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Giving thanks for good neighbors

The concept of what makes a good neighbor can be widely defined. Sometimes they’re strangers who exhibit small acts of kindness. Other times they’re business owners who mobilize their resources to give back. And sometimes they’re our actual next-door neighbors, who help shovel us out of a snowy mess.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we asked you, our readers, to submit stories about the unsung heroes in your lives...and received some heartwarming responses. Here’s a small cross-section of the people you told us you were grateful for.

The pet whisperer: Dave “Red” Kraus

As submitted by Bethany Kloc of the SPCA

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo Magazine

It just doesn’t get any better than Red. Generous, humble, kind, and thoughtful, Red is truly the definition of unsung hero! Retired from General Motors, Red volunteers on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at the SPCA as a Canine Adoption Assistant helping people find their new dog. He also trains new SPCA volunteers. He has an intuitive way of knowing what dog belongs with what family and it’s always a perfect fit! I suspect that he is responsible for finding hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs their new families.

Red is the definition of kindness. He greets everyone with a smile and a friendly hello when they visit the dogs. When special education classrooms volunteer or take tours, Red says hello to every student and gives them all high fives. When adopters come in unsure of the adoption process, he takes the time to explain it to them. He makes everyone feel welcome.

When it’s not one of Red’s regular shifts and help is needed transporting animals to the SPCA from another shelter or rescue group, Red and his wife Kelly (who is also a weekly SPCA volunteer.) drive them to the SPCA.

When a dog has been at the shelter for a little while, in an effort to get him adopted, Red and Kelly anonymously pay the adoption fee. (He has also paid the adoption fees when his fellow volunteers adopt dogs.) I have seen Red get teary-eyed when a dog that has been at the SPCA goes to his new home. He cares about each and every dog at the shelter like they are his own.

Perhaps the best thing about Red is how he cares for everyone equally—the dogs, SPCA patrons, fellow volunteers, and SPCA employees. He is truly an ambassador for everything that the SPCA stands for.

Helping the young and victimized: Sister Mary Augusta Kaiser

As submitted by Janet DiPasquale

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineAmong my unsung heroes is Sister Mary Augusta Kaiser. She always seems to be reaching out whenever she sees anyone who needs a helping hand. Many young girls who have been abused, suffered violence (even in their own homes) or have been a victim caught in the web of sex trafficking have been her concern.

Sr. Mary, after raising the money to buy and renovate a building, created a home for them called TRY (Teaching & Restoring Youth). The home has 10 bedrooms for girls ages 16 to 21. Since 1997, TRY has served over 350 young women, provided them with a home, health care, classes in building self-esteem, independent living skills, personal budgeting, anger management, dance therapy and exercise. As many do not have a high school diploma, TRY gets them back in school or to work on their GED.

At TRY the girls come together in a loving, structured, supportive community where they begin to heal as they encourage one another in the struggle to move forward. Eventually, they flourish until they can live on their own. The program could not exist without the fundraising efforts of Sister Mary, and yet she has never received a salary for all the work she does.

Feeding the soul: Evette Phillips

As submitted by Renee Taneff

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineEvette is the founder of “We R Buffalo Strong.” About five years ago Evette decided to start this organization to make a difference in her community, focusing on the lives of our local homeless, elderly and veterans.

Once a month her team meets to service our local homeless on Ellicott Street, across from the public library, under the viaduct. They serve meals for every national holiday. And they also hold events to honor our local veterans for their service. She has a host of volunteers who help make her mission possible.

This year alone she has served over 1,000 meals.

She has also devoted countless hours over the past two years with The Compass House, and is currently running a backpack and school supply drive for the children living there.

She never asks for anything in return and always has a smile on her face. She gives her all to her mission. She is a beautiful soul that our community is so lucky to have, and I am so lucky to have as my dear friend.

Her group’s mission statement: “If Not Me, Then Who” says it all!

Building good: Rick Kazmierczak

As submitted by 90-year-old Francis B. Lafferty in a handwritten letter

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineI’ll keep my comments to a time in my life when I was involved in a food cupboard in West Seneca. A planning board was formed. After we raised the funds, I drew up the plans. That’s when we first met Rick Kaz.

We showed him the plans and he asked us when we wanted to start. At that time, we had two volunteers, Andy Greco and I. We left Rick the plans and a list of materials. He had the foundation in place, but only Andy and I to start construction.

Two days later, all the timber was on the site, with over 20 men to start construction. Two days after that, the building was up, the roof was on and weatherproofed. Cost to us: Materials only.

Need I say more? Rick Kaz is one of a kind.

