Category Archives: Daring To Dream

The Polio Bears of Rotary District 7190

Ed  Anne - fun

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Winters are pretty cold here in the Great Northeast and making a conscious decision to jump into a freezing cold lake on January 1st takes more than courage.  It takes a reason so strong and so compelling that people who normally act quite sane are happy to take part in this annual event.

So on any given New Year’s Day you will find many Rotarians from District 7190 getting ready to jump into Lake George in upstate New York.  It’s a hardy band of high-spirited people called Polio Bears who annually take the plunge to raise money for polio eradication.

Initiated by the Wilton Rotary Club many years ago, Rotarians from the District’s 42 clubs joined the fun in 2007.   Usually led by the current District Governor the group gets together early in the day for a hearty breakfast and then begins the routine of prepping for the plunge.  Much laughter erupts when someone shows up wearing a funny hat or other crazy gear.

The bright red End Polio Now tee shirts are easy to spot from shore when the bell rings and everyone rushes into the lake.  You can hear how cold the water feels by the screams and shouts.  The water is usually about 43 degrees but it’s the wind chill that really determines how frosty you get.  Then it’s back to the shore for foot warmers, fleece wraps, hot cocoa, coffee or drink of choice, cheers and lots and lots of pictures.

District Governors who opt to stay on dry land find countless ways to raise money to stay out of the water.  And Rotarians who want the Governor to ‘go jump in the lake’ find countless ways to convince them to take the plunge.  This year, Rotarians raised over $10,000 to see the Governor get wet.

A great new event was added this year to give other Rotarians and their families a way to contribute to polio eradication and have a great time on New Year’s Day without getting wet.  Planned and put together by the End Polio Now committee,  eleven bowling alleys around the nine county district held the Pinning Down Polio Tournament with spectacular results.  More than 250 people took part in this fun day with almost $25,000 in total raised with donations still rolling in.

With the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation matching every dollar raised for polio eradication  with $2 this annual event raised over $75,000!!

Thanks to Dennis Austin and Ed Brown for the great photos

LG Bowling with Anne

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Let’s Talk Turkey

What do you do when you find out there are children and families in your hometown without Thanksgiving Dinner?  Well, if you are TJ Tracy you say, “Mom we have to do something about this.”  And then go out and do it.  Again and again and yet again for the past four years.

Now 13, TJ has raised enough money during these past years to provide hundreds of Thanksgiving Dinners to the Franklin Community Center in Saratoga Springs, New York.  This year he is closing in on $10,000 which will also be used to give holiday gifts for children in the community.

After hearing his story, local residents stepped forward to support his mission.  Several local restaurants held Eat and Feed dinners with a percentage of the proceeds going to feed hungry children and families.  TJ has had many interviews with local media and the Saratoga Springs Rotary Club named him one of their 2013 outstanding citizens, the first time a young person has received this honor.

TJ has turned this grassroots fundraising effort into a mission to do something about the hungry children in our communities.  TJ knows this is about more than turkeys.  He knows this is one of the most important issues facing millions of children and their families in this country today.  And he has a plan.  A pretty big plan too.

 TJ’s assessment – if each of the 6o million children in the Untied States could raise $10 there’d be over $600 million to put towards feeding hungry children and families.   A really simple and kid -friendly plan that might just work and certainly capture the imagination of young people everywhere.  
Those of you who read my stories about people having the courage to step forward and make a difference know I particularly have high regard for children with the passion and courage to take on huge challenges.  Alex’s Lemonade StandFree the Children, and most recently , Nik Toocheck who is running marathons on every continent to raise money to buy brand new, warm winter coats for children in need.
Now I’m adding TJ to this list of movers and shakers – I’m going to follow where his passion leads him and let you know what’s next. For more information please check out his Facebook page
PS – what’s next?  Tonight TJ and his volunteers are shopping for Christmas dinner and school break breakfasts and lunches for 35 families.
TJ's Turkeys

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One Million Steps for Children

There are so many kids today who want to help others and many find ways to do that.  Alex’s Lemonade Stand comes to mind as does Craig Kielburger’s Free the Children  and the thousands of children from 40 countries who came together to save the El Bosque Eternode los Ninos  Rainforest.  Every day I hear about children requesting cans of food for the local food bank instead of a birthday present;  collecting bottles and cans to buy food for animal shelters; saving their pennies to buy polio vaccine for children in other countries – the stories are endless and heartwarming.  We ARE raising good children; they care about others and aren’t afraid to step forward and help.

