Supporting the journey home

Melinda Sorrentino ’87, P’13

Melinda Sorrentino ’87, P’13

You get a good feeling when you meet Melinda Sorrentino ’87, P’13. Similarly, those positive vibes echo when you walk into her business. That warm energy is important — and essential — for those she helps: veterans.

Sorrentino and her sister co-founded the nonprofit Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango, N.Y., in September of 2011. Clear Path began as a program that pairs dogs with veterans who are transitioning out of the military. Since then, it’s expanded into a holistic set of services, from peer mentorship to wellness to culinary training. They’ve also added a for-profit golf course and restaurant, The Ridge, which is Sorrentino’s main charge.

A biology major, she’d planned to become a teacher after Colgate, but agreed to temporarily help her father run his business, Campus Hill apartments, in Syracuse. It turned into a 20-year career during which Sorrentino became real estate savvy and committed to a business philosophy that followed the golden rule.

“What goes around, comes around,” said Sorrentino, who often expresses sentiments that might sound clichéd if someone else were saying them, but in her case, it’s genuine. “It’s not about the bottom line, it’s about those relationships you develop along the way.”

She has stayed true to this “pathological optimism” throughout her career, and it has opened doors. When they sold the Campus Hill business in 2007, she continued working in property management, which included a VA building that housed a homeless veterans’ program. Meanwhile, her sister, Melissa Spicer, opened a doggie daycare and training facility. A local veteran, Steve Kinne, approached them with the idea of combining their endeavors into pets for vets.

The trio teamed up and found a facility in Chittenango. “It looked like you stepped into 1970,” Sorrentino recalled. And, it was overrun by squirrels. “Everyone thought we were crazy.” But, high up on a hill, the place has a bucolic view overlooking the valley. “It has a certain feel about it, and that is half the battle. You just look out there and you feel better.”

Her renovation and property experience paid off as they modernized the building and formed their vision for Clear Path. Shortly after, they purchased the golf course below. “Golf can be very healing and a Zen activity for vets,” Sorrentino said.

Since they turned the barn into a cozy tavern, the golf course has served as a bridge between veterans and the general public. “It’s our responsibility, as a community, to recognize what an incredible resource and asset they are to us as they come back. So our goal is helping the community understand what that means from their end,” she said.

At The Ridge and Clear Path, the vets have the chance to bond with each other, casually and programmatically. The Wingman program offers peer mentoring and guides veterans through the process of coming back from duty. A partnership with Soldier On offers more immediate help with pressing issues like housing and employment. The Wednesday Canteen attracts up to 150 people for a free lunch, camaraderie, and informational sessions.

“We live next to the most heavily deployed base [Fort Drum] in the country,” Sorrentino said, “and we want to offer an incredible resource for people coming into the community.” To oversee their mission of “supporting the journey home,” the staff includes 18 vets (with 33 deployments between them). Sorrentino and Spicer (who is acting executive director) work at Clear Path on a volunteer basis.

“Our idea was: build it, they will come,” Sorrentino said. “And it has worked. We have a community that is all on board. You put love out there and you get it back tenfold.”

— Aleta Mayne