Healing through music: Nick Franko

As submitted by Donald Verity

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineNick Franko was born and raised in Buffalo. He taught elementary school for 33 years in the Sweet Home school district. After his retirement in 1995, he answered a call from Roswell Park to volunteer in the Music in the Lobby Program. As a child he disliked practicing the piano, but his parents both persisted and encouraged him to continue. It wasn’t until many years later, after he purchased his first piano, that he started to seriously practice and improved his playing ability. For the past 20-plus years, he has been a regular piano player at Roswell.

A few years ago, he gave a benefit concert at the hospital and raised $2,000 for Carly’s Club, benefitting children with cancer, at Roswell. One Christmas, he solicited gift cards from various local restaurants and stores to be given to families of cancer patients there. Last Christmas he volunteered to play at both the new Childrens Hospital and Millard Suburban Hospital.

Young do-gooder: Drew Brocato

As submitted by his father, Andrew Brocato

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineSince the age of 5, my son Drew has taken a strong interest in volunteering with me at various events. He started out small with some light bag stuffing, moved on to telling sick children some very silly jokes, to where he is today—a very helpful partner at numerous events.

In addition to assisting organizations like the Food Bank, Oishei Children’s Hospital, Feed the Children and many more, he shovels walks for neighbors, and when he sees a veteran, he’ll walk up, shake his hand and thank him for his service. He recently joined the advisory council of F.O.C.U.S., a new organization in the Lancaster/Depew area whose mission is to prevent and reduce substance abuse among youth within the community, where he attends monthly meetings with police, politicians and more.

As an 8th grader, Drew is involved in a school organization called the Leo Club/Good Citizens. This group meets regularly to plan events to assist nonprofits by either donating their time or conducting fundraisers. He developed a fundraising initiative, which he pitched to the principal, that evolved into “Bring in your pet products,” with everything donated to the SPCA.

Drew is also a member of the Lancaster Youth Bureau where he has donated hundreds of hours to various organizations. It is not a forced thing, as he asks me regularly what is going on and how can he help. These volunteer opportunities are obviously beneficial to the organizations, but have also provided some amazing bonding time for our family. We talk about the group and project in advance and then do a post-event recap whereby he gives me some tips on what could have been done differently or better, or he provides new ideas for future years. He has also recruited some of his friends to assist.

The literal good neighbor: Rich Fay

As submitted by Ruthann and Joe Szychowski

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineI am writing about our next-door neighbor, Rich Fay. He and his family moved here 8 years ago and he’s always been the most wonderful neighbor. He is a caring husband, dad, son, uncle and seems to excel in all his relationships. He is loving, giving and hardworking. He has many parties and they always break up early and never are disturbing and loud. We love hearing the kids playing, that’s the sound that comes from his yard. In the winter, we will be waiting for the storm to end, it’s still snowing like crazy, and there he is: Snowblowing out our much-longer-than-his driveway, as well as his own.

He’s always friendly, chatting over the fence like Wilson in “Home Improvement.”

He has trimmed our bushes (which I hate doing), many times before my husband got to them. (My husband is retired, Rich works full-time.) His lawn is perfect—he and my husband have lawn mowing contests all summer, and he usually wins.

We prayed for good neighbors when our former neighbor was moving, and our prayers were answered!

A streetful of good people: Manchester Place

As submitted by Candy Harold

I have an entire street full of great neighbors I am grateful for, and happy to call friends. Manchester Place, a one block long street in Buffalo's West Side, is my Shangri La—or as we like to refer to it, The Best Block in the City. We even had T-shirts made proclaiming it so for last year's Block Party!

From Joyce DiGati at one end, who tends several neighbors’ gardens so that the street always looks nice, to Dan and Melissa Leonard at the other end, who built and maintain two little libraries (one is at kids’ eye level!), this street is everything a neighborhood can be. There's Zoe Patti, who not only works tirelessly for the block club, but is also always dropping off a few homemade chocolate chunk cookies to anyone who needs a little cheering up, living next to Annette Greene, who will happily come over to let your dog out if you are stuck at work. Peter Riphan will lend you his brand new car, no questions asked, whenever you need it, and Mindy Airheart, who lives across the street, has come over to help me weed my garden. Now that's a good friend! Todd Patti snowblows the entire street's sidewalk before you leave for work on a snowy morning, and Susie Lanighan will have a nice hot toddy waiting for you when you stop by afterwards. I watched as "Tall Paul,” whose last name I don't even know, help lift a gigantic armoire up and over a second floor balcony railing for a new family that was moving in, just because he was walking by and saw they needed help!

There are far too many to mention by name, but trust me, this street is "the City of Good Neighbors" in a microcosm.

Promoting literacy: Tricia Kirst

As submitted by Allison Maracle

My sister-in-law Tricia Kirst is, and has been for many years, the Reach Out and Read of Western New York medical champion. Reach Out and Read is an early literacy pediatric program that gives children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging parents to read aloud to their kids.

