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Chaplaincy internship opens eyes

Imagine interning. Some of you might flash back to the useless days fetching coffee or hours full of boredom spent in a cubicle, but that just simply means you’ve never worked at the Race Track Chaplaincy of America-New York Division.

Although the chaplaincy does have an office, chances are if you stop by no one will be there or they’ll be on their way out to go organize their next big event. When I was told to describe my experiences and roles as a volunteer for the chaplaincy, I knew it was going to be a huge challenge. The best way to describe what the chaplaincy does can be summed up in one word: everything.

Chaplain Humberto Chavez and Program Director Nick Caras truly have the broadest jobs imaginable. It seems superficial to label them with a simple job description, because they have to play with the cards they are given. Every day new tasks and challenges arise.

Behind the scenes there are even more people helping out, such as Chaplain Humberto’s wife, Karen, who plays a huge role in organizing programs for the children and is definitely the most organized person in the office. When I ask Nick how he would describe his daily job he answered, “When people ask me what I do, I’m out of words.”

The only true way to understand is to follow them around one morning. Since most don’t have that luxury, I’m going to give it my best shot and try to explain to you how the chaplaincy impacts the lives of those that we tend to forget. The only definite mission of their job is the goal, which is to serve the people of the backstretch community and insure them a better quality of life.

Volunteering with the chaplaincy has truly showed me a side of the industry most people overlook. For example, July comes around and everyone packs up for Saratoga, all excited about the parties, the races, Mrs. London’s croissants, and the racetrack’s 150th celebration. However, we tend to forget the people we don’t see walking around in the paddock all dressed up. Out of sight out of mind? Before working for the chaplaincy, I never realized how many people would have to leave their families in Belmont in order to financially support them.

These are the types of situations that the chaplaincy tries to smooth out. They’ve set up a bus program funded by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association that runs four times throughout the meet that reunites families for the day between Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct. Although we tend to forget the racetracks that aren’t in full vibrant swing, there are still plenty of people living there that the chaplaincy still supports. Not only are they in charge of organizing events for Saratoga, but also for the two other New York racetracks throughout the year, which is only possible with the support of their loyal volunteers.

It’s through my direct experience that I’ve gained a huge admiration for the chaplaincy and all the work involved.

I vividly remember a small little girl named Shalla, whose smile took up half her face the second she stepped off the four-hour bus ride from Belmont to Saratoga. Before even looking for her own father, she ran straight into Chaplain Humberto’s arms. That’s when I understood how much he means to all these families. Sadly, I have a lingering image in my head of the same little girl later that evening, trying to hold onto her father’s shirt and screaming as she was forced back onto the bus, having to be temporarily separated, yet again. It’s these constant interactions with the backstretch families that truly opened my eyes.

On my first day in the office volunteering, Chaplain Humberto told me this year I was going to help be in charge of the annual charity basketball game between the horsemen and the jockeys, which raises funds so that the chaplaincy can start more programs needed for the backstretch community.

The one thing I want people to remember is that the chaplaincy does everything, and so do the people working for it. Helping out has certainly been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, but definitely no easy task. Every single day, they organize events for the backstretch workers, from water park trips, to holiday dinners or a day on the lake. On top of that, they are there to help set up plane tickets back home, soccer games, basketball leagues, summer enrichment programs for the children, food drives and back-to-school programs to help get supplies before their first day.

The chaplaincy has no specific way of improving lives. It just implements programs that will benefit the most.

I’ve had the privilege of interning in the past in New York City. Typically those positions involved walking into the office and knowing what was expected through a clearly defined role.

Every morning walking into the chaplaincy is quite different. I had no idea what was going to be thrown at us and it was never a boring day.

Nick and Humberto are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to serve those of the community. They don’t do it for any sort of recognition, they just purely do it for the joy of achieving the chaplaincy mission, which is to improve the lives of those around them. That is truly a noble cause.

Charlotte Clement, daughter of New York-based trainer Christophe Clement, volunteered as a summer intern with the RTCA-New York Division.

Read more about the RTCA.

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