I’ve had lots of free time on my hands this month as my kids are all (I mean all three!) away at summer camp and my husband, well, he still has to work so we can eat and have a roof over our heads.
Me, I’ve had time to explore and actually wander around the outlying towns I cover instead of just “visit” the towns on the Internet through municipal webpages.
Sure, there is lots of information about events, festivals and programs online, but there is no substitute for hitting the pavement and asking around.
On such a visit to Fairport, I took a break, sat by the Erie Canal and called my brother in New Jersey.
He asked what I was up to.
“Oh, I need to write a profile story about a person from a town I really know very few people, so I’m walking around this cute little village called Fairport. I’m stopping into the library and local shops and saying hello and asking people for ideas.”
He paused. He chuckled. Then he began to speak. When my brother speaks, he has no filter. At least not with his sister.
“You’re going around ASKING random people if they have ideas for you? You know who does that? CRAZY PEOPLE!!”
Perhaps. Perhaps the unstructured time of summer has driven me mad. But just wandering around I gathered the following for story ideas:
- A beauty shop that carries only sustainable products and is one of the only salons in the country that has a state of the art ventilation system that is constantly bringing in fresh air to protect the health of clients and employees. They also collect food for the local food pantry and portions of their profits go to a well project in Uganda.
- An upcoming music festival
- An ice cream shop owned by a Xerox manager called the Moonlight Creamery that has special wine-food-ice cream pairing events and crazy flavors like oatmeal ice cream.
- Most of all, I found a golf fund-raiser to raise money for a Fairport football coach battling a degenerative neuro muscular disease. The minute I saw it, I said, THAT’s my story.
But, I can’t wander around all the time, people. I need your help.
I need for you to tell me about great little shops on the east side of Rochester that have great shop owners with interesting lives.
I need to know what organizations you’re giving your time to and what events that are coming up that go with your cause.
I need to know about the issues in your town you care about, how you are getting involved and how others can do the same.
Fall is coming. I’m nearing the end of my story idea rope and I can’t wander around the streets in the cold of February. Send me your best ideas NOW!
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting two transplants to Rochester from North Carolina and one all the way from Taiwan.
They came to be nearer to lifesaving healthcare resources. They came here for family and for love.
These transplants found all that in Rochester. What they also found was a community on ice.
Before I share their story, think about something you’ve complained about today.
Maybe you had an ache in your back. Or the winter weather makes you not want to get out of bed. Or your co-workers, siblings, roommates, spouse, etc., is driving you crazy. Keep your problems. You really don’t have any problems. Instead, count those blessings.
Thank you to Amanda, the courageous single mom of Bryson. Thank you for calling me to make sure I had everything for my story while Bryson was once again in the ICU. Amanda was apologizing to me for not keeping in touch.
When I told her not to worry and how instead how sorry I was that Bryson was back in the ICU because of complications related to his CP, she just said – “That’s okay. That’s just how it is.”
I saw Amanda and Bryson about a week later at a routine checkup for my son’s asthma. Amanda gave me a quick hello, thanked me again and said she had to run, she had six other doctors appointments for Bryson.
Sadly, Bryson died about under two years from the time this piece was published in the Democrat and Chronicle. I am glad I was able to have written this to preserve his memory.
There is a little ritual performed by Gliding Stars students each time they take to the ice at the Webster Ice Arena. Each skater is escorted onto the ice with one or two volunteers as a straight line forms across the center of the rink. Some stand independently while others use the support of walkers and arm braces. At the cue of their skating instructor, they chant a cheer: “Can we skate? Yes we can!”
With the help of his family, friends and the larger community in Webster, this can-do spirit lives within the tiny body of 6-year-old skater Bryson Sparrin.
Bryson, of Webster, was born prematurely at 27 weeks with cerebral palsy. In 2010, he contracted hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain, and had to have shunts placed within his brain to relieve the pressure. Already coping with speech delays caused by cerebral palsy, the shunts further curtailed his speech development. He can carry on a conversation and express himself with short sentences, gestures and with the help of an iPad application.
In spite of it all, Bryson wants to be like any other boy his age. Getting on the ice with Gliding Stars is one more way Bryson feels like the rest of his peers.