And now I’d like to tell you about 9 year old Nikolas  Toocheck who set his own goal to run a marathon on each of the seven continents taking one million steps to rsaise money for underpriviledged children through one of my favorite organizations, Operation Warm.

Nik wants to raise $1 a step to buy new warm winter coats for children at risk to make sure they can go to school in the cold weather.  Nik’s been volunteering with Operation Warm since he was five, ran his first marathon in Delaware in 2012 and completed the Antarctic White Continent Marathon in February 2013.  Now 10, he’s on his way to Australia for the Brisbane Marathon.

Nik gets his love of running from his Dad who runs with him but his passion to help others is found deep in his heart.  No doubt it has something to do with the fact that his grandfather founded Operation Warm with his own money.

Running the World for Children is Nik’s charitable foundation – so far he’s raised over $16,000.   Nik is right on target when he says, “you don’t have to be big to make a difference.”  Read his story here.

You can check out his Facebook page at Nik Runs the World.

Nik in Australia

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The Hero Next Door – Reba Chonofsky

My first salute is to Reba Chonfsky, a woman who spent her entire life helping others become all they could be.  After years in retail management where she gave personal attention to her customers, whether students or seniors, Reba then found what would become the niche in her life – to help those who were most challenged, those with disabilities or illness.

With the innate ability to ‘cut to the chase’ coupled with intelligence, high energy, and purpose, Reba spent the first years of her work life in retail,  a really good place to learn first-hand how to treat people.  Whether unpacking boxes, stocking shelves, taking inventory, buying or selling, you also develop a foundation for how things work and yes, I speak from experience. 

Changing careers, Reba became a part-time case worker for the Dept of Youth and Family Services, responsible for transporting young clients to medical and therapeutic appointments.  As you can imagine, many of these children came from challenging situations and were fortunate to find a friend who would listen to them, care for them and offer the love they needed.

When she was 60, Reba accepted a position as the Coordinator of the Personal Assistance Program, a pilot program under the auspices of the Cumberland County Office on Aging and Disability created by the State of New Jersey.  She was the first coordinator hired and worked in that position for over twenty years.  This program made it possible for adults with physical disabilities to continue working, to attend school or vocational training and live independently in the community.

And here’s where Reba came into her own as advocate, friend and mentor.  Managing her clients’ paperwork, coordinating their personal assistants, listening to their cares and needs, she supported their efforts and gave them hope.  She arranged day trips and social events for them, she arranged wheelchair transport and whatever else was needed.  She became known as caring for the ‘whole’ person – the physical, emotional, financial and social aspects of her clients’ lives.

As noted so beautifully by her daughter Debbie: “Not only did she manage the paperwork, the critical day-to-day needs, and the development of innovative programs, but she provided the love and emotional support necessary for her clients to gain the confidence to live in ways they never thought possible. She enabled countless clients to step out of their previously limited worlds into their unlimited possibilities. She helped many re-imagine themselves in whole new ways! As a result of her love, support and “know-how”, her disabled clients became abled clients and were better able to parent their children. They developed the confidence to apply for new job opportunities, they learned to drive, they pursued vocational training and entered and/or completed college.”

One of the things I found unique about Reba was her ability to transfer her own illness and challenges into love and care of others.  She embraced every day in every way with love and joy.

It is said that Reba dreamed of becoming a nurse and although she never had the opportunity to complete the coursework, I believe that Reba was born to nourish, cherish, enrich and care for all who needed her.  And that to me is the definition of a nurse.  Thank you Reba.

Special Note: Last week Reba Chonofsky was posthumously inducted into the Cumberland County, NJ Women’s Hall of Fame.

Special Note 2:  to be truly transparent I will tell you that Reba was my husband’s aunt and although I met her late in her life, I loved her spirit, her sense of community and family.

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A Noble Purpose

A recent article in about practical wisdom and wise leadership caught my eye.  CEO’s that have the capacity to broaden their perspectives while aligning their organizations with a noble purpose bring value to society at large.  I’ve written about some of these organizations before:  TOMS Shoes, The Century House and other companies doing good in the world as part of their corporate charge.

But the article got me to thinking about whether you have to be a CEO of an organization to have a noble purpose.  Can’t each of us go beyond our egos and personal gain to be genuine and work towards the common good?  I’m reminded of all the people I know who do this every day, day-in and day-out.  It’s a values-based lifestyle.

