If These Walls Could Talk

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing,”
George Bernard Shaw

How do you find out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are? Why listen to the little voice that tells you, “this part is interesting–pay attention!”

What is your story?

Perhaps your story is for your great grandchildren, or maybe it’s just for you, to read your life the one and only one you own, on clean white paper. It may make you smile, or cry or jump out and shout, “when did all this happen, and how did I remember it all?”

Nancy Kessler is a writer of memoirs.

She started her company Memoirs Plus this year to assist in telling life’s stories.


Kessler grew up in South Orange, New Jersey and clearly remembers Mrs. Blanchet, her neighbor. “She was well into her 80’s at the time and she used to give all the neighborhood kids butterscotch candies right before dinnertime,” Kessler remembered. “I used to sit and listen to Mrs. Blanche’s stories for hours.”

Kessler graduated Skidmore and went on to study at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, one of only two programs in the country located on a museum campus rather than a university campus, where students study how to be a museum professional. Upon graduating Kessler worked at the Museum Of The City Of New York. She stayed seven years and moved on to work for “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz the Commissioner of Transportation.


“I knew I wanted to go back and work with Seniors,” she said. “As much as I loved the museum and Mr. Schwartz, my heart was calling me back to a different place in time.”

Kessler went on to become the Program Director at Atria a senior living community in Rye Brook. “I think I have always had three loves — history, art and stories from the elders.” she laughed.

Kessler spends a good deal of time with the person she is helping write their memoir and sits with family members as well. What she gives back is a completely bound book with a story and photos provided by the family. The whole process takes a few months.

Kessler’s Mom, an extremely active 80 something — and whose memoir Kessler is also writing — always loved museums and now volunteers at a museum. When I asked if that was where Kessler found her passion as a young person she said, “No, she has always loved history as well, but I think she copied me!”


Ready, Set, Decorative Paint

Part of the main house at The Carey Mansion, a sprawling mansion in Newport Rhode Island designed in the French Renaissance Revival Chateauesque style, was leased to Salve Regina University until 2009. The exterior was used as the fictional Collinwood Mansion in the television series Dark Shadows.

In 1977 Susan Strange, a young student at Salve Regina University, snuck into her dorm, the day before classes started, and painted her room a nice rose color with a beautiful cream trim. One day later, she was expelled from college for trespassing.

“From the time I was five years I have been obsessed with color,” Strange admited. “My father would take me to the paint store where he worked and I would get to match all the paint chips. How could I not paint my dorm room before class began?”

Strange along with her business and romantic partner Joe LeBlanc own Real Faux, a decorative painting business.

Strange studied Art History at University of Rhode Island and later was a district visual manager for Bed Bath & Beyond and a wardrobe stylist for Jerry Lewis Telethons. LaBlanc attended SUNY Maritime and received a degree in Meteorology and Oceanography and really wanted to search for buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean. A self taught landscape photographer, LeBlanc’s Uncle is a fine artist who also started a decorative painting company back in the 80’s.

The two artists met on a singles hike in New Paltz. “Joe was in a red shirt, my all time favorite color,” Strange remembered. They began the business together in 2004.

LeBlanc is the production end of the business with Strange acting as colorist and designer. Strange has taken numerous classes with World-renowned decorative paint master Mike MacNeil whose clients include Charlie Sheen, Steven Spielberg, Casey Kasem, and George Clooney.

Real Faux shot a pilot for HGTV in 2007 where the couple taught two couples how to produce a venetian plaster effect on walls. “We were terrible on camera!” Strange cried. “The series was never picked up, maybe because of our on camera skills but the producers said there were just too many competition shows.”

When on an estimate, Strange takes in the entire environment of the home. She visually sizes up what colors the potential client wears, colors of cars in the driveway, hair colors, how many children and pets are around and very much comes to color and technique conclusions in a very holistic approach.

“If your children are young, walls may take a beating, we take that into account.” she said.
Real Faux can also transform old furniture into new and vibrant parts of any room décor and has done work as far as Miami Florida and Amagansett New York.

“We really love painting restaurants too,” LeBlanc offered. “We designed the entire feel and color scheme at the Flying Horse in Mount Kisco and other businesses in and around Westchester and Rockland.”

