This Father’s Day, we give a warm thanks to our special men in the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps who are EMTs, Drivers and Aiders.
Chappaqua Ambulance members make a difference. Thinking about joining?
This Father’s Day, we give a warm thanks to our special men in the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps who are EMTs, Drivers and Aiders.
Chappaqua Ambulance members make a difference. Thinking about joining?
Four women graciously took time out from their busy schedules to talk about their roles as volunteers in Armonk. On a Monday night, the night set aside each week for the members of the Armonk Volunteer Fire Department to meet for training, cleaning equipment, restocking the vehicles, and sharing a meal, these inspiring women spoke humbly of their varied, yet similar, roles in the department. As they spoke, each one began to learn more about the others, encouraging each other along the way. From a high school junior to a mother with three children, they are united in their common goal: helping people.
The Armonk FD is one of only nine departments in the county with a combined fire and ambulance service. All the others (some volunteer, some career) have separate departments. As one of the women put it, “we work more efficiently as a team when we have to work together.”
Luci Labriola-Cuffe is currently the Chief of Fire Training at the Westchester County Department of Emergency Services, where all 58 fire departments in the county go for training. She volunteers both as a firefighter and an emergency medical technician in Armonk, and has the distinction of having served as Armonk’s first and only female Chief, from 2011 to 2013.
Beginning as an officer in the department and continuing for eight years, Labriola-Cuffe then moved through the ranks, first as an assistant chief for four years, then two years as Chief. Her husband is a police officer in North Castle. The two met while responding to the same calls.
Inspiration to serve? As a child, Labriola-Cuffe’s father suffered with a recurring and serious illness, which necessitated frequent visits to their home by emergency personnel. She was deeply touched by the great work of the EMT’s who repeatedly came to the house and cared for him. “I realized at a young age that I wanted to help people.” During her school years, she became a lifeguard, and continued through college. After graduating with a degree in cardiac rehabilitation and working in the field for a few years, she shifted gears and became a firefighter, the first in her family to join the fire department.
Most memorable call? Helping to deliver a baby in the home of an Armonk resident during October of 2014, alongside her husband. “It was the most exciting call,” she mused, noting that while the mom did all of the work, she was able to offer assistance. Of all the calls involving fires, accidents, and injuries, this one stood out in a good way. “It was thrilling,” she recalled with a smile.
Advice for anyone thinking about joining the department? “You CAN. There is nothing more rewarding than working together.” Labriola-Cuffe spoke of the sense of family, and of teamwork, amongst the fire and emergency medical teams. “You do get something out of this. This is a very rewarding job, and you are very fulfilled knowing you are helping other people.” She also spoke with empathy of the need to be there for the people whose calls she responds to. “They are having their worst day,” she realizes.
Lexi Draper is a high school junior and a member of the Junior Corps, which is for young men and women from the age of 16 through 18. She initially wanted to join the ambulance corps, like her father, but is not yet old enough. Chief Carlos Cano offered her the option of joining the fire department as a junior firefighter, which she gladly accepted. The only girl in a class of about 23, Draper expressed gratitude that the boys have definitely included her as part of the team.
First call? There was a recent call regarding a mattress fire, which had ignited from a car on I-684. Though it was a school night, Draper was permitted to go on the call. (The Junior Corps has a weeknight curfew of 9 p.m. and a weekend time limit of 11 p.m., so as not to take away time from school and studies). Draper proudly described how she, while supervised by experienced members of the department, was put in charge of the nozzle at the end of the hose, an instrumental and rewarding moment for her. “Every call has one goal–putting out fire.”
Role models? Draper has been inspired by both of her parents. Her father serves as a member of the ambulance corps, and her mother is a nurse. Draper’s interest in science and medicine is a perfect fit.
Biggest challenge? Setting aside time for all her activities, including classes, homework, fire department training, and babysitting. Balancing her time becomes crucial.
