Around valley, helping hands make a difference

By Michael Woyton
Poughkeepsie Journal

Heidi Fritz, 13, was sewing the seam of a heart-shaped pillow Saturday.

The Hyde Park resident was taking part in Make a Difference Day by helping make pillows that Saint Francis Hospital cardiac and abdominal surgery patients can use.

"It makes them comfortable," Fritz, a Girl Scout member of Troop 141, said. "They hold it against their stitches when they cough."

Make a Difference Day was created by USA Weekend and the Points of Light Foundation in 1992. It has become a national day of helping others.

Three Hyde Park troops - Nos. 15, 141 and 215 - led by troop leader Debbie St. Onge, were gathered at Castle Court at Concord Village to make the pillows.

They were joined by residents of the senior community.

Eunice Landry, who lives at the village and helped make some pillows, said the Scouts were terrific.

"They were wonderful. They helped us out by showing us what to do," Landry said with a laugh.

Brianna Femenella, 8, of Hyde Park, said she helped make "cool ties" for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The ties are sewn-up lengths of fabric stuffed with an absorbent material that, when soaked in water and wrapped around one's neck, provides a way to cool off from the heat.

"We also made drawings on cards for the Army," Femenella said, that will be placed in plastic bags with the ties.

She said it is a way of helping others.

"It's just being nice to people," Femenella said.

Several other activities took place around the Hudson Valley for Make a Difference Day.

Blood was being donated at Webutuck High School for the eighth year in a row.

Organizer Rudy Eschbach said 113 people showed up to give blood. Usable units of blood totaled 111, he said.

The yearly tradition was started after Sept. 11, 2001, in memory of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives that day.

"It's just an hour's worth of time," Eschbach said, "and you can end up saving people's lives."

In Hyde Park, Peggy Norton and 14 others met at the Quilted Bear Den to stitch "anti-ouch pouches."

She said the pouches were like a pillow with a strap on it that hangs from the shoulder between one's arm and side.

Norton said they will be used by mastectomy patients at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston.

"It keeps the weight of the arm off the surgery area," she said.

This was the second year her group - called the Sew-phisti-cuts - participated in Make a Difference Day.

Though not part of the national volunteer event, more than 200 people participated in a one-mile walk around the City of Poughkeepsie with the band Hanson, the Oklahoma group consisting of brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac.

They were in Poughkeepsie Saturday for a show at The Chance.

The band does the walk barefoot to raise awareness of poverty and AIDS in Africa.

For each person who registered and participated in the walk, the band will give $1 to one of five African-related causes: Providing fresh water to those who don't have it, medications for HIV-positive pregnant women to reduce the chance of passing the disease to an unborn child, access to follow-up consultations via text messaging between those women and their doctors, a school in Kenya and 500 pairs of shoes.

The inspiration to do something to help happened after the brothers toured Africa in 2006.

Isaac Hanson said he was astounded to see AIDS had taken most of the young adults, leaving children in the care of grandparents, if they were still alive.

"You see a lot of 13- and 14-year-olds being the heads of their households," he said.

Besides raising money, the brothers hope the walks - so far they've done 97 of them, with two in Poughkeepsie - will prod people to do other things on their own.

"They need to know they can be a valuable part of a practical solution," Hanson said.

Right before the walk started, so did the rain. Nonetheless, the brothers Hanson took off their shoes for the trek around the city starting at The Chance on Crannell Street and headed down North Hamilton Street.

Many of the other walkers also went barefoot, dodging broken glass at times and puddles.

As the walk progressed, the band and crowd stopped in a parking lot on Cannon Street.

Taylor Hanson, with bullhorn in hand, told the participants they were awesome for walking in the cold and rain.

"The hard stuff, the simple stuff, really does make a difference," he said.

The 20-minute journey ended back the concert venue where Taylor Hanson led the walkers in a chant: "I took the walk! I took the walk!"

He said, "The best power you have is to show up and lead by example."

Jessica Lippert, 25, of Rochester made the trip to see the band she has loved since she was 12.

And to do the walk - her 13th.

"What kind of band does this" she said, "to walk around with their crazy fans?"