Monday, August 30, 2021

When the helpers need helping

It’s been a trying time for first responders in Gasport.


In a matter of days, our local volunteers lost three people with whom they served.


Merle Snell, a founding member of the Hartland fire company who volunteered there for decades, passed on the 21st. Three days later, Linda Drum, who helped with the Ladies Auxiliary at Gasport Chemical Hose where many of her family have been or are firefighters, died in a car accident. Later that day, Judy Spencer, a Hartland volunteer who was consistently a top responder, died in the line of duty while assisting a neighboring fire company.


It’s heartbreaking enough that our local heroes lost their comrades, friends, mentors, and family members. It’s even more heartbreaking to know they responded to the calls for Merle and Linda and, in the case of Judy, were there when it happened. They saw. They felt. They grieved.


My mom is an EMT. One of her fears, one shared by everyone who has ever put a flashing light in their car, is that when she arrives at an accident, fire, or medical event it’s someone she knows.


It’s a real feeling of dread that all volunteers have. Given how small a community like mine is, it’s certain to actually happen in a volunteer’s career.  


But, that can’t prepare them for when that worst nightmare does happen.


Nothing can.


And, even if it is someone unfamiliar, it doesn’t make the anguish any less.


Throughout their volunteerism, they’ve seen people who’ve passed, they’ve tried to help people at their rawest and most vulnerable, and, sometimes, despite their best efforts, they’ve been unable to save a life and are left comforting the injured, holding their hand for their last breath.


Those of us who are helped by the helpers can’t even come close to imagining, to feeling what they’ve experienced.


But, what we can do, is to be there for them following these events.


That has been happening in volume in my community.


You can tell from comments pouring in on social media that those three who were lost meant so much to so many people in Gasport, and beyond; Facebook has been alive with people offering their condolences and memories to the families and the volunteers. The “real world” outside the confines of social media has been equally vibrant, from locals providing food, donations, hugs, and support to neighboring fire districts being on call to cover for the grieving to people far away showing their respects, whether it was a morning run at West Point in Judy’s honor, or a 12 year-old boy in central Florida doing the same.


The support has been powerful and meaningful. I know those families – families by blood or by service – have appreciated it.


What’s been happening here should serve as a model of support for other communities, and all other tragedies. Those who are served should serve the servers. And, it should happen more often than it does now.


First responders experience destruction and death too frequently. It sears into their brain. Many get PTSD, just as a soldier might -- what they’ve seen is best compared to the horror someone would see on the battlefield.  


Following horrific calls, they can get some help from their brotherhood/sisterhood. Their fire halls and county emergency services provide debriefings. Local and state resources are dedicated to getting them the counseling they need.


But, it’s never easy for them to take help.


People, for the most part, feel uncomfortable talking, especially in the open or with complete strangers, about their mental anguish. That’s even more pronounced in fire and EMS circles because volunteers are who they are – they’ve taken it upon themselves to serve others and they believe they shouldn’t show what they perceive to be weakness. They see whole communities counting on them to be strong in the most dire of moments. They don’t want any chinks in their armor.


That’s where we come in, as their trusted friends and family.


Be there to listen.


Be there to provide a shoulder to cry on.


Heck, just be there…in many cases, the power of silence with a companion or the diversion of regular conversation are healing enough.  


Look at it this way: We need to focus on the health of our real heroes as much as we do on the health of assumed heroes. If a player on your favorite football team blows out his knee or tears a shoulder, there’s a lot of handwringing going on – how will our city ever survive? But, when it comes to the heroes who wear a different type of helmet, who are battling an unseen wound, that of trauma witnessed and felt, there’s sometimes not enough attention thrown their way, yet it should be, because, truly, how will our city ever survive?


Know, just as my fellow Gasport residents have shown, that sometimes the helpers need helping.


Be the friend, the confidant, they need to get through their darkest days.  


It’s the least we can do for those who have been and will be there for us when we face our darkest moments.  


From the 30 August 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News


Monday, August 23, 2021

Celebrate Constitution Day this September


There’s a decades-old urban legend in these parts that I always have a copy of the Constitution with me.

It’s not a legend; I really do have a pocket Constitution on me at all times.

That may seem somewhat over-the-top in regard to patriotism and perhaps a little nerdy, but the Constitution is the Bible of Americanism.


That simple yet powerful document is the guiding light to what is the greatest experiment in self-government - and, from that, the greatest society - that Mankind has ever known and will ever know, the United States of America. I strongly believe it’s our founding principles that made our nation great by allowing and inspiring Americans to be the very best that we can be. America is unique in that our natural rights were officially recognized and deemed inalienable by the Constitution, allowing liberty, self-rule, and free markets to flourish.

Over the course of our history, though, the Constitution has seen some rough spots. Presidents such as Lincoln, FDR, the younger Bush, and Obama trampled over our nation’s legal and philosophical foundation with zeal.


Sometimes we need a reminder that the morality and virtuous free environment recognized and provided for by the Constitution is what’s best for whatever ails us.


Can it put an end to what seem like never-ending wars? Yes.


Can it heal our sickened economy? Yes.


Can it kill the numerous and creative ways being used to invade our privacy? Yes.


The Constitution can be - or will lead us to - the answers for all of today’s problems.

Most people have forgotten that. To them the Constitution has become an afterthought, maybe even an antiquity or novelty. Some even forget that it exists.

Enter “Constitution and Citizenship Day”.

