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    Blog — Beneficiary Bio

    Guest post from Marguerite McMahon, OLVHS

    Guest post from Marguerite McMahon, OLVHS

    When you hear the letters ‘OLV,’ I’m sure a lot of things come to mind – the National Shrine and Basilica, OLV hospital, maybe Holy Mary herself.  What I find often surprises people, is that while OLV Human Services shares so much history with the Basilica and is located on the same block as the former hospital and infant home, this organization is much more diverse than people understand. 

    For example, did you know that OLVHS is a hub for community resources? Our newly renovated accessible front entrance at 790 Ridge Road features a welcoming café where building guests can access our full service dental center or  outpatient clinic while taking in the incredible historical photos that line our hallways.  Some may be surprised to know that we also offer emergency foster care, that we bought a bakery, and that we operate six schools, encompassing students from pre-K through 12th grade.  Even more astonishing, OLV Human Services works with thousands of clients each year, employing nearly 900 staff – and yes, we’re definitely hiring.    

    Now I'm going to let you in on a secret… OLV Human Services was formerly known as Baker Victory Services, or "Father Baker's". That's right, THE Father Baker. I know what you're thinking. Like many other Buffalo natives who were raised with the threat of being dropped off at Father Baker's, as I started my career here, I couldn’t help but wonder, "what did I get myself into?"

    Did I just sign myself up to work with kids that had been so ‘bad’ at home, that they were forced to come live here?  As after all, that certainly became the reputation that surrounded 790 Ridge Road and all its campus counterparts.  As I started my career at what was Baker Victory Services, I realized that this institution was significantly more than the perception that it had become synonymous with – this place was about inclusion, providing opportunities, and finding solutions to the everyday barriers people face.  It truly was an agency trying to follow Father Baker’s mission – taking the lead from the man that is known to have positively impacted hundreds of thousands of homeless, abandoned, and orphaned children during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Today, Father Nelson Baker’s ministries – and his City of Charity - continue through OLV Human Services, as the agency works to address as many community needs as they can – vocational and educational supports, residential housing, and care coordination to name a few. 

    Now, almost six years into my employment with the WAY Program at OLV Human Services, I consider myself to be extremely lucky – lucky to work in a supportive and rewarding environment; lucky to work with people that are equally motivated to effect change; and lucky to have the opportunity to carry on Father Baker’s mission with the students and clients we serve today. 

    The WAY, or Work Appreciation for Youth program provides opportunities and experiences for youth and young adults with developing their vocational path.  My role with the agency is to oversee the Work Based Learning & Transition programming for all our high school students, scheduling them to attend regular worksites with community employers (such as 7eleven, Crunch Fitness, and the Foundry).  Students participate in hands on learning in a work environment during their school day, to address barriers to employment, develop 21st century skills, and navigate the world of work. 

    This program was a catalyst behind the acquisition of Mazurek’s Bakery in the Old First Ward; OLV Human Services is able to provide real life work experiences in disciplines such as food service, customer service, small business ownership, and beyond at this unique site.  To date, the bakery has employed nine current and former students/clients for either temporary or part time employment.  The goal is to prepare, support, and empower those we serve through the development of necessary vocational skills to enter today’s workforce.  Both community clients and students within our own educational programs participate in work based learning and additional services at Mazurek’s, however the bakery was purchased with the dream of serving the specific population of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

    Within the last six years, OLVHS developed the Statewide recognized ITP (Intensive Treatment Program), which offers specialized educational services for eligible youth ages 12-21, providing structured, individualized academia in self-contained classrooms.  Our unique cross-system program provides an elevated level of care to individuals diagnosed with autism or intellectual disabilities along with a mental health diagnosis by bridging the gap between treatment and education.  ITP has broadened the scope of what OLVHS can provide, being the only provider in the state offering a program of this nature. 

    As you can imagine, we encounter varied and diverse individuals working at OLVHS.  And yet, unfortunately, those we serve still face the unkind reputation that people associate with ‘Father Baker’s’ or alternative education, and because of that, they don’t always get a fair chance.  What many don’t know, is that most of our high school aged students (whether they attend Baker Hall, ITP, or our Residential Treatment School) participate in work-based learning so frequently, that they earn upwards of 200 hours of work experience, awarding them with a CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) Commencement Credential.  Some of our students even go so far as to take the ACT WorkKeys, a nationally recognized work readiness credential. 

