Rochester’s quiet heroes

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A group of moms in Honeoye Falls plan and organize Winter on the Green, an annual fundraiser for families in crisis.

Rochester is a charitable city. At this time of year, there are a plenty of gala fundraisers and non-profit events to fill its country clubs, hotels and convention centers. These events raise thousands of dollars for those in need, and their organizers are often recognized with prestigious awards for their leadership. 

In the suburbs of Rochester, there are a number of women who also serve their community, but they aren’t leaders in non-profit organizations. They are women who simply want to help their neighbors who are struggling with serious medical needs. They are women who are busy raising families and building careers, yet still finding time to take care of others. They are some of Rochester’s unsung heroes. 

Five years ago, in the village of Honeoye Falls, a group of moms gathered to talk while their pre-school aged kids played together. Usually, their conversations were light and humorous, but on this day, their discussion had a taken on a serious tone. One of their friends was facing the financial strain of medical expenses for her son who had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. They knew that she needed more than casseroles or the proceeds of a garage sale. 

So, they planned a fundraiser called Winter on the Green, a soiree that included refreshments, music, raffles and auctions. With donations and help from local businesses and individuals, they were able to keep their costs low and raise substantial funds for their friend’s son. Since that evening, these compassionate women have planned four more events, helping a different local family each time.

Maureen Schickler coordinates the fundraiser. Once a claims adjuster for a major insurance company, Schickler is now a stay-at-home mom to her five kids. Her biggest challenge is to find enough time to work on the fundraiser. When I asked how she balances the needs of her busy school-aged kids with the responsibility of planning such a large event, she says, “I have a supportive husband, and I’ve learned to ask for help.”

Help comes from other parents who take her kids to sports practices and competitions while Schickler focuses on the fundraiser. Help also comes from the many other moms in the group who share her drive to support families in her community.

“I couldn’t do what Angie does,” Schickler says, referring to Angie Fenton, a passionate mom who has a talent for securing donations for the raffle and silent auctions.

These donations include restaurant and spa gift cards, plants, art from local artists, and this year, even a $600 crossbow. Each year, Fenton and her friends collect hundreds of donations for the event. Surprisingly, Fenton isn’t a fundraiser by profession. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a family nurse practitioner in local emergency departments, treating fevers and gunshot wounds regularly. When she’s not in the emergency room, Fenton volunteers in the classroom of one of her three elementary-school-aged children, and serves as the P.T.A. treasurer for the school. She also finds time for running, and has completed 19 marathons over the past 26 years. 

“I have experienced, first-hand, how financially and emotionally difficult a medical crisis can affect an entire family,” Fenton says of her work with Winter on the Green. “Having lost my mother as a child, one of my most vivid memories was the sense of community and support that our family received. I will cherish it always and try to pay it forward in some small way.”  

Fenton’s friend, Debbie Bartoo, also experienced loss as a child. 

“I remember the kind nurses trying to keep me company while my mom had bloodwork drawn and other things she had to do. … Memories like these remind me how precious everything in life is,” she says.

Bartoo started her own graphic design firm, Bartoo Branding, to work from home and spend as much time as she could with her three kids. She uses her design and social media expertise to create flyers and social media posts to promote Winter on the Green. 

It was Kylena McGunnigle who came up with the name for the event, inspired by the season and and location (the Mendon Golf Club), but also to depict a “bright spot during a dark time.” As a nurse leader in an ICU unit, McGunnigle sees the impact of medical emergencies on families. 

But for Winter on the Green, McGunnigle uses her other qualifications. She is also certified in New York for food preparation, and spends the night before the event baking hundreds of desserts, with 10 other women. For McGunnigle, baking is a fun activity she does with friends, who happen to be working toward a great cause. In addition to baking, McGunnigle decorates, collects donations, and helps her friend Katrina Allen submit articles to local newspapers. 

Allen, mother of two, is an English instructor at Finger Lakes Community College, and also has two other part-time jobs. Like the other moms in the group, Allen finds time in her busy schedule to help with the fundraiser because she feels strongly about supporting families in need, and she also recognizes how the event brings a community together. 

“It is a fun and amazing event that no one wants to miss! People have a fantastic evening out while supporting a deserving family,” Allen says. 

This year, that family is the Grant family. Husband and father Matt Grant was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a type of cancer in the white blood cells). Matt and his wife, Alicia, both work for the Department of Social Services and have fostered many children, including two little girls that they have now adopted. Matt has already endured a stem cell transplant and chemotherapy, and is likely to need lifelong treatment for his illness.

All of the proceeds from this year’s Winter on the Green will be donated to the Grant family. While Maureen, Angie, Debbie, Kylena and Katrina lead the group, there are dozens of other dedicated moms who “pound the pavement” for donations, contribute supplies, set up and clean up, and volunteer to minimize the cost of hosting the event. 

Even as volunteers, they buy tickets to attend the event, because they want to do as much as they can to support the family in need. These women may never be nominated for any of Rochester’s prestigious awards for leadership and service, nor do they seek recognition for what they do. 

Their goal is simple: to ease the burden of families in their community who are struggling with a medical crisis. Quietly, they are teaching their children, and their community that no matter how full life gets, there is always a little more room for selflessness, compassion and generosity. 

Winter on the Green will be held at the Mendon Golf Club on Saturday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m. – 12 a.m. and is open to the public. Guests will enjoy music from Premier Entertainment, NY. Inc as well as appetizers, desserts, a cash bar, basket raffles, a 50/50 raffle, and silent auctions. Tickets are available for $25 at iPadRehab (Honeoye Falls), The Cottage Hotel of Mendon, and online at https://wotg.eventbrite.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the door for $30. 

Nipa Armbruster has been a fashion designer, martial arts instructor and an active volunteer in her kids’ schools.  She currently writes the blog https://fashionipa.com.

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