WILBRAHAM - The Wilbraham Children's Museum playground will be closed this weekend for repairs. President Lisa Chapline explained that volunteers will be out replacing damaged edging around the play areas that pose a safety hazard for children. Caution tape and barriers are in place to keep folks from entering. Chapline asks for cooperation while work is underway. Additionally, volunteers are needed to help spread mulch at the playground Saturday, July 30. Anyone interested in lending a hand is asked to bring a rake. Roughly 40 yards of mulch has been donated from Ted Ondrick. ... See MoreSee Less
By Tyler S. Witkop Turley Publications Staff Writer
A love of animals and the history of the Forest Park Zoo led Wilbraham teen and Girl Scout Avalon Mercado to Scouting’s highest achievement. By chronicling and making 50 years of history at the zoo accessible, Mercado is one of 30 Scouts from the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts to earn the Gold Award this year during a ceremony June 14 at Mill One in Holyoke. Only 6 percent of Girl Scouts nationwide receive the honor each year. “I feel now I can do anything,” Mercado said of her experience, which she noted had a number of obstacles and became so large she nearly missed the project deadline. To earn the leadership award, the Minnechaug Regional High School graduate completed her project “Commemorating 50 years of History: The Zoo in Forest Park,” which compiled and made accessible the history of the Springfield landmark. Having been at the zoo in various forms for the last nine years, from camper to leading animal demonstrations, she wanted the public to fall in love with zoo all over again, through its exciting – and scattered – history. To make the history accessible, she scanned the images and clippings from the last 50 years and created visually captivating posters representing each decade and an historical timeline. She put her scans on poster board that she later covered in epoxy and Plexiglas to ensure each was waterproof. The zoo, she noted, has existed in various forms for more than 100 years. “This project was like my full-time job,” she explained, noting that very little of the zoo’s history was available online. In fact, she said most of it was tucked away from the public in old photographs and newspaper clippings. “When I set out to document the history in a format that would be accessible to the public, it lay before me in large stacks of disorganized photos and news clippings located in various places in the zoo offices,” Mercado said. “It took more than 200 hours to sift through everything to make the ‘decades’ posters and the scrapbooks. The Gold Award requires 80 hours of work.” She began her project in 2015, while the zoo celebrated its 50th anniversary in its present iteration. In the process of compiling information and completing the project, she said she learned many important skills. She said being the only one who was passionate that the project reached its completion so soon, she learned to advocate for herself and what she believes in. She also learned critical organizational skills. And while it seems simple enough, perhaps the most important lesson: “I had to learn how to use a scanner.” Some of her favorite pieces to her project were seeing the many old photos that were on file. She found many of the zoo’s beloved “Snowball” the polar bear and some of the Animal and Monkey houses, which were located near the present day ball fields. She also found nostalgia seeing images of her co-workers in their earlier years and other familiar faces. As an added bonus, prior to officially receiving the award, on June 13 Mercado joined her fellow recipients statewide at the State House for a ceremony attended by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. Baker issued a proclamation designating June 13, 2016 the official day of 100 Years of Changing the World, celebrating the 100 year history of the Girl Scouts’ highest honor. According to Dana Carnegie, communications manager for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, more than 1 million Girl Scouts have made meaningful changes to their communities and around the globe by completing a Gold Award project since its inception in 1916. “Earning the Girl Scout Gold Award designation is truly a remarkable achievement and Avalon exemplifies leadership in all its forms,” Pattie Hallberg, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, said. “Her extraordinary dedication, perseverance, and leadership, is making the world a better place.” Mercado, now enrolled in a pre-med program at Hampshire College, hopes to continue making the world a better place. At least at this point, she said she hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a doctor, working either in emergency or internal medicine. This summer, she will be shadowing doctors in the Emergency Department at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Throughout her life, Mercado has been a regular visitor to the hospital as a result of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and several associated complications. Ehlers-Danlos typically causes overly flexible joints and stretchy skin. It is estimated that one in 5,000 people have the genetic disorder. Among her associated conditions are mastocytosis, or an excessive buildup of mast cells, which can lead to respiratory problems, itching and unconsciousness. Associated with the mastocytosis, she suffers from severe anaphylaxis with a long list of allergies ranging from latex to tomatoes. Additionally, she was diagnosed with craniocervical instability due to Chiari malformation in her spine. If she moved her head too far upwards, her spine would compress a piece of the brainstem and she would black out. Amid the struggles of living with her conditions, she graduated from Minnechaug a semester early in 2015. Last summer, she had innovative surgery in New York City that involved fusing a portion of her spine below the skull. She reports that the eight-hour surgery went well and she feels like new. “I couldn’t look up, now I can,” she said. With her new found empowerment through mobility and achieving what at times seemed like an insurmountable challenge to earn the Gold Award, she said she will “definitely” continue to be a part of Girl Scouts and community service. Currently, she is an assistant leader for Troop 11714, working with the girls in fourth through sixth grade. She said she loves taking the girls camping and recently brought them to Camp Lewis Perkins in South Hadley. “I find community service tremendously important,” Mercado said. ... See MoreSee Less
By Ruth DiCristoforo Turley Publications Correspondent
