Volunteerism is the backbone of community in America, Congresswoman Kathleen Hochul told a crowd of Genesee County residents Saturday.
Hochul was the keynote speaker at the second annual dinner to raise funds for the non-profit group, Friends of Batavia Peace Garden. About 150 people attended the event at Terry Hills Golf Club.
Hochul entered the banquet hall accompanied to music performed by three members of Excelsior Brigade Fife & Drum. The trio received a big round of applause.
“This rivals anything the president gets,” Hochul said of the warm welcome.
The message conveyed by the congresswoman, D-Amherst, who represents New York’s 26th District, was values of volunteerism.
She quoted author Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Hochul praised Batavia resident Paula Savage, founder and president of the International Peace Garden Foundation, for her work to foster stronger ties among nations. The Batavia Peace Garden broke ground in Sept. 11, 2011 — Hochul also attended that ceremony — and its official dedication is 2 p.m. Sunday.
She encouraged everyone at Saturday’s dinner to give back to their communities in any way that they can, by donating time, money or services.
“Take a vet, take a senior, take a child, give of yourself,” she said.
Volunteering is also something for people to relish when they retire, she said.
No one reaches age 65 or 80 and says, “I wish I hadn’t given of myself,” Hochul said.
She also praised Evan Cummings, 8, of Batavia, the youngest person in the crowd, for starting volunteerism early in life, because it should be carried on from generation to generation.
The congresswoman reminded the audience and business owners to support and thank military veterans for their service, because America’s armed forces are all-volunteer organizations and the men and women in uniform are fighting two wars.
“Do everything you can to find jobs. I don’t want to see them on the unemployment line,” Hochul said.
The House member said her way of giving back to the community is public service. She is a former Erie County clerk, served on Hamburg Town Board and is continuing to serve her constituency in Congress.
“I hope all of you have the same feeling about your passion,” she said.
“We’re a great nation. Today’s a day to celebrate and remember,” Hochul said.
Genesee County Legislator Frank Ferrando was master of ceremonies Saturday. He said Batavia’s embracement of the Peace Garden movement was impressive and he thanked Barb Toal and Marilyn Werner for their efforts with the foundation.
“It’s not a one-time thing. It’s going to take support from all members of the community to keep this going,” Ferrando said.
Toal, president of Batavia Peace Garden Foundation, said final preparations are under way for this weekend’s dedication. Batavia Peace Garden is located downtown on the south side of West Main Street, next to the Holland Land Office Museum.
“It’s a community garden. It belongs to everybody that’s in this building tonight,” she said.
Savage, the international president of the Peace Garden, said Batavia Peace Garden is also a destination on the War of 1812 200th anniversary tour of upstate New York and Southern Ontario, Canada. A regional War of 1812 Trail map, designed by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce to increase interest and tourism, includes 17 sites in New York and three in Canada, all of them areas of historical significance from the war.
Albion was just added to the list and will bring the number of New York locations to 18, Savage said.
She said the garden is supposed to engage the community in long-term, ongoing volunteerism and upkeep of the Batavia site.
“We really have raised the bar here for local support. Every year it’s going to grow and it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
No government funds were used to create the local Peace Garden.
“It’s built by the community. They have a mission, they have a piece of it,” Savage said.
Toal said the goal of Saturday’s dinner was to net $5,000. The foundation has raised between $90,000 and $100,000 in the past year and hopes to bring in another $50,000.
“Everything that we raise goes back into the garden. We’re paying as we go,” Toal said.