Genesee Community College Child Care Center Leads Collection Effort for Afghan Refugee Camp

Gifts and Donations Arrived Just Before Christmas 

Genesee Community College began the holiday season with true spirit this year. In late October, College faculty and staff were notified of a group of Afghani children who had been adopted by an Army unit serving there. The connection came through Stephanie Kellogg, the lead preschool teacher in the College’s Child Care Center, whose friend Sgt. Justin Abramo is stationed in Afghanistan.

“When Justin told me his unit had adopted a group of children, I thought it would be a great idea to gather items from home and send them over for the kids,” Stephanie said.

Sgt. Abramo said the children, who range in age from 2 to 10 years, were in need of items such as clothing and shoes; coats and mittens; basic school supplies including pencils, crayons, and paper; and simple toys. Maggie Hagen, the Child Care Center Director, decided to send out an email asking for donations to the entire College staff, as well as the families whose children attend the Child Care Center.

The response was overwhelming. By November 6 the Child Care Center had enough donated items to fill 27 boxes! A photograph of the children from Genesee Community College’s Child Care program sitting among the many boxes designated for Afghanistan is available at:
Sitting left to right, top row are: Pre-K teacher Stephanie Kellogg, Ariana Green, and Michael Cianfrini. On Stephanie’s lap is Hunter Babcock, with Tylor Coats, Jeff Delano, and Sabrina Young.

The boxes were shipped to an Army base in California, where they were forwarded to Sgt. Abramo in Afghanistan. Once he received all the boxes, Justin’s unit had to check for land mines along the road and wait for inclement weather to pass before they could deliver the items. Finally, the unit was able to make the delivery, and the gifts were given to the refugee children in time for Christmas.

“The kids out here are tough but you can see in their eyes that they are still kids,” Sgt. Abramo said. “They still have some innocence in them but it is fleeting fast because they have to hustle to survive out here.” According to Abramo, many of the children wear rubber boots with no socks, and in some cases, no shoes at all in the cold Afghan weather.

He described one young girl who was wearing only a light dress and no shoes, and was shivering so badly he tried to get her into the clinic for hypothermia, but the refuge elder refused her treatment. “I really feel bad for the little girls,” Abramo said. “They come last for everything.”

The children were thrilled to receive Genesee Community College’s donated items. “The kids will just bum-rush you and try to rip stuff out of your hands. It’s nuts,” Sgt. Abramo said. The refuge elder lined all the children up based on social class and sex and then let them come through the line to pick items out of the pile of goods. Although there is much more that can be done for these needy children, the staff at Genesee Community College was pleased to be able to help them during this holiday season.

“I was so happy with the College community’s response,” Maggie Hagen, Child Care Center Director, said. “We were amazed at how many items we were able to collect in just a few weeks. And Sgt. Abramo was so excited when he received all those boxes!”

The GCCA Child Care Center offers complete childcare services for infants six weeks to preschool aged children. The hours are from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday, following the academic calendar. Located at the main entrance to the Batavia Campus, the Center is newly renovated with safe facilities and excellent developmental resources. There are educational programs, and lunch and snacks are provided.

The GCCA Child Care Center has earned accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the nation’s leading organization of early childhood professionals. Children of students, staff and faculty, and the community may use the Child Care Center, and funding is available for income eligible students. There are still openings for the spring schedule.

Contact Maggie Hagen, the Child Care Center Director, at (585) 345-6833 to reserve a space.

# # #
Editor’s Note: A few of the photographs taken and emailed by Sgt. Justin Abramo, who is stationed in Afghanistan and helped lead the effort to help the local children of a refugee camp are available at the following Internet addresses. Many other photos are also available by calling Donna Rae Sutherland at 585-343-0055
x6616 or 585-409-9216.