From the desk of his cramped office at the New York Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA) on the back stretch of Belmont Park, Chaplain Humberto Chavez can stare out the window at what he calls “something that we have been planning and dreaming for years.
Directly north of the current NYRTCA office, a team of carpenters, electricians and plumbers from the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) are working on the construction of the new 3,500 square foot Chaplaincy building, which will double the current chaplaincy space and become its hub. The new building will house a chapel, a multi-purpose hall, a classroom named after Hall of Famer and longtime NYRTCA supporter Cot Campbell, and staff offices.
“People are asking about the best races in the country, and we have that in New York,” Chaplain Chavez said. “Great people on the back stretch? We have them too. What this new building offers us is another big positive for the New York races: a place that will welcome everyone. People will come in and they will be home. It’s something we’ve been dreaming about for a long time. To see this happen is exciting.
The New York Hippodrome Chaplain Center, designed by Frost Hurff Architects of Saratoga Springs, NY, will solve space issues at its current headquarters, now comprised of two double-wide trailers. Chaplaincy will continue to use the trailers for its weekly food and clothing drive, which is currently held outdoors. A central feature of NYRTCA, the non-denominational services now held in the track recreation room, will move into a dedicated chapel within the new building.
A consortium of longtime NYRTCA supporters contributed major funding for the construction of the new building, including the late Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson, former NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay, and Kenny and Lisa Troutt of WinStar Farm.
Thoroughbred owner and NYRA board member Michael Dubb provided the bulk of all materials for the new Chaplaincy Center. Dubb is also the founder and president of the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA) at Belmont Park; and he and his wife, Lee, founded Faith’s House, the BCCA child care center for the backstretch community at Saratoga Race Course, which opened last summer.
Work began on February 7 and is on schedule. A groundbreaking ceremony for the New York Hippodrome Chaplaincy Center is scheduled for March 28, with a full move-in beginning in the fall.
“Racecourse Chaplaincy provides much-needed services to the backstretch community, and NYRA is proud to be able to make this new building a reality,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. . “We congratulate Chaplain Chavez and his team, and look forward to opening the doors of the New York Hippodrome Chaplaincy Center at short notice.”
The NYRTCA dates back to 1986 and serves the spiritual needs of the backstretch community at NYRA’s three racetracks – Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course. In addition to nondenominational prayer services, NYRTCA provides a wide variety of social and educational services to the backstretch community.
Although Chaplaincy’s work with NYRA dates back decades, the relationship
Reached a new level in March 2020 when NYRA was forced to suspend live racing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was then that the essential work of meeting the needs of a small town in Belmont Park – from 450 to 600 background workers living in approximately 500 rooms among 69 cottages, along with hundreds more living in the local community with their families – started a new emergency.
Chavez joined NYRA’s Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, made up of key NYRA staff members, as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST) , BCCA and Premise Health. Over the next year and a half, the committee used an effective team approach to deal with the effects of COVID-19 on the men and women who live and work in Belmont Park.
Committee members used the same team approach to provide the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, followed by crucial information on COVID-19 vaccinations. Chavez has played a key role in a wide variety of fields and has worked as a translator for local health officials and paramedics.
“We are proud of all the ways our team has stepped in as needed during the pandemic while maintaining regular services like the pantry, which has become a real lifeline at a difficult time,” the board chairman said. NYRTCA Board of Directors, Terry Finley. , who is also president and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds. “What this new building will do is help us take the next step by continuing to meet the needs of struggling workers.”
Chaplain Chavez agreed.
“We are very grateful to the people and organizations who 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.”
Visit www.rtcany.org to learn more about New York Hippodrome Chaplaincy.
-Submitted by RTCANY