A new part of the business model coming soon is paint by numbers on old barnwood tables.

“My Dad designed furniture using old barn wood,” LeBlanc explained. “We have all his contacts and will be purchasing old barn wood tables, finding images and projecting them onto the tables to paint. The new line of tables should be available starting this Fall and will be called Real Faux Tables.”

The two laugh and have a really good time while they work. They love when kids and dogs are around and LeBlanc admits that Strange is his own one woman variety show. “She makes me laugh everyday and that is her gift to me.”

Real Faux Website: http://www.realfauxco.com/index.html

Want to Become a Master Gardener?

Annie Christian-Reuter has been the Horticulture Community Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County for a little over a year. Christian’s office, along with many of her colleague’s offices, are housed in Stony Point in a former Letchworth Village building.

Christian-Reuter lived in and around New York for the last ten years and attended the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture. She worked for a landscape designer in Brooklyn and as a Fine Gardener in Boston.

We spoke about the Master Gardener Volunteer Program and the many other programs at Cornell.

Master Gardener Volunteer Program

What is the exact process of the Master Gardener Program?

The mission of the program is to provide Rockland County’s youth and adults unbiased gardening information that is based on research and/or reliable experience through a “neighbors-teaching-neighbors” type program.

My office provides potential participants’ with a printed application form. There is a $300 fee for the training programs.

In addition, the applicant will be asked to meet with a staff member of Cornell Cooperative Extension Center for an interview.

Once accepted into the program, the “intern” must attend approximately twenty training classes. They are usually held on Thursdays from 9am to 4pm. This year the training is partnered with the Hudson Valley Master Gardener Program with offices in Middletown, New York.

The program is only offered every two years and it is being held this year. If you are a qualified participant and still wish to fill out an application, we will be viewing applications until August 15th.

The training takes place September through February.

Once an intern completes the training they are asked to donate at least one hundred hours of volunteer time over a two-year period. There are many opportunities to volunteer including teaching classes through the Speaker’s Bureau, working with children, teachers in school and after school programs, assisting in community garden projects, horticulture therapy programs, working in the Cornell offices in Thiells, answering questions at community events and other activities determined by CCE.

What happens after two years?

After two years the interns are officially Master Gardener Volunteers and need to volunteer at least 36 hours a year to keep their status up-to-date.

What other things are happening here at CCE?

There is a horticulture lab run by Michael Wilson. He takes many calls throughout the day and anyone can bring in insects or plants for identification purposes. There is a small fee.


We also have an Eat Smart Program, a 4-H Program, an Environmental Educator, an The Institute for Non-Profits.

What is the School Garden Network?

The School Garden Network (SGN) is Rockland County’s educational resource network for schools with gardens or “growing windowsills” that use garden- based learning activities to support curricular goals. A collaboration of CCE Community Horticulture, Environmental and Youth Development Educators and Master Gardener volunteers, the SGN provides valuable information on teaching subject areas relevant to New York State Curriculum.

What is the Speakers Bureau?
Master Gardener Volunteers as part of their training and volunteerism go out and about and speak about a variety of subjects involved with horticulture.

A few topics are:
Planning and Planting an Herb Garden Landscape Design for the New Homeowner Growing Roses
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Herbs and their Uses
Gardening with Children
Xeriscape Gardening
Shade Gardening
Taking the Mystery out of Growing Orchids
The Art of Bonsai
Starting Plants from Seed
Decorating with Houseplants
Making New Plants through Propagation
How to Start a Community Garden
How to Start a School Garden & Keep it Growing
Eco-Friendly Landscaping
Organic Gardening

Many presentations can be tailored for your group and the group does not have to be a non-profit.

There are also tours of the gardens here in Thiells. Next tour is August 31 at 1pm.


Please feel free to contact Annie Christian-Reuter with any questions.
10 Patriot Hills Drive Stony Point, NY www.rocklandcce.org

Hello Richard Skipper

I was announced by Horace, a slightly overprotective and immensely curious Yorkshire Terrier. The house was filled with rich history, comfy hominess, beautiful antiques and a fresh pot of coffee. Outdoors in back, a cascading pond, mature plantings, a small vegetable garden and a perfect seating area awaited us.

