corporations, foundations, government, and donations.”
He also stressed, of both the board and the staff, “There are competent, capable people here. It’s not like I’m walking in with the answer.”
And, he said, “One of the challenges of this place is to do a better job publicizing what this group does. They do great work.”
Tipple sees his new job as “a perfect fit” for him and his experience.
After graduating from Bethlehem High School, he went on to the State University of New York College at Brockport, where he majored in political science and qualified to be a secondary-school teacher of social studies. He returned to the area and worked for several months as a substitute teacher before going to work for the New York State Senate. For a year-and-a-half, he had a clerical job, working on the senate calendar, which put him right in the senate chamber.
“I got to see politicians and democracy or not at work,” he said.
After taking a Civil Service exam, Tipple went on to work at the state’s Division of Youth for seven years, starting in personnel administration and moving to labor relations, which had him traveling all over the state.
“I got frustrated with state government. I wanted to have greater impact on decision-making,” Tipple recalled. He was told that the Division of Budget had more control. “I wasn’t a numbers person but, lo and behold, I stayed there for 24 years, working on large, large fiscal and programmatic transactions…I learned a whole new way of operating in state government.”
Tipple described the Division of Budget as “the brain trust behind what the governor wants to do.”
One of the projects he worked on, after the Sept. 11, 2001 fiscal crisis, was a $4.2 billion tobacco financing deal, Tipple said.
Towards the end of his state government career, though, he decided to return to the place he had started human services. “I ran into people I had worked with and was asked, ‘You want to come back to Children and Family Services?…We could make things better.’”
He then worked for three years in that office as deputy commissioner of administration before retiring.
Tipple said of his new job with Community Caregivers, which comes with a steep cut in pay, “If I wanted to make money, I’d have gone into consulting. But I didn’t want to fly around the country, living out of hotels.
“This is local. I live down the street. I can see the results…It’s the perfect next step in my career, helping a community organization do what it’s been doing well and helping them to move forward.”