SAGE Upstate History
In February and April, community leaders gathered providers of aging services and the GLBT community to ask whether CNY needed an organization devoted to serving older GLBT People. The answer was yes, in fact, the leading concern in those first meetings was, “Who will take care of me when I am older?” In that elders in the GLBT community are less likely to have biological family to or children to rely on, and less likely to reach out to services they may need for fear of discrimination, SAGE Upstate set out to create a community of support. In May, the first SAGE Upstate 2nd Sunday Potluck was held.
1998 - 2000
The new organization offered a variety of programs in a safe space, and Marilyn Pinsky, County Commissioner of Aging, wrote a series about GLBT aging in the local news. SAGE started a phone line in 1999, housed in the Women’s Info Center. Leaders worked with the County Department of Aging to offer a workshop on GLBT Aging issues for providers, the first of its kind in our area. In 2000, SAGE hosted the “Village Elders” photo exhibit on LGBT elders in NYC.
2001 - 2002
In 2001, SAGE became an official “not for profit” organization. Coy Ludwig and Dan Smith were given the Community Service Award from the County Department of Aging. With support from the local Office of Aging, the organization commissioned Amy Bartell to create a poster and held a reading of the play, Visiting Mr. Green. Organization leaders joined the NYS LGBT Health and Human Services Network, and through advocacy with this coalition applied for (and recieved) a grant to open an office and hire staff.
2003 - 2005: Catherine Street Office
In 2003, SAGE Upstate transitioned from an all-volunteer establishment to an organization with a staff and offices. Space was rented from the Living Room, an AIDS service organization run by Liberty Resources. In October, Kim Dill was hired as Executive Director. In 2004, a needs assessment was conducted, and findings were presented at the SAGE National conference. The new Community Resource Room hosted socials, dance classes, and health presentations. SAGE began outreach to isolated seniors with the Friendly Visitor Program. Yoga classes, support groups, dances and a pancake breakfast (served up by Sparky Mortimer) were held, and SAGE friends gathered for socials. SAGE was outgrowing office space at the same time leaders found that their current space was no longer available. A search for space began.
2006 - 2010: First English Lutheran Church
SAGE moved into a small office in the First English Lutheran Church while looking for space elsewhere. By the end of the year, with a drop in center and a few more offices, First English became SAGE's permanent home. The grand opening welcomed 150, and 200 gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary in 2007. Oranization leaders begin to address the issue of outreach to under-represented groups. Race dialogue circles were held and the Uzuri group for GLBT People of Color was etablished. The Friendly Visitor program transitioned to become the Buddy Network for visits, cards, and calls. Programs were developed in counties outside of Onondaga. Groups and programs established included a knitting group, HERS for Women, Men’s Empowerment, 60+, Trans socials, classes on dance, falls prevention, nutrition, and healthy aging. The Art of Aging program offered photography, pastel painting and writing classes capped off with an exhibit at ArtRage. With all of these programs, SAGE members came together to build friendships and support networks, countering the isolation many felt. SAGE had floats in the CNY Pride Parade three years running -- one focused on aging athletes, one celebrating marriage equality (complete with 2 brides and 2 grooms), and a third focusing on GLBT history.
Increased funding fom the Department of Health and grants from the local Department of Aging, the Gifford Foundation, and the Community Foundation allowed SAGE to expand staff and offer more health programs. First, Tony Fonehouse became Office Assistant, then in the summer of 2007 as programs grew, Ron Baldwin and Marilyn Austin coordinated programs part time. Carrie Elliott was hired as the first full time Program Coordinator that Fall. Michael Fernandez, Karen Hall and Joe Moore would later fill the position. Barbara Johnson came on as Office Manager in 2009.
2010 - 2012: Another Move
Toward the end of its time at First English SAGE had groups meeting in other counties, and was working to coordinate LGBT seniors across NY. SAGE worked with other organizations around the state to hold an LGBT senior issues summit in Albany. SAGE also had a role in ensuring that services to older GLBT people were tracked by Area Agencies on Aging across the state. Back home in CNY, the organization was outgrowing its space. By 2010, another SAGE Upstate board chair was honored by the Department of Aging -- Barb Genton received the Senior of the Year Award in 2010. The next year, Barb served as chair leading the board as SAGE was chosen by the Gifford Foundation to participate in the ADVANS program on non-profit development. The initiative helped Barb and the board plan the move and identify new space in the CNY Philanthropy Center.
2012 - present: CNY Philanthropy Center
SAGE Upstate moved to its current location in the CNY Philanthropy Center in 2012, with more space, computer stations, and meeting rooms. Hannah Radliff-Hoy moved into the Program Coordinator until July 2018. Brennen Dooley served as intern, and now works part time in the Center and coordinating potlucks in counties outside of Syracuse.
SAGE Shares was established to pick up where the Buddy Network left off in outreach to isolated seniors, and to start an annual memorial for members who have died, and dedicated a quilt bearing their names. Since 2012, SAGE has educated providers on GLBT aging in 5 counties, and has offered classes on oil painting, yoga, bereavement, caregiving, and tai-chi. Potlucks are now being held monthly in Cortland, Syracuse, Oswego and Utica. Another needs assessment conducted in 2014 showed, among other things, concerns about food insecurity. A food pantry was established, which now includes pet food.
In terms of Community Events, SAGE has offered an annual Halloween Dance every year since its inception. Other dances, chili cook-offs, and other fundraisers have been held as well. In 2013, SAGE established an annual Community Dinner, held each Fall and now in its 6th year.