Friday, November 20, 2020

Cuomo needs to be more empathetic to WNY


Empathy is defined as "the ability to sense other people's emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling." Basically, it’s what we mean when we say, “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”


Empathy is sometimes considered an emotion itself, but many psychologists believe it to be more of a cognitive ability. I consider it a character trait, because the mastery of it or just the attempt to utilize it speaks to the quality of a person.


But, no matter how good we are in our souls, it can still be the most difficult behavior to master. That’s because its stimuli are ever-changing. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding other people. We’re unique. Our life experiences, loves, fears, interests, emotions, victories and losses are distinctly and genuinely ours and ours alone. They all are, in specific ways, visceral to the individual.


We can try to understand others but too often it’s tough. We know what we know, what we’ve done. We don’t know, exactly, what others know, what others have done.


Regardless, we should try at all times when communicating with, working with and serving others.


Empathy takes on even greater importance when we’re in a position of responsibility.


For example, as a parent, we need to understand rather than be frustrated with our kids and how they see and react to the world based on their development and environment. Or, when managing an organization of part of it, we need to understand where everyone has come from, how they see the world and how the world sees them.


Sometimes, maybe more often than not, we fail in doing that.


Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the leader of our entire state, failed miserably in that regard, dismissing the pain of millions of people…millions of people he is responsible for.


During one of his press conferences, in some misguided and deliberate attempt to explain why Western New York is seeing a spike in COVID cases, he said "Western New York never lived the full pain of COVID's wrath.”


That, of course, showed a total lack of empathy.


Cuomo knows his world. That would be New York City and Albany. The rest of the state? That’s not his bag; he doesn’t know Watertown from Wellsville from Williamsville.


His understanding of human suffering in its various forms is based upon that. If you are outside of his realm of understanding, you couldn’t have felt any pain. You had to have had smooth sailing. It was all rainbows and butterflies elsewhere.


Yes, it was really bad in the Tri-State area. But, things were also bad here, in death and in other ways. You can’t say that it was otherwise to those who lived and are still living it.


A friend of the family lost her husband to the virus. Twelve minutes from my house, 28 people died in a nursing home which become an epicenter for fear and loss.


My mom, a volunteer EMT, could be exposed to COVID in her calling, so, during the spring, she would see her one year-old grandbabies from a distance. That hurt her to her core.


A dear friend of mine went into a bout of deep depression because she, too, was unable to see her grandchildren.


Families weren’t able to see their parents in long-term care facilities and those within those walls saw their minds and bodies fade from that.


Those in grief couldn’t hold funerals and find needed support in friends and family.


We all know children who have become withdrawn or have developed emotional or social issues from the lack of contact with friends, family members, and the coaches and teachers who love them.


The police scanner has been alive with misery as domestic abuse and substance abuse have skyrocketed through the pandemic.


I know of someone who, because of the endless news cycle and fear-mongering, has become mentally incapacitated and won’t and can’t leave her home. So many others, at a less-debilitating scale, have developed anxiety.  


Breadwinners of households across the region who, in the eyes of government, were deemed “non-essential” wondered how they would survive the lockdown and future lockdowns.


Small businesses across WNY faced existential crises. You may have seen the viral video of a local restaurateur who tearfully announced the shutdown of his sports bar two weeks ago. That video perfectly summed up 2020 for entrepreneurs. Heck, even I spent the shutdown wondering what my business would look like on the other side of it and if it would even survive to see its fiftieth year.


I could literally go on and on. But you know what you lived. You know what we lived as a region.


So, it only stands to reason that our frustration with Cuomo’s words was justified last week.


He was not empathetic -- or even sympathetic -- to what we saw and felt, what we lost and who we lost.


It’s a lesson for him.


It’s also a lesson for us.


We’re all better people if we take the time to understand others and not demean their struggles.


As they say, “the struggle is real.”      



From the 23 November 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, November 6, 2020

Raising chickens, raising children


The early days of the pandemic saw a run on toilet paper.


It also saw a run on chicks.


Hatcheries and retailers like Tractor Supply and Runnings that sell baby chickens couldn’t keep up with the demand. As soon as they arrived at the store they were gone.


So-called panic buying (something I would prefer to call “preparedness buying”) for these creatures had set in for two reasons.


First, there were fears of food insecurity. There were concerns that retailers could be shutdown as governments chased COVID. And, there was the very real issue of an egg shortage, one that didn’t last too long, when the distribution networks had to make the sudden change from restaurants, schools, and food processors to consumers suddenly finding themselves homebound and egg-hungry.   


Secondly, there was a strong desire to be self-sufficient, just in case. As the lockdowns deepened and COVID hospitalizations spiked, breadwinners were concerned that they might not see work again for months if it was repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic.


So, with free time on their hands and a whole bunch of unknowns before them, it made sense for homeowners to build a backyard farm that could provide eggs and meat.


Mine was one of those families that went all-in with chickens.


It was a long time coming. My daughter had been asking for years. We knew that we’d get chickens, whether it was this year or next. 2020 became it. I figured that I would be out of the office for at least a month because of the state shutdown so there was no better time to grow the chicks to adulthood and then put them outback in a little home.


Since then, I’ve come to the realization, as most newfound chicken raisers have, that we’re not in it to come out ahead. When you tally-up the costs of erecting coops and buying feed for a small flock of chickens (we’re just short of a dozen), the payback won’t occur for a few years, if it does at all.


But, it’s not about the costs.


It’s about the kids.


The lessons being taught my daughter now, and later her siblings as they get a little older, are priceless.


