Some may recall the 1986 national event "Hands across America," held to raise awareness for and fight against hunger and homelessness across The United States. Dunkirk and Fredonia will have their own version of that monumental event with The RO Foundation's Oct. 6 Friends West Fest/Patrick K. Coughlin Walk & Missing Links Community Connection.
While trying to visualize what the event will consist of, imagine registered walkers taking five different walk routes from Fredonia's Village Hall, where the event will begin.
From there walkers can chose their route to end up at the Dunkirk City Line on Central Avenue to Village Hall where everyone participating will literally join hands to form an incredible human chain, lifting their arms in the air together in support.
Sponsors as well as the many hands needed to form the chain are being sought right now. You can pre register (recommended) at www.rofoundation.com, Inner Lakes CU 3795 Lakeview Rd. Fredonia, NY.
Tuscany Meats, Glen Acres Nursery, Kosciusko Polish Home, Snyder Beach, Beach Hut Grill, Pepsi and Mary's Deli have already signed on as sponsors and event organizers are shooting for a goal of more than a thousand people to join hands in this event like none other.
While the focus won't be to raise awareness for hunger, The Friends West Fest/PKC Walk & Community Connection event will be aimed at shining a local spotlight on: advocate groups like The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation (for patients with cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, which sadly took the life of well-known Pat Coughlin earlier this year) a group to be determined advocating for Huntington's Disease; and two local families; with the remainder of the proceeds going to The RO Foundation, which assists patients and families within a 20 mile radius of Dunkirk/Fredonia with unexpected transportation costs resulting from medical issues.
The walk will consist of five different routes, with the longest stretch taking up 2.4 miles (the complete chain of hands will encompass five miles total.) With the event consisting of several routes leading to one cause, several families, individuals and circumstances have led to the birth of this unique event.
"Ginger Pokoj, who is one of our great volunteers and sponsors, came up with the idea of a 'human chain,' and we just started talking about it," stated Joe Russo, co-founder of the RO Foundation.
"She originally said 'Buffalo to Erie,' and then we just kept talking. Maggie Owen, our co-founder for the RO Foundation has a Relay for Life team in honor of her parents, Robert and Joan Link called 'The Missing Links,' so we added that to the name, and we wanted to honor Pat by including his name as he was one of the recipients of proceeds made by last year's Friends West Fest."
Volunteers from all avenues are making their way to the event's goal too.
"Walk coordinators Dawn Murphy and Jody Korzenski from last year's West Fest also belong to the Pink Flamingos, a group of fundraisers who run in the Turkey Trot to support The Dream On Fund, and they have all volunteered. Plus we have Maggie's Missing Link team from Relay for Life as well as all of the staff at Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (which is RO's funding affiliate) and of course all friends, family and classmates of Pat, plus we have involvement from five west end bar establishments in Fredonia."
"The idea of the human chain, this is all designed to bring the community together, literally. I don't think this has ever been done before," stated Russo.
"Our number one mission is to help people with travel needs to and from treatment for medical problems. We also want to raise awareness a lot of people try to do things on their own when they're in a bad situation with an illness I don't know of any other foundation like ours in the region or in New York state."
HUMAN CHAIN TO HELP TWO AREA PEOPLE
Two local individuals who will be assisted by proceeds from the Friends West Fest/PKC Walk & Missing Link Community Chain event are former Dunkirk Councilman, Don "Coach" Stoyle and Dunkirk native Michelle Magee.
Former Dunkirk Councilman Donald Stoyle, is a true example of perseverance and determination. At age 15, he suffered spinal chord injuries sustained in an accident. For the past 36 years Stoyle has lived with the complications of his injuries. However, these injuries have never stopped him from fulfilling his goals.
He graduated from Cardinal Mindszenty High School and went on to receive a degree from the State University of New York at Fredonia in social work. He coached Babe Ruth for 18 years, basketball and midget league football. Known as "Coach" to many, Stoyle has been an orientation counselor at Job Corps since 1990. He is a dedicated employee, co-worker, and has served many students in the programs at Job Corps over the past 21 years.