Sue Schneider first learned of the Mampong Babies Home Project in Kumasi, Ghana, from stories told by her Bishop Douglas J. Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and fellow parishioners at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in East Longmeadow. “Every baby has a different sad story, such different stories from all the babies I have ever known in my own life,” Schneider explained. “They are fed in a group, bathed in a group, left alone for long periods of time without human touch except from each other when they would often be seen piling up next to each other for comfort. Every story I heard left me feeling like I wanted to help these babies somehow.” She added “I can rock a baby, play catch with a toddler. I can love these children even if it’s just for a short while in their lives. It really is as simple as that for me.” When the date of the trip changed from October to July, Schneider’s desire to help became a reality because she would now have the time off during the summer from her position as Department Chair and Program Director in the Clinical Labor Science program at Springfield Technical Community College to travel to Ghana. Schneider, of Wilbraham, will leave for Ghana on Sunday, July 17 with four other people representing the Episcopal Church of Western Massachusetts. Rector Annie Ryder, from the Episcopal and Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheffield, who has traveled with this project for the past nine years will lead the group, accompanied by fellow parishioners Dindy Anderson and Susan Frantz. Schneider and Colleen Fisher, of Chicopee, will be the very first parishioners from St. Mark’s to go on the mission trip. “I am eager to see the hospital and what they do there, see how I can help from a professional point of view, also. I know there is a great need there; anything we can do will help,” Schneider said. The group will stay at the Mampong Babies Home to care for the children for two weeks and return home on July 30. “Local awareness for this mission began after now retired Bishop Gordon Scruton met the current Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo, archbishop of Central Africa, overseas at a meeting for bishops and formed this international partnership between the two sister dioceses” stated Schneider.
Volunteer Driven According to the Episcopal Church of Western Massachusetts’ website, Ryder reports the diocese developed a relationship with the Church of the Province of West Africa in Kumasi, part of the Anglican Communion to which the Episcopal Church belongs. The Volunteer Base Camp website reports how the Mampong Babies Home was established in 1967 by the Sisters of the Order of the Holy Paraclete, a religious order of the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom. The sisters came to Ghana in the 1960s and discovered the infants born to mothers that didn’t survive childbirth frequently had no one to take care of them and were left alone for long periods of time. The sisters established the Babies Home to help Mampong and the surrounding communities care for these babies until they can be returned to their family when they are more independent between the ages of 4 and 6. The Babies Home is funded by organizations from all over Ghana and also from volunteers who have worked at the home over the past years. Schneider learned this project in Kumasi originated with a maternal hospital and has grown into a secured, Christian-run campus offering education for area preschool through college-age children, as well as caretaking at the Babies Home. Many of the babies in the Home come directly from the campus hospital; some come in from the community. About 70 percent of the babies are Christian, 17 percent are Muslim and the balance has an unknown religious background. Schneider reports “the Babies Home is more of a foster home than an orphanage, a temporary place for most of the babies.” She has been told when the family is ready to retrieve a child a family member must produce documents that prove they are related to the child being kept at the Home. After verification, a child goes home with a bag of food and a bag of clothing. Some kids come back because the families are not able to care for the child. “Occasionally, children do stay longer if their families do not return to take them home,” Schneider explained. “Right now there is an 11 year-old child still waiting to go home.” Schneider admits “It is really hard to imagine the reality of this trip before actually going there. I have prepared myself as best I can and have been focused on raising funds and awareness for the project and collecting items for the babies and staff before we leave”. Schneider and Fisher with the help of the local community hope to fund two projects to benefit the Babies Home. They hope to raise $2,000 to purchase a golf cart vehicle for staff to transfer supplies within the campus buildings. Right now they have to hand-carry everything everywhere around campus. Their second goal is raise another $2,000 to pave the dirt road surrounding the Babies Home. “The dirt is full of harmful contaminants and fungus that go airborne very easily in this very dry climate located only six degrees north of the equator. We want to better protect the babies’ lungs from this hazard,” she said.
Spaghetti Dinner The main fundraiser for the Mampong Babies Home Project is a Spaghetti Dinner to be held this Friday, July 8, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in the air conditioned function room at St. Mark’s located at 1 Porter Road East Longmeadow. All tickets ($8 for adults, $6 for children under 12) will be sold at the door the night of the event. A homemade spaghetti dinner will be served including pasta, meatballs, vegetarian and meat sauces, salad, bread, soda, coffee and dessert. Beer and wine may be purchased separately. There will be a silent auction featuring a chance to bid on a weekend stay on Cape Cod, a homemade quilt, and hand-crafted wood sculpture; several raffles for different baskets and a 50/50 cash prize. All donations directly benefit the mission trip. All food and items were donated by parishioners. Lori Decker, food volunteer coordinator, along with a group of volunteers will prepare all the food for the event. Schneider reports her goal after returning from this trip is to “really be able to articulate the needs of the Home for these babies, after seeing everything first-hand, so we can help them for the years to come. While I am there I plan to keep a journal and use my tablet to take photographs of the area. There will be some type of follow up presentation at our church when Colleen and I get back and all settled to share with everyone.” ... See MoreSee Less