Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Albuquerque’s Assistance League Supports Senior Artisans

Yet the League’s Numerous Community Programs Benefit Young and Old


Albuquerque’s 28th Chapter of National Assistance League, a 501(c)(3) organization, was started in 1959 by 23 members. Their 60-year history is packed full of philanthropic service to Albuquerque and the communities around it. Today, it is run and managed by over 300 member volunteers that raise all their own funding. There are no paid staff members.

The League’s list of services and business ventures is extensive. The Paper. spoke with Sally Ruscitti, about the League’s shops, various services and support they provide to improve life’s circumstances for many local people. Ruscitti has been the Chairwoman of the League’s Blue Portal store at 2107 Church St NW in Old Town since 2014.

In 1978, the Assistance League and then-Mayor of Albuquerque, David Rusk, noticed that there were a lot of programs for children but the aging were being forgotten and left behind, Rucitti told The Paper. Their families had moved away, spouses had died, they’d gotten sick. They needed some kind of program that gave them a sense of value.

At first, they didn't know if the idea would work, so the League covered the startup costs. “They didn’t apply for grants because it was such an oddball kind of a thing to start,” Ruscitti said. “They were fairly sure nobody would be able to figure out what they were going to do.”

The Assistance League bought and renovated a building in Old Town as a venue for seniors to sell the artistic things they made and The Blue Portal store had a home. To date, their “oddball” idea has returned more than $3 million to the senior artist population of Albuquerque.

To sell your arts and crafts at The Blue Portal, you have to be 55 or older, have access to email and be a New Mexico resident. They have served over 6,000 seniors to date. Currently, about 400 New Mexicans sell their creations at the store.

“When we first started it, there were women - it's hard for us to imagine it now in this day and age - that had never received a check in their own name,” Ruscitti said. Many seniors framed their first check. “It’s absolutely amazing to watch them bloom and develop a new cadre of friends.”

Those who make art to sell receive 100% of the price. “In the first year coming out of COVID, we were able to return slightly over a quarter million dollars to that population. Those of us that volunteer kept it open like a speakeasy. People would buy their things online and we would run out with the sack like the grocery store.” There is no tax on any item purchased because it's a philanthropic program that doesn’t make money.

The League also operates a Thrift Shop at 5211 Lomas NE, completely stocked with community donations. “We received a really fun donation from Better Call Saul when they left town of a bunch of costumes, " Ruscitti said.

Behind the scenes of the store is a cadre of older women who sort through, iron, sew on buttons and fix things so that fresh inventory consistently can be put out for sale. The League also operates the Shop on the Corner next door to the Thrift Shop. The Corner is more of a slightly upscale shop and offers designer labels and furniture at low prices.

Community Support Programs Provided

The Albuquerque Chapter of National Assistance League also has several community programs they offer that benefit both adults and children.

The League has paired with KRQE for “Shoes for Kids” through Operation School Bell. The national program helps underserved school populations all over the country. “The National League Assistance organization, trying to keep up with modern changes, has led chapters to kind of define their adaptation of Operation School Bell,” Ruscitti explained.

“Since they started in 2014, we have given out over 50,000 pairs of shoes to Title One [unhoused] kids,” Ruscitti said. They measure the kids' feet and when they get their shoes, they also get a healthy snack, and dental equipment from Delta Dental. “The kids also get to choose a schoolbook that draws their attention to take home. It makes a big difference for these kids. Some of them never have had a new anything,” Ruscitti said.

In the Kids are Pretty Special program the League works closely with UNM Hospital. “These are children of assault victims, family problems and so forth. We spend time with them reading, or taking a walk, or show them how to use cleaning items like toothbrushes, or how to use a body cleanser. They’re simple things, but if you've never been around anybody, those things sort of fall between the cracks,” Ruscitti said.

Through the League’s Hungry and Homeless program for the indigent homeless population, they work with Silver Horizons. “We help provide food and sanitary items; the things that they need for the people that go out and interact with people on the street,” Ruscitti said.

The League provides Assault Survivor Kits for people that come out of the Rape Crisis Center. “We give them a brand-new complete change of clothes, the hygiene items they will need, and a small amount of money to get food so that they can leave everything associated with the assault with the police or the hospital. They don't have to look at their garments associated with the incident again,” Ruscitti said.

The League offers a Scholarship Program to CNM for technical trades that are needed in the area. The requirements include maintaining good grades and sound recommendations. “It is our newest program. They have to complete the course within a two-and-a-half-year block. But if they needed more, there is no reason they can't apply,” Ruscitti said.

The Buddy bears, in the Buddy Bear Patrol Program, “are adorable little stuffed bears that have an Assistance League t-shirt on,” Ruscitti explained. “The police and fire departments give them to children in these terrible distressing situations where there's a fire, or somebody has been shot, to give them something to hold on to and kind of have some lovies.”

The League is constantly looking for new volunteers. “Because we have such a diversity of offerings, people generally can find something that really floats their boat,” Ruscitti.said.

For more information on their volunteer program contact the League at info@assistanceleagueabq.org or call 505.265.0619. 




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