Outstanding youths, adults honored for service
Keynote speaker, Sheriff Randy Bower, tells group to follow moral compass, be challenge-driven
MURRAY – The Orleans County Youth Board honored three adults and 18 young people for their service to the community during the 35th annual Youth Recognition Banquet on Thursday at Hickory Ridge Golf and Country Club.
The youths do numerous acts of service, from volunteering at animals shelters, their local fire department, nursing homes, Scouts and other community organizations.
The following students will be recognized for their outstanding service in the community and/or family: Serenity Baumgart of Medina, Hannah Biedlingmaier of Holley, Emily Blanchard of Albion, Anna Brasted of Holley, Thomas Bummer of Lyndonville, Sarah Granchelli of Medina, Ashley Kingsbury of Kendall, Brandon Miller of Kendall, Chad Miller of Kendall, Charles Edward Moore II of Albion, Tiffany Petry of Medina, Zachary Petry of Medina, Hayley Rowley of Holley, James Sharp of Holley, Ashley Sietmann of Kendall, Nicholas Smith of Holley, Robert Vidovich III of Medina and Vincent Veteran of Medina.
The Youth Board also recognized three adults for their service to youths.
Eric Gross and Samantha Zelent received the Helen R. Brinsmaid Memorial Youth Worker Award, given to a paid professional whose work exceeds normal expectations.
Gross is a physical education teacher and coach at Medina’s Clifford H. Wise Intermediate/Middle School. A co-worker, Kristy Young, said Gross is a humble person with a contagious positive attitude. He gives his own money and time to help student athletes at Medina, taking them to appointments and making sure they have the proper equipment.
Gross grew up in Medina and has worked as a teacher for 16 years, coaching cross country, track and wrestling.
Gross said he is fortunate in his job to have strong support from Medina families, his co-workers and the staff at the school, as well as his own family.
Samantha Zelent is a social worker for grades 7-12 at Holley Junior-Senior High School. Her dedication, compassion and genuine concern for her students are exhibited on a daily basis, the Youth Board said.
Penny Cole, a secretary in the guidance office at the school, said Zelent has a heart for the students at the school and a radar for their needs. She gives students and their families her personal cell phone number to reach out to her off hours if necessary.
Zelent thanked the entire school community of teachers, staff, administrators, students and parents for stepping forward to support kids in crisis.
“Holley is a wonderful community and I’m so blessed,” she said. “I can ask for help and they’re right there.”
The Holley students are “awesome kids” who make her career so rewarding. “They are a tremendous part of my life,” Zelent said.
She also thanked her parents, former Holley principal John Heise and retired Albion teacher Sandra Heise, for instilling a love for community service and people. Zelent’s husband John is a second grade teacher at Brockport. He had a bone marrow transplant two years ago. Zelent thanked the community for their support during her husband’s illness.
She and John have a son Alex, 8, who is his mother’s driving force to do good.
“It’s my responsibility to make this world a little better for him,” she said.
Geno Allport of Albion received the Eileen Heye Adult Volunteer Award. He is always setting a great example of guidance, values and respect when working with the youth in the community in his role as a youth football coach in the Albion Youth Sports Athletic Program and as an official with the Niagara Orleans Football Association, the Youth Board said.
D.J. Moore has been alongside Allport for years as a youth football coach. Moore said Allport spends 12 hours at the field on game days, setting up the field, making sure officials are on time, leading his team and cheering on the others. He makes sure everything is put away.
Allport has been a leader in the region for player safety, Moore said. Allport also finds grants for the program that make Albion’s football registration the lowest cost in Western New York “so our parents can afford it.”
“He teaches the kids about not just football, but about life itself,” Moore said. “Without Geno, our program would not survive.”
Allport said he considers the Youth Board recognition “a team award.” He thanked his sister Jaime Allport, Moore and other volunteers in the program.
Orleans County Sheriff Randy Bower was the keynote speaker for the event. He shared about the challenge of becoming paralyzed at age 18, four months after high school graduation.
Bower was working a full-time job at the time as a line technician for a cable company. He had all the overtime he wanted and enjoyed an active social life.
On Oct. 10, 1983, Bower was driving home from a friend’s house at about midnight. He fell asleep at the wheel. Clarendon firefighters saved his life that night, Bower said.
When he awoke paralyzed at Strong Memorial Hospital, facing the greatest challenge of his life. His family and friends pushed him to overcome the challenge. Bower said most people with his spinal cord injury are hospitalized for six months. He was able to push himself to be home in 2 months after the accident, in time for Christmas that year.
Bower said he has adopted a “challenge driven” approach to life. Challenges develop mental and physical toughness, challenges stand down fear, inspire courageous acts, tests your limits, builds self confidence, empowers freedman mold who we become, Bower said.
The sheriff urged people to volunteer. He cited the service of coaches and firefighters who give to others, not seeking any compensation. Even the current crisis with the flooding on lake Ontario was a testimony of volunteerism, with neighbors helping to fill and distribute heavy sandbags, Bower said.
He gave everyone a compass. A moral compass should always be used when making decision, he said.
“Your moral compass is the thing inside us that tells us which direction we should go when we have to make a decision involving right and wrong,” Bower said. “Use your moral compass, fly straight, embrace challenges, think forward and always, when able, be there for others.”