“When I was thirteen,” began Richard Skipper “I read a book about creative visualization and placing your mind on a goal in order to achieve it. I did just that and later told my parents, and anyone in earshot for that matter, that I was moving to New York in five years.”


“I was king of impersonations. I would stand outside in the schoolyard and make my fellow students laugh, doing little acts and impersonating many of the current stars including Carol Channing.”

The mindful relocation announcement came in 1974, exactly five years later, almost to the day on August 5, 1979, Skipper arrived in New York.

Skipper, who now resides in Sparkill, with his husband Daniel Sherman, is an actor, entertainer, producer, blogger, coach and theater public relations expert. He has interviewed the likes of Tommy Tune, Debbie Reynolds, Morgan Freeman and other Broadway and Hollywood luminaries.

Originally from Conway, South Carolina, Skipper grew up on a tobacco farm and worked many summers on the land. Florence Epps, the town theater teacher, lover of literature and tireless proponent for children’s theater, told him that he did not belong in Conway—you have a career ahead of you, she said, but you must get rid of that accent.

“She was my mentor,” he explained. “She and her sister lived next door to one another but did not speak since her mail order husband ended up marrying her sister instead of Florence!”

Skipper, at eighteen with five hundred dollars in his pocket, began his life in New York on 86th street and Second avenue. “I came to New York to be an actor,” he recalled, “I grew up on variety shows, unfortunately that world was dwindling about the time I arrived.”

His parents did not take Skipper’s dreams seriously. He was the oldest of four with a Mother who was the oldest of sixteen and a Father who was one of ten children.

“When you grew up in Conway, you never left.” he said. “Nobody really understood me, I knew I had to leave.”

Skipper began playing at piano bars, perfecting his act. Shortly thereafter he heard about an audition for All American Boy and arrived for auditions. A few fellow actors recognized him as the Carol Channing impersonator and the musical director decided to write a Channing part into the show.

With no costume, wig, makeup or any idea of how to dress as Carol Channing, Skipper begrudgingly took the part. “I did not want to be pigeonholed as a female impersonator,” he explained. “I wanted to be an actor, but this was work so I had to say yes.”

The first night the audience was screaming in laughter. “They asked for an encore,” Skipper remembered. But this was an off Broadway show, not a nightclub act, there are no encores. The producers were not happy with Skipper stealing the show and cut his part.

The Channing costume went into storage for about ten years and did not come out other than every Halloween when Skipper would dress and act as Carol Channing.

Ikenna Benéy in Las Vegas - The Entertainment Network - Show Of Shows 2006 in Las Vegas

Then in 1990 John Glines, a playwright and producer, called Skipper. He wrote Men of Manhattan and told Skipper he wrote a part for him. The character was obsessed with Carol Channing. And so, it turned out the character in Men of Manhattan would not be the only one.

Skipper began acting as Carol Channing from New York to Atlantic City to Las Vegas. “I never thought this would be my career for twenty years!” he said.

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for 25 years, he called Skipper’s act– 95% dazzling perfect impersonation, plus 5% shrewd but loving impersonation= 100% hilarious, I certainly had a good time.

“I’m an actor and no matter how hard I work I will never be Carol Channing”, he commented. “Most drag shows are over-the-top and can be mean. My show was never that. I grew up loving Carol Channing. I wanted people to get as close as they could to Carol.

In 1994 Carol Channing was planning on performing her last revival of Hello Dolly. Skipper had never met Channing. His friend, Lee LaForge who was playing at the event tried to persuade Skipper to arrive as Channing. “I didn’t want to do it but I knew that if I didn’t, this would be one of the biggest mistakes in life I ever made.” said Skipper


I arrived and my friend Lee was waiting for me. Cameras were flashing all over the place. He took me to where Carol was seated and said,

“Carol meet Carol Channing.”

The first thing she said was “where did you learn to do this?” On queue and acting entirely as Carol, Skipper told her that he learned in Seattle Washington (where Channing is from) and on it went. Channing was then 78.

She asked where she could catch him perform and he answered, “upstairs in five minutes.”

The rest is cabaraet history. The two became wonderful friends from that moment on and Channing gave Skipper her blessing to act as Carol whenever and wherever he wished.

