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ON THE SCENE: Shipman Youth Center turns 20

June 14, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF ( , Lake Placid News

Thomas Shipman, the Lake Placid Police Department's first juvenile officer, had a passion for improving the life and well-being of Lake Placid's youth.

He devoted countless hours to organizing experiences for kids that ranged from trips to attend professional basketball and hockey games, to Halloween dances and haunted houses, and his biggest undertaking, the Youth Games.

Unfortunately, he died young in 1995, but not before instilling his passion for helping youth to others who decided to create a center in his name.

Article Photos

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall read a proclamation honoring the Shipman Youth Center’s 20th anniversary during an open house on Thursday, June 6. From left are Jason Hooker, Stacy Shipman, Randall, Angel Shipman and Dmitry Feld.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

On Thursday, June 6, the Thomas Shipman Sr. Memorial Youth Center - located at 61 Cummings Road - celebrated its 20th anniversary with an open house that included a $4,000 donation from Hannaford, a proclamation read by Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall, tours of the building, cake, pizza and other goodies.

The center was created by donated labor, materials and financial contributions with a significant push provided by the Lake Placid Rotary Club through the leadership of members such as Bob Hanna, who put in many hours as the foreman of construction.

"My involvement in the construction lasted about a year and a half," said Hanna. "The building got erected, and all the materials were on order when the architect, Lynn Montgomery, who organized all that, died. So I stepped in as the foreman to finish the building. We did get quite a few people to come out and help, but it did take a while. That was my initial involvement, and then I stayed on the board for a couple of years after that."

Hanna had attended a presentation at a Rotary event in Alexandria Bay that featured a "gang breaker" from Holland, Michigan. Gangs had moved into the city from Chicago and became a disruptive force on community norms. Hanna said he learned that just as a good fire department puts most of its time into prevention over putting out fires, so too communities should focus on developing healthy youth as a means of preventing future problems.

That presentation opened Hanna's eyes to the importance of the nascent Shipman Youth Center as a vital tool for creating a safe environment for our youth and helping them move toward adulthood. When he got back to town, he pitched the local Rotary on establishing the center as one of their priorities, which they did.

Brian Fabe, a community relations specialist for Hannaford, was on hand to provide a substantial donation as a means of contributing to the ongoing success of the center. This past year, Hannaford began charging customers 5 cents for every plastic bag they used as a means of encouraging people to use reusable bags. For those who haven't yet made the switch, 2 cents covered the cost of each plastic bag, and the balance was put into a fund that the company uses to support community programs.

"There are a lot of worthy programs in Lake Placid," said Fabe. "To have a great impact, we needed to find the right community partner, which we have with the Shipman Center. Giving this donation means a lot to not only us as an organization but hopefully to the community as well. From what we've seen, we're pretty sure that this will have a positive impact on all the kids who go through the Shipman Center."

The Shipman Youth Center serves between 20 to 30 youth a day ages 10 to 18, though primarily middle-school age. It provides them with a safe, structured place to relax, engage in arts and crafts, develop friendships, and get assistance with their homework. Open during the school year 2 to 6 p.m. Mondays and 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday - and in the summer - the center is led by Jason Hooker, its third director, who has been with the center for 16 years and stepped into the leadership position in the fall of 2015.

"The kids are the biggest reward," said Jason. "I love working with kids. They have always been well behaved, even those times when it seems liked organized chaos. We offer an environment where kids can come in and feel safe, where kids can be kids. Some first come when they are in sixth grade and return after they have graduated as volunteers."

Dmitry Feld, president of the center and founder of its major fundraising event, the I Love BBQ and Music Festival, welcomed the Shipman family, volunteers, and the students and their families to the open house. He said that he felt privileged to know Thomas Shipman, who was looking down at everyone present. He and the staff calculated that more than 5,000 different children have come through the center since it opened on June 6, 1999. Feld praised the efforts of the many volunteers who helped build the facility, served on the board, and helped keep it open over the years.

"I'm so grateful for everyone in the community keeping this center alive," said Thomas Shipman's youngest daughter, Stacy. "My dad just loved the kids. He was a kid at heart. He just felt that somebody needed to do something for them because nobody else was. Kids just came to him to talk and get help. It was amazing how well they took to him."

"I think it's fantastic that the Shipman center is celebrating its 20th anniversary", said Angel, Thomas Shipman's oldest daughter. "My dad's got to be so proud. It's everything he ever dreamed of. I'm getting all choked up."

Longtime volunteers and board members Ricky Canny and Kelly Conway praised Hooker's commitment to the community and stressed the importance of the structured environment the center provides young people. While Canny was initially "roped in" by Liz Defazio, Conway said it was her nephews' need for such a place and the joy it brought them that caused her to join. Both also said it was impossible to say no to Feld.

Best of all, the kids praised the center.

"The Shipman Youth Center is a great place for young people like me because it's an active place to go after school," said Ryan, age 13. "If I'm having a hard time with my school work and need tutoring help, I can get it here. I first came here last year. It's been a lot of fun, and I haven't had any issues with people. It's just a great place."

Gage Perry, a senior, has been coming to the center since he was in sixth grade and now helps out as needed. He said when he was younger, both his parents were working, and the center gave him a place to go, hang out with friends, and get his homework done. He praised Hooker's ability to connect with kids of all ages.

Elly, 8, said about the Shipman Youth Center, "I love it."

Riley, 9, was equally positive. "I love it, and it's fun. Jason's nice. Sometimes I make friends here like Elly."



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