Well, it's official -- Batavia resident Lisa Barrett's song, "When You Look at Me," is now the best original song in the world.
"It's difficult to grasp the 'in the world' part," Barrett said in a thank-you letter to her fans. "I feel like I'm dreaming this!"
After five months of anticipation, "When You Look at Me" was selected as the winner of "Best Original Song," an international contest that started off with 100 music videos from around the world, on Monday.
This victory is especially meaningful to Barrett because of her nephew, Austin, in whose memory she wrote and performed the song. Austin died of cancer just shy of his second birthday.
"I’m so grateful to all of you, the voters who have stood by me and supported me and this song in memory of Austin," Barrett said. "I am touched beyond words, and I feel so honored. Your kindness will not be forgotten, and Austin’s spirit will live on through the music."
Thanks to the loyalty and support of her many voters, Lisa Barrett's song,"When You Look at Me," is now one of three finalists in the international contest for "Best Original Song."
Yes, she's made it to the sixth and final round.
Barrett, who lives in Batavia, says she's very grateful to all of the people who have gotten her this far. She submitted the following to The Batavian:
There's so much I'm feeling...an array of emotion.
I do have butterflies this time around! I also feel like I'm watching this happen to someone else.
I'm so grateful to all who have been voting and standing by me. I wouldn't be here without them.
I'm taking this all the way to #1 because it's too important to me! There's so much more I need to do on this journey.
There are so many more songs to sing and write, so many more people to heal with the music.
I will continue bringing awareness for pediatric cancer research in Austin's memory.
I also do this in memory of my dad, Sigmund Racki. I look to carry on his legacy and his love for music. He always told me and my sisters that we could do anything if we just set our minds to it. (Well dad, I did just that)
This competition has brought back so many memories of Austin, both happy and sad.
I remember one time in the hospital when Austin pointed to me. He wanted to sit with me, and then fell sound asleep.
I also remember visiting his home. I walked in and talked with my sister, Gail. Well, Austin heard my voice and came running with his arms outstretched towards me. He jumped in my arms with the biggest smile! That was in December, and it was the best Christmas gift I could have received. With so much sadness, I try to hold onto those happy moments in my heart.
Finally, it's time to put a Western New Yorker on the map!
Voting for Lisa's song will last through Monday. Here is the procedure:
On Thursday, John Kennedy Elementary School's parent group proudly posed with their picture in PTO Today, a nationally recognized magazine covering school parent group activities. Pictured from left are Jill Halpin (treasurer), Jen Houseknecht (president), Paul Kesler (John Kennedy principal), Sherri Wahr (vice president) and Cheri Kolb (secretary).
According to Wahr, it was the parent group's effort to "bring the community into the school" that piqued PTO's interest.
John Kennedy's Community Night started six years ago as a way to welcome new students and their families, and, at the same time, introduce families to Kesler, whose job as principal started that year.
Kesler called it the "brainchild" of former parent group members Shari Ange and Heather Parker.
"It started off real basic," Kolb said. "Each year we've elaborated more on it, added more activities for the kids and (invited) more organizations."
Local organizations that have attended include the City of Batavia police and fire departments. Detective Rich Schauf, Kesler says, makes it a point to be there every year. Other participants include Cain's Tae Kwon Do, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Images in Dance and many others.
People from these groups are very appreciative of this opportunity to showcase their services and connect with the school community. Kesler said that many of them often ask when the next Community Night is going to take place.
Beyond that, some of the vendors at Community Night have worked with the parent group on various school events throughout the year.
"Pauly's Pizzeria has helped us with just about every fundraiser," Wahr said, adding that the restaurant provided the sauce for the school's Pasta Night.
Additionally, Kolb said that the Boy Scouts gave the parent group a plaque this year in acknowledgement of their support of Community Night.
If you ask Kesler or any member of the parent group what has enabled their outreach to the community to be so successful, they will all likely say the same thing: the community spirit among parents, teachers, staff and students at John Kennedy.
"The amount of apprecation and gratitude shown by the principal and staff (has been important)," Kolb said. "Everyone from the secretaries to the custodial staff to the teachers, etc. They always do whatever they can to help."
