Strawberry Festival Parade

United States Marines Corps veteran Jerry Mallett rides on the Hand in Hand float on Saturday, June 2. 

A parade is a lot like Thanksgiving Dinner. Both take a long time to prepare but not a long time to enjoy.

In both instances, the real satisfaction is in the process.

That is especially true for the 2018 Strawberry Festival Grand Parade float entered by Hand in Hand Farm.

The trailer, a converted field wagon, was cleaned up, repaired and painted over several months by the children who are served by Hand in Hand Farm and their mentors, residents of the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home.

David Berger has been working with at-risk children since the 1960s and established Hand in Hand Farm in 2006. Over the years, he has come to believe there are two practices which are very useful in serving children who need assistance with their emotional, behavioral and educational needs.

The first practice is to pair them with other children who have more developed skills in these areas. These relationships allow the children to see peers put these skills to use in ways they can copy for themselves.

It is for this reason that he believes it is important that children not be divided into separate groups.

“If we keep them separate, they never learn what good is,” Berger said.

The second practice is to pair children with older adults, surrogate grandparents who help them with projects and show interest in them.

When that project ends with a ride down Main Street in the Strawberry Festival parade, it is all the better.

“They go in a parade and as far as they’re concerned, the whole world shows up to watch them,” Berger said.

Athena Perry, Berger’s wife and co-leader at Hand in Hand Farm, said the process of communicating with the veterans is helpful for the children.

“They need to slow down and focus when they are with the veterans,” Perry said. “They have to concentrate on somebody beside themselves.”

From the perspective of Hand in Hand Farm, the benefit is to the children. For Christine Strawn, a recreation director at the veterans home, working with Hand in Hand Farm provides a real service to her clients. The restoration work is interesting to some of the veterans who don’t always want to join in other activities.

“They’ve given me projects to bring back here. Sanding a tractor fender or working on some leather tac,” Strawn said.

As they get involved, the veterans become very attached to the children, Strawn said.

“They ask when we are going back out. They’ve formed relationships,” Strawn said.

Fred Hayden, 67, is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. He is part of the core group which volunteers to help the children with these projects. He sees himself in some of the children, especially those who have difficult family backgrounds.

“I was in that situation once,” Hayden said.

He believes it is the veterans who get the most from the relationship.

“I haven’t done anything. They’re helping me,” Hayden said. “I like doing it because the kids like doing it.”

Erin Rowzee said working with Hand in Hand Farm to assist her daughter Allie, 12, has changed life for the better for her family.

Rowzee said her family had tried multiple approaches – therapy, nutrition, medication – to assist Allie. These had been helpful, but the family still felt that more progress needed to be made.

“We got to the point where we were looking for other options,” Rowzee said.

They enrolled Allie in programs at Hand in Hand Farm over spring break in 2017.

“The very first day, I felt they had her figured out,” Rowzee said.

Rowzee said she understands that families have different needs and a solution which works for one family might not work for another. But for her family, the hands-on approach of working with animals, other children and older adults was the right formula.

“She just blossomed,” Rowzee said. “She’s a completely different person. I don’t know what we would have done.”

Hand in Hand Farm is currently working to construct a new building in Waterloo where children can work on these projects. They already have their next restoration project picked out: a 1958 Massey Ferguson tractor.

“We hope to have that ready for the Albany Veterans Day Parade,” Berger said.

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