Fun And Constructive

High school senior Gage VanRensselaer gets exercise on his longboard after his online classes. Submitted photos

Area residents are getting more and more creative in an effort to practice social distancing while having fun and improving skills and relationships.

Best friends Matt Schultz and Gage VanRensselaer have worked on honing their athletic skills while getting fresh air and absorbing Vitamin D. The teens have been spending some of their time throwing basketball trick shots. VanRensselaer found he could make baskets when throwing a ball over a one-story garage roof, even though he could not see the hoop. Schultz accomplished the same goal from his family’s third floor attic window, occasionally bouncing the ball off a lower roof prior to meeting its intended destination.

“We were looking for things to do to pass the time,” Gage said. “We also rode down the hills of country roads near our house on our longboards.”

The high school seniors do video chats with their teachers and classmates with Matt having two 45-minute classes per day and Gage taking three. Each student has been taking two college courses during both semesters.

“Now you can sleep in and actually be awake before your class,” said VanRensselaer. “Matt is moving soon, so I get extra time to hang out with him.”

Angie Mardino-Miller and the volunteers of The Master’s Plan Ministry pre-package food pantry boxes in order to be able to hand them out at the curb.

“I’m glad it happened in the spring and not winter so being outside is possible,” says his friend.

Even though they are finding the good in their current situation, they admit to feeling badly about the possibility of missing special activities reserved for 12th-graders.

“It’s sad that we won’t be able to see our friends, walk the stage, do senior prank, senior skip day or go to the prom,” Schultz said.

They had intended to play on the school’s golf team and neither senior knows what to expect for a graduation ceremony, if any.

Schultz is headed to Union University to study business and finance in the fall, while VanRensselaer will study elementary education or business at Coastal Carolina University.

Harvey C. Fenner teacher Tracey Barron holds a note of encouragement for her fifth grade online students. Submitted photo

Falconer’s Harvey C. Fenner Elementary teacher Tracey Barron is juggling teaching, family and service to the community.

“As a teacher I have 70-plus students that I have to digitally contact and they don’t all have steady internet service. My students are in Ellington, Kennedy and Falconer where internet is spotty,” the fifth grade teacher said. “We are really fortunate to have Google Classroom in place because they are familiar with it. It allows me to be able to differentiate to follow students IEPs and 504s to the best of my abilities.”

“The parents have been so gracious, but everybody gets frustrated too. It becomes overwhelming because this is unprecedented. Everyone’s exhausted. I feel like I’m tethered to an electronic,” she added.

She tries to give a morning announcement to her class each day telling them she misses them and encourages them to spend some time outside. She has encouraged journaling during the pandemic. Her students become like her own kids and will contact her telling her they miss her.

“I cried after every Zoom meeting this week. You invest so much time and energy to make them the best they can be.”

The educators are supposed to call their homeroom students once per week. Barron is sending handwritten letters to each of her students, as well, with 20 sent out last week and the remainder being written and sent over the next two weeks. She has reaped benefits from this period by being home with her own three children. Her husband, an essential worker, continues to report to his job.

“On the plus side, I’ve been able to cook meals, do yard work and laugh. We’ve done more puzzles and board games and have fished and hiked on our property. We’re reading for leisure. We have been able to reconnect as a family unit because (in the past) we have been so much on the go,” she said. “We’ve been pioneering and we’re learning how to adapt to our necessities. I’ve started sourdough and yogurt.”

“The kids are adjusting. They get a little ornery sometimes, but I think they are enjoying it.”

Her oldest son is a high school senior, therefore she feels badly about the special activities he is missing in his last year of school. Another of her adaptations to COVID-19 is in the Senior Girl Scout troop she leads.

“We had planned to make dresses for their Take Action project, but we switched gears and have been making masks. The girls have made 100 masks,” she said.

She has family residing near New York City, giving her much cause for concern.

“My cousin is a doctor and my sister is an emergency room intake person who wears a HazMat suit. I worry about them. The scary part is the unknown.”

“We’re blessed to be Christians because we know God will see us through it. I think it is amazing that the pandemic happened during Lent. We have to focus on Him. People are praying more and reaching out and helping others. We pray for time and now we have nothing but time. It’s a little stressful, but I have more time with my senior. My daughter is trying family recipes and my little one is trying everything. We’re building forts…”

She admitted the time away from the outside world has been torturous for “an extreme extrovert.”

David Mauro, who owns Randolph Manor Home For Adults with his brother Steve Mauro, is diligently following the guidelines to keep his residents out of harm’s way.

“It’s a little unsettling. We’re all a little stressed,” he said. “Four weeks ago today, we locked the doors after I got an email from the Department of Health.”

All staff members have their temperatures checked when they report to work. They wear masks and put on gloves when doing personal care. Mauro fills out a COVID report daily for the New York State Department of Health. The form asks for the home’s current census, if there are any cases or suspected cases with the virus and any hospitalizations.

The Western Regional Office of the Health Department called to ask about his staff and if he had reached out to Cattaraugus County Office of Emergency Management for personal protective equipment, such as hand sanitizer, protective gowns and face shields should a resident test positive.

“My staff is already stressed. I can’t imagine how they would feel if that happened,” he said. “If you don’t get attached to these people, you’re not human. Some of them have been here a long time. I liken it to extended family.”

The brothers have been proprietors since 1996 when they purchased the home from their mother who opened it 47 years ago.

“I thank my entire staff for all of their dedication and professionalism in the face of adversity and thank you to all of the healthcare workers and first responders throughout this country. They are all my heroes,” he said.

The Master’s Plan Ministries at 9586 Railroad Street in Dayton, is continuing to reach and help people.

“(Sunday services) are not online and aren’t going to be,” said Angie Mardino-Miller. “We are connecting with people weekly. They’re going to get a phone call asking if they need anything, if they’re healthy and if there is anything we can pray about for with them.”

“Bob and I sit in the church on Sunday morning and pray for our people,” she said.

For the time being, they have adapted the ministry’s food pantry by converting it to a drive-thru rather than having the people go in and make their own selections. Each time they go the participants are given three meals for three days. The amount given goes according to the number of people who live in the household.

“For the month of March we served 34 more families in addition to those we normally do. The food pantry is income-based and is open Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9-11,” she added.

“We also have a community-based program. You can make zero or a million bucks. It’s the Wednesday after the fourth Monday. We don’t always know what the Food Express truck will have on it, but people usually go home with $50-$100 worth of groceries. They can only go to one Food Express truck. In March 166 families came to ours,” she said.

They have done a lot of home deliveries that they don’t normally do to allow the senior citizens to stay in their homes. A phone call is made when the food has arrived.

The 100% volunteer ministry is working in conjunction with Cattaraugus County as a collection site for scrub caps and homemade masks. There is a collection box on the porch.


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