River’s no barrier to ‘Hands’

Huge United Way fundraiser spans Rip Van Winkle Bridge Saturday

HUDSON–“Be a part of History!” says the United Way of Columbia & Greene Counties in the promotion for its upcoming event Hands Connecting Lives event.

This Saturday, September 17, 1,000 people will hold hands across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to join the two counties by a human chain. The spectacle, sponsored by the local United Way organization, will culminate when those gathered release helium-filled balloons — the biodegradable kind, of course.

“It’s taken on a life of its own. It’s the first time it’s ever been attempted to span the bridge with living people,” said United Way Executive Director Brad Poster.

Starting at 9:30 a.m., in return for a monetary donation of any amount, participants will receive a commemorative t-shirt printed by the Catskill company Mountain Tee Shirts. Donations of non-perishable foods, clothing, toys, personal care items, construction materials, and new and used tools, face masks, and work gloves for hurricane victims will be collected during the morning as well.

Participants will park at Columbia-Greene Community College just east of the bridge entrance and will be bused to nearby Cherry Ridge Fruit Farm for recreational activities, including African drum music by Operation Unite, before staging and being bussed to the bridge around 1 p.m. for the main event.

Mr. Poster learned firsthand how the organization can help families on the edge when, in August of 2005, he and his wife, Kathy Thibault, fled their New Orleans home. They drove their camper to Galveston, TX, and then to their son’s house in Hudson, where they took up residence in his driveway. They soon received donations of household items and money from the United Way and eventually resettled in Coxsackie. Both have since volunteered for and served on the organization’s board of directors.

“Every day you live your life, you are groomed for what you will do,” said Mr. Poster.

Since last December, when he first conceived of the idea of uniting a thousand people on the bridge, he has been working with the state Bridge Authority, the State Police, the Sheriff’s Office and other organizations to make it happen.

Sponsors include MHCable, Mountain Tee Shirts, Time & Space Limited, Scott Alarm Systems, Cantele Tent Rentals, Hannaford, Cherry Ridge Farms, The Cat 98.5 FM, Sundog Solar, The Big Top Tent Rentals, the state Bridge Authority, and several local bus companies, but more are joining as the event approaches.

“I started fund raising events to gel the board of directors. We now have 10 times more people at a fundraiser than we ever had before,” said Mr. Poster, who has run a successful catfish derby and golf tournament, but had a motorcycle tour rained out on three different dates this summer.

He said that Hands Connecting Lives started out as an effort to raise funds to help struggling families  in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day but morphed into an effort to help those most affected by Hurricane Irene.

The volunteer organization focuses on services for children and youth, families, neighborhoods and seniors in Columbia and Greene counties.

For more information about Hands Connecting Lives go to www.uwcg.org or call 518 828-4200.

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