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My Turn

June 1, 2009

My Turn: Serving others is a powerful thing

This week's "My turn" column is by Lori Grace, assistant director of development and public affairs for Pathfinder Village.

I have witnessed the power of serving the greater good during a 25-year career at nonprofit organizations. My job at Pathfinder Village in Edmeston offers me the privilege of seeing how the kernel of a selfless idea may empower others over time.

Pathfinder Village is a residential community for people who have Down syndrome. The history of caring for those with this condition was influenced greatly by three exceptional women _ Florence Chesebrough, Janett Wiswell and Marian Mullet.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all three were trained as registered nurses in the tradition of snow-white uniforms and exacting standards. It was in the crucible of nursing school that they gained the skills and "can do" attitude that allowed them to play significant roles in the history of our community.

Edmeston-native Florence Chesebrough worked as a public health nurse in Utica in the 1920s. During her rounds, she at times witnessed neglect of those who had developmental disabilities. In an era when there were few safeguards protecting children, she despaired at their treatment and lack of education.

One evening, while venting her frustrations to her roommate, Miss Chesebrough exclaimed she would start a school for these children. By chance, a reporter overheard the conversation through the boarding house duct work and wrote a story for the morning edition.

Back in Edmeston, Florence's father, Clarence, saw the paper and asked about her plans. Viewing the story as a sign, Florence resolved to follow through, and opened The Otsego School in 1922. The original building still stands on West Hill with a plaque next to the front door.

The school's program was progressive for its day. With housewives and students as care providers, the residents were instructed in self-care, speech and manners, and were given opportunities for schooling and recreation. It wasn't long before the Otsego School gained a solid reputation.

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