by Diana Cook
While its not unusual to hear about residents of the Phoenix area being engaged in community service ... an almost daily occurrence ... the expression of such service was quite visually apparent on Saturday, Sept. 2, Memorial Day weekend. At the edges of town, people could be seen clearing overgrowth around welcome signs into the village, there were trees being pruned in Henley Park and out on North Island, dozens and dozens of people could be seen hard at work under the hot and humid morning sun.
Those out on the island were in heavy labor, taking on a project that has long needed attention - clearing brush and weeds from the embankments leading down to the river and canal - in order to open up the beautiful vista overlooking local waterways. This project was also one of a variety of service projects taking place in local areas including Phoenix and Baldwinsville, with contributions of time by a large contingency of volunteers from the World of Life Assembly of God Church in Baldwinsville that day.
Mayor Tony Fratto says he was contacted in August by one of the church pastors, Randy Czyz, who asked if the church volunteers could do a community project in Phoenix, since many parishioners are members of the congregation. Similar projects, he was told, have been done in Baldwinsville at least three times in the past.
“Pastor Czyz was excited and enthused, as I was, when we spoke,” says Fratto, “He put his associate pastor, Claude Valdez in touch with Jim Hayes after my immediate approval. The two met, walked the village and came up with an agenda of work to be performed.”
Plans for the day included weeding and mulching all the main entrance signs into the village, four in total, as well as planting flowers, pruning the trees at Henley Park along with other areas of the village, as well as the weed and brush clearing along the canal.
Hayes expressed his own excitement in the week before the service day, pointing out the in-depth committment of those associated, which included volunteers bringing all their own tools as well as groundwork in preparation what would happen that day. “They’re brining rakes, chainsaw, and even an arborist to make sure they are doing the right thing,” Hayes said. He also added that another local businessman, Al Leach, was providing all the mulch the volunteers would use to complete and finish off the visual affect of clearing around the signs, for example.
“Apparently every year they do a project for a community,” he said, “It’ll be nice.”
One individual church member, Josh Allen, was even coming before the service day with heavy equipment. “He’s got a converted combine, with a big mower that hangs over the edges of the banks on an arm,” said Hayes. The plan was for Allen to take down some of bigger trees and bushes so that volunteers could work more on clearing it off the banks and get into weeding as well. “It’s going to be beautiful,” said Hayes, the day before, “They’re going to prune all those trees they way they need - we don’t have the expertise to do that. I think it’s going to be great.”
On the morning of Sept. 2, the banks of North Island were lined with people - from young children to those much older. A trailer sat at the entrance to the parking area and women from the church were walking from group to group offering water and homemade cookies to the devoted workers - most of whom had sweat dripping down their faces from the day’s extreme humidity. Some were cutting branches, others hauling them into large piles on the grass above, and still more were keeping their balance on the steep embankment down to the canal pulling weeds or raking.
Looking out west towards the river side, now quite visible, Hayes was impressed. “Look at this, it’s wonderful,” he said, “You couldn’t see out there before.”
As he and the mayor toured the length of the island banks, associate pastor Claude Valdez was called over from where he was working and directing alongside parishioners in the warm sun. When asked what had inspired this service project, Valdez focused beyond just Phoenix. “Our goal each year is to meet some felt needs in our communities,” he said. “We have a large contingency from Phoenix.”
In addition, the pastor pointed out, this project was one of several efforts to deliver ‘random acts of service’. In Baldwinsville that morning, even more was going on throughout the community - just in a slightly different way. At the Kwik-Fill in Baldwinsville, those who pulled up were the benficiaries of $1 off per gallon of gasoline. At the two Dunkin’ Donuts, volunteers were on hand to pay for 250 free cups of coffee, and down the roads ... at the Bville Diner and at Vicki’s Cozy Corner at the Fireside Inn, breakfast was being picked up for those fortunate enough to have been there at the time.
Word of Life Church also had plans to pick up the cost, offering free oil changes at Nobles, and anyone who called Sal’s Pizzeria that day to get lunch was going to find their order was complimentary as well.
The church had also approached Peace Inc. - a non-profit which serves people in the community from children to the elderly, and asked about their greatest need. They were told that haircuts and sneakers were often most needed, so that was a church goal. In addition, Word of Life had decided to put together backpacks and supplies for close to 200. “They are coming up with a list,” Valdez said at the time, “We went out and got a discounted rate from Sears for clothes to be provided to families for their first day of school.”
“It all ties in with a week long vacation Bible school,” Valdez pointed out , “We had close to 400 kids.”
In addition they had collected money - about $1,000 and had plans to help the Fulton Assembly of God Church - River of Life - “to meet a need they had for their roof,” the pastor said.
The bottom line, he referenced, was that there were needs all around in local communities. “And we just asked ourselves, why in the world couldn’t we meet those needs”.
With that, Valdez was off to check on another project and see how things were going at the other sites. As he left, Fratto and Hayes shook his hand and thanked him with sincerity.
“All of this is amazing,” said Fratto. Then he added, “I am just truly humbled ... to see people that give up their Saturday on a holiday weekend. We are fortunate - we have so many people that offer so much - like the Bridge House Brats - but we’ve never had anything of this scope. How do we thank them ... what do we do? It’s wonderful to see this community of caring”.