Advice for peers? “Don’t be afraid to be the only girl to do what you want to do.”
A wife and mother of three boys, Elissa Weinhoff has always had a passion for medicine. First a pre-med student, and then a middle school science teacher, Weinhoff is currently in training as an Emergency Medical Technician. She is taking the extensive training course as well as riding along on the ambulance with EMT’s. Weinhoff plans to take the New York State exam on May 21. She will be on probation until she meets all of the requirements, and hopes to become a full fledged member of the Armonk Emergency Medical Services by this coming September.
Biggest challenge? Taking the required 200 hour course, which consists of a four hour class, two times a week. She travels to New Rochelle for this six month training. “It feels like you’re never going to know everything you need to know.”
Thoughts on volunteering? “This whole operation is unbelievable. This is a team, very supportive, patient–it really is like a family.”
Sue Macellaro has been a member of the Ambulance Corps for 11 years, and is now the Captain. She had been going through a job change years ago, and was not sure what she wanted to do. She even considered becoming a volunteer “candy striper” at a hospital. Encouraged by her husband, she chose to volunteer with the fire department in Armonk as an EMT.
Role model? Her father and brother were both firemen, and inspired her to help people in some capacity.
Most memorable call? Macellaro recalled two severe injuries. One was a young boy accidentally hit by a car. When she arrived at the scene, she found him awake, purple, and desperately gasping for breath. “I talked to him, and kept him awake,” she recounted, trying to keep him as calm as possible. The child fully recovered, but the accident stayed with her.
The second was a “burn call” for a man pinned behind the steering wheel of his car. The car caught on fire after a collision, and the man, a Polish citizen in the country for a visit, was severely burned. He had to be cut out of the car and he, too, was awake. “It was very overwhelming,” Macellaro recalled. “I couldn’t get the smell of burning hair out of my nose.” Visibly touched by the memory, she spoke of visiting the man in the burn unit of the hospital, trying to comfort him before he recovered enough to return home to his family in Poland. Macellaro also spoke of the peer support teams that assist the fire fighters and emergency medical technicians in times of tragedy such as this.
Range of experiences? “We see the gamut.” Serving the airport (HPN, which stands for Harrison Portchester North Castle), calls can range from plane crashes to the needs of older residents, now living at home longer and requiring the help of the ambulance corps more frequently.
In the candid discussion that followed, the women addressed the need for more volunteers, as well as challenges they all face as part of their job.
“It is getting tough,” Macellaro said matter-of-factly. “Many people work. Volunteers are a tough commodity these days.”
Labriola-Cuffe pointed out that perhaps the greatest need for volunteers is during the day, precisely when moms with children in school could be of assistance. Many of the firefighters and EMTs work or attend school during the day, and are less able to respond to calls. “Once you get through training (which is free and in-house for volunteers), you give what you can.”
“I wasn’t sure if I could do it, and then it suddenly took off,” said Macellaro, who added that education continues all the time.
As far as safety goes, whatever the emergency, the safety of the membership is the first priority. “Scene safety,” as Labriola-Cuffe referred to it, is what enables the volunteers to be able to go out on calls to help others.
Other aspects of volunteering? “Keep your mind open,” advised Labriola-Cuffe. At times, what a call starts out as and what you might actually encounter are two different things. “Be able to get back out there.” There are difficult situations to process, which may have lasting effects. However, there is an abundance of support, from the team as a whole as well as special peer support groups when needed.
For more information and ways to help, please visit www.armonkfd.com
Eileen Gallagher is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Inside Chappaqua and Inside Armonk magazines. Residing in Chappaqua with her husband and sons, she respects and appreciates the tireless work of all who dedicate themselves to saving lives and keeping their communities safe.
Elinor Griffith is a long time Chappaqua resident who dedicates much of her time to volunteer work, and has been doing so for many years. She offers a wealth of knowledge about local volunteer opportunities, much based on her own experiences. She has been involved in a wide variety of organizations and activities and has served as an inspiration to many to get involved, including me! She shared with me why she got involved and some of the unexpected benefits she gained as a result.
