The New Paltz Alumni Association (NPAA), whose board of directors convened for its quarterly meeting last week, has recently found itself with a bit of an image problem. Potential supporters seem to be confusing the not-for-profit group, in existence since 1951, with the folks at SUNY New Paltz who call up alumni on the phone asking for donations to their alma mater — and who have thrown in their lot with the controversial Wilmorite development proposal.
“At Elting Library Day, we got many negative comments,” related board president Chuck Lynch, a former IBMer who lives in LaGrangeville in Dutchess County. “We had many people coming up to us and saying, ‘Oh, you’re behind that Park Point project!’ But we have nothing to do with it. All of our funds go to alumni events and student scholarships.”
“The New Paltz Alumni Association is an independent organization, separate from the college, and does not have a position regarding the Park Point proposal,” Lynch elaborated. “We’re not supporting the college; we’re supporting the students.”
If you happen to be a SUNY New Paltz graduate, you are an NPAA member without even realizing it, even if you have never contributed a dime to the organization. In fact, anyone who has completed twelve credits at the college — a single semester — fits NPAA’s definition of an alumnus/alumna, and one of the 60,000 or so people whom it is committed to serve. There is no signup required, no membership card, no annual dues. If you get on the group’s mailing list — which is entirely voluntary; no lists are purchased — you will receive two gentle solicitation letters each year seeking donations to the organization’s various scholarship funds. Otherwise, it’s all about service.
“We do not call people,” Lynch said. “We do no fundraising at our events. When we’re at Mohonk, we think people should be able to enjoy the grounds at Mohonk.” This was in reference to NPAA’s annual Fall Awards Breakfast, this year scheduled for Saturday, September 12 at Mohonk Mountain House. For a price of $39 for adults and $25 for children aged 4 to 12, alumni and their families and guests can gather for a buffet breakfast in the East Dining Room and spend the rest of the morning enjoying the “full use of the grounds,” according to Lynch.
Coming up sooner is a group outing via Metro North to the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a two-hour Food Tastings walking tour that begins at the famous Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery and ends up in Chinatown, with numerous culinary and cultural stops in between, possibly including a scenic elevated stroll through HighLine Park. That expedition will occur on Sunday, April 26, with a cost of $15 per person not counting food and transportation. “We do the event specifically to reach out to New York City alumni,” said Lynch, adding that between 60 and 70 percent of SUNY New Paltz grads end up living in either Ulster, Orange or Dutchess County, although NPAA’s mailing list includes alumni in all 50 states.
Also in the fall, the Trinity Players theater troupe in Dutchess County puts on a play at the Cunneen-Hackett Cultural Center in Poughkeepsie, preceded by a vocal concert by the SUNY New Paltz Theatre Department and home-baked desserts, as a fundraiser for NPAA. This year the featured play will be a live production of The Rocky Horror Show. And twice a year the group organizes a “Friends and Family” bus trip to the Mohegan Sun casino that draws mostly non-alumni participation from the New Paltz and Poughkeepsie area.
All of the funds raised by these events and excursions, after expenses, go toward NPAA’s four scholarship funds, which this year will award a total of $4,000 to current SUNY New Paltz students, regardless of whether or not their parents are alumni. Sophomores and up may apply for a scholarship, and applications for the 2015/16 school year must be postmarked by April 10, according to board secretary Michael Reifmueller. “We want to give money away, and people don’t know about it,” he lamented.
NPAA also offers an array of services to its membership: access to “a complete package of medical and dental benefits through our partner CIR…a discount program through Nationwide for auto and home insurance,” a pet care program, financial services, a buying club called Buyer’s Edge and discounted tickets to theater, concerts and sporting events through Plum Benefits, according to Lynch. “We try to offer alumni services that are national, appealing and have value to them,” he said.
The organization manages to operate with very low overhead because it has no permanent home — board meetings are hosted by the Elting Memorial Library — and depends entirely on volunteer labor. A small annual grant from IBM covers the costs of printing, mailings, the website and membership software. And the convivial group of directors, some of whom live as far away as Albany, seem to relish the excuse to gather in their beloved old college town four times a year. But “fresh blood” is needed, they all agreed at last Saturday’s meeting. “We’re looking for more people to come on as the next generation,” Lynch said, “people who are skilled with social media and have a new perspective.”
Anyone wishing to find out more about NPAA and its services, be added to the mailing list, make a contribution, sign up for an excursion or apply for a scholarship can find out more by visiting the organization’s website at www.newpaltzalumniassociation.com. NPAA also announces upcoming events on its Facebook and LinkedIn pages.