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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

Work in Progress

Monday, August 14th

Dear Friends:

Last Wednesday I had the honor of walking the picket line with members of 1199 SEIU at the Pines, an assisted living facility in Poughkeepsie owned by National Healthcare Associates. I’ve visited my share of veterans at the Pines over the years, and you’ve probably visited loved ones there, too. Anyone who visits the Pines instantly realizes it’s the caring, helpful, and dedicated staff who make that place great. These workers have dedicated their entire lives to making others more comfortable. They took exquisite care of my friend and fellow veteran Stu Vidal when he was 102 years old. And yet, on Wednesday many of those workers wanted the outside community to know they were being overworked and underpaid by their employers.

I could feel the passion of these healthcare heroes within seconds of joining the march. They truly care about the people whose lives they make better, and it’s obvious this is much more than a job to them. This is the career path they have chosen. And as we walked together, I was reminded of the huge difference between merely finding jobs we need, and discovering the careers we truly want.

When we think of our youth in Dutchess County, we don’t want them to settle for any old job after high school. Their dreams are so much bigger than that! No, we want every high school graduate to find the career path that excites them, fuels their passion, and gives them the opportunities we had when we were that age. We want them to find that career right here at home! A job is often just a job. It’s a paycheck, and not much more. But when a young person discovers the career they love, wow, it’s like opening a door with endless possibilities on the other side.

You know the old saying: love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

I’ve been blessed in my life with two careers I absolutely love. First, I’ve been a teacher for 22 years, and I still get the butterflies walking into the classroom (teachers, you know what I’m talking about.) Second, I discovered a whole other career in helping our local veterans when I returned home from the walk across America, four years ago. Both careers allow me to fuel my lifelong passion for serving others. I’m guessing your life has followed a similar story: at some point, you found the career path that fuels your passion, and now you couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Don’t we want every kid to experience that same passion you and I felt when we found the careers that sustain us? Listen, no young person should ever settle for a job just because it’s a job. Every kid should have the chance to follow their passions and seek the career path that will allow them to build a life, and build a family. Isn’t that the America we want for our kids?

That’s why increased support for Dutchess BOCES will be such a huge part of our plan to help our young people find careers they love. As a teacher myself, I know every student learns differently. We must remove the old, tired stigma associated with careers in the trades because here in the 21st century, there are so many new and exciting opportunities for young people in the trades, in tech, aviation, and green energy right here in Dutchess County! I want to take this moment to commend everyone who works at BOCES. You do the work to help so many young people find their path, and I’ve seen your dedication first-hand. I’m excited to support you!

Another key piece of my mission to support our youth will be free tuition at Dutchess Community College for any county resident who needs it. Cost should never be a barrier to a kid who wants to explore careers in aviation, tech, or any other innovative program that DCC offers. Our opponents, of course, will say this will be too expensive. But I want to remind everyone that on the same day Republican legislators voted to give $25 million to improve someone else’s baseball stadium, they voted against allowing the $500,000 needed to give Dutchess residents free tuition at DCC. That’s right. Think about it: on the same day they gave away a staggering $25 million of your money to an outside corporation, they also denied 1/50th of that amount to support our kids’ dreams.

When you look up “outrageous” in the dictionary, that might be the definition they give you.

Our kids deserve better. Don’t they deserve an honest chance to follow their dreams? As your County Executive, I am committed to helping all our high school graduates find the career paths they want, not just the job they need right now. With the help of our courageous labor unions as well as our dedicated teachers at BOCES and DCC, we will build a support system to make sure every kid has that chance. After all, it’s the America we all want. It’s the Dutchess we deserve.

Words are important, but we need action to truly fulfill this promise to our youth. Please consider a donation in any amount using the secure Act Blue link below to keep our campaign alive. A $50 donation puts ten lawn signs out for all to see! A $100 donation allows us to hand out 250 palm cards as we spread the good word, one door at a time. Unlike our opponent, we will never take money from corporations or corporate PACs. We rely on heroes just like you!

Speaking of heroes, I want to shout out to my friend Maurice and his entire team at 1199 SEIU for inviting me to walk with them last Wednesday on their informational picket. Special shout out to my friends at CWA Local 1120 who came out to support, as well. Our labor unions built America, and we must support them as they exercise their fundamental civil rights!

Finally, I want to thank Dutchess County Legislature Minority Leader Yvette Valdés Smith for proposing that piece of legislation last year which aimed to help county residents afford their education at DCC – it’s a wonderful idea, my friend, and we will get it done!

And thank you, for listening! See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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