After the fire, a fund-raiser for Andrea

— Enterprise file photo

Andrea Fortuin struck a pose when she opened her yoga studio in Altamont in 2003. She currently has two yoga studios — one in Guilderland Center and the other in Schenectady. The Historic Lower Union Street Business District there is holding a fund-raiser for her today, Feb. 20, at the Café NOLA to help her after a Feb. 5 fire destroyed her Knox home.

A fund-raiser today in the Schenectady neighborhood where Andrea Fortuin has her yoga studio will raise more than money, said her friend, Renee VanKuren; it will raise her morale.

Fortuin’s ex-husband is accused of burning their Knox home on Feb. 5 — two days before their divorce was finalized, his lawyer said. Kenneth Fortuin was in a nine-hour standoff with police as four buildings on the Knox farm where he was raised burned to the ground; the firefighters were turned back by felled trees across the road.

He is in Albany County’s jail, charged with arson and obstructing firefighting operations, with bail set at $150,000, twice what the district attorney had asked for. His friends are holding a Feb. 22 fund-raiser to pay for his legal defense.

Meanwhile, Kevin Brown, owner of Café NOLA at 617 Union Street in Schenectady is hosting a fund-raiser for Andrea Fortuin and her children.

Brown said he and his wife opened their Cajun-style eatery — NOLA stands for New Orleans, Louisiana — in 2010 at about the same time Andrea Fortuin opened her Orenda Yoga & Healing Arts studio nearby.

Fortuin had opened her first Orenda yoga studio in 2003 in the old Altamont train station. The word “Orenda,” she explained at the time, is Iroquois and means “the breath of the invisible; that which connects everything.”

She later moved to a larger studio in Guilderland Center when the train station was bought by the library, and has since opened the Schenectady location.

“Andrea’s been a good friend,” said Brown. “We’ve supported each other.”

The two of them were among the founders of the Historic Lower Union Street Business District, formed in November with a dozen businesses, including pubs and restaurants as well as a salon, bookstore, costumer, and décor shop. The Business District is sponsoring the Feb. 20 fund-raiser, which, Brown said, will start with a “happy hour” from 5 to 6:30 and will offer both dine-in and take-out meals for $20.

“It will go from 6:30 to whenever people decide to leave,” said Brown. “We’ll have an open jam with local musicians.”

All proceeds above his costs will be donated to the “Andrea Fortuin and Children” fund, Brown said, and, for those who can’t make it to the fund-raiser but want to donate, they may contribute to the fund through the Capital Communication Federal Credit Union.

“Andrea gives so much to the community,” Brown said, mentioning her Soldiers’ Hope project, “and we wanted to give back.”

Andrea Fortuin told The Enterprise yesterday that her friend of 10 years, Van Kuren, would speak for her. The two met when Van Kuren worked as a massage therapist at the Orenda studio when it was at the Altamont train station.

Andrea Fortuin stayed at VanKuren’s home outside of Altamont in the early morning hours on Feb. 6, the night the Fortuins’ home burned. “She came here that night,” said VanKuren. “That’s where she felt she was safe. She and her daughter got here at 2:30 in the morning...[Kenneth Fortuin] had texted photos of what he was doing to Andrea and the kids...People were calling; it was on the news. The texts never stopped. They were up at 6:30.”

Andrea Fortuin was selling her share in the property on Saddlemire Road to Kenneth Fortuin, VanKuren said, and a judge had set the closing date for Feb. 14; the papers had been drawn up. Andrea Fortuin is left to pay a large tax bill and mortgage with no assets, she said.

“It’s not in Andrea’s nature to look for money,” said VanKuren. “She does what needs to be done. She’s a strong woman. She’s been gut-punched.”

More than the financial support, said VanKuren, Andrea Fortuin appreciates the community support from the Schenectady neighborhood. VanKuren said of the fund-raiser for Kenneth Fortuin’s legal defense, “For Andrea, it feels like a betrayal. She lived there for 15 or 20 years, and was friends with all his friends and did all this stuff with kids.” Andrea Fortuin served on the Knox Youth Council.

“The very day he got arrested,” VanKuren went on, “people were blaming Andrea, like she was a conniving witch, taking every dime this hardworking man earned....”

Speaking for her friend, VanKuren said her advice would be: “You don’t have to take my side but don’t defend someone when you don’t know what’s going on...Understand there are many sides to a story before you form an opinion.”

VanKuren went on to speak about Andrea Fortuin’s commitment to her work as a yoga instructor. She founded the not-for-profit Soldier’s Hope to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, VanKuren said.

“That’s one of her passions,” said VanKuren. Fortuin works with veterans through a yoga form of guided meditation. “It’s to help you step outside your body and control emotion,” she said. “Fear rages in you.”

Fortuin conducts classes for veterans in her Schenectady studio every Sunday morning. “You can just lay there and listen; it’s a very powerful tool,” said VanKuren.

Asked if yoga was helping her friend cope with her own crisis, VanKuren said, “Many women in her shoes would not be standing. She’s not on any medication. She breathes. She came in for a Reiki massage yesterday. She looked better when she left.”

VanKuren concluded, “The yoga world is all about living life with a compassionate heart, not judging...Every day, Andrea tries to encourage people to raise their emotional vibration out of the gutter.”

More Hilltowns News

  • Former Berne-Knox-Westerlo treasurer Stacy King-McElhiney is stepping up to be the district’s newest business manager.

  • Following the closure of Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office has had to offer an ambulance with an emergency medical provider as well as a paramedic in a fly car. This has led to an increase in the costs for the three Hilltowns served: Berne, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville.

  • The Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education is putting up for a Nov. 2 vote two propositions for capital projects — for $15 million and $5 million. After a lengthy debate over whether the capital project was a “blank check” or a means of improving student education, three board members voted yes, one voted no, and one abstained.