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Holiday Lights Gets Help from City Court

December 13, 2011

By Michael Bellizzi, Chad Gamboa, Scott Lawson, Kayla Matteo, Tom McDonald and Tenny Snyder

For the first time ever, the Capital Holiday Lights in the Park festivity this year relied on the help of Albany City Court and its community service program to both prepare and operate the 39-day fundraiser for the Police Athletic League.

Decoration at the entrance to Holiday Lights in the Park

City court often offers community service as a choice to individuals charged with violating codes pertaining to open containers and loud parties. During court appearances, those who have been ticketed sometimes choose to perform community service rather than pay fines, which sometimes run into the hundreds of dollars.

This year, the Police Athletic League, which sponsors scores of year-round programs for city youngsters, asked the Albany City Court to offer the Holiday Lights program as a choice for community service. City Attorney Bill Kelly, who is involved with this and a number of community service assignments citywide, said the athletic league asked for help setting up the holiday lights display. The displayin Washington Park is marking its 15th year in business.

According to Judge Gary Stiglmeier, community service has been effective with the defendants that he has seen this year.

“Community service is having a positive impact,” said Stiglmeier said.

The average number of court-mandated offenders who assist with Holiday Lights ranges from 10 to 15 individuals weekly, out of hundreds more who volunteer their time for the fundraiser, according to Leonard Ricchiutti, executive director of the Police Athletic League. Those assigned to community service set up displays, clear the area around the displays and run lead cords, said Ricchiutti , a retired Albany police sergeant.

Display at Washington Park Lakehouse for Holiday Lights

“Our volunteers coordinate and take care of the entire installation and breakdown,” Ricchiutti said. It’s “about a three and a half to four month process.”

Visitors pay $15 to see the lights beginning everyday at 6 p.m. Weekdays the display runs until 9 p.m. and on the busier weekends, until 10 p.m. Ricchiutti estimated some 500 to 600 cars drive through the park each Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. This season, traffic is slightly up from last year Ricchiutti said. However, a rainy night like last Wednesday can mean a dent in business. Safety concerns forced the league to shut down the operation that night.

The program also relies on financial support from corporations such as Hannaford Supermarkets.

“We support PAL programs throughout the year also. We believe heavily in their program,” said Molly Tarleton, a community relations specialist at Hannaford. The Holiday Lights in the Park display runs through Jan. 2, 2012. -30-


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