Trish is a pediatric nurse practitioner who has worked for Neighborhood Health Center for 23 years since graduating from Yale School of Nursing.

In addition to her PNP duties, she serves as a leader, advocate, and strategic partner for Reach Out and Read in our local community. Trish works closely with the program specialist to provide regular and ongoing technical assistance and support of each current program site. She also conducts site visits to each site to ensure the appropriate implementation of the Reach Out and Read program. She oversees training of new sites as well. She is an ambassador to public influencers as well as implementing local, regional, and statewide partnerships to help Reach Out and Read become integrated with the early learning and family support systems here in Western New York.

So that in a nutshell is her job description. What she really does is to work tirelessly so kids don't miss out on the early rapid brain development that occurs within a child's first five years. In Erie and Niagara County, they deliver early literacy programs to nearly 15,000 kids who receive healthcare at 12 Reach Out and Read pediatric practices. These clinics help improve the pre-reading skills of kids in underserved communities in Erie and Niagara counties.

Remembering Michael Crato at the Lou Gehrig baseball diamond

As submitted by Linda Crato

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineMy husband, Mike, and I were watching my grandson, Brady, 11, play in his baseball Playoff Game at the Lou Gehrig Diamonds on July 10, 2018. Sad to say, my husband suddenly collapsed at the field and was taken by ambulance to Millard Suburban Hospital, where he died soon after. The outpouring of support for me and my family from the Lou Gehrig Community was overwhelming.

But the most touching gesture was that at the Championship Game the very next day, each player wore a patch (made by one of the Baseball Moms) of Brady's #22 on their uniforms. This expression of love, community, and sympathy was not only a heartwarming way to honor Mike's memory, but a wonderful example to all the boys of a beautiful way to show compassion.

Good Samaritan: Maggie Kisiel

As submitted by Vinny K. of Alden

I was in line at the local grocery store when I reached the cashier and realized I did not bring my wallet. The woman behind me said "go ahead" but I replied, "No, it isn't in my car. I totally forgot it." This woman told the clerk, "Put his order onto mine, I'll pay for it." She then told me "drop the money off any time...I'm down the road at Cousin Mabel's,” and that is what I did. Another benefit I received from this experience is I found an awesome place to purchase subs: Cousin Mabel's!

Helping the underserved: Regina Weiss and Anna

As submitted by anonymous

I would like to introduce you to Regina Weiss and her granddaughter, Anna. About five years ago they decided to share some of the big pot of chicken soup they had leftover with some less fortunate folks downtown. From that one experience, their hearts and lives were forever changed. They now manage an ever-growing group of volunteers and donors as they provide food, clothing, supplies, prayer and unconditional love three times a week. They still operate out of Regina's small North Buffalo apartment and the trunk of her car, but are praying for a larger vehicle and a building to be able to better serve their "friends.” Truly loving and selfless, Regina has been getting some advice about starting a foundation to help increase donations, as much of the support for her ministry comes from her own limited finances.

Promoting his hometown: Joel Maul

As submitted by Elly Mohr

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineThe enthusiasm for Buffalo that you shared in your letter from the editor reminded me of my brother, Joel Maul’s love for Springville. When I saw your call for unsung heroes, he came right to mind. From the time he was a young man he has been involved and invested in his hometown. We always thought he might run for a civic office but he chose the quieter things like integrating boy scouts into the community in activities like wheeling older folks from the nursing home to the community park for free concerts.

He lives the motto, “do a good turn daily.” When he retired from his position as postmaster he continued our parents’ support of the Concord Historical Society and spearheaded building a historical mercantile and heritage building for the town. There was no part of the project that he wasn’t involved in, including fundraising. He organized a Fiddlefest which continues to be an annual event and a commemoration of the 100 years since the New York to Paris race that was won by a local resident in 1908. He has a gift for getting others involved, including my husband and I who often come from Arizona to spend summer in Springville. I know that he’s appreciated by those who know him but there are many who don’t have any idea of what he has done for Springville because he chooses to do it without fanfare.

Making music: The Amherst Senior Singers

As submitted by Carol Mayo

Giving thanks for good neighbors | Buffalo MagazineThe Amherst Senior Singers have been volunteering for the past 14 years, faithfully rehearsing every Wednesday at the Amherst Center for Senior Services to prepare for performing at assisted living, independent living, rehab centers, nursing homes, Alzheimer units, hospice, Roswell, and at the Senior Center.

Entertaining for all the residents brings much joy especially singing together the old familiar tunes from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s.

As director I often say, “A smile or a tear of happiness makes everyone’s day more meaningful.” Any holiday time is especially important to those where response is forever grateful.

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