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Yoga and fitness in the neighborhood

May 21, 2012

by Marlee Wood

Another yoga class  at the Pine Hills Library takes place tonight as part of a program that has helped turn the idea of a local reading room into a whole lot more. The class kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

Just last fall the Pine Hills library opened its large meeting room to the public and began offering weekly recreational activities. Those involved with organizing these activities at the library believe that by providing a new free of cost alternative for recreation any time of year, they can attract many visitors to the library that may not have come otherwise.
“We’re sharing the recreational fun for everyone,” said Julia Pinto-Martin, a librarian at the Pine Hills library.

Cassandra Carter teaching Zumba workouts at The Pine Hills Library/Marlee Wood

Instructors at the library are hired to run individual four week classes including a Latin  Zumba dance workout to yoga for the entire family. On average, some 25 and 30 folks participate weekly. Last month, the most popular activity feature at the library was Zumba which drew up to 35 people each week. Participants came to the library to train with Zumba instructor Cassandra Carter in the large meeting room from 6:30 to 7:30 every Monday night.

“I am concerned about the health of minority populations, they seem to be disproportionately represented in health outcomes.” said Carter. “Recreation is very important to those in the city and having programs that are free of cost is helpful because money is always a problem.”

An avid Zumba goer, Anzala Alozie said Zumba is a great experience. Alozie took Carter’s classesso she could become a certified instructor.

“I got involved because I want to offer classes to Muslim women, other women of faith in the capital district who may not feel comfortable taking Zumba classes at a gym or public facility open to both men and women,” said Alozie.

Choices abound for neighborhood residents to get active both indoors and outdoors.

Ridgefield Park/Marlee Wood

There are five parks situated inside the Pine Hills boundaries. The two major parks in the neighborhood are Ridgefield Park on the corner of 316 Partridge, W. Lawrence, and Ridgefield Street and Woodlawn Park on Woodlawn Avenue and Partridge Street. While Ridgefield consists of the Albany tennis club courts, two baseball fields, a soccer field, a playground for the children, and a unique water play area, Woodlawn includes the National Little League fields, the Ray Engel Tee-Ball field, the Babe Ruth fields, the Ridgefield basketball court, and a tiny playground. Another well-known park is the Pine Hills Park at VI located on Madison Avenue, which has become a popular park for basketball players.
Just 1.04 miles south of the library, the Playdium Bowling Alley has developed a number of followings.

A lane at Playdium set up for blind bowlers/Marlee Wood

“Bowling is the number one participation sport and it is not limited to a certain few people, anyone can go out and go bowling. You need places like this within the city. It’s a nice family participation activity,” said owner Neil Luther.
Playdium even caters to a blind bowling league, The Capital District Blind Bowlers. Every Thursday for about eight months the bowlers spend afternoons on the lanes.
“Places for recreation like Playdium are absolutely important to those living in the city, especially for people with various disabilities. It’s important to find opportunities like this. It is definitely important for kids in an urban area as well to find as many outlets for recreation as possible,” said Joe Laramie, a member of the blind bowling league.
The Albany Police Athletic League, which is headquartered in Pine Hills often sponsors bowling for children at Playdium through one if its many recreational programs. The league after school program was created in 2003 and has succeeded in bringing kids and cops in the community together in non-law enforcement settings through various social and recreational activities. The program was designed to help build relationships, promote self-respect, discipline, character and teamwork. During the 2011-2012 year,  PAL employees worked with some 2,500 children in Albany’s private, public, parochial and charter schools.
“Our primary program hours of 3 to 7 targets youth when they are most apt to engage in risky behavior or become victims of crime or commit crime primarily due to lack of supervision,” said Lenny Ricchiuti, a retired Albany police officer who is now in charge of Albany PAL. “Especially in tough economic times there is a segment of our society where kids would be left to the streets or hanging out unsupervised at home.”

Saint Vincent’s Community center, location for Albany PAL/Marlee Wood

Currently, gym renovations are still underway after the leak in 2010 that caused many of the St. Vincent’s Community Center PAL programs to re-locate. Only three after school or evening programs are still ongoing at the center, but kids involved in the league programs use the Pine Hills Park at VI while PAL continues working in a three phase process to complete the $250,000 in improvements to the community center. Renovations are scheduled to be finished by Columbus Day.
“It’s no secret that childhood obesity is at epidemic proportion, the news media reports daily on the varying reports of inactivity and weight and how that effects the health of our youth,” said Ricchiuti. “Programs such as PAL have an opportunity to reach youth with fun, entertaining and healthy activities that can carry through for years to come.”
About one in three children ages 2-19 are overweight and obese, and have a 70% chance of becoming overweight adults, according  2012 statistics released by the American Heart Association.
At The College of Saint Rose, in the heart of the Pine Hills, the athletic center houses a number of opportunities for fitness. First opened in 1981 the events and activities center is a hub for athletes.

Clip from an August 31st 1981 Saint Rose Newspaper about recreation at CSR

On the other side of town at the Sidnye Albert Jewish Community Center on Whitehall Road pickle ball is making a comeback. Yoga classes can be found there, and at  the Women’s Club of Albany on Thursday nights and Heartspace Yoga and Healing Arts.
With two major  schools in the neighborhood, the district is also  contributing to the fitness movement in the neighborhood.
“Aside from sports, the City School District of Albany offers various sports as intramurals, fitness rooms daily, and 220 minutes of physical education every two weeks,” said Kathleen Ryan, director of health, PE, and athletics for the Albany City School District. “For our district-939 students participated in individual and team sports during the 2010-11 school year.”

Woodlawn Playground/Marlee Wood

Artell Eastman, who teaches physical education at Pine Hills Elementary,  cannot stress enough to his students the importance of physical fitness. He teaches a variety of games, exercises and activities that can be done at all ages, anytime and anywhere.
“I do believe our youth is less active today…they have a million video games that most would prefer to play rather than being active or playing sports which is sad to me…it is an uphill battle to keep children active, but it is a battle that I will continue to fight and succeed at,” said Eastman.
He is also the strength and conditioning coach for the football program at Albany High.
“I see many former students continue to be involved in sports which makes me very happy…I am not only glad they are playing but also enjoying being involved in athletics,” said Eastman.
Rickardo Smith, a high school coach, trains 55 women’s track and field runners.
“With a disciplined mind and body nothing out of the ordinary will happen and students will have something to work towards.” said Smith. “You’ve got to do something with your life or you will end up becoming nothing but an empty barrel.”
Participating on Smith’s team has changed Natasia Brown’s life.
“Staying active provides people with a positive mind, body, and attitude. It keeps people focused so that they can stay on track with what they want to do in life,” said Brown. “Having track in my life has motivated me to believe that I can do anything I want to.”

The Pine Hills Park at VI/Marlee Wood

David Abraham, a 19-year-old Albany High graduate and counselor at Albany PAL, also knows that participating in recreation is crucial to those in the neighborhood. Abraham has been playing basketball every afternoon at the Pine Hills Park at VI since the day he could walk.

“Getting involved in recreational activities is important because it improves self-esteem and helps to build up character,” said Abraham.
For Coach Eastman, the benefits are obvious:
“I think it goes without saying that staying active is extremely important for all ages.”

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