In October, a Buffalo woman renowned for her community activism, and her 14-year-old daughter, a Girl Scout, bumped into the city's parks commissioner at the new Cazenovia Park Ice Rink.
Sophie Baj, a leader of BESST (Buffalo East Siders Standing Together) and her husband, Carl, recall asking Parks Commissioner Daniel T. Durawa whether the city could provide any money for a new summer youth program in the Fillmore area.
When Durawa said the Parks Department did not have any money for an independently operated program, the gears in Aniela Baj's head started turning. The teen-ager viewed it as a challenge.
"(Durawa) said, 'You'll have to do it on your own,' " said Carl Baj, "so my daughter said, 'OK, I will.' "
That's exactly what she did, spending hundreds of hours corraling guest speakers, organizing bus trips across Western New York and leading rousing games of kickball and "stuck on the hump."
On Thursday, Aniela and some adult helpers held the awards ceremony and final picnic for her summer camp for children.
Aniela, who will begin classes at Buffalo Seminary in September, said the program attracted 19 Buffalo children who paid $20 each to enroll, along with others who come along for the field trips.
She received $300 from Erie County Legislator Gregory B. Olma, D-Buffalo, and $500 from her mother's East Side community group for the program, which was based at the Lincoln Field House, at the foot of Quincy Avenue off Broadway.
Aniela said she spent a lot of time last fall and spring arranging for donations and for bus trips to places such as Lockport and Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Even more difficult than making her pitch on the phone was dealing with a gaggle of spirited children, Aniela acknowledged. She said one craft activity, dyeing carnations, got out of hand.
"That was a mess for me because I got yellow dye all over me -- in my hair, on my clothes," Aniela said.
Aniela is not much taller than the 7- and 8-year-olds who make up the majority of the children in the summer-long program, and the more active of the youngsters bombarded her with dodge balls as she tried to bring order to the chaos.
Amanda Lee Sisler, 7, said, "I thought it was a lot of fun, and the crafts that I did were great." She said she especially liked the activity where she dipped her feet into paint and then stepped onto a piece of paper to create a picture.
The picnic Thursday attracted reporters and camera crews from the city's three major commercial television stations, and Aniela appeared unfazed as one reporter clipped a microphone to her collar for her last interview.
Aniela said one of the biggest reasons she organized the program was to introduce these children to places outside the city and to career opportunities to which they might otherwise never be exposed.
Marc Battistoni, director of marketing and sales for Battistoni by Bison Inc., said he was happy to be a guest speaker because "a young person who showed some initiative asked me to do it."
Aniela is using this summer program to fulfill one of her final requirements for the Girl Scouts' Gold Award, the organization's highest honor. Cheryl Grota, one of the leaders of the South Park Service Unit, to which Aniela belongs, said the 14-year-old is very skilled at organizing and marketing.
"Her cookie orders alone would equal what the other girls in the troop would sell, together," said Ms. Grota.
Durawa said Aniela takes after her activist mother, noting that "the acorn doesn't fall very far from the tree."