Houseknecht pointed out that the parent group also has "a large number of parents we can count on for continued support."
"It's really a group effort," Kesler added. "Community night happens because a community of people make it happen."
This includes the students, who always ask what they can do for, and how they can help with, any school event or function. One of the goals the parent group has for next year is to get fifth-graders, who run the games at the school's Family Fun Night, to volunteer on Community Night.
"We'd love to have the fifth-graders kind of mentor the kindergarteners," Halpin said. "Since they're on their way out, they can share their experience and what they love about John Kennedy with the students who are just coming in."
"I think we have such a supportive community that we'll get through it," Wahr said.
"Change will come," Kolb said. "Other school districts have been through the same thing and come out of it, reached the other side, and seen better times financially. I think it will be the same way with us. It's just a matter of keeping intact what we have in the meantime."
"The community and the schools are going to have to work together more closely," Halpin said. "The onus is going to be on the parents and community to provide activities for the kids that aren't covered in the budget."
Kolb said that efforts to do so will require persistance and the willingness to look for "creative ways to support these programs."
Pictured are John White and Ben Zhao, both of Clarence, who were two of many youngsters who came to Darien Lake Theme Park yesterday to get free tickets.
Why do they get such special treatment? Well, the short answer is that they could be helping bring a fortune into Genesee County.
John and Ben are two of almost 1,600 kids, ages 12 to 18, who are competing in the Darien Lake Baseball Tournament, which starts today and involves youth from all over the Northeast and part of Canada.
According to Kelly Rapone, who works for the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, there are a total of 106 teams, with 15 kids on each team. Kids from outside of Genesee County will, of course, be accompanied by their families.
This is likely to be a major boon not only for Darien Lake Theme Park -- which is sponsoring the tournament -- but also for the county in general. In addition to Darien Lake tickets for the kids, all visiting families receive welcome packets with visitors' and dining guides.
But what exactly is this tournament, and how did it come about?
According to Rapone, this is a "public-private venture to grow our economy through sports."
It all started a couple years ago with a conversation between Chris Suozzi of Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC), Neil Turvey of A-Turf (a Cheektowaga-based company that specializes in synthetic grass surfacing for sports fields), and former Senator Mary Lou Rath. They met to discuss possible opportunities for Genesee County.
"There are a lot of synergies right here (in Genesee County)," Suozzi said. "Our location is real prime -- right on the New York State Thruway, between Buffalo and Rochester."
Suozzi and Turvey then got involved with Tom Lichtenthal, the Town of Batavia engineer, and Craig Yunker, who owns the Batavia Turf Farm on Bank Street Road.
Up until now, the Turf Farm has mainly been used for youth soccer games. Turvey would like to develop a baseball training center there, as well as space for baseball and softball games next to the soccer field.
Turvey, of Lockport, said this "is just phase one."
"We hope to eventually have 11 fields for baseball and softball."
Before taking on the ambitious task of "taking baseball (in Genesee County) to the next level," as Suozzi put it, he and Turvey wanted to have a baseball tournament here to see if it would be successful.
Suozzi said this idea came from an observation of how well local soccer teams have done with their tournaments.
With this in mind, and having connections with Darien Lake, he set up a meeting between himself, the theme park's general manager and Turvey. It was agreed that Darien Lake would sponsor the tournament.
"Our hope is that this will be economically impactful," Suozzi said. "When people and families come in, it brings sales tax dollars to our community. That's something people don't realize -- events like this are a real draw for that."
"We're expecting to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 people this weekend," Turvey said, "and around 7,500 people total."
The teams are divided into three groups: 10- to 12-year-olds, 13- to 15-year-olds and 16- to 18-year-olds. The 10- to 12-year-olds are playing today and tomorrow at Pembroke High School, at 8750 Alleghany Road in Corfu, and at the Pembroke town park, which is right behind the high school.
Next weekend (June 11-12), the 13- to 15-year-olds will play at three Batavia sites -- Batavia High School at 260 State St., John Kennedy Elementary School at 166 Vine St., and GCC at 1 College Road -- and Barrie Park, just outside of Albion.
Finally, the 16- to 18-year-olds will play Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19 at these same four locations and at Pembroke High School.
