Photo/story by Michael J. Owen
U.S. Navy Journalist (Ret.) and Parrot Head
If your mind wanders off at times to a tropical fantasy of drifting in a sailboat just off a Caribbean island covered in white sand beaches, coconut palm trees, a beautiful sunset and the music of Jimmy Buffett and steel drums coming from a thatched-roof tiki bar on the shore, you might be a Parrot Head.
While Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" is simply a "state of mind," it's also become a "state of being" around the world, including here with the Western New York Parrot Head Club. Most Parrot Heads are drawn in by this mindset and the love of island-inspired music, the laidback feeling of a Caribbean lifestyle, bright colorful tropical clothing and, for some members, some really outrageous parrot head apparel at Buffett's concerts. However, the organization also encourages community support through local and national charities. Its motto is "Party with a Purpose," and this is achieved through volunteering and fundraising.
Last month, the Western New York club held its premier fundraiser called "Chillin' in the Caribbean" at the Pvt. Leonard Post Jr. VFW Post No. 6251 in Cheektowaga. Members raised $15,000 for the Make-A-Wish kids.
"Even though we focus all year long on charitable, environmental and other projects, which give back to the community, 'Chillin' in the Caribbean' remains our premier fundraiser and best example of 'Partying with a Purpose' through volunteering in our community," said Dave Cohen, the club's founder and president. "Along with fun, it takes the hard work of our members - especially the club's board of directors - to achieve success."
The idea for the "Chillin' " event came from Bob Schiele, the club's vice president.
"We were just looking for a midwinter blues event to help get us into the mood for the upcoming summer and concert season and. thanks to Bob, the idea of 'Chillin' ' was born," Cohen said.
He explained what started as a small party of about 80 people several years ago eventually overflowed every location where the event was held. The fun-filled event with Caribbean-themed entertainment, fantastic food and beverages, auctions and raffles hosted 325 strong this year. Special thanks also go to coordinators Annie Gross, Gary Heigl and many more for getting all the great prizes.
"Without their constant pounding of the pavement and taking many vacation days, we wouldn't have had the more than 200 great prizes for the event," Cohen said.
Through the years, the events have raised more than $40,000 for charity.
"Contributing to Make-A-Wish and helping to put a smile on a child's face every year makes us very proud of our annual 'Chillin' in the Caribbean' event," Cohen continued. He also expressed thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation for its help and support of the event over the years, and to the all the club members who helped with setup, cleanup, and running the event. Get more information on joining the club at http://www.wnyparrotheads.com.
According to Kate McGowan of Make-A-Wish, the organization's mission is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
"There's no waiting list for a wish, and all medically eligible children will have their most heartfelt wish granted," she said. "Wishes are as unique and creative as the children and teens who dream them. They can be anything from 'I wish to go,' 'I wish to be,' 'I wish to meet,' and 'I wish to have.' "
Each year in Western New York, Make-A-Wish grants about 150 wishes and reasons to smile.
"Many of our popular wishes are going to Disney World/Land, travel internationally, meet a celebrity or sports hero, a bedroom makeover or shopping spree," McGowan said.
The average cost of a wish is $7,500, so Make-A-Wish relies on donations, sponsors and fundraisers. "We do not receive state or federal funding," she emphasized.
"We are always looking for volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of 'wish children' and their families," McGowan said. "Volunteers can get involved in various ways, including becoming a wish granter, wish story writer, volunteering on our speakers bureau, helping out with our numerous events and fundraisers, or even becoming an office volunteer."
Contact the Buffalo office at 716-810-9474 or on the Web at www.wny.wish.org for more info.
"Our many volunteers say they have been changed by the strength, courage and power of our wish kids," McGowan said.
Tracy Gray, Buffalo's regional director of Make-A-Wish, added, "It is humbling to see individuals like those involved in this event collectively strive to make a positive impact. Kudos to the entire group for their tireless efforts. Having an event like this one is truly priceless to our organization, and we are very fortunate to be the beneficiary of such an extraordinary event."
The foundation's development manager, Mary Moore-Hazel, also added, "It is truly an honor every year to work with the Western New York Parrot Head Club on this event. They are a fun-loving and an inspiring group of individuals that work hard to make sure we can keep granting wishes locally. Their dedication to our mission is clear, and we are thankful to them for being champions for our cause, and the special children that we serve."