“I never made fun of Carol as some have.” he said.

I really love her.

At 93 years young, it appears that Carol Channing also loves Richard Skipper, the kind boy who came to New York with a dream to act, and did just that.

Skipper continues to perform and is busy writing a book about the 50th Anniversary of Hello Dolly. He can be reached on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RichardSkipper?fref=ts or on twitter: https://twitter.com/RichardSkipper

Website:http://www.richardskipper.com and http://www.callondolly.com

Leader of the Pack


Lisa Snyder is a passionate warrior.

Twice a day she hikes deep into the woods, the only two legged of her bunch. The other eight wear huge freedom grins and jump frantically out of her SUV one at a time, sniffing and pawing each other. With a shrill scream and a strong but kind presence, every weekday, in the woods of Rockland County, her pack knows to stay near.

Snyder owns Dog Day Afternoon, a dog exercise company she started in 2010. She takes eight to ten dogs, all off leash on twice-daily afternoon adventures. Her own dogs Mia and Bea come along as part of the pack. Bea was saved from the Newark Humane Society just days before she was to be killed. Her clients send her photos of their dogs at night sleeping peacefully…”all because of you” they say in their notes.

“I am more the dog yeller than the dog whisperer,” she admits.

“Dogs need to be free, they don’t love running around on a leash, just like people — freedom is key,” said Snyder. “It’s even more than that. They learn how to behave in a pack and to socialize.”

One day in the woods Snyder was pondering life and realizing that everything was falling into place. She was very much at peace, or so she thought. She looked down and was standing inside of a snake, the thickness of three times an elephants trunk. “I don’t remember stepping into the snake circle!” she said. “I yelled RUN to the dogs and jumped over the snake and just kept running. I found an official and he said it was probably just a rat snake getting some sun.” The answer did not help ease her.

Snyder grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey the oldest of three sisters. She did not grow up with pets. “The first dog I ever had was Bogie who I rescued when I was in my twenties,” she recalled. “It was as if I saw a dog for the very first time when I got him.” She started Dog Day Afternoon in the 80s when she lived in California but it really took off in New York.

“Independent businesses run in my family,” she said. Her father owned Jolly Plastics, a mail order garbage bag business. With a huge afro (it was the 70’s) her Dad did business and his logo was a clown with a matching hairstyle. “It was kind of like having Wolfman Jack for a Dad.”

Snyder went to college for marketing and shortly after moved to Philadelphia for a short while and then to Los Angeles. A friend was a big costume designer for movies like Pretty Woman and asked if Snyder wanted to work on a movie.

The movie was Somersby with Richard Gere and Jodi Foster http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sommersby. Snyder went to Virginia to shoot the movie. After the movie was finished Snyder met a handsome violinist who lived in New York. “We were very different,” she said. “But I loved him very much.” They dated for five years and were headed toward marriage.

“He got a job as the Associate Concert Master of the New York City Ballet and I moved to New York,” she explained.

“If I have any regrets at all, it is that I did not marry him…but he’s never even been on a Ferris Wheel! I know that sounds crazy. He was a child prodigy and I was a completely passionate free spirit,” she said.

In 1996 Snyder moved to Morningside Heights, Manhattan and shortly after bought an apartment in Inwood. She worked for many years as a representative for a homeopathic pharmaceutical company and for Halstead Real Estate.

On September 11th Snyder got in her car with her dog Bogie and just drove. She somehow ended up in Memorial Park in Nyack. “I had been to Nyack before and made a mental note that I was going to live here one day.” She said. “I really don’t know how I even got there, it was surreal.”

In 2006 Snyder went to see the house that she lives in now and made an offer before she even went upstairs.

“I am the free spirited older sister and dogs have changed my life. I am satisfied with these creatures. Nothing rivals having a baby but I really feel like I was Mother Earth in another life. This time around, I choose hedonism. This is a fast life. I want to get massaged, cook, travel and watch my two beautiful nieces grow.”


Dog Day Afternoon can be reached at: dogdayafternoon4@verizon.net or at 845-480-5213. If your dog cannot be off leash, Dog Day Afternoon also works with Dog Walkers and does have Dog Boarding Services.

