Inclusion Matters

MARCH 2024

Mentor Spotlight

Kristy Rinaldo

Superwoman in Street Clothes

In the midst of the daily grind, Kristy Rinaldo emerges as a modern-day Superwoman by seamlessly juggling a fulfilling yet challenging life with exceptional strength and resilience that set her apart from most people. The role of a Mentor – though often described as an incredibly rewarding position – is at times a demanding one. On top of being a full-time Mentor with Advocates, Kristy performs many of these same duties and responsibilities for her loved ones when she isn’t working, which makes her daily efforts that much more remarkable and admirable.

Kristy has acted as a model Mentor for Advocates since 2015, around the same time her daughter, Nina, began receiving services through the agency. Though Kristy acknowledged the value of the on-the-job training and support Advocates provides its employees, she told us that it’s her personal experience that paved the way to her success.

“Being the parent of a child with special needs was the absolute best training for the mentoring job,” she said. As if navigating the disability world as a parent wasn’t challenging enough, there are others very close to Kristy who are completely reliant on her. For years, Kristy acted as the primary caregiver for her grandmother, whose severe dementia led to combative behavior and an overall functional decline that subsequently required support in almost every facet of life. “Grandma taught me how to be patient in a way I didn’t think possible,” she said. This patience would be put to the test yet again when her husband suffered a stroke. This tragic event left him with epilepsy and a need for full support, much like Kristy’s grandmother.

“A lot of the challenges I’ve encountered in life prepared me for future ones,” Kristy remarked. “My daughter had already been diagnosed with epilepsy years prior, so I even had experience with that.” Kristy distinguishes herself by maintaining a positive perspective on life in the face of its challenges. “We have a very fun, happy home, and we don’t wallow,” she said in a genuinely upbeat manner. With her caring nature, optimistic demeanor, and wealth of experience in supporting people with serious challenges, it’s inferable that she is truly one of Advocates’ standout employees. 

“It’s a difficult field to be in,” Kristy admitted. “But I’m proud to have made such connections and to have made a difference.” She went on to say that the long-standing relationships she’s built within the Advocates community are partially thanks to the agency’s efforts to pair her with families that are so well-suited for her and vice versa. “The people I support, those families…they would be my friends whether they received services or not.” She continued by highlighting some unique characteristics of each of the people she’s supported for some time, marveling at each one’s unique abilities and personas. She also told us how proud she is of the growth each one has demonstrated over time.

“It’s a privilege to provide a family-based system of care…working on goals that the person and their family have come up with is really rewarding,” she said. “And I guess I’m proud to have held this job while holding down the fort at home at the same time.” Because she is pulled in so many directions, Kristy was honest when she told us she has little time for leisurely activities. When she does find time to herself, she enjoys going to concerts, catching races at Watkins Glen, or simply kicking back and watching college basketball games.

Despite sometimes feeling the burden of supporting so many, Kristy told us it’s a labor of love and that she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I would not like to live in a world where someone you love gets left behind when something bad happens to them,” she said. 

Because Kristy’s loved ones rely on her just as much as the people she mentors, she has at times needed to rearrange her schedule to make it all work. Kristy expressed her sincere thanks to the families for whom she works, as they are more than understanding of her situation. She also sends her special thanks to one of her Mentor counterparts, Brittney Browne, who provides quality mentorship to Nina. “I’m able to focus on what I need to do for others and for myself because I don’t have to worry about my daughter when she’s with Brittney.”

Advocates is proud to call Kristy an invaluable piece of its vast Mentor base and thanks her for all she does for others. We all feel the weight of life’s burdens at times, and it can be difficult to see the light through the clouds. And so, the next time you’re feeling that weight or are having trouble staying positive because of life’s obstacles, we ask that you remember Kristy and her resilience. As the families she supports through Advocates would surely attest to, an enduring hardworking, selfless, and optimistic mindset can conquer all things…even the most difficult ones.

Do you have a friend or family member who

would make a great Mentor?

If so, please encourage them to apply on our website.

We look forward to meeting them!

Upcoming Events


Syracuse Crunch Game

The Syracuse Crunch's season is winding down!

The Syracuse Crunch is offering discount tickets to people/families receiving services from Advocates along with employees.

Join us on Saturday,

Apr. 13th at 7pm as the Syracuse Crunch take on the Toronto Marlies.

