Deryck’s Singh's family emigrated to the U.S. from Guyana when he was 19 years old. His parents and 5 brothers and 2 sisters never had a TV, refrigerator or indoor plumbing until they came to America to stay with relatives in the Bronx.
"We started from scratch," says Deryck, "I had $30 in my pocket when I arrived and worked at 3 jobs- we all pitched in. After 2 years I saved $5000 to put down on 2 houses in the Bronx." Deryck continued to work and save money through his early 20’s and married his wife Sandra, an immigrant from Trinidad while in New York.
In 1987, at age 25, he decided to move to the Capital District; seeking an area that was large enough for opportunity, but small enough to maintain a sense of community. "In Schenectady you can buy a low-priced home, invest in it and live there with no mortgage." This same financial logic along with a deep-rooted sense of optimism has driven other Guyanese to Schenectady; Deryck’s brothers and sisters also settled in the Capital Region.
His first and only job in Upstate New York has been with Stewart’s. Deryck started as a Manager Trainee in the Brandywine Avenue Shop in Schenectady in 1987, and became Manager of the Livingston Avenue Shop in Albany the following year. He moved back to Brandywine as Manager in 1989 and continued to run the Hamilton Hill shop for 8 years. In 1997, just 10 years after moving to the region, he became District Manager for the Albany area and continues to teach and grow a group of 20 Stewart’s Shop Managers today. While moving up through the ranks at Stewart’s, he also became a U.S. Citizen.
One might say Deryck’s success has started a trend, and is a living testimonial to the opportunities in the area. Word of mouth has certainly traveled, along with active promotion of the area by Schenectady Mayor Al Jurczynski.
According to George Robertson of Schenectady’s Economic Development Corp one year ago there were about 1500 Guyanese- now there are estimates of 4,000 individuals in Schenectady. "There could be 5,000 this time next year. The movement has brought families and the housing market is coming back.
It was a matter of the Mayor realizing the opportunity and Deryck opening the door." This rennaisance is vital to Schenectady. "As GE declined over several decades, generations of young people left the area; currently Schenectady has the 2nd highest senior citizen population for a city of its size. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not our future. Recruiting young families is critical to bringing back the city and the county. Older cities have found the answer in recruiting immigrant groups."
Recently the National Associated Press ran a story naming 6 cities with the best downtown urban re-development. They were Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Schenectady.
The heart of many communities is the church. Deryck assisted Hindu Priest Jai Misir in finding and negotiating the acquisition of a vacant church building (the former St. Thomas Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant area) to hold services and serve as a center for community activities.
The church holds meetings, works to rehab housing and runs talent shows and fundraisers for a growing youth organization. His active involvement in developing the Guyanese Community in Schenectady renewed Deryck’s own sense of Guyanese culture.
In April of 2003 Deryck traveled to Guyana with the Mayor of Schenectady and a group of businessmen. They visited the President of the country & his ministers, the rainforest, and Deryck went back to his village and local church. He saw friends and a cousin who still lives there. "A lot has changed in 23 years, they now have telephones, the internet, ATM cards and credit cards are coming. The culture has changed too. There used to be kids hanging out, playing outdoors. Now they’re indoors." Many Guyanese know about Schenectady and the Mayor invited the President of Guyana to come for a visit.
While there, Deryck was able to share his perspective with the President regarding the image of the country, environmental issues and an effort to encourage Nationals to return vs. spending money on attracting European tourism.
He also made a commitment to giving back to help rehabilitate the Village Church and to solicit Guyanese in New York who have left. "One U.S. Dollar = 193 Guyanese Dollars," he commented, "even a small amount makes a big difference."
Deryck prefers to act as a catalyst for the cause as the effort could easily take more time than he can give as a busy District Manager. He prompted the Mayor to put a liaison on the city payroll to handle inquiries from interested NYC Guyanese. "I’ve found that leadership and conversation gets results," says Deryck. As in the case of Schenectady’s turnabout, sometimes the results are greater than you can imagine. Stewart’s commends Deryck Singh for making a difference.
Deryck lives in Niskayuna with his wife Sandra and children Andrew 13, and Alyssa 11.
From Stewarts Shops
Stewart’s congratulates Deryck Singh, Albany District Manager, who was recently recognized for his efforts in helping to revitalize the city of Schenectady. As a result of Deryck’s initiative, Schenectady has opened its doors to new immigrants from Guyana since the year 2000. These immigrants, who originally settled in the New York metropolitan area, found the city of Schenectady eager for their investment and energy; the city has welcomed Guyanese families looking for affordable housing, business opportunity and a place to build a home. Positive changes are taking place as the run-down neighborhoods of Hamilton Hill & Mount Pleasant are being transformed one house at a time.