Finding a Place to Call Home: The Clear Path Story Part 2

Finding a Place to Call Home by Co-Founder, Melissa Spicer

After December 31, 2010,  lit a spark within me, the month of January 2011 became the month of my obsession.  Building and launching our service dog program became our priority. Each Veteran I met gave me more reason why we needed to make this program successful. My passion for helping Veterans come home is tied directly to my personal experiences, and I wanted them to find a program that felt like family.  Our priorities were set to developing a curriculum, finding a team of trainers, and identifying assessment tools that enabled us to select the best dogs for our program. Empowering Veterans by including them in the training process became a priority. Once the word about our program spread, we had three Veterans enroll immediately.  We had a lot of details to sort through but finding a place to train was most important. Although we had some options, they usually included working in a space where our program was forced to yield to other priorities. This approach did not help build trust, nor did it communicate to Veterans that they were our number one priority. Our program needed a physical space; a place that immediately made visitors feel safe, respected, and happy to be there; a place that said, "Welcome Home."  

 My husband is the 5th generation to live in this area. One advantage is that he knows a lot of people and the historical significance of our rural landscape.  A lifelong friend was part of a big family who owned the Skyridge Recreations Center. Skyridge has been in our community since 1959, and for years, families came to swim, play golf, and attend events. Its campus includes an upper and lower parcel. The upper parcel served as the community's only Olympic size community pool, offered tennis lessons, and had a series of trails highlighted by one of Central New York’s most beautiful views. The lower parcel was home to Skyridge Golf Course that boasted a 9-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones. While the upper land and building remained vacant for some time, another company had leased the lower grounds and structure. Much like the upper piece, the golf course and clubhouse had deteriorated and needed a lot of work. Regardless, the family loved their property, and they needed something to give them an incentive to sell it. Because of my husband's relationship with the family, it was easy for me to pick up the phone and see if they were interested in selling. I explained how the upper parcel would be a perfect home base for our canine program and how we firmly believed that it could serve as a center for Veterans and their families one day.  We had just sold our family business, and deep down, I knew I would use some of that money to buy and fix up this property.

But the reality was the property had sat vacant for years and would require extensive renovations. It was a financial commitment beyond my capacity. Plus, the unknown future of the lower parcel could, in my opinion, create be a potential risk for the upper tract and its mission. This initiative would require someone to step up and purchase both parcels and bring these unique places back to life. Although I wanted to be that person, I could not do this alone, and the one person willing to join me in the challenge was, thankfully, my sister, Melinda. The family accepted our offer to purchase the upper piece, and within a week, they accepted another offer for the lower parcel. The upper parcel became the home base for what would become Clear Path for Veterans, the lower parcel remained a for-profit business that would serve the broader community and be a welcoming neighbor for our mission above.

Over the next four months, we focused on building our new non-profit and physically transforming our new home. We felt our new home was the perfect place to welcome our Veterans, and we hoped that it would set a new standard for how communities supported the journey home for America’s warriors.