Four games are played at each location every day of the tournament. Start times for each game are 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. They are free and open to the public, and food is available.
As difficult and time-consuming as it has been to coordinate this whole thing, Turvey is grateful for the amount of support the tournament has gotten from the Genesee County community.
"Everybody's been fantastic," he said. "The government agencies, the hotels, the chamber...the schools have also been very supportive."
If you have any questions or would like more information, call Turvey at (716) 462-8155. I spoke with him a minute ago, and he said that today's games are still on; they're just waiting for the weather to clear up a bit.
A rather "impressive" wooden bear guards the entrance to the Darien Lake lodge (right near where the kids came to pick up their tickets). Here he is a bit more close up.
The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce invites everyone to stop by Oliver's Candies parking lot -- at 211 West Main St. in Batavia -- today for their bumper-to-bumper brochure exchange.
Set to run from 3 until 4:30 p.m., this event is a great opportunity to learn about the many attractions in Genesee County and the surrounding region. Representatives from each organization will be there to talk with people and provide information.
The following organizations from Genesee County are participating:
Batavia Bus Service, Inc.
Darien Lake Theme Park Resort
D & R Depot
Jell-O Gallery and the Historical Le Roy House
Batavia's Original (formerly Pontillo's)
Copper Top Gardens
Other organizations from our region will include:
Hidden Valley Animal Adventure (Wyoming)
Genesee Country Village & Museum (Monroe)
Genesee Country Campground (Livingston)
Barn Quilt Trail (Orleans)
Watt Farms (Orleans)
Orleans County Tourism
Artists of the Oak (Orleans)
Medina Railroad Museum (Orleans)
"Yankee Doodle Brochure Distribution" will also be represented.
For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 343-7440.
Joe Gerace, left, Dorothy Schlaggel and Justin Calarco-Smith share a passion for helping cancer victims. As members of the Genesee Cancer Assistance Board of Directors, they took time to speak with me today about the upcoming Festival of Hope and 5K walk/run, the organization's major annual fundraiser.
Batavia Downs, at 8315 Park Road in Batavia, will host the event on Friday, June 3.
The 5k walk/run
The 5k walk/run is a new feature that was added to the Festival of Hope two years ago.
Registration starts at 4 p.m., followed by a "Lap of Honor" for cancer survivors at 5:45 and the official race at 6:15.
Schlaggel, an honorary board member and founder of Genesee Cancer Assistance, said this is not really going to be a "race," per se.
Lisa Barrett, of Batavia, is very grateful to everyone who voted for her song in the international contest, "Best Original Song." Thanks to her voters, she has made it to round four and is now a top 12 finalist.
Voting for this round starts at 8 p.m. on May 23 and runs through May 30. To vote, follow these simple steps:
(Pictured from left, Wayne Guenther, Al McGinnis, Amy Barone.)
It's that time of year again -- time to vote for the Batavia City School District budget and fill seats on its board of education.
Voting will take place from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17.
Voting locations are: Batavia Middle School (for residents of City Ward 1, District 1, 2 or 3, and City Ward 2, District 1, 2 or 3); Jackson School (for residents of City Ward 3, District 1 or 2; City Ward 4, District 1, 2 or 3, and City Ward 5, District 1); and Robert Morris (for residents of Ward 5, District 2 or 3, or Ward 6, District 1 or 2).
There are three candidates. One is an incumbent, two are newcomers.
Wayne Guenther, the incumbent, is now approaching the end of his second term. He is a retired teacher with years of experience in education.
Amy Barone, one of the newcomers, is a loan servicing manager at Five Star Bank and a lifelong resident of Batavia. She is also the mother of two students in the district.
Al McGinnis, the other newcomer, is a retired manager for Brown & Root Services, an international oil and construction firm. Prior to that, he was a soldier. He has lived overseas, as required by both jobs, but with an official residence here in Batavia for the past 30 years. Places he has lived and worked include the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. He is married, and has a son who graduated from Batavia High School.
The candidates took time to answer some questions about the budget, their motivations for running, and other issues.
