Originally published in the Democrat and Chronicle on March 29, 2020.
By Caurie Putnam
On Jan. 4, 2013, my first Our Towns West Extra column ran in the Democrat and Chronicle. It was about New Year’s resolutions and began by sharing those of my sons.
Brice, then 10, said his resolution was to get better at hockey and Brady, 6, said, “to paint more pictures so the world a prettier place.”
Over the past seven years, Brice has gotten better at hockey, Brady has painted many beautiful pictures and I have had the privilege of illuminating the goodness on the west side of Rochester.
It has been an absolute joy and honor to tell your stories. Counting this, my final, West Extra, I wrote 387 columns for you.
I was invited to your benefits, businesses, sporting events, animal rescues, theater productions and your kitchen tables. I laughed with you, cried with you and grew with you. It’s impossible to choose my favorite columns. However, there are a few themes I became partial to.
I loved writing about veterans on the west side, including Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch of Greece in 2019; heart transplant recipient Thomas Barbera of Hamlin in 2018; and Bruce Van Apeldoorn of Rochester, a retired master sergeant from the U.S. Marine Corps who ran his first marathon at age 67 in 2016.
Writing about young people doing special things was also a favorite, like Zach Adams of Kendall, Orleans County, an inspiring young man with Down syndrome who earned his Eagle Scout award in 2016, and Courtney Langelotti of Brockport, who organized an inclusive prom from teenagers on the west side in 2019.
Then, there were the many stories of light coming from tragedy, like Wheatland-Chili High School’s Drama Club dedicating its production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” to the memory of late teacher Jill Skivington Jackett in 2018 (an additional beautiful thing that came from this column was Miranda sharing it — and a note of encouragement to the
students — with his millions of followers on Twitter).
Writing this column also offered me the opportunity to represent the paper at many events on the west side. I emceed parades and dinners, spoke in classrooms and to your nonprofits, judged your competitions (ranging from BBQ cook-offs to dog Halloween costume contests). I will miss these fun interactions with you greatly; they were always a pleasure.
I want to thank the editors and copy editors I’ve had over the past seven years (Denise Young, Marilyn Ajavananda, Laura Nichols and Cynthia Benjamin). They are the professionals who made my work look good and pushed for the inclusion of community columns in the paper vs. budget cuts as long as they could. I am grateful to them all.
Thank you also to my East Extra “bookend” Missy Rosenberry for sharing the page with me with such professionalism and passion for many years.
Keep in touch with Caurie
I am still a freelance writer for the D& C and you will continue to see my byline on stories! Please visit me at facebook.com/BrockportBlog or email caur@hot mail.com or write to me at P.O. Box 639, Clarkson, NY 14430. As you’ve probably guessed, I am not ready to lay down my pen. I would have written this column forever! As painful as it is to say goodbye, I’d do it all over again for the chance to paint the picture “The west side is amazing,” 387 more times.
Originally published in the Democrat and Chronicle on March 22, 2020
by Caurie Putnam
Every item for sale at Afrikamba, Curios ... in Spencerport tells a story.
Among beautiful beaded jewelry and colorful clothing, there’s a metal giraffe made of repurposed Coca-Cola cans by artisans in Capetown, South Africa, and a Volkswagen Beetle carved from scrap driftwood collected in Zanzibar, a Tanzanian archipelago.
No two items in the store are the same, but they do share a common bond: They are for sale in Spencerport due to Harry Ewell and Carol Nellis-Ewell.
The Ewells, who are both Kodak retirees, opened Afrikamba, Curios ... in 1998 following several trips to Kenya. Their first trip was a photographic safari in 1989 with AAA and second, a philanthropic trip building solar ovens in a small village in 1993 with a group called Earthwatch.
During those early trips they bought some handmade bags and when Carol took them to work, the reactions of her co-workers were so positive she realized there was a market for artisanal African goods in Rochester.
