Ralph Rotella of North Syracuse celebrates after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Syracuse Chiefs’ game Saturday, Aug. 6. (Photo by Jason Emerson)
North Syracuse man could win $10K for Rescue Mission Alliance
By Jason Emerson
Ralph Rotella began volunteering and contributing to the Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse about six years ago after an encounter with a homeless man who needed help.
Rotella’s charitable work since then has not only helped thousands of people in need, but recently got him nominated and named a finalist in the Today’s Options Champions Competition, which is designed to recognize everyday champions who are making a difference in the lives of older Americans in Central New York. If he wins the competition, which is determined by online public voting, Rotella will have $10,000 donated to the charity of his choice — for him, that is the Rescue Mission Alliance.
“I never expected this; it was very, very nice of them to nominate me,” Rotella said. “I’m very lucky to be nominated.”
Rotella, of North Syracuse, owner of the Discount Shoe Repair shop in downtown Syracuse, said he was inspired to become a volunteer when he saw a homeless man on the street outside his shop in the dead of winter whose shoes were ragged and full of holes, exposing his bare feet to the elements. He invited the man into the shop and gave him a pair of high quality winter boots to wear at no charge. The man took the boots and walked away without a word, but to Rotella, it was a pivotal moment.
“I think God or somebody sent him to me that day,” Rotella said.
That year, Rotella gave 65 pairs of repaired shoes to the Rescue Mission. Since then, he has reconditioned and donated more than 20,000 pair of shows to the organization — and this year he is on track to reach his goal of providing more than 15,000 pairs of restored shoes to the Rescue Mission. The majority of these shoes will be given to older adults in need in the local community.
Rotella has become a local celebrity. He often gets calls asking, “Are you the shoe guy?”
Rotella was named a finalist in the Today’s Options competition in late July, along with four other local volunteers:
The official kickoff ceremony for the Today’s Options Champions Competition was held at the Syracuse Chiefs baseball game on Thursday, Aug. 4, when all five finalists were on hand to throw out first pitches and receive awards for being finalists.
Online voting is now underway at TodaysOptionsChampions.com and runs through Aug. 25. People may vote once a day from any electronic device (so multiple votes can be cast as long as each comes from a different device) for the finalist of their choice.
The full stories for each finalist, including brief videos, can be found on the competition website at TodaysOptionsChampions.com.
The finalist with the most votes will be named the 2016 Today’s Options Grand Champion. He or she will be honored at the New York State Fair’s Chevy Court on Aug. 30 before the Survivor concert at 2 p.m. The winner will present a $10,000 donation to his or her chosen charitable organization at that time.
Rotella said that if he wins the $10,000 grand prize, Rescue Mission Alliance will use it towards their overall mission of helping feed and shelter homeless and needing people in the Syracuse area.
“We are proud of the work being done by this year’s Today’s Options Champions,” said James Mackenzie, SVP of sales for Today’s Options. “Each of our finalists deserves recognition and will be honored at the Syracuse Chiefs game on Aug. 4. The public can get involved by reading the Champions’ personal stories on our website and voting for one Grand Champion.”
Today’s Options Champions are Central New York residents who are examples of how one person can make a difference in the lives of older adults. The competition is a way to recognize people who share Todays Options’ goals of improving quality of life and maximizing access to services for seniors and people with Medicare.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.