Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A special day with some special folks

    It was one of the days I look forward to the most during the year as Heritage Farm -- a working farm in Eaton, N.Y. that provides a variety of services to the mentally and physically challenged -- brought back their annual Fall Festival on Sept. 26. For the third time, I was tapped to serve as their Master of Ceremonies, one of my favorite duties where I get the chance to laud the accomplishments of all of my friends at the farm for all of their successes in the many activities offered there.

(That's me with my high-tech emcee headset; photo by my assistant Samantha!)

    Following an inspirational welcome by Heritage Farm Executive Director Jim Simmons and Madison County Mental Health Department Director Dr. Jim Yonai, it was time for the kickoff to the full day of festivities -- and what better way to start the show than with a 45-minute musical performance by the farm's own Music Group. Jim is the leader of the band, singing and playing guitar with myself as bassist, but the real spotlight falls on our special needs compadres. There is no such thing as a bad day any time we get together. It doesn't matter what's going on out there in the real world -- when we play our music during weekly jams at the farm or out "on tour" it's a wonderful time. They always treat me like a rock star myself, when in truth it is themselves who are the real stars.

(That's Walter Koennecke, Betsy DuFeur, Mellie Putnam, Kristen Stosal, and Kayla Jones from left in the front row, with myself, Jeremiah Werden, and Jim Simmons on the stage behind them. Another photo by Samantha!)

     The Festival took on a more somber mood after our set, as the farm's Programming Director Mark Piersall offered a heartfelt tribute to one of our friends who had passed away this year. Scott Mylles of Oneida, N.Y. was one of the very first participants at Heritage Farm and "just a good old boy, never meanin' no harm ..." as Mark quoted the old Dukes of Hazard theme song. A memorial was dedicated to Scott in the garden next to the farmhouse, with his parents Linda and Kevin Bailey standing nearby.

(Mark Piersall, wearing his Dukes of Hazard shirt especially for the occasion, recalls the good times with our late buddy Scott Mylles) 

     Heritage Farm staff members Kelsey Brady and Zachary Collins -- who lead the Music Group on days when Jim is not available -- gave a sweet acoustic set of folky tunes, followed by some savory songs courtesy of the quartet Williams Road. The Madison Cortland ARC Wind Dancers then took the stage for their interpretive dances to "Colors of the Wind" and "Supertrooper."

(Jeremiah Werden, left, plays double duty by also joining Kelsey Brady and husband-to-be Zachary Collins during their set at the Fall Festival) 

(Williams Road played some fiddle-driven acoustic folk music at the Festival, fitting perfectly with the rural countryside setting of Heritage Farm)

(Another shining example of the accomplishments possible for special needs individuals, the Madison Cortland ARC Wind Dancers performed two musical numbers for their appreciative audience)

     Magician Jim Okey then thrilled the crowd with some slight-of-hand, and even brought up a special guest victim  volunteer from the audience for a trick -- or was it really magic?

(Magician Jim Okey does his stuff with audience member Nick Ambs)

     Of course, a farm wouldn't be a farm without animals, so the young and young-at-heart were invited over to the petting zoo to meet some of the farm's residents.

(Heritage Farm Senior Site Supervisor Christine Fuess, left, introduces Samantha to a new furry friend.)

     Heritage Farm celebrated their 25th year in service to the special needs residents of the Madison County area this year, and their outreach has grown steadily since their early days. Now offering everything from day and residential habilitation to supportive employment, respite, and even religious services, the farm gives well-rounded and invaluable experience to more than 100 participants. They have a gift shop where they sell the crafts made by participants, and an art room where colorful works of artistry are created. Those pieces travel to exhibitions all over the area, and were seen at the farm during the Fall Festival.

(Festival visitors peruse the artwork created by the talented participants of Heritage Farm) 

     The public is always welcome to come out a visit the farm. They are located at 3599 State Route 46 in Eaton, N.Y., just south of Stockbridge and north of the Route 20 intersection. For more information on any Heritage Farm offering or to arrange a tour, call (315) 893-1889 or log on to their website at

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