Article Reprinted in Nyack Hamlet Hub here:http://news.hamlethub.com/nyack/life/273-leader-of-the-pack

Right in Front of Our Eyes

A few weeks ago I was given a very high honor.

I wasn’t given an award.

I didn’t win a medal, ace a test, win a corporate challenge or break any records.

I became a spectacle.


Yes, I had a pair of glasses named after me. The Donna. Donna won’t be available until Fall 2014, but I have never been so honored.

These designer frames are making me feel pretty special right in front of my own eyes.

The glasses are described as recognizable vintage detail embedded in medium tortoise or black premium acetate that create a look that’s feminine and fashionable. Retro shaped spring hinge temples and a oversized lens area make these glasses a must have for any serious reader.

They also have a personality. Donna’s way is not always so laid back; she likes to be up to the minute in whatever is going on. Her style is just a little bit trendy and sometimes even over the top…just for fun. She loves people, finds the remarkable in the day to day and lives from the inside out. She’s in the driver’s seat.

I am not the only lucky recipient of a pair of designer frames named after me.

Renee Bachner, of Renee’s Readers and Total Focus in New City http://www.reneesreaders.com honored many of her clients and friends with the same announcement way before the Donna was born, when she first launched her start-up business three years ago. Right then and there, Bachner decided that she would design readers after her very best clientele. Renee’s Reader’s branding was born.

Bernie Gelb is a client and devoted rock and roll fan. His semi-rimless design transforms a vintage look into modern day retro style. Gelb attended Brandeis and worked for a company as a concert promoter while still in college. After College he promoted names like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Band, Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell. He became Joni Mitchell’s Manager in 1971 and was the executive producer of several of her albums.

“It was a great time,” he remembers. “I started collecting vinyls when the Beatles came out in 1963 and I have never stopped.”

Susan Wolper, another client of Bachner’s, is described on the Renee’s Readers website as having the courage to explore new paths that highlight her natural strengths and talents.

“I was so flattered when Renee told me she was naming a pair of readers after me!” remembers Wolper.

Wolper went back for her Masters Degree in education when her children were young and now teaches at Felix Festa Middle School in West Nyack.

“Renee was unbelievable style, I wouldn’t buy my glasses anyplace else. She is so patient.” said Wolper.

Libby Becker “The Libby” recalls when Bachner told her about her business idea.

“We are amazed by Renee, I followed her through her re-entry into the working world and was flattered to have the Libby named after me….I had no idea she was doing this.”

Becker worked in fundraising and recently changed careers to work with an interior design firm, Romancing the Home Interiors out of New City.

“After my first interview I said, when do I start? My interviewer, Marcy Sacks said, well I didn’t hire you yet. “ she laughed.


Renee’s Readers was created using her more than 25 years’ experience as a licensed optician, her background in fashion and design and the inspiration and feedback of her optical store customers.

Designing her own line of reading glasses is something she wanted to do for years. Caring for her elderly parents at that time and faced with her own aging motivated her to create Renee’s Readers. Made with attention to style and comfort needs of her customers in their reading glasses, Renee’s Readers gives you the practical, easy chic looks that today’s on the go style of living demands. Impressed with their ageless attitude further inspired her to name each Renee’s Readers style after actual customers whose personal style and attitude although unique describe so many of us as we get older.

Renee’s Readers answers to what today’s fashion is all about…great style comes from the quality and functionality that makes looking good easy.

Let Your Look Tell Your Story,


Giving Motherhood a Microphone

It all started with a cheese doodle.

Not just any cheese flavored cheese puff, but an innocent snack handed to a little 15-month-old toddler who had never tasted such a flavor, from her new-ish grandmother. “Who knew that Jamie would walk in the kitchen at that very moment,” explained Cohen. “It has cheese in it! I remember stumbling, so it must be healthy.”

Cohen’s daughter and son-in-law are very specific about the healthy food choices for their daughter Hallie and son Ethan and cheese doodles were definitely not on the menu that day.

The story of the cheese doodle and the dance that happens between adult children, their parents and their children is the subject of an artistic expression that Ellyn Cohen of Piermont will be telling the evening of May 10th. It is no coincidence that the evening is the night before Mother’s Day. In fact audiences in 32 cities across the country will experience well-crafted journeys that celebrate and validate mothering through giving voice to motherhood–in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor.

