In 2005, with the help of the then Executive Director of the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley, Denise Cavanaugh, and many volunteers from the organization (like Shelly Raiano and Mary Davidson) the first Riggiefest was put on at the Utica (NY) Auditorium.
The origin of the idea came from many one on one conversations with Denise. Our children went to the same daycare and we both had a penchant for arriving at the daycare right at closing or perhaps 5 minutes after. The daycare would fine for late pick up, so we’d cover for each other. Whomever got their first would sign the kids out, then they’d play in the empty parking lot together until the other parent showed up…usually within 5 minutes.
Denise and I would talk about community affairs in the Utica Mohawk Valley and ideas on how to try to fix things. I had an idea of how to generate funds for her ideas with the bonus of wanting to promote Central New York at a time that people were leaving, jobs were harder to come by, and economic development in an old manufacturing city was a hot topic.
I won’t go into the controversial history of the origin of Chicken Riggies, but there were some proud moments when Paula Deen and Rachael Ray each publicized recipes for the hugely popular dish in our hometown area. Rachael featured the making of the dish on one of her episodes.
Through five years, the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley netted over $100,000 in revenue to fund programs to stop domestic violence and racism. Denise was ahead of her time creating a forum for members of the community to discuss racial issues and opinions with the members of the Utica Police and Fire Departments. This was 10 years ago!!! Couldn’t Chicago and other cities model programs like this besides retraining individuals?
Anita Vitullo, owner of StaffWorks, Drs. Ankur Desai and Lauren Giustra, of Mohawk Valley Women’s Health, and the many volunteers from the YWCA deserve a ton of credit and respect for embracing the vision of the YWCA and the Riggiefest. The event couldn’t have thrived when it did without their funding dollars and elbow grease.
Anyway, there is so much more to say that perhaps I’ll pen more thoughts at a later time.