Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Perfect Gift

Robin Komorek with daughter and husband
Robin Komorek, daughter & husband.
Robin Komorek of Waterville got her Christmas wish – to volunteer at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen.

“She asked if I would give this to her for Christmas,” husband Chris said.

Daughter Toni Amodio came along, too, bringing a bowl of candy for every table and a huge tray of homemade cookies from her business, “Sweet Creations by Toni.”

Bob Schmelcher
Bob Schmelcher on echo harmonica.
Coordinator Ed Morgan with sister-in-law Rosalie Siuta.
Coordinator Ed Morgan with sister-in-law.
Volunteers welcomed guests, including children, to the soup kitchen, saying “Merry Christmas” and directing them to decorated tables while other volunteers in the kitchen dished out food and assembled trays that were quickly brought out by volunteer waiters and waitresses. Still other volunteers followed up with drinks and trays of pies and whipped cream. And in the background, Bob Schmelcher played Christmas carols on his echo harmonica – from Jingle Bells to Silent Night.

“This is a great bunch of volunteers,” noted Christmas Day Coordinator Ed Morgan, who is vice chairman of the soup kitchen advisory board. “They’re upbeat, friendly. Half of them I don’t even know. They’re very cool.”

“We ended up serving 189 meals, including 20 take-outs,” he added.

His sister-in-law, Rosalie Siuta, likes helping out on all the holidays. “It’s probably the best feeling in the world to be able to give back, and to help” people in need.

Elvira Turpin
Elf Elvira Turpin
Regular volunteer Elvira Turnpin dressed up as Santa’s elf. “I figured this would be nice for the kids.”

 Elvira recalled the time she was in a New York City shelter with her two infant daughters. That’s why she helps at West Side Kitchen four days a week and spends a fifth day at the Utica Salvation Army. “So I give back -- It’s from the heart.”

Daquan Forehand
Boy Scout Daquan Forehand
Utica Troop 101 Boy Scout Daquan Forehand, a student at MVCC who wants to be an EMT, volunteers on Wednesdays but decided to help at Christmas, too. “Christmas to me is basically about just giving back.”

Lorraine Haley and Dan Hoffman, who were friends in school, decided to come to the soup kitchen after reading about it in the newspaper. “I thought, it’s time to give back,” Lorraine said. “So we decided to come down and help out as much as we can.”

Cheryl Wakeel’s first exposure to the soup kitchen was on Christmas five years ago. It was such a moving experience that not only does she return every Christmas, but also helps out during the week, serving as crew chief on Wednesdays, and beginning in January, she’ll be there on Mondays, too.

cheryl Wakeel
Cheryl Wakeel
“I love it; it feels good to help out,” noted Vikki Commisso, who joined Cheryl and her son, Gregory Wakeel, prepping and dishing out food in the kitchen, along with Shirley Schmelcher and Kathleen Carter. “It makes me feel good, plus I meet wonderful people.”

Rick Caruso, who was helping Shirley Schmelcher put slices of pie on plates, said simply: “it’s Christmas. It’s good to share.”

Added Shirley, who was there with daughter Lynda and husband Bob: “It’s our way of giving back to the community.”

Michell Thurston, center, with daughters.
After hearing there was a need for volunteers, Michelle Thurston, a nurse tech in surgery at St. Elizabeth Medical Center, came with her daughters, Jordan Tartaglia, a student teacher, and Sara Tartaglia, an MVCC student who wants to be a social worker.

“We wanted to help out,” said Sara.

Perhaps Toni Amodio summed it up best for the volunteers:

“The best gift you could ever give someone is your time.”

photo album of Christmas volunteers

Monday, December 5, 2016

Students Seeking Their Paths

The season has been a tad busy, between deadlines for work, traveling to Franciscan meetings in Rome (Italy), Orlando, and Baltimore, and helping out at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen; so I was looking forward to spending a morning with some bright high school seniors.

The occasion was the 16th annual School and Business Alliance (SABA) Breakfast, held Dec. 2 at Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES on Middle Settlement Road in New Hartford.

SABA breakfast
SABA Breakfast. BOCES Photo by Cheri Derdzinski
Scores of students from various school districts got to talk careers with business and government leaders. I hosted a table for those interested in communications, media and photography. It was fun.

Two at my table were studying performing arts. A third student aspired to be a graphic designer. A fourth wanted to be a baker, and the fifth student was studying welding, which I found perplexing until he explained that for him, welding was an art form.

Dr. Attilio
Dr. M. Attilio. BOCES Photo / Cheri Derdzinski
The guest speaker at the breakfast was Dr. Michael Attilio, who pointed to one’s career and life journey as a line that may start out straight but soon veers off at angles and may even swing back on itself. There are influences along the way – such as mentors and people having a special impact. A beloved professor didn’t see biology major Attilio as a biologist, which prompted him to consider medicine. An Army colonel put him in charge of a clinic in Texas that demanded more administrative attention than practicing medicine – a skill he didn’t know he had and rather enjoyed and became quite good at. Then he was deployed to Afghanistan and started “dodging bullets and plugging holes,” getting to save lives and practice medicine like nowhere else in the world. And then his wife thought maybe he should move on to practicing medicine where he could be with the young family they had started. When they visited the Utica area as a possible relocation site, he immediately got a sense of community – a great place to raise a family. And now he is medical director for the Mohawk Valley Health System Medical Group.

To get a sense of the twists and turns along one’s life line, he offered a quote by World War Z author Max Brooks:

“Sometimes you find your path, sometimes it finds you.”

In other words, he said to laughter: “Everything important in life you can learn preparing for the Zombie apocalypse.”

Student. Photo/ C. Deredzinski
Zombies or not, the youths at my table were delightful; some came with an easy smile and a hint of joy in their demeanor; others were more serious, but with subtle humor behind their words. Virtually all of them were honor students, involved in a variety of school activities (from playing sports to cheerleading to performing in marching bands to serving on student councils). One enterprising young lady was holding down three part-time jobs. They also were active volunteers, especially at their churches.

SABA Breakfast
SABA Breakfast. BOCES Photo by Cheri Derdzinski
The SABA program shared their resumes in advance, and I was pleased to discover that the future baker spent part of the summer volunteering at Mother Marianne’s soup kitchen.

“I helped serve food… cleaned tables and swept the floor,” he noted on the resume. “It was a good learning experience.”

Yes, it is. it’s an experience where volunteers learn something about themselves and about people in need.

Not unlike SABA, they learn about finding paths and paths finding them.