The funny part here is that Cohen’s children will be attending the event (claiming to be busy was not an option here–aka Mothers Day Gift) where they are in fact the subjects of a very personal, comedic essay and one that will resonate with many of the 450 people in attendance that evening.

Cohen auditioned for “Listen to Your Mother” in March 2014 and was selected as one of 15 cast members, from over 100 participants, to take part in the North Jersey “Listen to Your Mother” performance. The performance will be held at the South Orange Performing Arts Center through the theater company, Midtown Direct Rep, aptly named for the New Jersey transit line on which local residents commute. MDR is comprised of accomplished theater artists and seasoned Broadway veterans who call Maplewood/South Orange their home. Sandy Rustin, Producer/Director for the 2014 “Listen to Your Mother” North Jersey is a founding member of Midtown Direct Rep.

The Listen To Your Mother North Jersey Cast - Ellyn Cohen wearing yellow and purple scarf.

The Listen To Your Mother North Jersey Cast – Ellyn Cohen wearing yellow and purple scarf.

Cohen was raised in Hewlett, NY and received a BS degree in Speech and Dramatics from Syracuse University, and a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology from Teacher’s College. Cohen lived in Atlanta, where her husband, Dr. Daniel Cohen, did his residency in Pediatrics. In 1974, she and her husband moved to Rockland County, where Ellyn worked for 20 + years as a speech pathologist, with a private practice. Ellyn raised two children, Jamie and Evan. In addition to her career in Speech Pathology, she taught Public Speaking and Human Communication at Rockland Community College. Cohen then established Presentation Power!, speech writing and speech coaching. Clients included non- profits, corporate executives, fundraisers, and politicians. She spent three years as Community Liaison for a NYS Assemblyman, five years as Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the JCC of Rockland. She now lives in Piermont and while learning to be retired, read “Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood,” by Suzanne Braun Levine. This inspired her to start an author series for Rockland Jewish Family Service. Several times/year, RJFS bring authors to the community to speak about psycho/social issues of interest to Baby Boomers.

Listen to Your Mother, founded by Ann Imig, a self described “stay-at-home humorist” has been giving voices to motherhood since 2010 in the form of original readings performed live on-stage by their authors.

Listen to Your Mother aims to support motherhood creatively through artistic expression, and also financially, through contributions to non-profit organizations supporting families in need. The North Jersey show will be donating a 10% of ticket proceeds to NJCW, an Essex County Non-Profit dedicated to helping women and children in need in Essex County.

Happy Mothers Day Ellyn Cohen and to all –this Mother’s Day— remember to listen to your mother.

Listen to Your Mother North Jersey: http://listentoyourmothershow.com/northjersey/

RJFS Author’s Series: http://www.rjfs.org/author-lecture-series/

With permission Nyack/Piermont Hamlet Hub

Making a Little Indian Food

I have never cooked Indian food in my life but inspired by an Indian cooking class I recently took with a friend, you know who you are, I went to the library (yes, the library) and took out Indian Vegetarian Feast by Anjum Anand, went to our local Indian Market for just the right spices and got to work. http://www.anjumanand.co.uk/indian-food-recipes-cooking-dishes/

I made Griddled Zucchini Carpaccio, Chickpea Salsa, Pistachio Dressing.
And Tandoori Baby Potatoes With Herb Yogurt.

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Warming Hearts in Rockland

This was an unusually long, cold winter for the northeast, but in Rockland County, Warming Hearts of Rockland’s blankets enveloped some, warming their hearts and their bodies.

Since 2011, two very special women, Cathy DeVisser and Patti Beutel, have worked together with the community to support individuals and their families during difficult times.

When asked how Warming Hearts got started, Patti was very clear highlighting that she and Cathy did not want credit for this project, instead calling it “a grass roots, local community service project.” The women met when their sons attended high school together. Cathy and Patti, a cancer survivor, both wanted to help give back to the community.


