October 20, 2003
Newsday (Long island, New York)
The Quality of Mercy
Helping orphans, cheering up vets among teen deeds STAFF WRITER By Bart Jones
Many headlines these days about Long Island high school students revolve around drugs, gangs and violent attacks. But yesterday, one North Shore minister and his flock tried to show the other side - the good side - of local teenagers.
They gave "Mercy Awards" to 10 students who are doing good in their communities and presenting a contrast to what some called the nation's exaggerated worship of athletes and movie stars.
One honoree goes to the former Yugoslavia every summer to help orphans and refugees. Another shows up at the Northport Veterans Administration Hospital on Valentine's Day with cards for lonely veterans. A third plays basketball with the mentally disabled.
The Rev. Allan Ramirez of the Brookville Reformed Church said he hopes the awards, which will be given on an annual basis, will encourage other students to realize that the greatest achievement in life is not scoring a touchdown or making a million dollars but helping the poor, the sick and the forgotten.
"We plant the seeds either of love or of hate," Ramirez said during a service at the church. "I see here the seeds of love ... You are angels out there."
The students come from five local high schools: Locust Valley, Glen Cove, Oyster Bay, North Shore in Glen Cove and Friends Academy in Locust Valley. Each received a plaque and $250 that they donated to North Shore Inn soup kitchen or North Shore Sheltering Program homeless shelter, both in Glen Cove.
The total of $2,500 was drawn from the church's "Mercy Fund" of donations that have helped everyone from a Mexican family whose home in Farmingville was firebombed to the widow of a 9/11 victim to a caddie who lives in his car, Ramirez said.
The good deeds of Amanda Garfinkel, 17, a senior at Locust Valley High School, took her the farthest of the honorees. Since ninth-grade, she has traveled every summer to the former Yugoslavia.
In that war-torn nation, her grandmother is Crown Princess Katherine of Yugoslavia, who along with Crown Prince Alexander II is leading efforts to rebuild what is now called Serbia and Montenegro. Garfinkel's mother Alison came to Long Island two decades ago.
Amanda Garfinkel said she was shocked by conditions in Serbia and Montenegro, where she saw up to five refugees sharing one bed. She spent her time giving out food and toys to orphans, and visiting patients in decrepit hospitals. Back home, she organized a toy drive, collecting 1,000 toys to send to orphans there.
She said she is not the only student trying to do good. "There are a lot of people who want to help the community rather than hurt it," she said.
Kristy Buzzerio, 18, is another example of that, Ramirez said. At Oyster Bay High School, she organized trips to the VA hospital, where 30 students handed out balloons and homemade Valentines.
Buzzerio, now a freshman at Fairfield University in Connecticut said the veterans were stunned by the gesture. "They can't believe young people want to spend time with them," she said.
Jaclyn Spechler, 14, a student at the Friends Academy, has a different constituency she helps. Once a week, she plays basketball with the mentally disabled.
The other honorees were Jose Arevalo, Molly and Samantha Fox, Danielle Fried, Christina Galati, Amanda Magli and Denisha Usher. The 10 winners, said Ramirez, "are the real heroes."
Copyright © 1998 NJ.K.V. Prestolonaslednik Aleksandar II
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