Thus began Afrikamba, Curios ... and over 50 trips to 13 countries in Africa for the couple who buy each product they sell personally, paying the artisan a fair price up-front.
“The store is really about learning and sharing our love of Africa and the people,” said Nellis-Ewell, who is also the deputy mayor of the village of Spencerpor t.
Each trip they take to Africa they bring about a dozen suitcases filled with items to distribute in the communities they visit, like food, books, medical products and clothing. They also bring items made by the Spencerport Methodist Church’s Dress a Girl Around the World program.
“There is tremendous need, but extreme gratitude,” Nellis-Ewell said. “We had so many wonderful experiences in Africa, we’ve always felt drawn back and that we had to give back.”
They’ve made so many trips to certain villages that they are treated like family. In Zanzibar there is a little girl named after Carol and in western Kenya a little boy named after Harry. As animal lovers, they are also very active members of the East African Wildlife Society, serving as the United States financial representatives.
Two decades after opening Afrikamba, Curios … in Spencer’s Landing in the village, they are still passionate about sharing their love of Africa with others. “We felt there was a great opportunity along the canal here in Spencerport,” Nellis-Ewell said. “In the summertime people get off their boats, discover the store and ask, ‘Why are you here?’ We say, ‘Everybody has got to be somewhere.’ We wanted to anchor here.”
Dancers’ group celebrates 50 years
Happy birthday to the Cloverleaf Squares, a
modern western square dancing and round dancing singles club founded in 1970. The group, which meets in Chili from September to April and Henrietta in the warmer months, celebrated their 50 th birthday with a reunion dance on Sunday, March 15, at the Diplomat Banquet Center.
In attendance were the group’s first president Bob Sponable and a member of the first dance class, Ann Crowley-Hash.
The group is currently led by Henry Capron and features Mike Callahan as their caller. They have about 100 members, including Sharon Meyer of Farmington, Ontario County, who met her husband of 17 years in the group.
“It’s all about dancing, meeting people and getting some exercise,” Meyer said. “A lot of us have met our spouses there. People keep coming back year after year because they like the dancing and comradery.”
Contact Caurie at firstname.lastname@example.org with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CauriePutnam and on Facebook at facebook.com/ BrockportBlog.
Originally published in the Democrat and Chronicle on March 8, 2020
by Caurie Putnam
A colorful trail of paper daisies looped through the Seymour Library in Brockport after-hours on Feb. 28, guiding participants through a living timeline of the evolution of Girl Scouts from their founding in 1912 to the present.
“This is a really awesome event,” said Lena Budd, volunteer experience manager with the Girl Scouts of Western New York, as she followed the timeline through decade-themed stops operated by members of the Lake Ridge Service Unit’s 13 troops. “It was created and run by the girls to learn to take leadership on a large scale event and is a nice piece of Girl Scout nostalgia.”
The Lake Ridge Service Unit’s troops come from Brockport, Hamlin, Holley and Kendall, Orleans County. Members range in school-age from kindergartners and first-graders (Daisies) to junior and seniors in high school (Ambassadors). All the girls and troops worked together to make the living timeline event a success.
“The collaboration of all the ages represented makes this really special,” said Kari Pardun, service unit manager and leader of Troop 60360, as she handed out faux passports for over 100 guests to get stamped as they visited each decade. “It’s been a good learning experience for all of them to see that what brings us all together, despite our ages, is Girl Scouts.”
World Thinking Day 2020 — an annual occasion that celebrates the diversity, equity and inclusion of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides — was the impetus behind the service unit’s Girl Scouting: A Journey through Time event.
Janessa Falkowski’s troop staffed the 1980s stop. The eighth- and ninth-grade girls wore clothing appropriate to the decade, created a large display of Girl Scout memorabilia from the time period and educated visitors about scouting at that time.
“It’s interesting because today there are a lot of STEM based patches, whereas in the eighties, I realized there were more hobbies and games represented on the patches,” Falkowski explained as I perused the display looking at memorabilia from my days in scouting.
