Racetrack Chaplaincy Seeking Donations for Summer Camp Program

Humberto Chavez | Coglianese

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The mission of the New York Racetrack Chaplaincy is to better the lives of the some 3,500 people who care for the horses at the NYRA racetracks, which, among other things, means finding an outlet in the summer for the children of the backstretch workers during the Saratoga meet. It's a huge need given the obstacles backstretch families encounter when it comes to how to care for their kids, but the Racetrack Chaplaincy has come up with an answer. Some 10 years ago, the group started the Saratoga Enrichment Program, which places the children of Saratoga backstretch workers into local summer camps during the meet.

“The kids love it,” said Humberto Chavez, New York Chaplain for the Race Track Chaplaincy of America . “They get out of city life get into the country.”

When racing moves to Saratoga, the backstretch workers have to adjust. There is no housing for families on the Saratoga backstretch, which leaves only a few options, one of which is a campground near the track made available by a local church. But that doesn't solve what to do with the children. During much of the rest of the year, they go off to school during the week while their parents work their backstretch jobs. With schools closed during the Saratoga season, parents sometimes have to choose between working or staying home to take care of their children.

“What they do is the mom or dad goes up to work in Saratoga and kids and the other parent stays back home here at Belmont or in Florida or Kentucky,” Chavez said. “That was the only other option. In that case, the family component wouldn't be together. As a chaplaincy, we believe that families need to stay together. Families had traditionally always been very cautious about bringing their kids with them to Saratoga because of the restrictions of the track.”

To have the camp option solves much of the problem. The workers can go about their day knowing that their children are being looked after and having fun.

The chaplaincy has partnered with five camps and accepts children as young as six and as old as 14. Chavez said that in a typical year about 25 kids will sign up for the program.

“The highlight of it last year came with a young girl who had never owned or ridden a bike,” said New York Race Track Chaplaincy president Ramon Dominguez. “We partnered with Saratoga Shredders, which has a youth mountain bike program. They donated bikes for each individual child in our program. They taught this girl how to ride a bike. That was her highlight and our highlight. That's what we're here for, to give them an experience that would be hard to have back home in a city environment.”

The Saratoga Enrichment Program is wholly dependent on donations and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Thoroughbred Charities of America, and NYRA are among those who help out. The group also depends on donations from individuals, and Chavez admitted that donations “have been a little light” this year.

“We get donations from individuals who love what we do and want to give a child a good opportunity to spend a good summer in Saratoga and keep the nucleus of the family together,” Chavez said. “We need people to help. It's for the kids and it helps their mons and dads who are working really hard in the industry.”

To donate to the Saratoga Enrichment Program click here.

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