Elinor first got involved many years ago with Birchwood Swim and Tennis Club. As a busy full-time writer, editor and mother to two children, free time was scarce and reserved for family. So she volunteered alongside her children. This was a win-win–it demonstrated to her teenagers the message that giving back to the community is important while simultaneously allowing her to have quality family time. Subsequently, Elinor was asked to get involved with her church board. Initially, she balked–she was already running at full throttle among her professional and personal commitments. But she quickly came to realize that, as Elinor recently verbalized, “Now is a great time. Being busy is no excuse! Just get out and do something–even if it’s a small thing.” So she did.
Elinor joined her church board and found that giving back to her community was incredibly rewarding. She found an increased sense of belonging within the New Castle community. As a bonus, she discovered that she was not only fostering new friendships while volunteering her time, but that she was deepening existing ones through a shared love of giving back. Grace Bennett, long time friend of Elinor’s said, “I’ve always found Elinor to be so enthusiastic and dedicated to whatever project she is working on. She is also someone who embraces diversity and welcomes all with an open heart.” Joining the church board was just the tip of the iceberg for Elinor. She then became involved as a lay person in the Chappaqua Interfaith Council. The Interfaith Council coordinates and provides a variety of services to many people in the community.
Elinor was also on the board at Open Door for many years, and more recently, joined the board of New Castle Community Media Center. NCCMC is a non-profit organization whose main initiative is to help connect the community thru local media programming. Located in the library, they film all town hall meetings. These meetings, along with select other town meetings, are viewable on the web and local cable channels.
Elinor is a poster child for how rewarding giving back to the community can be. She modestly says that part of her love of New Castle stems from how engaged in giving back the people surrounding her are. To those who feel they may be too busy, Elinor shared with me an analogy told to her many years ago: Volunteering is like quilt. No one person has to be the entire quilt. An hour here and an hour there is like a square on the quilt. Your square joined with someone else’s square can quickly result in a completed quilt. Don’t feel that volunteering has to be an overwhelming commitment–it can be done one “square” at a time.
Of her many years of volunteering, Elinor says, “Pushing up your sleeves and helping neighbors in need can become one of the most satisfying areas of life. [It] gives an opportunity…to make our part of the world a little better.” –Heather Skolnick
By Debra Hand
For many children, gymnastics are a fun diversion during the toddler years, transitioning into developmental classes teaching basic skills and building strength, flexibility and agility. Many eventually drift towards other activities ranging from soccer and baseball to music and art, though some qualify for team gymnastics and compete in meets near and far. The time commitment is significant, and the pressures to compete at the highest levels while maintaining schoolwork can be substantial.
John Orozco took it even further–all the way to the 2012 Summer Olympics.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi behind us, sports enthusiasts now look towards the 2016 Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro and back towards the last Summer Games in London. John is more interested than most–after ascending to the pinnacle of his sport but falling short of his goal of an Olympic medal, 2016 represents another chance for glory.
And it all began right here, at World Cup Gymnastics in Chappaqua.
A Prodigy from the Bronx
John’s background and the sacrifices that he and his family made for his gymnastics success were well-documented during the 2012 Olympics by media outlets ranging from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated. On the Team USA website, John is self-described as an extremely strong child with a black belt at Tae Kwan Do, able to do flips and splits. His father William, a Department of Sanitation worker, saw a flyer for free gymnastics lessons in Manhattan, and the family began commuting to the city from their home in the Bronx, but John’s mom Damaris quickly saw that John was at a higher level.
“We realized that John needed more,” she said, recalling that they were impressed by the professionalism and facilities of World Cup in Chappaqua, which they had visited for a competition. Then-head coach Carl Schrade took on eight-year-old John immediately during the 2000-2001 season.
