Special to the OBSERVER
The Flying Flamingos will once again be running in the Turkey Trot race Thanksgiving morning and along the way they'll be raising money to support people with disabilities in Chautauqua County.
The Flamingos are a group of men and women, most of whom hail from the Dunkirk-Fredonia area, who each year participate in the Turkey Trot.
Members of the Flying Flamingos make their way along the race route during last year’s Turkey Trot.
The 8-kilometer race has been held annually since 1896, making it the oldest continuously running footrace in America.
The Flamingos had their beginning 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 donned a flamingo hat - and was dismayed that none of her friends chose to dress up.
(flamingos103) The Flying Flamingos pose together at the 2010 Turkey Trot.
"So I thought, 'We need to change this,'" Benchley said. With encouragement from her, a couple of friends dressed up the following year, and as the popularity of the Flying Flamingos has grown, so have their numbers - more than 40 took part in last year's race.
And they are an eye-catching sight, running together as a group, dressed in pink and wearing Flamingo hats.
Proceeds from the Turkey Trot support the YMCA Buffalo Niagara. Ms. Benchley decided that while dressing up and running the race were fun and benefited a good organization, it would be nice to also raise money for a charitable organization in Chautauqua County. Last year, the Flamingos identified their charitable cause as the Kathy Seastedt "Dream On" Fund, an initiative of The Resource Center and TRC Foundation, Inc. The Dream On Fund was selected because it has a personal connection fir one of the Flamingos.
"Pam was talking to me about what kind of cause we wanted to look to donate towards, and I thought what a great idea it would be to be able to bring it really close to home and support Kathy's fund," said Ms. Seastedt's sister, Andrea Tramuto. "And I know that the monies go to individuals with disabilities, and The Resource Center has always been great in its assistance, so if we could help that cause, what a wonderful thing to do. And so for me, it was extra special because not only did we contribute to a great cause, but we were able to do it in my sister's memory."
Ms. Seastedt was a 25-year employee of The Resource Center when she passed away unexpectedly in 2008. To honor her legacy, TRC Foundation decided to rename 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.
Fueled by the fact that one of its members was Ms. Seastedt's sister, the Flying Flamingos last year raised about $4,500 for the Dream On Fund. Ms. Benchley said that because of Ms. Tramuto's personal connection to the Dream On Fund, the Flamingos decided to support the fund again in 2012.
"I think this really probably will be our home base organization that we really want to kind of stick with and do good things for," Ms. Benchley said. "All the aspects are there: it's close to one of our Flamingos themselves, and it's a Chautauqua County (fund), so that's what we like about it."
This year, the Flamingos have set a fund-raising goal of $6,000. To help meet their goal, the Flamingos will be selling paper replicas of their mascot, Flo, who was designed by Jodie Korzenski, an art teacher who also is a member of the Flamingos. A number of area establishments are selling the paper flamingos. People may buy them for a contribution if $1, write their name on them and have them displayed at the business. Copies of Flo the Flamingo are available at The Resource Center and at the following locations: Chautauqua Health & Fitness, Coughlan's Pub, Visions of Elegance Salon, and Nails Unlimited in Fredonia; at elementary schools, the high school, the Exempt Volunteer Firemens Association and Rookies on the Lake in Dunkirk; and at the Lakeview Restaurant in Mayville.
People also can help the Flying Flamingos reach their goal by making a donation. Benchley has established an online fund-raising page that shares the story of the Flying Flamingos and the Kathy Seastedt "Dream On" Fund. By going to www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/flyingflamingos/dreamon2012, 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, 200 Dunham Avenue, Jamestown, NY, 14701.
And, if you'd like to join the Flying Flamingos in Buffalo on Thanksgiving morning, you're welcome to join the flock. There are just a few requirements - you have to wear pink; you have to be fun loving and outgoing; and you have to tell your family, friends and co-workers to donate money to the Dream On Fund.
The Resource Center and TRC Foundation are grateful for the Flamingos' support and the contributions from all of the people who donate to the Dream On Fund.
"I view Pam, Andrea and the rest of the Flamingos as real-life heroes," said Steve Waterson, TRC's community relations director. "Here you have a group of people, most of whom didn't have a strong connection with our organizations, going out and raising money to support people with disabilities. That's just awesome."
He added that with the slumping economy, more people are in need of support from the Dream On Fund. Waterson said that for many people with disabilities who also are in a tough financial situation, a few dollars can mean the difference between maintaining their job or their independence. He said that in the fund's 2011-12 fiscal year, 65 people were assisted before the fund ran out of money. Without the generosity of the Flamingos and their supporters, fewer people would have been assisted by the Dream On Fund.
Waterson said the Flamingos set a good example for others, and he credited the group with inspiring him to do some costumed fund raising of his own, running a race dressed as Peter Pan to raise money for Laurel Run, another initiative of The Resource Center and TRC Foundation.
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."
Ms. Tramuto added 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, including triathlons. 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," Ms. Tramuto said.
For more information about the Flying Flamingos, or to sell Flo the Flamingo at your place of work, phone 661-4735 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.