    OLVHS believes that different individuals need varied opportunities to learn and grow.  The WAY Program is so grateful for those employers and community organizations that have ‘taken a chance’ on our students and clients, including 26 Shirts (a worksite collaborator), and for those advocates that help level the playing field for those with disabilities and barriers to employment in WNY. 

    I was advised early on in my time with OLVHS to not judge a book by its cover; get to know that student personally, develop a relationship with them that isn’t clouded by dated reports or appearances.  As if making assumptions about someone based on their appearance isn’t bad enough, I find the opposite is worse; when a person has a diagnosis of a hidden disability, and people set expectations before knowing that individual at all.

    Individuals with a hidden disability often face barriers that affect everyday life, including lack of understanding and a negative response from peers.  Invisible disabilities can include autism, learning disabilities, mental health conditions, etc. Heathrow Airport implemented the use of a sunflower lanyard to recognize those travelers with a hidden or invisible disability; they recognized that although you may not be able to see these impairments or conditions, they’re still there, and wearing a sunflower lanyard discreetly identifies that a person may need additional support or assistance in public spaces.  Patience is a virtue, but unfortunately not a right provided to everyone we encounter.   The administration and staff at Heathrow have actively demonstrated initiative and understanding, entitling all humans to a little patience, something that we at OLVHS hope catches on in our own community. 

    Through purchasing this T-shirt, you are supporting access to free workshops for children and families in our community, including but not limited to families living with ASD.  By wearing this T-shirt, which incorporates hope and the sunflower within the Buffalo, we ask that all facing challenges – seen or unseen – will be met with patience and respect.  A little patience goes a long way … something Father Baker taught us a long time ago, and we are still practicing at OLV Human Services today.  

    Melissa Close

    Melissa Close

    When community do-gooder, Ron Aughtmon, speaks of Melissa Close Farmer, words like, 'hero', 'fighter', 'determination' are spoken. Melissa, a volunteer firefighter and EMT in the Ransomville region, is just 33-years-old and battling an aggressive form of cervical cancer. So aggressive that Ron says doctors have declared that it's inoperable.
    "She has gone through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and it spread to her femur, liver and lungs," explains Ron. 
    Ron, Co-Founder of The John Fiore Foundation, isn't related to Melissa but knows her impact on the community through his son and daughter, who are also in the firefighting service. News of her tragic illness has hit local departments hard, and companies have rallied continuously for Melissa and her husband. 
    "It's been a very tough go for her, and she is so young. The outcome isn't optimistic, but you can't lose hope," Ron says. 
    Melissa has been undergoing chemo that isn't just rigorous - it's expensive. Funds that are being raised for Melissa in all directions are going straight to the piling medical bills. With uncertainty looming, Melissa and her family are taking it day by day. But one thing is for certain - Melissa loves her hometown of Western New York and the Buffalo Bills. Ron says knowing how much hometown support she has around her is inspiring. 
    "Look at what you all are doing, who support 26 Shirts. You are making a difference for people here in this community - people who need us, like Melissa. It's really something to be proud of." 
    Melissa's 26 Shirt campaign launched 7/26 and runs through 8/8. This story provided in partnership with Kate Glaser of Hope Rises. Learn more at www.hoperisesnews.com

    Keeley Noworyta

    Keeley Noworyta

    Eight-year-old Keeley is a lover of arts and crafts, dolls and on a normal year, she would be spending her spring and summer months on the soccer field. Unfortunately that is not her current reality. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer that has targeted her lymph nodes and lungs.

    “Now that she has a routine down, she’s rolling with it,” says her mom, Laura. “She is just amazingly strong.”

    From losing parts of her hair and having to shave her head, to having to have a mediport inserted to receive chemotherapy, Keeley has kept that strong spirit, making comments like, “This is cool…I am bald!” Her mom says that she has encouraged not just her as a mother, but also the many people they have met in this cancer journey.

    After her fifth round of chemo, Laura says that Keeley should be done with treatment, as there are no signs of cancer cells detected. Through it all, she says community kindness has kept them all going as a family.

     "It all started in early January when we discovered that something was wrong and fast forward to now, we are doing remarkably okay and people, like the doctors and childlife specialists at Roswell and Del from 26 Shirts, have helped us more than they realize.”