The final stop on the timeline was the library’s local history room, where members of Troop 60471 showed guests display cases they curated with scouting memorabilia ranging from books to a Girl Scouts Cookie Oven.
These cases are part of the troop’s community service efforts towards earning their Silver Award - the highest honor a Cadette Girl Scout can achieve. The cases will remain on display for the public to visit during regular library hours throughout the month of March, which is Women’s History Month.
RMSC STEM Awards Breakfast
The 2020 Rochester Museum and Science Center STEM Award Breakfast was held on Feb. 28 at the Strathallan in Rochester.
I had the opportunity to attend and learn about inspiring educators and organizations making a difference in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in our region.
From the largest pool of nominees yet, Hillary Olson, RMSC president, presented awards to winners in six categories.
The winners in the STEM education categories (presented at elementary, secondary and university levels) were: Blaine Broughton, enrichment teacher at the Fred W. Hill Elementary School in Brockport; the
Wayne-Finger Lakes Pathways Technology Early College High School in Clifton Springs, Ontario County; and the Women in Computing organization at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
In the catalyst awards categories for individuals and organizations using STEM to make a lasting impact on the region, the winners were: Impact Earth, a Rochester-based sustainability business that helps create zero waste communities, classrooms and events; Tom Battley with the not-for-profit Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster; and Aldon Corp., an Avon, Livingston County-based business that, among other things, manufactures their own line of STEM educational kits.
To nominate an educator for a 2021 RMSC STEM Award, visit rmsc.org/component/k2/item/404leadership-in-stem-education-award-nomination.
Contact Caurie at email@example.com with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CauriePutnam and on Facebook at facebook.com/BrockportBlog.
This article originally ran in the Democrat and Chronicle on February 9, 2020.
by Caurie Putnam
Hilton native Jonathan Schwind’s professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has taken him across the country, playing and coaching for farm teams from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to Indianapolis.
“The commonality of every place I’ve played has been a Challenger league,” said Schwind, 29, of the Little League Challenger Division, an adaptive baseball program for children and adults with physical and intellectual challenges around the world. Schwind, a 2008 graduate of Hilton High School who was drafted by the Pirates organization in 2011, found a perfect fit between his lifelong commitment to volunteerism and Challenger baseball.
“Service has always been a big part of my life; instilled by my par- ents and my faith,” said the son of Dan and Cheri Schwind of Hilton. “When I got into pro ball, I was very lucky the Pirates offered a lot of opportunities to do a wide range of things to give back to the community and I took that to heart.”
In 2017 Schwind, who majored in special education and psychology at Marist College, started a free Challenger/Miracle League Baseball spring training event at Salmon Creek Country Club in Ogden for athletes from the nine Rochester-area Challenger leagues.
The 2020 event was held on Martin Luther King Day and drew about 80 athletes, over two sessions, to Salmon Creek’s indoor sports complex.
Attendees rotated between baseball skills stations that were manned by Schwind and local college and high school players and coaches. Many of Schwind’s friends and former teachers from Hilton also stopped in to cheer the athletes on.
“It’s so nice to have so many big names donating their time to play with our kids,” said Amanda Behrend of Hamlin, whose children play in the Westside Challenger baseball league. “It’s nice to be in a place that’s supportive of children with disabilities, because unfortunately we’re not always made to feel welcome everywhere in the community.” Feeling welcome and celebrated is the atmosphere Schwind strives to promote at the annual event, which boasts an almost 1:1 player-to-volunteer ratio. This year volunteers came from the baseball teams at Genesee Community College, The College at Brockport and many area high schools. There were also volunteers from the Brockport High School hockey team, where one of Schwind’s three brothers coaches.
“The amount of volunteers we get has increased every year,” Schwind said. “The event is for the participants, but the volunteers get just as much out of it.” Schwind’s family members also volunteer; his mother serves lunch, which is donated by the Schuth family, owners of Salmon Creek (they also donate the use of the facility). Backpacks filled with baseball swag for each athlete are donated by teams within the Pirates organization.
