News

A GEM OF A GYM

...The complete article continued from Changing Lives Fall 2015

CNY Storm is a cheerleading gym that originated in Syracuse and was the first All Star program in New York State. The local Albany site is owned by Laura Ash. The programs offer a wide variety of teams to meet all age and skill levels. The gym offers community service activities, academic rewards, and encourages skill development in other areas through their ‘Powerful Words Character Development’ Curriculum.  

In Albany, there is also a team for individuals with disabilities or other needs that would prevent them from participating in one of the other teams, known as the Rainbows. This team accommodates all skills and abilities, seeking to allow anyone who wishes to participate the opportunity to do so. Each athlete is paired with a “buddy” who assists them as needed with their cheerleading routines.  The team performs at local competitions and athletes also travel to competitions as well.  There is no fee for the athletes who participate on this team. Uniforms are given yearly and fundraisers are held to ensure that everyone can participate.  Their kickoff for the year is in November at Herkimer Community College and their practice season begins in November. There is no age limit, no gender limitations, and no athletes are turned away.

Melissa Cocco began to volunteer with the Rainbows cheerleading team when her daughter Alexis Terenzini, who cheers on a National Team, began coaching the team. Melissa’s son, and Alexis’ brother, is diagnosed with Autism and both were drawn to the Rainbows by their passion for cheering and their desire to help others share in this sport. Melissa volunteers as a Rainbows “buddy”, and works side by side with Lucy* a cheerleader on the Rainbows team, helping her with her routine however she is needed. Melissa and her Lucy have formed a close friendship by working together as buddies on the Rainbows team for two years in a row. Lucy had previously entered a dance program where she had been dismissed by the teacher and told that she was “too big” and it would be “too hard” for her. Since she has become part of Rainbows team Melissa has watched her confidence and self-esteem blossom, and she has been encouraged to watch as Lucy builds healthy relationships with other teammates. “It is very emotional to watch how hard these athletes work; to see how proud they are when they get on the mat” Melissa says. 

For Alexis, coaching for Rainbows has offered her a chance to learn about more than just cheerleading.  She has developed compassion, empathy, and understanding of disabilities beyond her brother’s needs. Melissa notices that she has more patience and stands up for others often.  Alexis will graduate from high school this year and will be competing in Virginia Beach and in Texas with CNY this season. She plans to continue cheering and coaching for Rainbows.

Stephanie Hamelink, another member of the Rainbows cheerleading team has been cheering with Rainbows for almost 8 years. Rainbows was one of the first community activities Stephanie had an interest in, and it has become an integral part of her life.  It has also had a meaningful impact on her father Craig Hamelink.   “I can tell you that I’m a 40 year old grown man and haven’t cried for the majority of the last 20 years aside from every time she takes the stage for these cheerleading events”, Craig says. Aside from participating locally with the team, Stephanie and her family often travel to competitions and will head to Syracuse this fall.  The family participates in fundraising activities for the team and enjoys the comradery and support Rainbows and CNY offers.

The CNY Storm gym is located on Railroad Ave. in Albany. They are always looking for more adult volunteers and it is not too late for athletes to join. Please contact Laura Ash at (518) 489-3625 with any questions about signing up.

Our agency is so grateful for organizations like the CNY Storm gym, and the powerful impact they have on our community.  We are thrilled to have the opportunity to watch many individuals we support grow and flourish as part of the Rainbows team.

*The name of the individual has been changed to protect privacy.

By Kathleen Pivacek, Senior Medicaid Service Coordinator