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Let me tell you a story

Library clerk Mary Ellen Baxter tries to vary the themes for the Henrietta Public Library's storyline, her self-proclaimed "baby." But some themes just bear repeating.

She's repeated the "Please & Thank You" month several times. "Because we have children come in, and their manners are just like --- well," she says. "I have my little soapbox things."

HPL's storyline is an approximately two-minute recording of a children's story read by one of four volunteers. The stories change each week and anyone can call, 24 hours a day, to hear them.

"Please & Thank You" will be back in June. April's theme was "Mother Goose Rhymes" because a fellow library clerk met a group of preschoolers who had never heard a nursery rhyme. "I was like, 'you've gotta be kidding me!'" Baxter says. So she collected a handful of favorites. The last week in April, you could hear a kind-voiced older woman read several rhymes, including a skipping rhyme and the Peter Piper tongue twister.

Children's librarian Ann Gibson started the storyline in late 1979; Baxter took it over almost six years ago. "I realized I should have a 25th anniversary," she says. When the storyline began there were 1,000 to 1,500 calls a month, now the line averages only 180. Five volunteers read for her: a library employee, a member of the library Board of Trustees, a retired school administrator, and a pair of 23-year-old men who Baxter credits with boosting the call-in numbers because "they're just having so much fun with it."

Readers don't have to audition and rarely record the story more than once. "Normally if they make a little bit of a mistake or something," Baxter says, "it makes it more alive for the kids."

She chooses books in the library collection so children can come in and look at the book they heard on the phone. "Then they've gone one step further with loving reading," she says.

The storyline, with stories for preschool through second-grade children, is 334-6670.

--- Erica Curtis

Poverty. Look familiar?

When you get to work tomorrow morning, take a look around. Chances are someone you know, even a co-worker, is living in poverty.

Making poverty recognizable and breaking down misconceptions became the focus of "The Faces of Poverty: Not Just Faces, But Our Neighbors." The conference, which was organized by the Downtown Community Forum last Wednesday, is part of a collaborative effort to reach out to faith-based charities and churches in addressing Rochester's growing poverty problem.

And when it comes to poverty, the myths are everywhere. But they were roundly broken down by the "Faces" panelists. Michael Boucher, a social worker with St. Joseph's Neighborhood Center at 417 South Avenue, told of his frustrations in speaking to a colleague who also happened to be his doctor. "'Why don't they just go get a job?' my doctor asked. When you live in poverty, it's hard to be well enough to keep a job. And you probably don't have health insurance, so it becomes a circular problem. But listen to the misconceptions about poverty even among professionals in the field."

Cameron Community Ministries, 48 Cameron Street, is an ecumenical community center that provides clothing, after-school tutoring, and free hot lunches daily. Cameron has repeatedly intervened on behalf of school children with behavioral problems who have no stability in their lives, said Executive Director Kathy Pearce. "[One student] had moved so many times in one year that we felt we needed to try to keep her in the same school so she could build longer relationships," she said. And Cameron, Pearce said, was successful in making that happen.

Another panelist talked about how her own life began to mirror those of the people she was trying to help at Action for a Better Community. "I was living a double life hoping no one [at ABC] would discover my secret," said Karyn Herman, director. "My husband left while I was pregnant, and my son was born with a tumor on his liver. Suddenly, I was in trouble. I couldn't pay my bills and I didn't want anyone [at work] to know I was in this situation. And they didn't, because we had a Penfield address and people don't make a connection. They think of poverty and an address downtown."

The "Faces" collective is launching a letter-writing campaign to the House and Senate that considers the federal budget a "moral document" reflecting the values of the nation. The letters will appeal to lawmakers to increase spending for human services by not extending the income-tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.

A second conference, "From Poverty to Dignity & Decency for All" is planned for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, at St. Luke Tabernacle, 1261 Dewey Avenue. It will continue at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, May 13, at the Aenon Baptist Church, 175 Genesee Street. To register, call Karyn Herman at 328-7550.

--- Tim Louis Macaluso

Harvesting support

Despite passing the state Assembly by an overwhelming majority in the past two legislative sessions, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has so far failed to bring  the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S5130/A1304) to the senate floor for a vote.  This prompted Centro Independiente  de Trabajadores Agricolas, or CITA, to organize a four-day "March For Justice" through the farm regions of Western New York on Saturday, April 30, before heading to Albany on May 3.

The bill would give farmworkers the same rights afforded to all other workers in the state --- one day a week of rest, disability insurance, overtime pay, collective bargaining protections, and health and safety provisions on the job. CITA points to farmworkers in Orleans County that were held in slave-like conditions by crew leaders last year. The crew leaders pled guilty in federal court to trafficking and forced-labor charges in December and are scheduled for sentencing this month.

"Farmworkers are ripe for more of the type of exploitation we have already seen," says Bill Abom, associate director for Rural & Migrant Ministry. "If the state's 'Pride of New York' campaign were really something to be proud of, you would think they would want to include fair treatment toward farmers."

More than 400 workers are hired during the peak growing season in the counties of Orleans and Genesee alone. "One reason small farms have been run out is the government's favoring toward the big farming companies," Abom says. "If you're small and you try to treat your workers fairly, you're putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage. The big guys hear all the scare tactics about how business will be ruined, costs will be too high and they can't compete. But they used the same tactics in California nearly 40 years ago. Guess what? None of it was true --- it's still the most successful farming region in the world."

The march drew more than 200 farmworkers and passed through Brockport, Rochester, Sodus, and Geneva, picking up some support from Senator Joe Robach, Mayor Bill Johnson, and Rochester Labor Council President Jim Bertolone. Senator Bruno agreed to meet with the farmworkers, who say they will present him with a state-wide petition urging him to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. His press office says the senator is supportive of issues facing farmworkers, like affordable housing, daycare, and workers’ comp. But he feels the bill being presented with an emphasis on collective bargaining that could drive both farming and consumer costs higher. He also believes the bill should be handled at the federal level, because farmworkers move from state to state.

For more information on the bill, visit

--- Tim Louis Macaluso

Correcting ourselves

In last week's Gut Instincts review of Open Face Sandwich Eatery ("Scooters, frico, and Moxie on South Avenue") we gave the restaurant's fax number instead of its phone number. To speak to a person, call 232-3050.