“Jon is just a very good guy,” said Ron Kampf, director of Webster Challenger Baseball, who is the liaison between the local Challenger leagues and Schwind for the event. “He genuinely likes to help people.”
Schwind, who won the 2016 Pirates Community Commitment Award at the Double A level and was mostly recently the assistant hitting instructor for the Pirates Triple- A team in Indianapolis, recently bought a home in Hilton with his wife, Lindsay.
He is doing private baseball instruction (last week he was in California training Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, whom he pitched to in the MLB 2019 Home Run Derby), interested in coaching on a college level and already planning next year’s Challenger event.
“This event has become something really important to me,” Schwind said. “Because I got drafted I never had the time to student teach, but in my heart I still have that passion for this work.”
For more information on the Rochester region’s Challenger programs, visit rochestermiraclefield.
Contact Caurie at caurie@ urgrad.rochester.edu with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CaurieP utnam and on Facebook at facebook. com/BrockportBlog.
Each year on National Wreaths Across America Day, millions of Americans come together to remember the fallen, honor those that serve and their families, and teach the next generation about the value of freedom.
Until last month, when joint applications filed by Harvey C. Noone Legion Post 954 and Girl Scout Troop 60487 were approved, there were no participating cemeteries in Monroe County. There are now two. One is the Creekside/St Vincent’s Cemetery, 44 N. Main St., in the Village of Churchville and the other is the Riga Cemetery on Route 36 just south of the Village. Buried in these cemeteries are over 375 veterans.
On Saturday, December 14, 2019 (National Wreaths Across America Day) wreaths will be laid for these local veterans. The event begins with a free and open-to-the-public ceremony at noon at the grave of Harvey C. Noone, who is buried in Creekside Cemetery. After the ceremony, will be the placing of wreaths on the headstones of veterans buried in the Creekside/St. Vincent’s cemetery. Parking will be in the Church Lodge Parking Lot, with refreshments following in the Lodge. Wreaths will be placed later that day in Riga Cemetery.
For real time updates go to www.facebook.com/WAAChurchvilleCreekside/
To sponsor a wreath or learn more about Wreaths Across America visit https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/pages/162525.
The theme of this year's National Wreaths Across American Day is "Everyone Plays a Part." In 2018, nearly 1.8 million veteran wreaths were placed on headstones at 1,640 participating cemeteries around the country in honor of the service and sacrifices made for our freedoms, with each name said out loud.
by Caurie Putnam
this article originally appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle on November 17, 2019.
On Nov. 17, Dalton Letta takes his final bow as the lead in Artists Unlimited’s production of 'Shrek the Musical' at Kodak Center. His most influential role, though, is that of the founder of Campaign D, a new organization based on the west side to spread autism awareness and promote inclusivity.
“Campaign D is run by individuals with autism,” said Letta, 24, a charismatic actor and autism awareness advocate who was diagnosed with the spectrum disorder at age 3. “It is the personal voice for people with autism and a way to give back to the community.”
Community is a key piece of Campaign D, which was recently incorporated and is on its way to nonprofit status.
The group holds many of its activities at the town of Gates’ complex on Buffalo Road. Gates was the first town in New York to receive an Autism-Friendly Community designation (by the Autism Council) and has embraced Letta and his organization.
“To watch Dalton grow into this role has been a joy,” said Gates Town Supervisor Cosmo A. Giunta, who has known Dalton — also the town’s autism ambassador — since he was a little boy. “I’m really proud of him.”
It’s not unusual to stop by Campaign D’s social club on a Friday afternoons at the town’s recreation center and find Giunta playing ping pong with club members or a Gates Police Department officer hanging out with the group.
“The best way to learn is through interacting,” said James VanBrederode, chief of the Gates Police Department. “Campaign D has added a new dimension to our training and department. We all know Dalton now and all of our officers have a puzzle piece on their uniform.”
