Flying Flamingos raising money to support people with disabilities

Thursday’s forecast for Western New York calls for a chance of snow and temperatures in the 20s. While that weather may not seem ideal for most creatures, a flock of flamingos will be making its annual migration to Buffalo. And once again, these hardy souls will be raising money to support people in need.

Again this year, the Flying Flamingos will participate in the Turkey Trot. The Flamingos are a group of several dozen men and women, most of whom hail from the Dunkirk/Fredonia area. Each Thanksgiving morning, they dress in pink, don flamingo hats and head to Buffalo for the Turkey Trot, an 8-kilometer running race that has been held annually since 1896, making it the oldest continuously running footrace in America.

While the Flamingos turn the race into a social event, their zest for fun has a serious side. Each year, they use their participation in the Turkey Trot as an opportunity to raise money for a local charitable cause. Again this year, they are raising money to benefit the Kathy Seastedt “Dream On” Fund.

Seastedt was a 25-year employee of The Resource Center when she passed away unexpectedly in 2008. To honor her legacy, TRC Foundation renamed its Community Support Fund the Kathy Seastedt “Dream On” Fund. The fund makes dreams come true for people with disabilities by providing money for urgently needed items or services.

The name “Dream On” was chosen in tribute to the classic song by Ms. Seastedt’s favorite band, Aerosmith.

The selection of the Dream On Fund as the beneficiary of the Flamingos’ fund-raising efforts was appropriate because one of the group’s members, Andrea Tramuto, was Seastedt’s sister. Her sister’s passion to support those with special needs led Tramuto to suggest that the Flamingos raise money for the Dream On Fund.

“Advocating for people with disabilities was central to Kathy’s being. I can remember going to see her at The Resource Center and the clients lighting up when they saw her. It was amazing to watch the impact she had others,” Tramuto said. “I also remember her attending my college graduation and being very upset about a graduate in a wheelchair who did not have proper access to the stage. She let her concerns be known to the college officials.

“That was Kathy always fighting for the rights of those with disabilities.”

Inspired by the fact that one of its members was Seastedt’s sister, the Flying Flamingos raised a total of about $10,500 for the Dream On Fund in 20112 and 2012. This year, the group has set a fund-raising goal of $4,500. As of Tuesday, the Flamingos had raised more than $3,200

Tramuto is grateful to her fellow Flamingos for raising money for the Dream On Fund, and she is proud that the Flamingos’ efforts and the generosity of the local community has enabled her sister’s life work to carry on.

“To be able to help continue her fight, not by myself but with an amazing flock, has allowed me to do more than I ever could do alone,” she said. “There are several issues to support that are close to all of our Flamingos, but we have agreed the Dream On Fund is a fund that covers many. Because The Resource Center provides such a vast array of services to such a diverse population right here in Chautauqua County, all of the Flamingos feel it’s a cause they can believe in.”

The Flamingos had their origin in 2005, when founder Pam Benchley participated in her first Turkey Trot. She had heard that many people dressed in costume for the event, so she wore a flamingo hat for the race. That first year, Benchley was the only person in her group of friends who wore a hat. The following year, a couple of her friends also wore hats, and the numbers have grown ever since. At last year’s Turkey Trot, more than 40 people were part of the flock. The group is a perennial crowd favorite, sunning together along the course.

For Benchley, doing something to assist people in need is only natural, and if you can do so in a fun and healthy way, that’s even better. “People go, ‘Oh, running, it’s so hard.’ Yeah, it’s hard, but it can be fun and social and a good time. But you, if you’re healthy, and you’re lucky enough to be able to do something, then do something,” she said. “Do something with what you’ve been blessed with, because there are a lot of people that can’t do something. They would love the opportunity just to walk from here to there, so why not do something? Do something good.”

Tramuto said that when she joined the Flamingos, she at first was hesitant because of her lack of experience in running. But she enjoyed the Turkey Trot and now participates in other events. She also said that it gave her a chance to do more for the Dream On Fund than she ever could on her own

“Thank God I did it, because it gave me an opportunity to really be able to do something special for my sister,” Tramuto said.

Area residents who would like to support the Flamingos’ fund-raising efforts can do so in several ways. Tonight, the Flamingos will be making the rounds at a number of Fredonia establishments, starting with Coughlin’s at about 8 p.m. The Flamingos will be selling replicas of their mascot, Flo (designed by local art teacher Jodie Korzenski). For a donation of $1, you can buy a paper Flo, right your name on it and have the paper displayed on the wall. For a contribution of at least $5, you can buy a Flo car magnet.

And for those who want to be part of the action and experience the Flying Flamingos in all of their funky, feathery flair, you may join them on their trip to and from Buffalo. The Flamingos’ chartered bus will leave the D&F Plaza at about 6:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. While registration for the Turkey Trot is closed, you still can jog along with the Flamingos as they travel the race course. And if you’re not interested in running the race, you can give the Flamingos words of encouragement, then stay on the bus and keep warm while the Flamingos run the race. The bus ride, which includes a professional disc jockey, is as much a highlight of the day as the race itself.

The cost to ride the bus is $20. For more information, contact enchley at pambenchley@gmail.com.

People also can help the Flying Flamingos reach their goal by making a donation. Benchley has established an online fund-raising page that describes the work of the Dream On Fund. By going to www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/flyingflamingos/2013, people can make a secure donation and also type a message of encouragement to the Flamingos. Or, people can send a check payable to “TRC Foundation/Flamingos” to TRC Foundation, 92 Fairmount Avenue, Jamestown, NY, 14701.

The Resource Center and TRC Foundation are grateful for the Flamingos’ support and the financial contributions from all of the people who donate to the Dream On Fund. The $6,000 raised by the Flamingos for the 2012 Turkey Trot helped enable the Dream On Fund to provide support to about 60 people during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“I can’t find the right words to express our appreciation to the Flying Flamingos,” said Steve Waterson, TRC’s community relations director. “Their dedication, plus the generous donations from their families and friends, make a real difference in the lives of many people in the community.” He explained that many people with disabilities don’t have enough money to be able to respond when an emergency arises. In such situations, support from the Dream On Fund can enable someone to be able to live independently, or get a new pair of eyeglasses, or have their vehicle repaired, or buy clothing.