By INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA- In 1980, the Niskayuna Community Action Program was founded after a report on the mental health needs of the Niskayuna school district was gathered in the community. Since that year, NCAP (as it is more often referred to) has put together many programs with the intent to encourage healthy living within the school district.
One of the first and foremost needs that NCAP identified was the need for a unifying culture or identity within Niskayuna. Thus, members of NCAP came up with the idea for setting aside a day to celebrate the town.
“There were some very unfortunate tragedies in the Community, and it was decided that there needed to be a positive way to bring people together to promote a sense of community so the first Niska-Day was planned in 1982 by Frank Taormina, Al Loffredo, Lissa Male, Dan Tearno, Liz Kiffney and I believe Bob Winchester…and the tradition began,” said Joan Rockwell, long time Niska-Day committee member and volunteer.
For the first celebration, there wasn’t a specified theme, that idea came later. The organizers took what other communities held for a memorial day celebration and tried to translate those ideas into events that would most resonate with the Niskayuna community.
Since then, the Niska-Day committee has come up with a theme each year, keeping with the founding ideal that the event should be all about celebrating the town and the community.
“It helps to build the excitement around the day,” said Denise Leader, with husband Bill. They’ve been co-chairs of the Niska-Day committee for the past twenty-two years.
Every January, the committee begins planning the event, working with NCAP to draw up a budget and begin brainstorming initial ideas for the entertainment and themes.
“One thing that people often don’t know is that Niska Day is paid for by NCAP,” said Bill.
Fair-goers need only pay for rides, food, and any products for sale in the business booth.
“Then the Town puts on the fireworks show to close out the evening,” said Denise.
This year, for the 35 celebration, the theme is “Let’s have a Fiesta.”
“We find that if the themes are fun, people are more willing to join in and even dress up,” said Denise.
Although the committee plans to hold the event rain-or-shine, there have been a few Niska-Days when weather conditions and other issues arose which the committee had to either find a way to work around or shut the event down.
“We had a measles outbreak and the Health Department threatened to shut us down Niska-Day 1990 but fortunately, the epidemic ebbed and the day went on,” said Rockwell, remembering one year where the day turned around.
“One year it snowed and that was terrible! We had to cancel the parade because it was too dangerous,” said Denise.
However, Rockwell remembers that day for more than the extraordinary snow in May: “As I looked back at the tents, there were people I did not even know that had come up to the ground with snow rakes and were trying so hard to help us out, by raking tent roofs. How unbelieveable and such a testament to the day. Then I looked over to the school driveway, up the driveway came a float with a tropical theme slowly making its way to the school with palm trees covered in snow, yet the kids on the float were just singing away! We ended up having a mini Niska Day that following July at Town Hall to celebrate with a few bands, food and fireworks.”
This year, Niska-Day is scheduled to be full of entertainment, rides, food, and a pinata or two, starting from the parade at 10:00 a.m. and ending with the fireworks show at 9:15 p.m.