The puzzle piece, a universal symbol of autism awareness, is also on all of the town’s police cars. Letta has spoken to Gates officers on topics like how to interview individuals on the autism spectrum who have witnessed a crime.
Jerri Sparks of Churchville, who attends Campaign D events with her son Jared, 22, has heard Letta speak on issues such as autism and law enforcement.
“Dalton is such a great leader of this movement because he is so articulate, funny and well informed about the issues,” Sparks said. “To have an organization run by individuals with autism is so unique and getting their perspective on issues is so important.”
Advocacy is critical to Letta, who hopes Campaign D will have a voice in changing laws and policies beyond a town level. One of his goals is for school
districts to improve educating families about transition programs for individuals with autism after they graduate.
After Letta, the son of Krystin Letta and the late Travis Letta, graduated from Greece Arcadia High School in 2013, he faced a period of downtime before his family learned about the Bridge to Earning, Living and Learning (BELL) program at Roberts Wesleyan College.
The four-semester BELL program is an inclusive postsecondary certificate program on campus for students age 18 to 26 with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It focuses on personal growth and also prepares graduates for competitive employment.
Volunteers from the BELL program, from which Letta graduated in 2016 and now serves as the program’s special liaison to the community, also attend Campaign D’s social club.
That’s where you’ll also find Letta’s mom — giving support to other parents and caregivers of children and adults on the autism spectrum and looking on with pride at her son as he leads Campaign D.
“Before Campaign D, families with members with autism didn’t have a presence on the west side,” Krystin Letta said.
Contact Caurie at firstname.lastname@example.org with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CauriePutnam and on Facebook at facebook.com/BrockportBlog.
The Spencerport High School STAGE Drama Club presents ANNIE from November 14 to 16 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. at Spencerport High School's Performing Arts Center.
Featured in the show, is Sandy - a lovely dog rescued by a Spencerport teacher via Lab Lovers Rescue (formerly Rudy's Rescue). Sandy will be playing the role of...Sandy!
Additionally, the show is a full-circle moment for the graduating seniors, says Ruth Jacobs, STAGE Drama Advertising/PR Coordinator, "as they performed Annie as 6th graders in their first ever school musical."
Tickets ($12) can be purchased at www.showtix4U.com and at the door at any performance.
by Caurie Putnam
article originally published in the Democrat and Chronicle on October 6, 2019.
Seven years ago Nanette Klein Davis of Brockport was going through a personally challenging time when she attended the first Spiritual Spa Day at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Hamlin.
“It was very uplifting,” said Davis, of the event for women of all faiths and ages. “It was a very calming day to center myself, relax and refocus on what’s important in life.”
Davis’ mother, Anne Klein of Hamlin, and her friend Teresa “Terry” Werth of Spencerport founded the daylong event seven years ago. About sixty-five women attended and, over the years, many have asked them to hold another one.
Klein and Werth, who have been friends for 40 years, took the requests to heart and will be holding a second Spiritual Spa Day from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 19, at the church on 3747 Brick Schoolhouse Road in Hamlin. The theme of this year’s program is Compassion: One Wish to Change the World.
“We both felt that if ever there was a time we, as women, needed to reflect, think and talk about compassion it’s now,” Werth said. “As women of different faiths, we have so many shared values and the way forward to a world that is a better place is to share those values with each other.”
The day doesn’t include manicures or pedicures, but, instead, a rich program of activities to help attendees better care for their inner selves.
These activities include: relaxation exercises, creating origami birds, rock stacking, a labyrinth walk, inspirational music and a short play adapted from Sharon Mehdi’s book “The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering: A Story for Anyone Who Thinks She Can't Save the World.”
Attendees will also help create a compassion tree with over 300 personalized leaves as a symbolic representation of those people, places and communities that need more compassion.