“During his first tryout, he showed us that he was a powerful tumbler. We could see he had so much raw talent from the day he stepped into the gym,” said current World Cup Gymnastics Director/Boys’ Head Coach Jason Hebert. “The more difficult the skill was, the more he aspired to learn it.”
John, now 21, recalls that splitting his time between the Bronx and Chappaqua was initially disconcerting; he was, in his own words, “used to a different demographic,” and the clientele at World Cup was out of his comfort zone. He is, however, very glad that his family chose World Cup: aside from the obvious benefits of training, “being exposed to the two different types of atmospheres opened my eyes up to the world,” he said.
“Training at World Cup was an escape from the real world,” John recalled. “Going to practice was what I looked forward to all day.”
Damaris drove John an hour or so every day to and from the Bronx, sitting in a folding chair to watch him practice from the upper level balcony; she notes that to this day, she has trouble watching him actually compete. When finances became an issue and an impediment to John’s future at World Cup, the gym, recognizing his potential, waived the costs of gym time and lessons. Damaris said that Carl and the former gym owner assured that John would be “taken care of,” and the financial accommodations enabled the family to afford sending and accompanying young John to meets, often in their mattress-equipped van to save money. Damaris would volunteer at the gym however possible, mending mats, shopping for and preparing food for meets, and stapling meet programs. John himself found time to work World Cup birthday parties in between training sessions.
A Meteoric Rise
According to Hebert, 10-year old John joined the USA Gymnastics Future Stars Program geared towards the development of potential members of the U.S. Junior National Development Team. Head Coach Schrade trained John two or three mornings, in addition to his regular workouts six to seven afternoons, every week, each workout lasting four hours.
“The extra morning training helped John with the core foundation which Carl was a master at teaching,” said Hebert, who then worked with John evenings on “high risk” skills. John agrees that the coaching combination of Carl and Jason was “key to him becoming an elite gymnast.”
“Carl took me under his wing and helped me establish all of the fundamentals [in technique and form] that I have today, and Jason pushed me to perfect higher-level skills,” he said.
John’s natural ability and intense work resulted in a 2004 Future Stars National Championship at the age of 12. As one of the top 14 gymnasts in the country, John qualified for the Junior National Team and attended training camps at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs several times a year.
In 2006, Hebert became John’s primary coach, both at World Cup and for his Team USA competitions. The hard work paid off: John won the USA National Championship in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Last Year at World Cup Interrupted
With a fourth consecutive national title in his sights in 2010–and the lure of the 2012 Olympics beyond–during his senior year in high school, John suffered a serious setback when he ruptured his Achilles tendon during the USA Championships.
To no one’s surprise, John refused to give up, opting for reconstructive surgery on his ankle and permanently relocating to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado to have access to the best rehabilitation and training services available.
To London and Beyond
“John’s new coach was a former Olympic champion [Ukranian Vitaly Marinitch], so we knew he would be in good hands,” said Hebert. Indeed, John qualified for the 2011 World Championships, won a bronze medal with Team USA and placed fifth in the all-around. Only one year later, he regained the USA Championship and qualified for the 2012 Olympics.
In July of 2012, John’s World Cup colleagues eagerly watched the boy they had seen develop into the best in the country compete on his sport’s largest stage: the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London. Unfortunate errors on the pommel horse caused him to fall to fifth place in the artistic team all-around and eighth place in the individual all-around, dashing his hopes for a medal.
In October 2012, John suffered another serious injury, tearing his ACL and meniscus. Out of action for 10 months, John rebounded later in 2013, when he was the U.S. parallel bars and high bar silver medalist and won the bronze for the parallel bars at the World Championships.
Still Looking For Gold
John has had a good start to 2014, winning the all-around at the Houston National Invitational after placing first in the parallel bars and pommel horse, and gearing up to compete in the Winter Cup in Las Vegas and American Cup in North Carolina in late February and early March. While he said he has many goals in the near future, he admitted, “every day at practice [the 2016 Summer Olympics] are in the back of my mind.”
