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Meaningful matchmaking 

A SUNY Geneseo student by day and a mentor by weekend, Adam Devitt watches movies, eats burgers, goes swimming, and plays arcade games with a second-grader named Skyler (both pictured). Last year, they spent one Saturday hiking through Stony Brook Park, and another at a Halloween party where Skyler picked up a prize for best costume.

            Devitt met his young friend through Big Brothers Big Sisters, the largest mentoring program in the country, whose chapter in Geneseo is a satellite of the Greater Rochester chapter on Plymouth Avenue. The Geneseo chapter is the Rochester area's only student-run satellite, and handles about 10 percent of Rochester's caseload.

            Student volunteers --- or "bigs" --- like Devitt give of their time and money, two commodities students notoriously lack. While the parents of "littles" are told to give their kids an allowance each week, bigs pay for themselves. Devitt has learned to be thrifty. "I try not to do things that cost too much money, because it does add up," he says.

            Geneseo student Lindsey Bauer, who co-coordinates the chapter with Carolyn Davin, became involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a freshman. She and Davin started out as caseworkers together, and are both bigs themselves --- Bauer's little, Carrissa, just turned 11.

            Families get referred to Big Brothers Big Sisters through guidance counselors, teachers, youth bureaus, and similar agencies. Kids who qualify --- those who are between the ages of 6 and 16, and don't have severe behavioral problems --- are matched with bigs.

            Bauer knows her time is well spent. One of her favorite stories involves Devitt and his little. "Adam left, and [Skyler] was crying, and his mom asked what was wrong. He said he didn't want Adam to leave," Bauer says. "That made me realize the impact that bigs have on littles."

            BBBS of Greater Rochester celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Info: 442-2250 or visit www.bbbsr.org.

--- Jennifer Weiss

Medicare saviors

You may have seen TV ads touting the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and assuring folks that traditional Medicare will still be there for them. The ads leave out the fact that the law could eventually dragoon seniors into an expensive maze of co-pays and premiums and push many of them into privatized "experiments." Nor do they tell you that parts of Upstate are among the unlucky areas that federal officials may target for experimentation.

            Now US Representative Louise Slaughter and US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton have introduced bills in their respective houses to keep this non-choice away from our doorstep. Specifically, they're seeking to exempt beneficiaries in Rochester and Buffalo (as well as Albany and Glens Falls) from "premium support" trials. Under the terms of "premium support," beneficiaries could be forced to pay a five percent surcharge to remain in the traditional program. Otherwise they could join private --- and more restricted --- plans. Considering the financial status of the bulk of seniors, the "choice" amounts to coercion.

            The new law, Clinton and Slaughter say, could thus bring on the demise of Medicare, one of the most successful social programs in history. How? Superficially attractive private plans will "cherry pick" younger, healthier patients, leaving the older, sicker patients in the traditional program and fatally driving up its costs. Slaughter calls the experiment "perverse."

Fast times

The New York Labor-Religion Coalition organized a 40-hour fast which began with a final meal and service at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday night in Brockport.

            The 9th-annual event, which is held in dozens of communities across the state, is dedicated this year to recognizing the plight of betrayed workers.

            "The objective is to raise awareness in the community and to stand in solidarity with workers who are struggling to get by," says Bill Abom of Rural and Migrant Ministries, one of the organizations involved with the fast. "One of the goals of the fast is to support efforts to improve workers' working and living conditions."

            The fast will be broken at noon on Friday at a rally in front of the Cintas plant, 33 State Street. Current and former workers have filed a class action suit against Cintas, accusing the nation's largest uniform provider of discrimination in its hiring and promotion practices.

--- Joseph Sorrentino

Areola borealis

Had enough of Janet Jackson's right breast? So has county legislator Chris Wilmot.

            Wilmot wants the FCC to stop its investigation into the Super Bowl halftime peep show, where Jackson's breast was exposed following a musical number.

            "This is not the scandal the FCC claims. The human form has been the subject of the fine arts for centuries..." writes Wilmot in a memorializing referral to the FCC. "How does the mere sight of a naked breast damage or corrupt a child?"

            Wilmot accuses the FCC of overblowing the incident and says the real obscenity is sending children a negative message about the human form.

            "If the exposure of a woman's nipple is objectionable, Ms. Jackson was wearing a cover that specifically concealed her nipple," he writes. "And, because breastfeeding in public is not treated as a criminal act in this country, children are potentially exposed to women's breasts and nipples in public places."

Bait and shoot, redux

Parts of Mendon are literally "infested" with deer, says Supervisor Moe Bickwheat. Route 65 from Pittsford to Honeoye Falls, he says, "is the number-one road in the state for deer kills."

            The town is looking to quell the population through a deer management program --- a euphemism for a bait-and-shoot program similar to Irondequoit's. A citizens' committee will form shortly to study the issue.

            The deer population is stressing the environment, Bickwheat says. He blames 30 to 40 percent of the town's crop losses on deer.

            It's not unusual, says resident Chris Holliday, to wake up and find 20 to 30 deer on his property.

            Both bow and gun hunting have been discussed as options on private land around Mendon Ponds Park and in other areas of the town.

            "I would like the committee to really investigate and discuss a variety of different alternatives," Bickwheat says.

            A timetable to implement the program will be determined by the committee.

            A certification program would help make sure the program is executed safely, Bickwheat says. People selected to do the hunting, he says, should be qualified and proficient.

            State law enforcement agencies reported a total of 7,383 deer-vehicle collisions on New York roadways in 2002. Monroe County had 280. The peak period for deer-vehicle collisions is October through December.

County and Zooey

Just before Valentine's Day, the bulldozers won another round in court regarding the Seneca Park Zoo expansion plan. A five-judge appellate panel ruled that Monroe County conducted a required environmental review properly.

            This means that Phase One of the expansion can theoretically go ahead. (City officials, though, are still in court trying to put the brakes on.) We say theoretically because funds for the plan, which eventually could cost $65 million or more, have dried up.

            But it's not all about money. Community groups are fighting to keep Seneca Park's Frederick Law Olmsted design from being trampled by behemoths. Here we refer not so much to an expanded elephant exhibit as to hundreds of new parking spaces for SUVs and other beasts of burden. The parking area would infringe on the park's Olmsted centerpiece: the Trout Pond and surrounding greenspace.

            So what now? Things are up in the air, according to Peter Siegrist of the Landmark Society, one of the groups trying to save the Olmsted design. Part of the problem, he says, is that the appellate decision was unanimous, giving little room for further appeal. But there's still a political remedy: "With a change of leadership in the county, we'd hope there would be a new appreciation of the resources," Siegrist says. He anticipates community groups will be talking to county legislators about reversing the expansion plan --- and maybe reinstating a more reasonable zoo plan that was adopted in 1991.

            Siegrist hopes that "a more public process" will follow the court defeat. He regrets that so much has been riding on limited state regulatory power. "The only law you have to work with is the State Environmental Quality Review, [which] doesn't really have any teeth," he says. "The judges' hands are tied." He says it's as if "the fox is guarding the henhouse, and then the fox gets to assess how he's been eating."

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