BY PEGGY FORTUNE
The Al Sigl Community WalkAbout is one if the organization’s biggest fundraisers of the year. This year to kick off the event, the Al Sigl Community of agencies is hosting Unmask the Possibilities. The event will be held Friday, October 5th at SC Fine Art Gallery in the Hungerford Building downtown. Fifty masks designed by clients of Al Sign member agencies will be on display for the evening. The two women organizing the event have their own unique stories to tell about why they got involved.
For Sarah Greive, who works at Rochester’s Cornerstone Group and has three children; finding time to volunteer can be difficult but also offers many rewards. “You’re not only helping someone else, you’re also helping yourself. Volunteering for WalkAbout is great because you get to feel so connected to the cause,” she says. “My first year as a team leader was the first time I’d done anything like that since the jump-a-thon in grade school! It felt really good to know I was making a difference.”
WalkAbout is truly a family affair for Sarah. “My husband, my dad, and my niece all get involved,” she says. “Even my teenagers love it. Last year, my sister agreed to help organize a team together. It’s so easy because people really do want to help.”
Al Sigl has been near to Sarah’s heart nearly all of her life. Her sister, Summer Thornton, who passed away in 2004, received services at Mary Cariola and CP Rochester from a young age. “Having a sister born in the 1970s with multiple physical disabilities, I saw how hard my mother worked to care for Summer before she found Al Sigl. They say it takes a village to raise a healthy child. It takes even more to raise a child with special needs. That’s one of the main reasons I volunteer at these events, because I want families to realize they are not alone.”
“When I volunteered at the mask decorating activity at CP Rochester with Nicole, I kept thinking of when Summer roamed those halls. It felt good to spend time with her friends again and take part in an activity she loved – painting. I hope she’d be proud of the mask I painted. She was a much better artist than I am – a painting of hers even won a national award. Even though Summer required help with everyday tasks, she was independent at heart. By volunteering for WalkAbout, I want to help others achieve that sense of independence.”
Nicole VanGorder-Pratt, became involved as an Al Sigl Volunteer partly due to her role as Chief Talent Officer/Financial Services Professional for Financial Architects, a MassMutual company. People are her passion – specifically helping people make connections.
“I work with young professionals, families just starting out, and businesses. Our company does a lot of work in special care planning, helping to educate families with a developmentally disabled child or other family member learn more about legal guardianship, establishing trusts, and navigating Medicaid and Medicare. That’s how I first learned about Al Sigl. I’ve always been interested in education and mental health advocacy,” Nicole says, “so volunteering was a natural fit. I’ve served on the WalkAbout committee now for two years. My Al Sigl friends are like a second family.”
Of her involvement, Nicole says, “WalkAbout is a really fun event, but what I love most is that it brings people together from different backgrounds. There are teams from across the region; you can really see how Al Sigl serves the entire community.” She goes on to say, “Being a team leader only takes a few hours, including the time you spend at the event. It’s a great way for people who want to help to get involved.”
Giving back to the community is very important to Nicole; in addition to Al Sigl, she also volunteers as a mentor for St. Joseph’s Villa, she is a Founding Board Member for the proposed Greater Works Charter School for developmentally disabled and at-risk students, and is an active member of the Alumni Board at St. John Fisher College.
WalkAbout is “one of my favorite days of the year” she says. “I don’t always get to see the direct impact of my volunteer hours. But volunteering at CP Rochester to help with the mask decorating, I was surprised how the people I met volunteering last year remembered me and were happy to see me. You develop the most amazing relationships.