THE GIFT OF GIVING

by northcountrywriter

Chazy girl holds charity concert for birthday

BY MICHAEL J. LANGLOIS

Press-Republican  –  8/28/16

CHAZY — Tess Blair wanted one thing for her 10th birthday.

To do something good for other kids.

Her mother, Colleen, had quizzed her for weeks about potential gift ideas. After all, the May 17 date was quickly approaching.

“Each time I asked her, she said she didn’t know,” explained the Chazy woman.

“Then out of the blue, she said, ‘Mom!’ (She was all excited.) ‘I know what I want for my birthday. I want to put on a benefit with my band to help kids with disabilities.’” Asked her reaction to her daughter’s unorthodox request, the single mother of two was incredulous.

“Oh, my God. How am I going to do that?” she laughed. “I didn’t know if I could make that happen, but I would try my best. I told her I would let her know.”

‘AMAZING’

Colleen’s first phone call was to Tess’s fourthgrade teacher, Ashley Kollar, at Seton Academy in Plattsburgh. Tess, with help from Kollar, had formed a band with some classmates for a school talent show in February.

The teacher gladly offered to help reunite the group for such a great cause.

“If Ashley wasn’t on board, then I never could have done it,” said Colleen. “Without her, there isn’t a band. She helps them practice and puts the time in.”

The band members — Tess, vocals; Gabriella Conti, piano; Aiden Pearl, vocals; James Burnham, guitar; Ava Glover, cello; Ashley Kollar, guitar; Emma Langlois, xylophone — deliberated on a name that conveyed their spirit. They all agreed on the Pop Rockers.

The Blairs had secured a vehicle for a possible benefit. Now they needed a venue with viable financial donors.

Colleen then called various family and friends to brainstorm ideas. It was her sister who suggested that she call the local chapter of the United Way.

“I thought it was amazing that this little girl would want to do this,” said Kathy Snow, director of development for the United Way of the Adirondack Region. “It really was a great testimony to how she was being brought up.”

WORTH THE WAIT

Kathy emailed the 44 agencies that partner with the United Way, hoping for support in fulfilling Tess’s wish. While many stepped up and offered to help, only a handful had benefits that fit the tight schedule.

Tess picked the YMCA’s June 12 “Rockin’ the Y” event. The family-oriented fundraiser headlined a variety of musicians at the Naked Turtle restaurant in Plattsburgh.

Tess thought the benefit was ideal for raising money. Though it wouldn’t take place for nearly a month after her actual birthday, she knew it was worth the wait.

The band decided to perform the same songs that they’d learned for the February talent show — “Home,” by Phillip Phillips and the “Fight Song,” by Rachel Platten. They were not chosen arbitrarily.

“Home” was the fourth grade’s gift to the fifth grade to let them know that they always had a home at Seton Academy. The “Fight Song” was to offer people in the depths of despair a little hope.

WORTHY CAUSE

The band raised money by selling advance tickets to the June 12 show.

With only few weeks before the event, they set up in the school lobby and put the word out to Seton Academy students, parents and staff. They told anyone who would listen that it was a worthy cause.

Tess was feeling the pressure the day of the YMCA fundraiser. A medium-sized crowd had formed around the Turtle’s mini-sized stage, tucked to one side of the restaurant.

A few lively patrons squeezed onto the tight dance floor to enjoy the live music. There were the customary family, friends and Seton supporters on hand. “At first I felt nervous because I didn’t want to make a mistake,” said Tess. “Then I realized that this was a good thing for other people.”

A BIG HEART

Finally, it was time for the Pop Rockers to perform.

Kevin Killeen, fulfilling one of his last duties as outgoing YMCA executive director and chief executive officer, grabbed the microphone. He then proceeded to give the Pop Rockers, and Tess, one of the most gracious introductions a band could expect.

He congratulated Tess for offering her birthday wish to kids who faced great obstacles each day. He complimented Colleen for her coordinating efforts and for raising a daughter with a big heart.

“This is a wonderful thing that she wanted for a gift,” Colleen reflected on the experience. “But I wanted her to know that she had to work for it. To know that the gift of giving can be better than the gift of receiving.”

MADE HER CHOICE

The Pop Rockers had raised $500 at the Y event.

And so Kathy Snow reached out a second time to participating United Way agencies, soliciting those interested in receiving a donation.

The North Country Association for the Visually Impaired, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people who are blind, legally blind or visually impaired with attaining or maintaining personal independence, was Tess’s choice.

“I was surprised that she picked us,’ said Executive Director Amy Kretser of the agency that helps people of all ages in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.

“I told her absolutely we have kids.”

Amy explained to Tess that the money would go to the agency’s Teachers of the Visually Impaired, or TVI’s, who work in schools with children who are blind. The association has four TVIs who work with about 40 visually impaired kids in its territory.

INSPIRED TEARS

Many times, explained Amy, the items purchased through government programs to aid visually impaired children can’t be taken off the school’s premises.

Money donated outside of those programs can purchase items that a child can take home. In that respect, Tess’s donation was poised to make

Tess Blair holds the $500 check representing the money she and her band raised for the North Country Association for the Visually Impaired, intended to assist children served by the agency. With her are association Executive Director Amy Kretser (from left), Emma Langlois, Ava Glover and Kevin Killeen, former executive director and chief executive officer of the YMCA.

a big difference.

“Any time you see kids thinking beyond themselves, I think it’s valuable,” she said. “I think it’s a testament to our community to have local kids who invest locally.

“The parents who are raising their kids to actually look beyond their own birthday — I think that’s remarkable. Here’s a kid who wants to do something bigger than (herself).”

Kathy Snow agreed.

“It brought me to tears to know that the children of today are growing up good, that they want to give back,” she said.

“This little girl could have had a big birthday party. Instead, she wanted to raise money to give to disabled children.

“You just don’t see that all the time.”

 

At the microphone (second from left), Tess Blair fronts her band, the Pop Rockers, at a Plattsburgh YMCA benefit at the Naked Turtle. The performance gave her the opportunity to help kids with disabilities, which was her only wish for her 10th birthday. The band members are (from left) Gabriella Conti, piano; Blair; Aiden Pearl, vocals; James Burnham, guitar; Ava Glover, cello; Ashley Kollar, guitar; Emma Langlois, xylophone.

MICHAEL LANGLOIS/ P-R PHOTO

 

Tess Blair holds the $500 check representing the money she and her band raised for the North Country Association for the Visually Impaired, intended to assist children served by the agency. With her are association Executive Director Amy Kretser (from left), Emma Langlois, Ava Glover and Kevin Killeen, former executive director and chief executive officer of the YMCA.