Discount tickets ($18) can be purchased by contacting Annika Tyson: (315) 473-4444 ext. 126 or online at: using promotional code: ADVOCATES

The deadline to purchase tickets is April 11th.

We hope to see you there!

Agency Updates

Advocates Presidents' Day BINGO

On February 19th, Advocates was thrilled to host its annual Presidents' Day Bingo event! More than 120 people receiving services from Advocates and their Mentors/family members joined us for an afternoon of friendship, snacks, prizes, and of course, lots of Bingo action!

We thank everyone who attended, our staff who helped facilitate the event, and St. Ann's Church in Manlius for hosting us!

Click here for more photos from this event!

Advocates John Wolford Coffee House

On February 23rd, Advocates held its first John Wolford Coffee House of 2024.

People receiving services from Advocates and their Mentors/family members joined us for an evening of music, dancing, food, and friendship! We thank everyone for having attended the event, and are looking forward to hosting additional Coffee Houses later in the year!

Advocates would like to send a special thanks to Mark D'Alberto, who graciously devotes his time as our DJ at many Advocates events, including our Coffee Houses!

We thank you, Mark!

Advocates Winter Party & Information Fair

On Friday, March 8th, Advocates held its annual Winter Party & Information Fair at Le Moyne College. Many people we support, their family members and Mentors, community members, and vendors congregated for an evening of food, entertainment, and connecting with various resources in our area!

Advocates would like to thank Le Moyne College for hosting the event, all of our attendees, and the many vendors who dedicated their time.

This year's vendor lineup included AccessCNY, ADHD & Autism Psychological Services (AAPSA), AETNA, ARC, ARISE, Casey's Place/Elmcrest, Challenger Baseball, Champions for Life, CNY Adaptive Sports, CNY United (Power Soccer), Exceptional Family Resources (EFR), Empowering People's Independence (EPI), Excellus, Food Bank of CNY, Gigi's Playhouse, Help Me Grow, Inclusion and Communication Initiatives (ICI), InclusiveU/Taishoff Center, LaunchCNY, LIFEPlan, Lifespan Speech & Swallowing, Meals on Wheels, Onondaga County Libraries, PEACE Inc., Person to Person: Citizen Advocacy, Positive Approaches Life, Prime Care, Radiant Abilities, LLC, Sidney Federal Credit Union (SFCU), Southern Tier Connect, KEYS Program, Wladis Law Firm, YAI Seeing Beyond Disability, and the YMCA of CNY.

We also send our sincere thanks to the Advocates employees who coordinated the event, as well as those who graciously volunteered their time. We couldn’t have done it without your collective efforts!

Click here to view more photos from the fun-filled evening!

Reasons to Smile

Featured Artist

Zachary Chakin showcased his artistry at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in December. Painting has served as a platform for Zach to both express himself and exhibit his remarkable skills at the same time. More than 100 people attended the event to admire Zach's work and congratulate him on being selected as the artist of the month. The evening was highlighted by several successes for Zachary, including the sale of more than 30 of his paintings. Click here to watch a short video of the successful evening.

To learn a bit more about Zachary and his journey with art, please check out this short video to the right.

If you missed the event and would like to view just some of Zachary's magnificent works, please visit his website.

Community Hero Award

The Community Heroes Program is a collaborative effort between the Syracuse Crunch and Amazon. This initiative highlights a local hero who has made a positive impact on the Syracuse community. From front-line workers to our charitable neighbors who volunteer their time, Central New York is home to many real-life heroes, whose hard work and dedication to others deserves recognition.

Advocates' own Robbie Howes was the recipient of March's award! With the unwavering support of his Mentor, Meggan Hahn, Robbie has been helping the community through his work with Advocates. Rob and Meggan have collected food, blankets, dog beds and towels for Helping Hounds, food for the local St. Joseph’s Church Food Pantry, coats and warm clothes for local shelters, and continue to donate extra money collected to a variety of places in need. Follow “Keep-It Rollin’” on Facebook to learn how you can help them continue to make a positive impact in the community.

Robbie and his family were invited to a Crunch game this month, where he was honored on the public address system, highlighting his efforts and good works. Amazon presented Robbie with a $100 gift card, a team photo of the Crunch, and other assorted memorabilia.

To the dynamic duo of Robbie and Meggan, we thank you for all your contributions! We congratulate Robbie on this wonderful achievement!