Gliding Stars was started in Buffalo in 1994 by a figure skater who wanted to make the sport accessible to people with physical, mental or emotional challenges. The Rochester Chapter, which meets weekly in Webster, currently enrolls 35 skaters and meets each Sunday afternoon from November through April. The season culminates with a choreographed ice show where the students can show off their moves.
According to Rochester Gliding Stars co-coordinator Christie Leszczynski, also of Webster, ice skating provides Bryson and other disabled children with many benefits. Physically, it helps strengthen muscles and improve stability. Children who are otherwise confined to wheelchairs or have limited ability to walk get a great sense of freedom when their legs can glide over the ice. Emotionally, skating and making friends through the program boost the child’s self-esteem.
It costs $700 for each child to skate to cover insurance, equipment and renting ice rink time. Gliding Stars makes the program as financially accessible as possible to students by charging them only $140 per season. The rest of the tuition is offset by grants, community fundraisers and the dedication of volunteers.
As a skating instructor, Leszczynski modifies skating moves to match students’ capabilities. Some children master basic skills such as alternating feet and skating in a circle with a group, while others learn basic figure skating moves like spins and jumps.
The Sparrins moved to Webster in 2010 from Ashville, N.C. Here, they discovered a welcoming community, support from family and a dedicated team of 10 doctors at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong to treat Bryson.
When one of the doctors recommended that Bryson try out Gliding Stars, his mother was initially hesitant.
“I first thought, ‘There is no way Bryson can ice skate.’ But the first time he tried it out, I saw a huge smile on his face. Now, skating and being with friends on the ice is the thing he looks forward to most each week,” said Amanda Sparrin, a single mother.
Bryson gets around in a powered wheelchair. He is unable to stand or walk on his own. But because of specially designed ice skates and a walker with a sling seat provided by Gliding Stars, Bryson can skate. His beaming smile shows the sense of satisfaction that brings.
Accompanying Bryson on the ice is his cousin, 9year-old Ruby Salamone, a fourth-grader at Schlegel Road Elementary School.
Ruby, who was adopted from Taiwan by Amanda’s sister in October 2010, came to the ice with her own challenges of adjusting to a new family, a new country and a new language.
The skater-volunteer relationship has been mutually beneficial for Bryson and Ruby. Bryson looks up to his new cousin as a role model, and Ruby gains self-confidence at being able to help her cousin while making new friends, said Amanda.
“Ruby really understands Bryson’s nonverbal cues. When they are on the ice, she monitors his mood to help him feel successful. Having that family connection of his cousin skating with him every week is a big bonus in Bryson’s skating. They really love each other,” said Amanda.
After spending the first 86 days of Bryson’s life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Amanda knows the ins and outs of what it takes to care for premature babies. When Bryson was released from the NICU, Amanda had to be trained how to change Bryson’s feeding tube, operate a breathing machine and manage his seizures.
Amanda said she remains in close contact with the nurses who cared for Bryson. Now, to make that support come “full circle,” she is studying at Monroe Community College and hopes to work as an NICU nurse to care for premature babies and their parents.
“For those parents now dealing with babies in the NICU who are living through those first days knowing their child has a life-altering disability — I lived that. I know what they are going through, and I want to become a nurse because I can
give them hope,” said Amanda.
This summer and hopefully for many months to follow, my editors have given me a new challenge – find interesting people to profile in the ROC East Towns of Pittsford, Victor, and Webster. Find people with a unique way of making a living or those who possess a hobby, craft, talent, or story in their past that sets them apart. And make the idea photogenic, and coordinate your source’s schedule with a staff photographer; because photographers have to make a living too.
Come on people, I know you’re out there.
How do I know this? Because within one walking block of my house, I have found interesting people that would make incredible subjects for profile stories. Artists. Gardeners. Mysterious Xylophone players. People who used to live in Nepal. But I only know these facts about my fabulous neighbors is because they are my neighbors.
And if all these people inhabit just one small block of Rochester’s eastern towns, then just imagine who else could be out there – other fabulous people with hobbies, businesses, causes, or talents that really make them stand out.
So, if you know of any such people and they are your Pittsford, Victor or Webster neighbors, won’t you please ask them if they might like to be possibly featured in the Our Towns section of the Democrat & Chronicle? If they are a budding entrepreneur, artist, musician, this could only be a win-win situation.
If not, I just might show up in a suburban development near you, walking the sidewalkless streets wearing a placard that says “Got Story?”