“Everything we will present takes into account the common threads of compassion we share in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam,” said Werth, who has a background in Christian education and public relations. “We will look at compassion from an inclusive, human perspective and explore ways we can carry compassion into the world.”
The cost for the Spiritual Spa Day is $20 per person, which includes lunch, bottled water, snacks, door prizes and take-home materials. A portion of the fee will be donated to the Willow Domestic Violence Center of Rochester, in support of October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Attendees are also asked to bring canned food or dry goods to be donated to Life Solutions of Hamlin. At the original Spiritual Spa Day there were so many donations the group was able to fill a kayak.
“We hope to draw women of all faiths and ages from young mom to grandmas,” said Klein, who ran a local bed and breakfast for 20 years. “The goal of the day is to create a better understanding of what we can do as women when we come together.”
Contact Caurie at email@example.com with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CauriePutnam and on Facebook at facebook.com/BrockportBlog/.
This article ran in the Democrat and Chronicle on September 29, 2019.
by Caurie Putnam
For Michele Walsh Myers, Tuttle North, on the campus of The College at Brockport, will forever be a place of bittersweet emotion. It was in that building on Sept. 11, 2001, that Myers, a native of Seaford, Long Island, was at her graduate student work study job when she heard that a plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Eighteen years later, Myers teaches in Tuttle North as a full-time lecturer in the kinesiology, sports studies and physical education department. It is also where the Stephen Siller — Tunnel to Towers Brockport 5K Run & Walk, which Myers directs, will begin and end Sunday, Oct. 6.
“I’m so glad to be able to bring the event to Brockport because this is where I was when Sept. 11 happened,” Myers said.
Since 2002, the race has been held in cities around the nation in memory of Stephen Siller, 34, a New York City firefighter who died Sept. 11, 2001, after putting on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.
The nonprofit Stephen Siller Foundation, which founded the race, has raised over $125 million in support of first responders, veterans and Gold Star families. It remembers the 343 FDNY members, 71 police officers (from 10 different agencies) and thousands of citizens killed on Sept. 11, 2001 — several of whom Myers had a personal connection to.
“My alma mater, Seaford High School, lost five in the tower attacks,” Myers said. “Two of them I went to high school with and grew up with — New York City firefighter Timmy Haskell and his brother Tommy, a battalion chief with FDNY’s Ladder 132. It made the attacks more personal and gave me the drive to do something to make sure the victims were never forgotten.”
Myers organized a Tunnel to Towers races in Rochester from 2016 to 2018, but when she got hired full time at her alma mater last year, she was asked by her department chair, Cathy Houston-Wilson, also a Long Island native, to consider moving the race to Brockport.
“The support I’ve received from the kinesiology department, the college, village of Brockport, mayor, campus and village police departments and the Brockport Volunteer Fire Department has been overwhelming,” Myers said. “It means a lot to bring the race here and to include the students and the monument.”
The Brockport Volunteer Firefighters Association maintains a September 11 th monument in front of Brockport Fire Department’s Station 4 on 237 S. Main St. A part of Main Street will be shut down on race day so that participants can run by the monument.
About 70 Tunnel to Towers races are held annually; typically on or around Sept. 11. Myers chose early October so she could get more students from the college involved after they were settled in for the first semester.
The Brockport Student Government has given 100 registration fees for students to participate. Myers is also seeking 343 volunteers from the college and community to hold signs along the race route that bear the photos and names of each of the 343 FDNY members killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
To register for the Tunnel to Towers Brockport race ($25 advance; discounts for certain ages) at 9 a.m. Oct. 6, visit crowdrise.com/t2tbrockport2019. Same day registration is $30. To volunteer, email Brockport@tunnel2towers.org or fill out the online race registration form (there is a free volunteer option listed). For race updates and road closures, visit Tunnel To Towers Brockport on Facebook.
Contact Caurie at firstname.lastname@example.org with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CauriePutnam and on Facebook at facebook.com/ BrockportBlog/.