Introduced as an amendment to an appropriations bill in 2004, Public Law 108-447 requires that any public school that receives federal funding educate its students on the Constitution on or by September 17 of every year in observance of the Constitution’s signing in 1787. It’s interesting that the law was penned by none other than the now-deceased Democratic Senator Robert Byrd who was never really known to be a Constitution enthusiast and it should also be noted that the Constitution in proper practice should prohibit the federal government from funding and dictating to public schools. Nonetheless, it is the law.

Even without its edict it’s good citizenship to revisit and be reeducated about the document on its birthday. It’s a day just as important to America as July 4.


On the evening of September 17 make it a point to ask your children or grandchildren if they received an education about the Constitution in the days leading up to it. It’s not necessarily guaranteed that they will. An obscure law like this can be easily overlooked and, as history shows, even if it were followed our schools aren’t necessarily the best places for civics (teachers have to be super-focused on other matters while being forced to teach to standardized tests).

Plus -- although many modern parents may not agree with this -- it’s your responsibility to educate your kids as much it is the schools’. Education shouldn’t end when the school bell rings. Take the time to discuss the Constitution with them. It doesn’t have to be a dry subject. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have shown that teaching about government can be exciting, engaging, and character-building. Start young and they’ll better understand their duties as citizens and, as they age, what their government can and cannot do to and for them.

If your understanding of the Constitution is a little limited itself take the time to make it a shared learning experience with your family. There is plenty of great material on the web and among the very best is the “Overview of America” video which can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. You’ll come away enlightened.

Regardless of your knowledge, it’s imperative that you take the time to reacquaint yourself and your children with the Constitution. If more people did, it’s guaranteed that America would be in a better place than it is now during these trying and crazy times.


Sometimes, the old fashioned ways are the best ways. Our Founding Fathers were really onto something.


From the 23 August 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, August 16, 2021

Looking forward to working with Governor Hochul


I had good relationships with the offices of Governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.


Their top-level staff would get back to me within 24 hours of receiving an email, letter, or phone call. I always found that reassuring, because if I was reaching out to them, whether in my capacity as a columnist, business owner, or leader of a nonprofit board, it was for legitimate reasons, a concern that needed addressing or an idea that needed sharing. As you can imagine, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we were always polite and sometimes collaborative.


On the other hand, my relationship with their successor – Andrew Cuomo -- and his team has been, as they say, complicated.


Whenever I contacted his office it was met with silence. There was no immediacy in getting back to me and, when they did, it was a canned response, a form letter that would vaguely address my issue and was cut-and-pasted to others who may have shared similar thoughts.


That doesn’t mean they weren’t listening, especially when it was needed the most. During the peak of the Covid crisis in the spring of 2020, his team fed off what I gave them.


A column that appeared here in this paper caused the state to ditch the waiting week for unemployment benefits, a real boon to families who suddenly found themselves jobless because of the vast shutdowns. In the dawning weeks of the crisis, I often posed questions and suggestions to Cuomo and team on Twitter that would then be addressed in press conferences. Then, the icing on the cake was my reopening plan, which the state used to develop their guidelines for businesses coming out of the Covid shutdown.


I didn’t get or want recognition, because I was only doing what needed to be done to help the families I work with and the millions more who needed light at the end of the Covid tunnel.


But, in retrospect, I knew words of gratitude couldn’t come from his mouth. It would have been impossible for him to acknowledge that the people from private sector, outside of his employ, outside of his (our) funding, were capable of providing assistance and ideas to benefit the masses.


No one could do better than government. No one could do better than his government. 


That’s why, for example, the Buffalo Billion focused on the awarding of money to a select few recipients; Elon Musk was given $750 million in public generosity; long term green energy plans were imposed with no thought of what the impact will be on businesses and households; Covid positive patients were allowed to be in nursing home despite concerns of families and facility operators; primary care physicians weren’t an early part of the vaccine distribution process; and only government could decide how and when to get us out of the Covid mess.


I could provide a veritable litany here, as we all could, of how the past ten years have gone. It’s been “Andrew knows best.”  


Even his own executive branch has not been spared such frustrations. Agency and department heads have had to deal with micromanagement that’s been oppressive. It’s a miracle that they got things done. It’s also a testament to their love of doing the peoples’ work that they didn’t leave that toxic work environment.


His was a sick, aggressive machismo, a Y chromosome gone mad, one that ultimately proved to be his undoing with his equally intense focus on the fairer sex.


Cuomo left the public confidence in government in ruin. He left the government’s confidence in itself in ruin.


Governor-to-be Kathy Hochul will win back that confidence. She will be a welcome change of pace for two big reasons: One, she knows that she/government are not the solution, that they are instead part of the solution; and, two, she’s not driven by love of self. She’s driven by love of others.


What I’ve seen as something incredibly meaningful throughout Kathy’s political career, whether as a Congresswoman or Lieutenant Governor, is her approachability and hunger to learn about the people she serves. In an era where many politicians hide behind social media accounts or make themselves known by talk shows rather than town halls, she’s been admirably old school, shaking hands, meeting people, seeing things, listening, understanding, and caring. That knowledge of and respect for the Common Man is a rare commodity nowadays, and when your constituency suddenly becomes 19 million New Yorkers, it’s incredibly valuable. 


I had the honor of meeting Kathy back in 2017 when she toured Confer Plastics to check out our expansion, one of the largest blow molding machines in the world. She was affable, bright, and genuinely interested in the successes and struggles of the company and the people who work for it. I know she will continue to be that way not only for my little world, but the bigger world around us.  


I look forward to, as a good citizen, working with Kathy and her team to advance some of the ideas you read in this column in an attempt to make the Empire State a better place.


Fate couldn’t have given us a better heir to the Executive Chamber. New York needs healing in so many ways and she’s the healer we need, now.



From the 16 August 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News