Peaceful Genesee, a coalition dedicated to making Genesee County a nonviolent community, is inviting people to an AVP (Alternatives To Violence Program) workshop to be held on May 13-14 at First Presbyterian Church, at 300 E. Main St. in Batavia.
AVP is a program that gives participants the chance to bond through creative and fun exercises, learn peaceful methods of resolving conflicts and transform conflicts into opportunities for personal and societal change. It is based on the belief that there is good in every person and that all people have the potential to find positive and peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
Attendees are expected to participate, but may opt out of certain exercises if they are uncomfortable participating in them.
According to the notice submitted by Peaceful Genesee, the upcoming workshop will consist of "a basic introduction to the philosophy and skills of nonviolent conflict resolution." It will last from 5:30 until 9:30 p.m. on Friday and from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The cost of the workshop is $30 per person and includes 2 meals -- dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday. Scholarships are available -- contact Audrey Mang at 716-633-1140 for more information.
A $10 registration fee is due to Lisa Wittmeyer, c/o Community Action of Orleans & Genesee, 5073 Clinton Street Road, Batavia, NY 14020 by Friday.A $20 balance is due at the workshop.
Batavia resident Lisa Barrett is hoping a lot of people will get online and vote for her song, "When You Look at Me," which has made it into round three of the international "Best Original Song" contest.
If she wins, she'll get her own Web page, and her song will be sent to dozens of recording companies, music labels (large and small), producers and agents.
Barrett's song was one of 100 from around the world chosen for the contest. Of those, 48 made it to round two and, you guessed it, "When You Look at Me" was one of them.
Now it's one of 24 that have made it to the third round. If Barrett makes it through this round, she'll be halfway to her goal of winning the competition.
Voting began this week and extends through Monday. In order to vote, go to www.bestoriginalsong.com and set up an account -- it's free and only takes a minute.
Barrett wrote and performed "When You Look at Me" in memory of her nephew, Austin, who lost a brave battle with cancer in February of 2000, just shy of his 2nd birthday.
"My goal is to touch people's lives with the music in Austin's memory," Barrett said. "I feel I'm doing this not only for Austin, but for all children who have lost their battles, or are still struggling with life-threatening illnesses."
She came up with the idea for the song about a year after Austin died.
"I walked by his picture, and this particular time I stopped (to look at it). My eyes met his, and I said out loud: 'I can almost feel your touch when you look at me.'"
According to Barrett, "something happened" in this instant that changed her life.
"It was like a switch went on. I heard a melody in my head, with the lyrics coming at the same time. I felt compelled to grab a pen and start writing."
It took her a few weeks, but when she finally finished the song it became, in her words, "a wonderful grieving outlet."
"After that," Barrett said, "the switch kept going on for other songs. Whenever something hit me hard emotionally -- whether it made me feel sad, happy, angry or it was funny -- I would write a song about it."
Her songs are not just about things that affect her directly. As she got further along in this new chapter of her life, she became inspired by other people's experiences as well.
In recent years, she wrote a musical called "Can't Bully Me Now," which deals with the experiences of children who are bullied in school. This song has been performed multiple times by students at St. Joseph School in Batavia, and educators from other districts have expressed interest in it as well.
The amazing thing is that prior to the composition of "When You Look at Me," Barrett had never been a songwriter.
"I didn't plan this. It's a path that has been laid before me, and I follow it, not always knowing where I'm going next."
Along the way, she has learned that "even after so much pain, the sun can shine again."
Originally recorded at Affinity Music in Nashville, Tennessee in 2005, "When You Look at Me" is part of an album with the same title. Barrett wrote and performed 10 other songs for this album, one of which -- "Share Your Light" -- was the theme song selection for Western New York's National Night Out in August 2010.
In an ironic turn of events, Barrett decided that the time had come to turn "When You Look at Me" into a music video around the same time that officials from Best Original Song contacted her. They had found her music online and were interested in having her as a contestant.
Barrett said she submitted her entire album. They chose "When You Look at Me."
"It was like everything was coming full circle. It brought back to me the reason I had done everything in the first place."
She and her husband, Kyle, filmed the music video this past winter at Genesee County Park. They were there one day, and found that the atmosphere was ideal.
