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Young activist sways the vote

November 5, 2013

by Santanya Sharpe

This Election Day – today – the polls in the city of Albany may be just a little busier thanks to the hard work of one Pine Hills resident who rallied residents to register to vote. It’s time for the energy Alero Opuogen invested this summer at voter registration drives to pay off.

Opuogen, 23 and a a recent state university graduate, also worked many hours helping a candidate outside her own ward.  Opuogen estimates she single-handedly enrolled as many as 50 voters for this year’s election.

Dedicated to helping the community in both her professional life and spare time, Opuogen works as a patient care technician at Saint Peter’s Hospital and volunteered on the campaign for Democratic candidate Dorcey Applyrs. Opuogen said  that while she lives in Albany she wants to stay involved.

“I have always known the importance of contributing to the community, and while I am out here, I will make it my personal mission to increase the quality of life in any way I can,” Opuogen said.

Opuogen found the Applyrs campaign appealing back in May. Applyrs was conducting a seminar about women in workplace leadership positions with, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and another organization at the state university campus. During her panel, Applyrs announced her candidacy for Common Council in the first ward. Applyrs said Opuogen was “an active participant in the program”  and expressed an interest as a campaign volunteer. Opuogen related to Applyrs’ address and joined the campaign. As a volunteer, Opuogen encouraged people to register and vote in the November election at events including the African-American Family Day, Latin Fest, and even a local basketball tournament.

“Alero is a dynamic kind of woman. She always follows through with what she says she is going to do and has a way of getting other people excited about what we are doing in getting people registered to vote,” Applyrs said. Opuogen has helped so much that candidate Applyrs herself offered her the opportunity to become project coordinator for her Project Democracy initiative.

“Alero managed to stand out as a woman of leadership because of her dedication. She always shows up promptly, and she is also someone the community members took a liking to; they knew her name by the end of summer,” Applyrs said.

“Alero was responsible for obtaining the most signatures, and even set a personal goal of getting a specific amount of signatures,” Applyrs said. “She is very passionate in community advocacy and always talked about being actively involved.”  It was actually because of Opuogen’s dedication and commitment that she attained an interesting nickname while campaigning.

“I gave some of the women nicknames while campaigning, and Alero’s became Sister Souljah,” Applyrs said.  “She is down for the cause and dedicated. Alero fights for the cause at all cost.”

One of the many moments Opuogen enjoyed was when an experienced politician credited Applyrs for running a model campaign because it was headed by women, which eventually led to the a new slogan -” cmapaign like a girl.” Another key experience for Opuogen was working on the mayoral campaign for Kathy Sheehan.

“I learned a lot about politics I never knew before such as the process to even be considered on a ballot, legal stipulations and even how ruthless people can be when they want to win,” Opuogen said. “I also want more people to be more involved with the democratic process and want to accomplish overall increase in community participation with democracy”.

Opuogen’s community involvement can be traced back to her days as a University at Albany student.

Opuogen gears up to register more people to vote in the upcoming general election. (Credit – Santanya Sharpe)

Opuogen gears up to register more people to vote in the upcoming general election.
(Credit – Santanya Sharpe)

“Someone wise told me in high school that grades would only get me so far and that college was about making connections and building up networks,” Opuogen said.  She chose the University at Albany  because it was close to home and it was a good value financially.  When she enrolled in the fall of 2008, she  joined the Albany State University Black Alliance, spent all four years on campus and joined e-board positions with the Alliance, the NAACP, and the Student Association. Her  senior year she was elected president of A.S.U.B.A.

“Even though Alero was involved with three organizations, she still made it a point to attend events and programs hosted by other organizations and always, always showed support,” said  Kevin Geneus, close friend, colleague and current roommate of Opuogen. “Whether it was to help set up for a fashion show or contribute to a panel discussion, she was there.” Geneus, who was also involved in the UAlbany community, was given a nickname in conjunction with Opuogen and their constant engagement.

“In the fall of 2011, I believe, one of our friends jokingly named us Mr. and Mrs. UA because we were always running around doing stuff for different orgs on campus and would always be seen being active at events, so the names stuck.”

Even after graduating in May of 2012, the UAlbany alumna stayed in Albany for various reasons, including her comfort level with the area and wanting to remain involved with the community. After moving around a bit, Opuogen eventually settled in the Pine Hills neighborhood on South Main Avenue and started working as a patient care technician at St. Peter’s Hospital. Her duties include taking vital signs, helping patients walk, checking blood glucose and recording activities of daily living, among many others. She likes helping patients who are in pain after orthopedic surgery.

“I usually try to talking to patients and start conversations with them about their surgery or where they are from, etc. I once had a patient’s daughter ask me to keep her mother company outside of work hours because the patient enjoyed my company. Patients also offer me recommendations because I plan on continuing my education,” Opuogen said.

Opuogen works Mondays through Fridays from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and she is grateful for her 15 minute commute. Her day doesn’t end when she returns from work though.

“When she gets home from work, she doesn’t even go straight to sleep,” Geneus said. “Either she will stay up and chat with me about our day and what she plans on doing or starts to work on other things she has going on like the local Democratic campaign.”

Opuogen hopes to attend nursing school at either Long Island University or Hunter College in order to eventually work as a health care administrator.

“Working in a hospital I realized that healthcare is more of a business than patient need and I want to help change that,” Opuogen said. “I feel like certain things in health care people shouldn’t have to pay for. It’s a person’s right to have their vital signs checked as opposed to making them pay hundreds of dollars, and I want to bring attention to that.”

In the mean time, Opuogen plans on staying at St. Peter’s Hospital as well as helping candidate Applyrs implement her ideas for the first ward.

“We have gone from strangers to acquaintances to colleagues. Alero is a woman I personally admire and respect,” Applyrs said.

Opuogen hopes to make something for her future, and aspires to help others in the process.

“As a friend and roommate, I truly know that the world can only expect great things from Alero,” Geneus said. “Her drive and passion are relentless, and something to be admired”.-30-


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