New Home Will Fulfill Long-Running Dream for NY Race Track Chaplaincy

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Photo courtesy of NYRA

Feature courtesy of the New York Racing Association

From the desk of his cramped office at the New York division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA) on Belmont Park's backstretch, Chaplain Humberto Chavez can gaze out the window at what he calls, “something we've been planning for and dreaming of for years.”

Directly north of the NYRTCA's current office, a team of New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) carpenters, electricians and plumbers are at work constructing the Chaplaincy's new 3,500-square-foot building, which will double the Chaplaincy's current space and become its hub. The new building will house a chapel, a multi-purpose room, a classroom to be named after Hall of Famer and longtime NYRTCA supporter Cot Campbell, and staff offices.

“People ask about the best racing in the country, and we have that in New York,” said Chaplain Chavez. “Great people on the backstretch? We have them as well. What this new building gives us is another big positive for New York racing: a place that will welcome everybody. People will come in and they'll be home. This is something we've dreamed of for a long time. To see it happening is exciting.”

The New York Racetrack Chaplaincy Center, designed by Frost Hurff Architects of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will ease space issues at its current headquarters, now comprised of two double-wide trailers. The Chaplaincy will continue to utilize the trailers for its weekly food pantry and clothing drive, which are currently held outdoors. A core component of the NYRTCA, the non-denominational services now held at the track's recreation hall, will move into a dedicated chapel within the new building.

A consortium of longtime NYRTCA supporters have contributed major funding to the construction of the new building including the late Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson, former NYRA President & CEO Chris Kay as well as Kenny and Lisa Troutt of WinStar Farm.
Thoroughbred owner and NYRA board member Michael Dubb supplied the bulk of all materials for the new Chaplaincy Center. Mr. Dubb is also the founder and chairman of the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA) at Belmont Park; and he and his wife, Lee, founded Faith's House, the BCCA childcare center for the backstretch community at Saratoga Race Course, which opened last summer.

The work kicked off Feb. 7 and is proceeding on schedule. A groundbreaking ceremony for the New York Racetrack Chaplaincy Center is scheduled for Mar. 28, with a full move-in as early as the fall.

“The Racetrack Chaplaincy provides indispensable services to the backstretch community, and NYRA is proud to be able to make this new building a reality” said Dave O'Rourke, NYRA President & CEO. “We congratulate Chaplain Chavez and his team, and look forward to opening the doors of the New York Racetrack Chaplaincy Center in short order.”

The NYRTCA dates to 1986 and ministers to the spiritual needs of the backstretch community at all three NYRA racetracks – Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course. In addition to non-denominational prayer services, the NYRTCA provides wide variety of social and educational services to the backstretch community.

Though the Chaplaincy's work with NYRA dates back several decades, the relationship rose to a new level in March 2020 when NYRA was forced to suspend live racing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That's when the essential work of caring for the needs of a small city at Belmont Park–anywhere from 450 to 600 backstretch workers living in approximately 500 rooms among 69 cottages, along with hundreds of others living in the local community with their families–took on a new urgency.

Chavez joined NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprised of key NYRA staff members, along with representatives of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA), the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.),the BCCA and Premise Health. For the next year-and-a-half, the Committee used an effective team approach in dealing with the effects of COVID-19 on the men and women living and working at Belmont Park.

Committee members used the same team approach in providing the most updated information on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, followed by crucial information on COVID-19 vaccinations. Chavez played a key role in a wide variety of areas and worked as a translator for local health officials and EMTs.

“We're proud of all of the ways in which our team have stepped in as needed during the pandemic while keeping up with regular services like the food pantry, which became a real lifeline at a tough time,” said NYRTCA Board Chairman Terry Finley, who is also the President and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds. “What this new building will do is help us take the next step in continuing to meet the needs of backstretch workers.”

Chaplain Chavez agreed.

“We're so grateful to the people and organizations that have helped make the new building a reality,” he said. “This marks the start of a new era for our community, and we can't wait.”

To learn more about the New York Race Track Chaplaincy, visit https://www.rtcany.org/

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