Throughout February WNED|WBFO is recognizing everyday citizens of Western New York who are doing amazing things in their communities. Our “Making a Difference” project emphasizes the importance of volunteerism and encourages others to lend a helping hand. Here is the story of a community champion who is making a difference.
“Alright downtown Gowanda, are you ready for the second annual community spirit parade,” beamed a voice from a loud speaker as marching bands, cheerleaders and floats streamed by an enthusiastic crowd of onlookers.
The Spirit Parade is part of homecoming events at Gowanda Central Schools. The parade was first organized by the Gowanda Boosters. Jennifer Gernatt is president of the group. In the last year or so, Gernatt and her fellow boosters have energized the Gowanda community.
“We all have choices in life. Do you want to go to bed every night and say, you know, okay, I didn’t do too much today, or do you want to go to bed at night and say, I really made a difference and know in your heart that you did,” saod Gernatt.
Gernatt was born and raised in the rolling hills and valleys along Cattaraugus Creek and is still proud to call it home.
“I was part of a boosters club that wasn’t really being active for the past year, and I said to the ladies that were working with me, 'Let’s re-ignite the boosters club,'” said Gernatt. “Let’s kind of change the direction, broaden it, not make it just about sports, but about the academics, about the arts and the music.”
Gernatt’s enthusiasm along with the booster’s decision to change direction, widening the scope of their support to include all students, not just athletes, has proved to be contagious. People of all ages turned out for the parade to watch a steady stream of colorful marchers, floats and fire trucks pass by.
“I really don’t quite remember things like this going on until Jen kind of spoke up and said, 'You know, we really need to do something to get this town going, to get people excited again,'” said Jessica McNaughton, who was among the crowd.
The Boosters, under Gernatt’s direction, also organize an annual golf tournament.
“Welcome to the Gowanda Country Club for the first annual G-Town open.” boomed from a loud speaker as golfers appeared bright and early to support the Boosters.
Boosters’ events like the tournament are aimed at raising money to fund scholarships for local students, but they also raise community support and enthusiasm and draw crowds of people like Debbie Kuligowski.
“It takes someone like her to pull these people together. She’s out there making phone calls, you know, getting people to volunteer,” said Kuligowski who was one of the golfers in the tournament.
Gernatt has also earned praise from school officials. Gowanda Central Schools Superintendent James Klubek said Gernatt has truly made a difference.
“Jen has some fantastic ideas, and if it wasn’t for her persistence, a lot of them wouldn’t happen,” said Klubek. “And she’s just one of those people you love to have in the community because she’s just positive and she just wants everything for the kids.”
For Gernatt and her team of Boosters, though, it’s about making a difference one child at a time.
“There’s some kids in our community, and I’m sure in every community, that may not have the guidance at home,” said Gernatt. “So if I can provide that or my team can provide that, our positivity and our motivation can help guide those kids to want to be better for themselves and to be better for their community, that, for me, is the purpose.”
Listen to WBFO throughout February for more stories of people who are Making a Difference in Western New York.
Watch the Making a Difference TV documentary on WNED-TV Tuesday, February 16th @ 7:30pm and find out more online at wned.org/making a difference.