This hobby farm has added complexity and responsibility to her day-to-day life. Once, her chores might have mirrored those of her peers – pick-up after yourself, help with the dishes, give daddy a hand raking the leaves. Now, she has living, breathing animals depending on her.  


She has to put them in their coops at night so the coyotes don’t get them. She has to let them out in the morning. She has to keep them fed and watered. She has to clean out their nesting boxes and runs a few times a week. She has to harvest and clean the eggs.


You might be thinking that’s a lot of work for adult, let alone a kid.


She’s nine. So, it is a lot.


But, she loves it.


Oh, she might complain when digging up the soiled saw dust shavings, but she adores those birds, the breakfasts and her little farm. As a matter of fact, she’s been accumulating chicken do-dads – stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, books and more. You don’t do that when you’re burned out. You do that when you enjoy what you’re doing.


Those chickens have become part of her identity…in more ways than one.


These old-school lessons masquerading as mostly fun and rewarding experiences have taught her plenty about life and death, animal husbandry, scheduling, farming, health and safety, inventory management, biology, budgeting, food preparation, work ethic, love and sacrifice among other things. It’s a great way to supplement what she’s learning in her remote classroom.


So, fellow chicken farmers, don’t second guess what 2020 made you do. Our hobby farms are doing more than serving up breakfast. They are serving a higher purpose: Not only are we raising chickens, we’re also raising capable and loving human beings.     



From the 09 November 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, October 30, 2020

Firefighters are fighting financial issues


Volunteer firefighters give an incredible amount of time to saving us from whatever tragic event might befall us -- a house fire, a car accident, an injury, a flooded basement. When the call goes out they leave what they are doing, be it a family picnic or a kid’s baseball game, to do what needs to be done, to do what too few do.


Beyond that devotion of time to the task at hand, there’s also the time invested in preparing to do those things – training, certification, equipment maintenance and more.


Then, there’s something that takes up just as much time, if not more, than all of that service combined, something that’s done out of necessity to continue to provide the services they are: Fundraising.


Your typical homeowner served by a volunteer fire company rarely puts much thought into what volunteers have to do to keep that fire company afloat. They might wrongly assume that since volunteer labor is “free” there must be no cost associated with firefighting.


Oh, how wrong they are.


Volunteers must devote hours and days to holding bingo and meat and gun raffles, while also offering hall rentals and food to weddings and special events, because there are so many costs associated with being there for the community. They include but are not limited to hall maintenance, utilities, investments in and preventive maintenance of firefighting vehicles, various insurance policies, outfitting and upkeep of personal equipment, education, certification and legal fees.


Obviously, with such workloads on the scene and behind the scenes, it’s stressful enough for these men and women to do what they do, day after day, for us in normal times.


Now, throw the COVID pandemic into the mix.


Because of it, local fire companies are in incredibly difficult financial positions. The same lockdowns and protocols that have crippled or closed for good small businesses are also impacting first responders. They haven’t been able to hold raffles, rent their halls, or run bingo. The impacts have been staggering.


Consider the crises faced by two local fire companies.


Gratwick Hose is located in North Tonawanda and is just down the street from my place of business. They are one of six volunteer companies in a city of 30,000 residents that also features 5 paid professional fire stations. Gratwick’s responsibilities are large, as they protect not only residences, but also a handful of factories, special events at Gratwick Park, and accidents that occur on busy River Road. What they do requires a huge investment…one that’s taken a huge hit: Because of the loss of special events, raffles and rentals they’ve lost out on $125,000 in revenues with two months yet to go this year.


Wolcottsville Fire Company is located on the other end of Niagara County. Wollcottsville is a hamlet of around 400 people, but the fire company also serves the adjoining rural area (and a couple thousand more residents) as well as the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area, where searches-and-rescues are often done. The company’s vast district is around 30 square miles in size, so there’s great demand on equipment and people to get the job done. They are down $50,000 on the year, a number certain to grow, especially with their popular December raffle having to go online.


Those are just two fire companies. There are 28 such enterprises in Niagara County alone, and hundreds more across the state. Every one of them, from small towns to small cities, are faced with this financial difficulty.


What are they to do?


The cost of doing business, the cost of doing good, is still there. You just can’t turn off the lights or not turn on the sirens. It’s not as if COVID has stopped fires, car accidents, and general accidents. As a matter of fact, its stressors have increased the demand in certain categories such as overdoses and injuries from domestics that firefighters and their EMS brethren must tend to.


In response to COVID, fire companies everywhere have depleted their rain day funds and bank accounts. They are leaning on any endowments and investments they might have. Their members have been kicking in their own money to help the bottom line.


What can we do as a society to save the savers?


Three things:


One, we can begin to have the conversation with our towns and counties about fully funding fire companies, which we already fund in part through taxes. No one wants to hear about raising property or sales taxes but what basic expectations do you have with local government? It’s typically roads and safety. Fund that critical expectation and we’ll save volunteers from the countless hours of fundraising to keep their higher calling -- and us -- alive.


Secondly, we can demand that Governor Andrew Cuomo release $3 billion in CARES Act and other federal funds that he has held hostage. A billion of that, earmarked for “other” use, could go to counties and towns that were blocked from earlier recovery funding. They could then aid the fire districts.


Lastly, we can give. When some sense of normalcy returns, let’s go back to attending those fun raffles and bingo. In the meantime, we should add to our annual year-end giving donations to our local fire companies. $5. $50. $500. Any amount helps, especially if we all chip in.


Our volunteer fire companies are in need. It’s time we stepped up to help them.


If we don’t, who will be there to help us?     



From the 02 November 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News