In November of 2011, and January and March of 2012 he was hospitalized in Hamot in Erie for some back problems. This May, Stoyle had two back surgeries and he also sustained a staph infection, which affected the use of his legs.
Starting in May, Stoyle had been recuperating at a rehab center in Hamburg and needed to have wheel chair transportation to doctors' appointments in Lockport and Williamsville. After spending 10 weeks in Hamburg Rehab Center, Stoyle is now back at home going to therapy locally twice a week. Stoyle's biggest goal is to be able to return back to work.
Many people who know Stoyle know him as a being selfless man who has never let his medical conditions stop him from work, family, and life. He is always concerned about others and despite any medical hurtles, he strives to overcome whatever comes his way. He is always more concerned how others are doing, never dwelling on his own obstacles.
He currently resides in Dunkirk with is wife, Audrey. Audrey currently works at Tops and helps with her husband's care.
Bravely battling Huntington's disease, which is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects one's ability to do basic things, such as walking, talking or eating, Magee currently resides in Florida with dedicated family members, while she awaits her husband Bruce's relocation in November. She has three sisters, Diane Tarnowski of Dunkirk, Jennifer Mackowiak of Fredonia, Joanne Draggett of Falconer, and one brother, Gavin Bialaszewski of Silver Creek, NY. She has been married to Bruce Magee for 34 years. She has three children, Carrie (Glenn) Susabach of Buffalo, NY, Erica (Erich) Sperber of Naples, Florida, and Jill (Armando) Magaldi of Fort Lauderdale, FL. She has four grandchildren, Timothy, Tyler, Mikayla and Kayleigh. Retired from Lake Shore Savings & Loan, a former employee and volunteer for St. Colomban's on the Lake, Magee is hoping to avoid relying on assistance from a nursing care facility and maintain her independence at home with husband and family.
Also known in the community, Coughlin owned and operated Coughlan's Pub in Fredonia alongside his brother Joe and was employed by Carriage House before his illness kept him from returning to work. Pat's brother Tim approached the RO Foundation on Pat's behalf at the time Pat was in a three year battle with his cancer, and over his lifetime had helped countless individuals himself. Not wanting to accept any assistance himself, Pat dove into assisting the foundation in researching travel arrangements for cancer patients to get to and from their appointments. Pat's love for other people helped create the first annual Friends West Fest in October of last year.
LARGE TURNOUT SOUGHT
Russo and Owen are hoping for a large turnout not just made up of the support system for individuals like Don Stoyle, Michelle Magee or the late Pat Coughlin. They're looking for anyone who has been touched by these individuals or have helped or are helping a loved one with a medical struggle of their own. More importantly, they're hoping to reach those participating and more with the message that their foundation sends: to raise monies through fundraising events and donations to assist local medical patients and their families with monies to offset cost associated with transportation to and from medical appointments for treatments.
Information about the foundation, how to apply for assistance, and more importantly details of the October event can be found at the foundation's official website, www.rofoundation.com. The official logo for the event best sums up the overall message of the fundraiser. The tree branches stand for the mission of the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. Hanging from one of the branches are a set of welded together wedding bands, symbolizing Owen's parents, the Link's, who were both lost to cancer. Russo and Owen hope to provide a literal and tangible missing link for people to receive the necessary treatment and care their conditions require but their insurances don't cover. They also hope the event will be a sturdy branch of support, reaching all people in need in strength to help them get where they need to go.
Walk up registration will begin Saturday, Oct. 6 at 9 a.m. in Fredonia Barker Common, and an early pick up of registration materials has already been designated on Wednesday, Oct. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at Holy Trinity Gym.
At approximately 12:15 p.m., Church bells and SUNY Fredonia Bell Tower will ring to inform participants along Central Avenue to join their hands. Using the Link's actual wedding rings, the last joining together of hands will be made at Fredonia's Village Hall by the Coughlin and Link families, RO Foundation staffers and Village of Fredonia and county officials. All registered walkers will be invited back to Fredonia Barker Commons for a pizza party with music, bounce tents and a rib barbecue provided by Mike Porpiglia. The "Friends West Fest" portion will continue in the afternoon with music and food at participating establishments along West Main Street in Fredonia.