His family and World Cup coaches are incredibly proud of what John has accomplished, and are confident that he will return to the next Summer Olympic Games in two years. He continues to work hard, and according to Damaris, in between his own training and competitions, earns money by training younger children at the facility. Damaris is especially proud of the kind and caring young man that her son has become.
“He has a big heart,” she said, describing John’s desire to give back, visit hospitalized children and donate his time. Scheduling and financial constraints only enable him to make it home to the Bronx once or twice a year, and he cannot always fit in a visit to Chappaqua. He does speak with his former coaches, however, and even saw Carl Schrade at the recent competition in Houston.
“John’s goal is to become an Olympic champion in 2016 and beyond,” said Hebert, “but even though he is a gymnastics celebrity throughout the world, he still calls World Cup his home.”
Read more about John Orozco and his accomplishments at www.usagym.org. For more information about World Cup Gymnastics and its programs, visit www.worldcupgymnastics.com.
Debra Hand is a longtime contributor and editor for Inside Chappaqua.
Normally, it would be hard to imagine how a corporate lawyer, working umpteen hours a week, would find time to volunteer. When the subject in question is Douglas Kraus, it is perfectly understandable. This is a man who possesses limitless energy and places a high value on public service.
When Gray Williams mentioned his finding that Kraus is “an angel to the town,” this reporter’s interest was piqued. How could it be that this town was so blessed yet few knew they were living among such a generous spirit? During the nearly 20 years that he has served as Town Justice, Kraus has donated his salary to projects designed to enhance the life of its residents, preserve historical venues and beautify the town.
In choosing where to donate the funds, Kraus often turns to his wife Alice for guidance. When she served on the recreation commission in the 90s, Alice mentioned the need for a playground at Gedney Park. Today, this spot continues to attract many a restless youngster and caregiver. Other contributions have funded the pocket park (nestled in between the row of storefronts including Sarah Lawrence and Sotheby’s International Realty on North Greeley Avenue) and the first bus providing transportation for seniors. The Northern Westchester Hospital and the ambulance corps have also benefited greatly.
One of the major recipients is the New Castle Historical Society, Kraus shares Williams’s interest in preserving the town’s cemeteries and serves on the board of Fair Ridge Cemetery. “That’s our local history,” Kraus notes.
“There is a lot of interesting history right in our midst.” He also mentions a burial ground on the west end of town where freed slaves are interred. Another project, the refurbishment of Horace Greeley’s statue, is completed thanks to Kraus’s generosity.
His decision to place a high priority on public service stems from several early memories. In 1961, President Kennedy pronounced these formative words: “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
“I heard these words at an early age and they made an impression,” Kraus recalls. In addition, his father served on the nominating committee for the Chappaqua school district and his mother was very involved in the community. “My parents enforced the importance of doing public service.”
In describing his role as town judge, Kraus is exuberant: “It could well be the best job I’ve ever had. It’s terrific to be able to do something that’s useful to the community.” The judgments he delivers from the bench reveal Kraus’s understanding of the impact of a sentence on an individual and on society. The way in which cases are dealt with “can make a difference in a person’s life.” he observes. “Often times, we’re able to get people into rehab or other treatment programs to help them get on a more constructive path.”
Kraus’s professional life also bears the imprint of his dedication to public service. He retired recently from Skadden Arps, a firm which has always placed a high importance on pro bono work. In the 1990s, Kraus chaired the firm’s pro bono committee. He has also served on the boards of the Legal Aid Society and the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Those who know and work with Kraus in the community sing his praises. When Dick Burns was Town Supervisor, Kraus served on the town board. “I can’t think of anyone I would rather work with than Doug,” Burns says. “He’s extremely bright and has a good sense of humor.” An appreciative Gray Williams chimes in: “He’s generous and public-spirited.”
Sarah Ellen Rindsberg admires the dedication and enthusiasm demonstrated by Justice Kraus.
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