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Monday October 21, 2002 10:32:08 AM

Girl Scouts refurbish Orangetown home


(Original publication: October 21, 2002)

A Colonial house in a quiet Old Orangeburg Road neighborhood needs some work the rooms need painting, the driveway needs paving and furniture needs reuphostering.

The refurbishment has become a project for local Girl Scouts, who have found helping the home's residents has helped them learn civic responsibility, leadership and compassion.

The home is Conway House, a group home for 14 people with mental illness. The home is operated by Joseph's Home, a non-profit organization.

The 12 teenage girls who are part of Orangetown Girl Scout Troop 359 were at the home yesterday, finishing up their last painting weekend. Next weekend, they start on replacing windows and installing blinds. The girls have been restoring the home since early summer as part of their final community service project to earn the Gold Award, the highest distinction a Girl Scout can achieve.

These 10th and 11th grade students from Tappan Zee and Pearl River high schools plan on renovating each of the 14 rooms in the house by doing everything from painting walls and replacing broken windows to adding new blinds, gardening and restoring worn furniture. They each are dedicating 50 hours to the project, which they hope to complete by Jan. 1, 2003.

Supplies were either donated by local businesses or purchased with money the girls collected during fund-raisers.

Kerri Heinemann, a junior at Tappan Zee High School, said the experience has been personally rewarding.

"We have learned how lucky we are and how glad we are to become more involved in the community," said Heinemann, who has known most of the troop members since kindergarten. We've also had some bonding time."

Refurbishing the rooms has enabled her and other Scouts to tap into their artistic talent. Yesterday they painted a room in baby pink and are planning to use a red, white and blue theme for another room.

Lloyd Dobbs, who has lived at the home 14 years, already had the walls in his room cleaned and painted over in beige.

"I think it's a very nice thing for them to help us out," Dobbs said.

Donna McGuire, 34, a Joseph's Home volunteer from Tappan, is supervising the Girl Scout project.

"I felt so happy that other groups wanted to get involved," said McGuire, who runs a web-design business. She hopes the Girl Scouts' efforts will encourage other groups, such as the Boy Scouts or church organizations, to get involved.

Ellie Salmon, co-leader of Troop 359 and a training officer with the South Orangetown Ambulance Corps, said the project was "a lot more in-depth and a lot more meaningful than previous ones."

"These people are unfortunately not as well off as the girls are. So for these girls, this is a wonderful way to give of themselves to someone else who is not as fortunate as they are," Salmon said.

She said some furniture items are still needed, including throw rugs, lamps, linens, small tables, shelving, book cases and waste baskets. Her husband, Daniel, who runs a meat-packing business, plans to donate turkeys for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday parties the Scouts are planning for the residents.

The residents pay approximately $500 per month for room and board, generally from their Social Security checks, although a few work part time, said Tom Zimmerman, executive director of Joseph's Home.

The majority of the home's residents are referred by the Rockland Psychiatric Center, the Rockland County Mental Health Department and the Rockland County Department of Social Services to live there.

John Murphy, president and founder of Joseph's Home, said the troop's efforts were a step in the right direction by removing the stigma attached to aiding the mentally ill.

"I think it has a special significance because so many people are afraid to volunteer to help mentally ill adults. The Girl Scouts are showing us the way."

To send a donation to Joseph's Home, call 735-0515 or mail a donation to Joseph's Home, Blue Hill Plaza, 8th Floor, Pearl River, NY,10965.

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