Cathy and her family spent a lot of time in emergency rooms with her son who had epilepsy and with her parents who were ill. Her father was a hospice patient at the Joseph Raso Hospice House in New City before he died. Cathy lost her mom to cancer, sitting with her as her mom received treatment. Recently, Cathy lost her son, Tim, to epilepsy. Tim was involved in Warming Hearts and the projects meant a lot to him. “His activities were limited due to his illness, but this was something Tim could do that was meaningful and rewarding,” Cathy remembers.

Cathy recalled the first blanket she ever gave to a patient. “We were spending a lot of time at the hematologist’s office,” she said. “On one day in particular, we were there and there was a woman receiving treatment who felt cold. There were no blankets available in the office for her, so I went out to my car where I always kept a few freshly laundered blankets and I gave her one. That’s when it dawned on me that something as simple as feeling warm could be a great comfort at such a difficult time.”

Warming Hearts of Rockland began with bags distributed to Rockland Hematology and Oncology Center; then Nyack Hospital Oncology Center and, most recently, Good Samaritan’s Oncology and Dialysis Centers. The bags include a new throw blanket, planner, water bottle, puzzle book, pad, pen, tissues, unscented hand cream, lip balm, and a special smooth stone that reads either ‘Hope’ or ‘Strength.’

Since 2011, Warming Hearts of Rockland has delivered over 300 bags and has expanded to include additional community comfort programs. In May, 2012, Cradles of Kindness was started, delivering non-perishable snacks to the Joseph Raso Hospice House. It was late one night when Cathy and her family were visiting with her dad and they were looking for a little something to eat. “We didn’t want an apple, we wanted a cookie or something like that,” said Cathy. That is where the idea came from to create Cradles of Kindness. A bowl of individually wrapped snack items are left at the house for those snack attacks. There is also a bag left in each new resident’s room containing lip balm, hand cream and a single-use, pre-pasted toothbrush.


Warming Hearts of Rockland started by reaching out to people in the community for donations. They have received support from individuals and groups. Last summer, three Girl Scouts earned their Silver Awards by doing a project to benefit Warming Hearts. Students from Clarkstown North and Clarkstown South High Schools as well as Youth for Hospice have been very supportive and collected many items for the project. Ongoing support from individuals and groups is what makes this project run.

The outpouring of community support led to another project, Kindness for Kids. Cathy and Patti continue to spread the love to younger patients by delivering donated comfort items to the Pediatric Emergency Rooms at both Nyack and Good Samaritan Hospitals. “My husband and I were looking for a way to give back to the people who cared so much for my family members when they were in need of emergency care.” Cathy said.
The items for the emergency room are not only for children who are sick and in need of care, but for children who are there with a family member and frightened or uncertain. Now, all of these children can benefit from the comfort items provided by Warming Hearts of Rockland. This project was supported by students from Little Tor Elementary School in New City. The Student Council and the students of Little Tor made up candy bags for patients at Nyack Hospital. The Valentine gift bags were delivered to patients who were spending Valentine’s Day in the Hospital. “The students wanted the patients to feel special and know someone was thinking about them too,” said Cathy.

“Without the community support this project could not continue,” explained Patti.

Cathy and Patti are grateful for all the community support and, as they said numerous times, Warming Hearts of Rockland touches the hearts of many people in the community and it only takes donating one item to make a difference.” “Warming Hearts of Rockland wants to thank you again for all of your support. We hope that everyone will continue to help support these projects that warm the hearts of our friends and neighbors at the most difficult time in their lives.”


If you would like to donate, items may be left in the bin at the United Hospice Office on Stokum Lane in New City during normal business hours. For more information or for other arrangements to make a donation, please email Cathy and Patti at warminghearts@rocklandny.org. Warming Hearts of Rockland can also be followed on Facebook.

This article was originally written by and for publication in New City Life Magazine. That publication has gone out of business and so we are publishing it here for Warming Hearts.

Careers Seen Through the Lens of Summer Camp

John Gardner wants to be a filmmaker.

He is fascinated with old Saturday Night Live episodes, believes that anything before 2000 was “choppy” and spends hours dissecting each show’s content. “He’s sort of a history buff when it comes to TV shows and movies,” says Gerri, John’s Mom. “Family Guy is also one of his favorites, his and his Dads.”

