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Residents reach out to help others

Despite hailing from unstable homes and poverty themselves, the young people living in Wyndham Lawn Home for Children have spent part of every holiday season since 1952 thinking of others who have troubles of their own.

"Pledge Night," a holiday tradition, allows young people at the residential home to investigate worthy charities, then vote to support one of them.

"I can't help that much with my 50 cents or $1, but I wanted to do as much as I could," said 16-year-old Sean, a native of Cheektowaga.

This season, the residents voted to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Wyndham Lawn agreed to allow some of those involved in the effort to talk about it, provided that only their first names be used.

Sean's group researched Make-A-Wish, made a presentation to residents and propelled their choice to a first-place finish in the voting.

Sean and his two teammates were recognized several days ago during a Pledge Night dinner on the Wyndham Lawn campus.

"I was happy we won, but it's not about winning," said teammate Marquise, a 15-year-old Buffalo native. "It's all about making a difference. I want to help make a wish come true."

The historic campus boasts a specialized school and housing units. It provides an array of support services for its 49 residents, ages 7 to 17, to cope with and overcome learning disabilities, emotional, psychological, behavioral and other struggles. The typical length of stay is about six months.

"These are kids who carry a lot of hurt," said Edward Gargala, director of residential and educational services at New Directions Youth and Family Services, the agency that runs the campus.

Pledge Night began almost five decades ago, with students pooling their meager resources, collecting a penny at a time over a two-year period, to benefit the Isabelle Home for Babies, an orphanage in Pusan, South Korea.

The student body, along with contributions from the staff, now collects about $200 each year. Last year's collection went to the Sunshine Foundation.

Benefits from the drive go beyond the rewarding experience of helping the less fortunate, said Jim Coder, chief executive officer of New Directions.

"The idea is there's some value in being responsible for the greater society," Coder said. "Many of these kids come from very difficult backgrounds and could easily turn inward and focus on themselves. But you help yourself by helping others. This experience helps them heal."

Students at each of the campus' four cottages, or residences, picked a different charity. Niagara County SPCA, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Make-A-Wish Foundation made the last cut. Then, the cottages selected representatives to make pitches with their presentations, and final ballots were cast.

Gargala said the students included personal accounts in their deliveries, making for more emotional appeals. An SPCA backer lamented about the death of her cat and concluded with a group prayer. Team members Marquise and Robert were so moved they voted for the SPCA instead of their own charity.

"I really felt for her," said Robert, 15, of Niagara Falls.

The teammates bonded as they researched the charity's history, mission and impact, even calling the local office for more information as they wrote their material to present.

To give toward Wyndham Lawn's collective donation, contact Gargala at egargala@ndyfs.org.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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