"The snow was falling perfectly," Barrett recalls. "And I just said to my husband, 'We've got to do it now.'"
Shooting at the park in the winter was not easy. Barrett said her "toes were frozen" as she made this video.
But she kept going, and it was worth it in the end.
Have a look:
Once you've created an account and are logged in, click on either of the two bars on the home page that read "Live Show! Click Here to Listen," then click on "Third Stage Show #1." From there, you'll know what to do.
Remember, you only have from now through Monday to vote!
Final Note: Barrett's CD can be purchased through her Web site, www.lisabarrettcd.com. Portions of the proceeds benefit Essential Care, a pediatric home care program of Hospice Buffalo for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Top photo -- of Barrett at Affinity Music -- taken from www.lisabarrettcd.com, second photo submitted by Lisa Barrett.
The big honkin', humongous SUPER MAMMOTH Indoor Garage Sale at St. Joe's School is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday. It's located at 2 Summit St. in Batavia.
While planning it hasn't put Chairwoman Kathy Stefani in seventh heaven, she knows the proceeds are heaven sent, so to speak, and will be used to buy state-of-the-art instructional technology for the school.
Now in its seventh year, this thing has grown quite a bit since its inception.
Stefani, a St. Joseph's parent, began chairing the sale as a fundraiser for St. Anthony's School in Batavia, where her children attended until the school closed several years ago. She's the one who gave it the name MAMMOTH, because "even (during the first year) it got real big."
"It's gotten to the point where it's not just a sale," Stefani said. "It's really an event."
It will fill all the main areas of the school -- both upstairs and downstairs -- as well as the green space outside, which will feature a 20-by-40 foot tent in which lawnmowers and outdoor furniture will be sold.
Volunteers have been collecting donations all year, and have spent the last two weeks setting up. The latter process has included the tasks of washing and pricing the items.
Speaking of prices -- bibliophiles will definitely want to get to showroom #2 (a.k.a. the gym), where a large variety of books for all ages will be sold for only 25 cents each.
And for $20, you can own a 49-star American flag.
Shoppers will have a total of 19 cashiers, two of whom will be "express cashiers," to assist them.
In addition to antiques, furniture, books, needful things and other goodies to which customers have come to look forward to, there are some exciting new features this time around.
Clor's Chicken BBQ will be sold outside, with picnic tables and benches available for sit-down meals.
A bake sale, featuring all homemade items, including cakes and fresh-brewed coffee.
Because there is so much merchandise this year -- "tens of thousands of items," according to the ad flier -- Stefani and other volunteers will be restocking tables at 12:30 p.m. on the day of the sale. So, if you are not a morning person, you will still have plenty of choices if you come in the afternoon!
A special attraction will be an Artisan Doll Shoppe, staffed by an expert in vintage and collectible dolls who will be able to answer questions and offer free appraisals.
Jenna Raphael, of Batavia, spent a lot of time with the quaint little structure she affectionately calls "her house" during baseball season last summer. She had hoped that it would inspire people to take pride in their community.
Unfortunately, somebody came to give the opposite message...
The little red house, which is at Dwyer Stadium and manned during Muckdogs games as an information area for the public, was vandalized some time during the last few months.
Muckdogs General Manager Travis Sick discovered the damage after the winter snow melted. He said there's no way to be sure when the incident actually took place.
Furthermore, since no one is at the stadium at night, there is no way to determine who the vandals are. Sick suspects it may have been a group of kids in the area.
Fortunately, the damage was not extensive. The door was kicked in and the lock severed (above photo); parts of the door were broken off, so it will need to be fixed. There was also some debris on the floor inside that was not there before.
Nevertheless, Sick and Raphael both see this as a "disappointing and almost ironic" incident (Sick's words).
"The sign says 'take pride in your community,' and someone decided not to do that," he said.
"It's hard for me to understand what motivates kids and adolescents to do this," Raphael said. "I don't think there is enough to occupy youth in this community, therefore they turn to these types of mischievous behaviors."
Locted near the stadium's Kid's Zone and, Sick says "off the beaten path," this house was given to Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism & Substance Abuse (GCASA) last year. GCASA staff repainted it and made the above sign.