FOX's "Family Guy" - Season Ten

But John, 14 years old, does not want to be just any filmmaker. “I want to be the next Seth MacFarlane,” he explains. “I want to be equally or more funny than what he’s done.”


John loves humor.

Whether somebody or something is making him laugh or he is the one behind the laughter, he finds it infectious. Seth MacFarlane has made a very nice living making people laugh. His two animated short films; Life of Larry and Larry and Steve led to the development of Hanna-Barbera’s Family Guy in 1997. John didn’t share this trivia, but something tells me if we discussed the show’s legacy, he would have known all the details.

John was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, also called Asperger’s disorder, a form of Autism, that involves delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.


“John didn’t speak until he was almost four years old,” remembers his Mom Gerri of New City. “Once he was diagnosed, we wished to find a socialization program for him and were told by the school district that the only programs were in Westchester and Bergen Counties. I didn’t really want to drive him that far, John was nine years old and I am a nurse, the closer the better. So my husband and I took it upon ourselves to research programs. One day I just googled Asperger’s socialization programs in Rockland and Jewish Family Services popped up.”


Michele Koenig, LPC, LMFT, Director of Clinical Programs was the first person Gerri met at RJFS. The Gardner’s are not Jewish, but being a non-sectarian community-benefitting agency it did not matter. What mattered for Gerri and her husband (also) John was getting John the services and the tools that he needed to thrive. “Michele was wonderful, “Gerri recalls.


John has been attending a socialization group at Rockland JFS for about five years. When he first started attending there were only seven or eight children, now the group is at least twenty. “He was quiet, at first,” remembers Gerri, “but he is not quiet now, I think he leads the group many times!”

Through the group, the Gardner’s learned about the Total Teen Experience, a summer camp run through RJFS for the last four years beginning this year at the Ramapo College campus (and adding two brand new camps for younger children with Social Deficits). John attended the camp last year and worked in the office of Israel Bonds, as part of the Entrepreneurship Program of the camp, assisting with filing, organization of work, shredding and other office duties. This was a perfect match for John who thrives on organization and tasks which involve putting things in order.


“It was pretty good,” John, admits, “We got a half hour break everyday.”

The on-the-job training is part of the camp “Entrepreneurial Program” and encourages the teens to find their passion. John explained that this would be his last year at the camp because he wants to get an actual “real” job next year. “Camp made me realize that I couldn’t have gotten a job this year, I needed to become more mature.” He admits. “I want to work at the movie theater near my house next year.”

This coming year Campers will run a self-sustaining business on campus. They will interact with other Campers as they create a business plan and implement what they create. Each participant will work all aspects of the business–from market research, creating a product, retail, marketing, budgeting and more.

The camp also offers something called the “Filmmaking Experience”. Frandy Osias-Louis, a recent Dominican College graduate with a degree in psychology worked as a counselor at the Total Teen Experience last year and taught the filmmaking class.


“Everyone is afraid of something,” he explains. “We taught the teens that is ok. The project asked each camper to come up with a weakness that bothers them and maybe hinders them in doing things.” A few weakness examples from last year’s campers were: “I Overthink Things” and “I am Way Too Friendly”.

The film project was entitled “This is Me” and was to show the teens that even a suspected weakness could be turned into a strength.

“My weakness is working out,” John admits, “but this short film taught me to try and overcome my weakness and motivated me to try and work out more.”

“It was a nice segway for John now as a Freshman at Clarkstown South High School,” his mother explains “He is now taking Digital TV at Clarkstown South with Mr. Brown and his love of film continues to grow strong.”

Each camper had their own vignette in the film and joined Osias-Louis in putting the film together. At the end of the camp the film was shown to all campers and parents. “It was so nice,” Gerri recalls, “there was a graduation ceremony and popcorn and snacks were served—it was really touching.”



Rockland Jewish Family Services Summer Camps for Children with Social Deficits located at Ramapo College, 505 Ramapo Valley Road, Mahwah.
Contact Michele Koenig at 845-354-2121 x141 — Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/uniquesummerprograms
Unique Summer Camps/6 Week programs: Camp Kipanga (ages 5-10), Camp Katikati (ages 11-13) and Total Teen Experience (Ages 14-21)