     Laura says that she has always followed the stories of those who benefit from the 26 Shirt campaigns, and now that her daughter is one, she is extremely thankful for the outpouring of compassion.

    “Everything is still surreal. We feel grateful for the position that we are in that we have good health insurance, but it doesn’t cover gas, parking, extras – everything really adds up. We are so grateful that there are so many people who are willing to help.”

    So, what is next for Keeley? She turns nine in a few weeks and at the same time, she should be able to ring the victory bell, signifying no more cancer! She also looks forward to lacing up her cleats and getting back on the soccer field very soon.

    Keeley’s 26 Shirt campaign launched 6/14 and runs through 6/27. This story provided in partnership with Kate Glaser of Hope Rises. Learn more at www.hoperisesnews.com

    Adrian Gomez

    Adrian Gomez

    Like every energetic young boy, Adrian Gomez likes to climb and jump around. Though it always made his mother, Diane nervous, she says his playful spirit likely saved his life.

    “When he was jumping around and fell from a chair, a hardened dot formed on his foot, and we thought it was just a result of him falling,” she says. “But the tiny bump continued to grow, and we couldn’t ignore it.”

    At first doctors told her it was a cyst and there was nothing to worry about. However, it didn’t go away and after a few months, Diane requested more action to be taken. An MRI and biopsy revealed that Adrian had a very rare form of soft tissue sarcoma. Just six years old, Adrian was now in the fight of his life against childhood cancer.

    “It came as a shock – how could this be? It was so hard because everything moved so quickly. He had two surgeries in one week and then started chemotherapy immediately. My husband and I went through the motions of feeling sad, angry, scared and it really was all overwhelming.”

    Adrian’s left pinky toe was removed to try to stop the spread of the cancer, and a port was inserted to receive chemo. Unfortunately, the cancer spread quickly from Adrian’s foot into his lymph nodes and bone marrow. For months, the chemotherapy he was receiving was not responding, and cancer cells were found in his spine. Adrian is now on a higher dose of chemotherapy three days in a row, which is very hard on his tiny, fragile body.

    His mom says that although the cancer is strong, he’s stronger. “He is resilient, and so brave.”

    When Adrian’s teacher referred him as a recipient for 26 Shirts, Diane says both her and her husband felt instantly supported and like they weren’t in this fight alone.

    “Especially in Buffalo, you don’t have to know people and they still send their love, positivity and strength. Every person in Buffalo always goes above and beyond. The community is there to support you – you feel the love and support from afar.”

    Adrian Gomez’s 26 Shirt campaign launched 5/17 and runs through 5/30. This story provided in partnership with Hope Rises at www.hoperisesnews.com

    Kevin Newton

    Kevin Newton

    Kevin Newton was a healthy 45-year-old, who loved to travel with his family and enjoy outdoor life, like fishing, golfing and boating. But one day, in the fall of 2020, a scan on his bladder revealed the devastating news – stage 4 cancer.

    “They said, ‘there is a tumor the size of your kidney on your kidney’ and they also told us that the cancer spread to his lungs,” says Tammy, Kevin’s wife. “Never in a million years did we imagine this nightmare.”

    Just weeks later, his diseased kidney was removed and a biopsy on his lung gave them more insight as to what was going on with Kevin internally. Tammy says that the kidney cancer he had spread to his lungs and the oncologist recommended the strongest and most aggressive medicine to treat it.

    “He did it for three months and it just didn’t work, and the cancer continued to spread throughout his chest.”

    With the even further devastating news, Kevin took a trip to Myrtle Beach to make memories with those he loves most. The heaviness of his diagnosis weighed on them all, including the couple’s son, Tyler.

    “The one thing the doctors kept telling us is that they are not giving up on him.”

    Kevin is now on a chemo regimen and it’s been really challenging for him, making him so sick that he has a hard time functioning.

    “Kevin thinks about the slideshow of his life, knowing how fragile it is, and we’ve all had such a good life together, but he is too young and this is not the outcome we want,” Tammy exclaims.

    She adds that Del from 26 Shirts called her to offer financial support and it couldn’t have been at a better time – especially after having to leave his job because of the debilitating impact of the cancer.

    “I cannot even put it into words what this means for us and for families that are going through cancer or other terminal illness. We are blessed, beyond grateful and fighting hard.”

    This blog provided in partnership with Hope Rises. Find their stories of hope and kindness at hoperisesnews.com