'Twenty-five Years a Growing' would be a very suitable title for an opus chronicling the phenomenal growth of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, with Catherine Flood as the chief narrator.
A quarter of a century ago, the Aisling Center was established as an outreach facility on McLean Avenue in a rented building. It immediately became an oasis of help, hope, and hospitability, especially for the victims of vicissitudes and vagaries along life’s journey.
Since then, its growth has been phenomenal as its variety of programs and services has expanded to cover many facets of life’s journey from the cradle to the grave. The tentacles of the outreach program have penetrated far into Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, and Rockland, and naturally, it has a very prominent presence along the Emerald Mile in the heartland of hilly Yonkers.
Indicative of that sustained growth was the fact that the Aisling Center was strong enough a few years ago to purchase its building, thus ensuring that the center had permanent roots and a secure home on McLean Avenue. That was a major achievement, but the Aisling leadership was not content to rest on its laurels.
Since then, the building has been expanded, completely remodeled from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. It’s an awesome transformation, and now the center, in its state-of-the-art building, can continue to service its ever-increasing clientele.
Of course, this didn’t happen by chance but came about with great leadership and vision especially from Executive Director Sandra Feeney Charles, Board Chair Caitriona Clarke, Chief Funding and Development Officer Sean James, and John Cassels, the general contractor. They were greatly assisted by a committed Board of Directors and a generous group of contractors who donated much labor and materials to the building. It certainly was a building built by the community for the community.
Given the phenomenal success of the Aisling Center, there are many reasons to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Such a historic and auspicious event required a top-of-the-line party planner, and Catherine Flood was the obvious choice. Catherine has been with the center from the beginning, holding all the major offices as well as designing and promoting several principal and novel programs. She has been ubiquitous with the Aisling Center, prompting one observer to note, “There has to be at least three of her.”
For the Aisling Center’s 25th anniversary, she got together with Seamus Keane, a guru in fitness and health from Clann Health, and kicked off the “6 Weeks to 6K” program. Basically, it’s a potpourri of fun, fitness, and movement-related activities carried out over six weeks culminating with a 6K, a run/walk event.
Shelly Hackett and Zach Corish (Manhattan), Cha Connaughton and Siobhan McEntee (Queens), Niall McKenna and Orla Kirby (Rockland), Johnny Glynn and Michelle Doherty (Bronx/Yonkers) are the program ambassadors for these areas.
Over 1,500 have so far signed up to be part of the final party bashes which take place over two weekends. Last weekend were two 6k fun/walk races in Manhattan’s Central Park and Juniper Valley Park in Queens.
This weekend, the Rockland folks take off from the GAA Center at 9 a.m., and the Bronx/Yonkers brigade starts at 9 a.m. on McLean Avenue on Sunday, October 31 for the final leg of the party.
I hope to see many of you at the starting lines and of course better still at the finish lines. I have been told this is not a competitive event, but I can’t quell the runner’s instinct in me.
So here’s the deal: If you are of similar vintage, about threescore and 10, and get to the finish line before me, either by hook or crook, I’ll treat you to a good Irish traditional breakfast at Eileen’s Country Kitchen.
Of course, I’m always mindful of what my distant cousin Tom said. “You know the lad that’s fairly handy at throwing a football, ‘If you ain’t cheating a bit, you ain’t trying.’”
On Friday night, there was a function in the Aisling Center. It’s nearly ready to open once the furniture gets there, for the dual purpose to acknowledge the very generous sponsors of the big party for the 25th celebration, and also as a pep rally for the upcoming grand finales of the 6 Weeks to 6K program. It was very gratifying to hear what the Aisling Center meant to a few people that I spoke with.
Johnny Glynn, a current Aisling ambassador, an all-medalist with Galway, a dual star with Big Apple hurling and football teams, as well as assisting several teams, said, “Well, they got me my first apartment and they got my girlfriend Serena her first job.” Glad to report Johnny and Serena are scheduled to soon go down the aisle.
Breda Carroll, one of the founders of the very successful Team Aisling, opined that it is the heartbeat of the community, there for everybody, and a great social outlet for many vulnerable people in our society.
Courtney Traynor, another New York star athlete, spoke about how deeply her late father Phil was committed to the Aisling Center. No truer words were spoken, as the great Gael had donated the flooring to the Aisling Center before his untimely death. Courtney said that she and her family were honored to be associated with such a wonderful institution.
Seamus Keane of Clann Health, one of the main movers and shakers behind the 25th celebrations, said it was astonishing what can be achieved when you get a hard-working group of people committed to a common goal. The Aisling Center is a powerful testimony of that sentiment.
At this stage, the 25th anniversary of the Aisling Center looks destined to be the mother of all parties – could you expect anything less with Catherine Flood in charge?
As I said a few times over the years in my time involved with Catherine in the Aisling Center, you never have to light a fire under her, but you might need a wee hose to cool her down a bit once in a while.
Thanks to Catherine’s promotional efforts, donations have been flowing in for the big bash. Those donors were fittingly displayed on a massive banner in the center on Friday, which sparked another novel idea in her head. She quipped that she’d love to curl up with all the donors in a Christmas blanket. A titillating thought, but her husband Dermot might have something to say about such risqué behavior.
Anyway, this is a party not to be missed. You have four opportunities. And even if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your couch, you can help the Aisling Center continue its great work with a traditional birthday card and something in it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a relative latecomer or perhaps a blow-in to the Aisling Center, and currently secretary of the Board of Directors. Congrats to the Aisling Center on its silver jubilee, and wishing many more successful years to this wonderful community organization. It definitely is an organization “built by the community for the community.”
For more information, visit www.aislingcenter.org.
*This column first appeared in the October 27 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.