It’s not just about passion or hard work but the ability to connect what you do with the rest of the world and make a difference.  I think about people who are sometimes called angels or unsung heroes and think that they know the real definition of a noble purpose.  People like Reba Chonofsky, who at the age of 60 took on the coordination of a pilot program to improve the lives of hundreds of adults with physical disabilities.  She worked for twenty years making a difference in the lives of her clients.  More about Reba in a later post so check back often.

Each of us (and YES I mean each of us) has a gift, maybe deep inside and just waiting to be set free, to connect who we are, what we do and believe in with others for A Noble Purpose.  Have you thought about what your purpose is?   I’d love to hear from you.

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Keeping the Music in the Music Hall

When a series of problems arise, it’s rarely cataclysmic unless these event happen on top of each other or all at the same time and all dramatically impact the budget for your 10th season in business.  That’s what happened to C-R Productions, a 501 (c)(3), at the Cohoes Music Hall.  Jim Charles and Tony Rivera (C-R) found themselves in a budget shortfall of $75,000.00 as their 10th season was about to start.

That’s big bucks and Guys and Dolls was already in rehearsal.  So what happened?  Although I can’t say I know all the details, I do know Jim told the sold-out audience last night that several things happened:  from low sales for the final show of Season 9,  lower than normal subscribers for Season 10 and the decision from two of their $10,000.00 sponsors to reduce their sponsorship by 90% (opted to spread their funding for the arts to a more groups and organizations), and finally a slow response to the Annual Appeal – coming in quick succession, all contributed to this financial burden.

Now if you aren’t all that familiar with live, professional theater it may come as a surprise to learn that the actors,  dancers, set designers, stage crew and musicians are all paid a wage.  Many are members of Actors’ Equity, many come from afar to audition for the roles and those lucky enough to land a part in a show also have to be housed (and fed).

As a sometimes volunteer in the CMH office, I’ve also seen the other expenses most of us wouldn’t think of as part of the incredible productions on the stage at the Music Hall.  How about paper products for the bathrooms,  cleaning,  the copier and copy paper for each production, and a myriad of other things. Luckily for Jim and Tony there’s a wonderful group of volunteers who come together to help with many of these things but there are all kinds of expenses to keep a theater going

From day one when Jim and Tony made the Cohoes Music Hall their home, community outreach has been their mission.  From C-R Kids, the resident youth acting company offering a total theater experience; to the Creative Youth Alliance, cultivating artistic growth in young people in the community; C-R Center Stars, a unique program with the Center for Disability Services, enriching the lives of people with disabilities through the performing arts; to C-R Generations, another unique outreach to children, older adults and people with disabilities utilizing the arts.  Although I love and support all these programs, I have to say that the one that lifts my spirits most and proves all things are possible, it’s C-R Center Stars.

So when Jim and Tony needed help, it’s not surprising that they did what they do best:  they reached out for the community.  Many have stepped forward, including the children, the alumni from C-R Kids, parents and families, the regional community, those from afar, from performers, directors and the arts community as a whole.

Their deadline to raise the $75,000.00 looms on August 15th but the good news is that they are over $59,000.00 as of this afternoon.  And if you think the summer has been hard for Jim and Tony, it’s also been one of the most joy.  They became Dads in May as they adopted beautiful little Maya, now four months old.

Can we keep the music at the Cohoes Music Hall?  I think so.  The shows that bring so much pleasure to thousands of people must go on.  And so must the programs that spread a love of the arts and live, musical theater to children of all ages.

Just a note: as you know, I do not advocate for donations for any organization or group I write about and in full transparency I will tell you that Jim Charles is my husband’s cousin.  That said, donate if you choose, or just send a word or two of support.

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107 Candles Strong

Today, February 23rd, is the birthday of one of the world’s most far-reaching and powerful organizations.  From more than 33,000 clubs, from two hundred geographical areas and countries in five continents, the 1.3 million members wish Rotary International a Happy Birthday.

Making a difference in the world for 107 years, Rotary’s 1985 promise to the children of the world to eradicate polio is the most significant and noteworthy mission in its history.  And we are ‘this close’ to achieving the goal.  With over $1 billion donated thus far by Rotarians and Rotary Clubs and with only three countries left endemic we must continue our vigilance to make sure that polio-free countries remain so and that those endemic continue their work to finally wipe out this disease.

To celebrate the birthday today many prominent buildings around the world will be illuminated with Rotary’s pledge to END POLIO NOW!

Take a look at the You Tube video and Thank Rotary for all it’s done in 107 years.


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