WEST ALBANY—More than a year after his West Albany hair salon made headlines, Dave Belschwinder is still working to unite a community that ruptured when 32-year-old Jacquelyn Porreca was murdered at the hands of two heroin addicts. A festival planned for Oct. 8 will represent his latest endeavor to bring the community together and raise money for local youth.
Porreca was working as a master barber in Belschwinder’s Recycled Salon when she was fatally stabbed in August 2015. Police spent the next four months working tirelessly to apprehend the perpetrators while community members feared for their own safety.
“The shock wave that went through this neighborhood, it was really bad,” Belschwinder said. “We were all really scared, you know?”
Belschwinder said that one thing he was grateful for is the camaraderie that arose within the community and, particularly, the dedication and support of local police and firefighters who responded with haste and sensitivity. “I mean, they came in here and they cleaned my shop up,” he said of the West Albany volunteer firefighters who responded to the call, adding that they got him a beer while they did so. “These are real, true people. These are people that I’ll never forget.”
To build upon those relationships, Belschwinder founded West Albany Strong, an organization dedicated to strengthening community by improving the relationships between community members and law enforcement and encouraging neighbors to look out for one another. West Albany Strong has held an event each month for the last three months, including a pancake breakfast in August and a tailgating event at Swifty’s Pub on Everett Rd. in September. The event he has planned for this coming Saturday at the Polish American Community Center on Commerce Ave. is being organized in conjunction with the Albany Police Athletic League and will raise funds for youth athletic programs as well as a possible scholarship that Belschwinder said he would like to offer to a young aspiring hair stylist.
The public is invited to come and, for a $20 donation, enjoy picnic food, live music, raffles and connecting with the community and those who serve it. Music is being provided—pro bono—by the bands House of Vice and The Heaters, as well as Forthlin Road, which Belschwinder compared to the Celtic punk band Drop Kick Murphys. If you would like to purchase a West Albany Strong yard sign to show your support, Belschwinder says they’ll be on sale at the event, but that community members can also stop by the salon to pick one up.
“We got some good neighbors and some good businesses sponsoring it all and there’s a terrific energy buzzing around the neighborhood right now,” he said. Noting the current tension that exists nationally between law enforcement officials and public citizens, he added, “We all have to pull together and have a good strong sense of community.”
“The people in that area,” said Albany County Legislator Joe O’Brien, who represents West Albany, “are really dedicated to their community, and they watch out for one another.” O’Brien, who attended both of the events at Swifty’s, also commended the Colonie Police Department for the work they do to foster relationships within the community and the hundreds of hours they dedicated to solving Porreca’s murder. “They stayed on that case until it was solved,” he said, “and the work they did is a tribute to them.”
Belschwinder’s hope, he said finally, is to make something positive come out of the senseless tragedy of the murder, as well as to say thanks to those who worked so hard to bring her killers to justice.
Michael Chmielewski and Sean Moreland both recently pled guilty to one of four initial charges brought by the district attorney’s office for the murder of Porreca. Chmieleski, who entered the salon and stabbed Porreca, pled guilty to first-degree murder will be serving no less than 22 years; Moreland, who drove the getaway car, pled guilty to hindering the prosecution and will essentially serve no time for the murder as his sentence—no more than six years—will be served concurrently with an 8-year sentence he previously received for an unrelated burglary charge.