By DEBORAH E. LANS
GHENT—Okay. You may have read about these two groups before. After all, the Ghent Band has been in existence since 1899. And, almost as long as there has been an Oakdale Lake (built in roughly 1916) kids have enjoyed swimming there, and Hudson’s Youth Department formally started a camp there in 2007. But what makes the two newsworthy even today is the way they nurture talents, support leadership and develop community.
That there even is a lake in Hudson is extraordinary. The lake, and surrounding 14-acre wooded park, was originally constructed by a local landowner hoping to surround it with a small development on Glenwood Boulevard. In 1946 the city of Hudson acquired it (for $9,750), a beach was created and, later, a beach house. The city’s Youth Department held a variety of activities there and in 2007 created the camp.
In recent years, two non-profits, Friends of Oakdale Lake and the Columbia Land Conservancy, have upgraded the facilities and water quality. Another non-profit, Friends of Hudson Youth, has supported the Hudson Youth Department in developing a robust 6-week summer camp program that is open to city residents aged 5 to 13 without charge, and at modest cost to other county children.
Four “pods”, sorted by age, rotate through a schedule that includes swimming, basketball, hiking, kayaking, art projects and even acrobatics and stilt-walking lessons from Bindlestiff Family Cirkus members. Free play time is also built in. The kids can also learn to repair and rebuild bicycles at the Bike Coop, can have riding lessons and are even given their own bicycles from the donated and repaired stock at the coop.
The campers can have breakfast at the camp, and lunch is served not only to campers but also to all members of the community.
What makes the program unique is the employment ladder it has built for Hudson youth. Byonte Jones first worked at the camp as a junior lifeguard during high school. As a college student at Wells College, she returned during the summers, because she wanted to help children who are underserved “to learn to make choices in life that support their health and are fulfilling.”
At Oakdale, the campers—many of them, her neighbors in Hudson—have a unique opportunity “to be themselves,” acquire social skills and have positive interactions with adults and other youth.
After six summers at Oakdale, during which she rose to become co-director of waterfront activities and learned management skills, leading a younger staff, Ms. Jones is now headed to graduate school. With 9 younger siblings, one of whom is autistic and one who has sickle cell disease, Ms. Jones hopes to build on her background by becoming a pediatric physician’s assistant.
Zyon Brown started at Oakdale as a Hudson High School student the same year as Ms. Jones, and he too returned to Oakdale during his high school and college summers, because he loved the chance “to work with kids and help them evolve work and life skills.” He spent this summer as the co-director of waterfront activities, mentoring younger employees from the community, and, not incidentally, saving a life.
A Korean group came to the lake this July. As Mr. Brown was working with a younger lifeguard, they saw an adult in the water trying to make it to a dock. It was obvious the man did not know how to swim, and he was floundering badly. Mr. Brown dove in, brought him to safety, and was rewarded, per Korean tradition, with a gift of fruit.
Mr. Brown was turned on to the mysteries of the ocean by a marine biology class in high school, learned to dive while at the University of Rhode Island, and is now embarking on a master’s degree in marine biology in Ft. Lauderdale.
Liz Yorck, director of Hudson’s Department of Youth, reports that 185 children were registered for the camp this summer, with around 100 attending on any given day.
During the school year, after-school programming continues at the department’s building on Third Street, with dinner served at 5. Five to 13 year olds come in the afternoons and teens in the evening. Homework help, as well as sports, arts and other activities are provided, as are computers.
Friends of Hudson Youth, the non-profit, was formed in 2018 to support the activities of the department and provide a means to raise funds for it. As its founder Peter Frank says, “The Youth Department provides year round child care, and without child care we can never have a workforce. More importantly, vibrant out-of-school time can change the trajectory of a young person’s life.” By the end of 2023 Friends will have contributed almost $500,000 to programs and facilities at the Youth Department.
The 124-year old Ghent Band unites youth and seniors (and all ages in between) in a communal effort to bring free music, ranging from Sousa marches to Broadway medleys, to the county. The band’s oldest member is 97-year old Stephen A. Gitto, Sr., a trumpet player and retired Chatham High School music teacher. Its youngest is a 14-year old high school sophomore and flutist.
Among the roughly 40 band members are a garage door installer, retired nurse, carpenter, retired minister, many teachers, an RPI sophomore who has played since high school because of the “community of the band,” an autistic youth and a consultant to tech companies, to name a few.
The conductor is Ghent native T.J. Russell, who teaches music at Taconic Hills High School and has attracted current and past students to the band. The band’s Historian (who is also the Ghent Town Historian) is Gregg Berninger, an English professor whose great uncle, John, was the band president (and percussionist) a century ago.
At the turn of the last century, the band played at a bandstand behind the Bartlett House. Since, in addition to its marching gigs at local parades, it mainly plays at the Ghent Town Hall and in Kinderhook. (It used to play in the grandstand but it has outgrown that venue and now plays in front of the grandstand and facing the town green.)
With trumpets, clarinets, flutes, saxophones, oboes, tubas, trombones and even French horns as well as percussion, a recent concert drew more than 160 people of all ages, as well as a fair number of seemingly appreciative dogs, to picnic tables and lawn chairs on the green. The playlist included “Summertime,” a medley of sailing songs, and favorites from “Guys and Dolls.”
As Mr. Gitto, who has been playing with the band since 1952, says, the band is “a group of musicians who get together to enjoy music and give joy to others.” Perhaps his philosophy (“in life, what you get is what you give”) is what has drawn so many to the band.
The Ghent Band will be marching at the Chatham Fair in the parade on Saturday and will be playing at the North Gate Stage on Labor Day at 10 a.m.