Raphael used it as a station from which to share information with Muckdogs spectators about Genesee County Drug Free Communities Coalition's (a GCASA program) efforts to address and improve environmental conditions that can lead to problem behaviors -- drugs, alcohol use, crime, fighting, etc. -- among our youth. For information on the coalition and, by extension, how this fits in with their overall mission, click on the following link: http://thebatavian.com/blogs/billie-owens/gc-drug-free-communities-top-10-finalist-international-honor/22803).
"Vandalizing a house (with a sign) that says 'take pride in your community' shows a lot of disrespect," Raphael said, adding that it "sends a distasteful message to those who continually work to make Genesee County a healthier and safer place to live."
She hopes to use the house again during the Muckdogs' upcoming season, in spite of what happened.
Because there is really no way to find out who the culprits are, no charges are being pressed. But Sick is encouraging any community members who are in a position to do so, to keep an eye out for suspicious activity at the stadium at night.
"If you see anyone walking around that shouldn't be there, call the police."
Daisy Girl Scouts Alyssa Ognibene, Lidia Pehrson, Brooklynn Pariso, Arianna Armstrong and Kelsey Verton (front, left to right) were on Thomas Avenue in the city today along with troupe co-leader Tara Pariso (back).
They were collecting cans to raise money for Brooklyn Sputore, a baby girl who suffers from a life-threatening condition called Vein of Galen Brain Malformation. Click on the following link for previous coverage: www.thebatavian.com/tags/brooklyn-sputore
Tara attends Northgate Free Methodist Church along with the Sputore family. She wanted to do something to help Brooklyn while at the same time giving the Daisies a community service project.
As of noon today, the girls had been to 25 houses in Batavia and collected more than 2,000 cans and bottles. They will present their proceeds to the family tomorrow at a fundraiser for Brooklyn, which will take place at St. Joseph's School, 2 Summit St. in Batavia and include a spaghetti dinner, Chinese auction and other raffles.
Pre-sale tickets to tomorrow's fundraiser can be purchased from Paul Sputore, 781-8138, or at the door. Cost is $8 for adults and $4 for children 12 and younger. But you might want to hurry, because there are less than 50 tickets left.
Students at Le Roy's Wolcott St. School spent the last two weeks raising money for those less fortunate. They did this as part of the Pennies for Peace campaign, a program of the Central Asia Institute.
It is designed to raise funds for community-based education and literacy programs -- esepcially for girls -- in remote, Central Asian mountain communities.
The grand total raised by Wolcott St. School -- calculated with the help of the Bank of Castile -- was $1,600. Here is a grade-by-grade count:
Kids collected and brought in pennies over a two-week period. Pictured above are the graphed results as of Friday morning (each jar represents $10 in pennies).
What is particularly impressive about this is that the students were not rewarded for the number of pennies they brought in. From the very beginning, there was an understanding that the class that collected the most pennies would not get a pizza party or anything like that.
"What we're looking to do is help the students become intrinsically motivated," said Principal Casey Kosiorek.
He said the overall goal as it pertained to the kids was to help them grow into good citizens who will want to do the right thing without being rewarded.
"I never expected it to have such an impact," said Carol Messura, assistant principal and chair of the project. She said that the students were "extremely enthusiastic" about the whole deal.
"If you were here earlier this morning, you could hear little hoots and hollers with the sound of change being poured into the buckets (pictured at the top)."
Kosiorek said that the money will go toward supplies, teachers' salaries and the building of schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Lights were dimming for the beginning of dress rehearsal when I took this picture -- it's of the poster for Le Roy Jr./Sr. High School's 2011 musical production, "Little Shop of Horrors."
Based on the Broadway rock musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, "Little Shop" is the story of a shy, nervous store clerk who dreams of finding a way out of the lousy job and circumstances he's stuck in, a young girl with low self-worth and an abusive boyfriend, and a plant that talks, sings and eats people.
This is the latest performance in a district known for its high standards for school musicals. Le Roy has been selected as one of the top 100 communities for music education in the country on multiple occasions, according to Bradley Meholick, director of music for the district.
He attributes this honor to the high level of dedication on the part of students, staff, administrators and parents, all working together in support of music in the schools.