By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
On Tuesday, the lights in the Kristy Pollak Memorial Christmas Park will brighten for the 14th season.
It was 14 years ago that local resident Dave Falso decorated his home on Fairmont Avenue as a fundraiser for a very sick little girl, Kristy Pollak.
He always did lighting displays, he said, so he wanted to turn something he was good at into a fundraiser for her.
From there it just got bigger and bigger.
When the display outgrew his entire street, he bought a parcel of land on Lyon Street and recreated the scene of a residential street displayed with Christmas lights.
And each year since then, all of the profits from the very welcomed Christmas event have been donated to a child or children in the area who are suffering from a life-threatening illness.
But a few years back, the requests to help local children became more than the profits could handle.
"There were requests to sponsor children more than what the donations could support," Falso said. "Every year we would get four to six requests to help kids."
"You know how difficult that is to use the word 'no' to some of them?"
Falso said the committee had to be selective and it was heartbreaking to make those decisions.
That brought up the idea to merge with a larger organization, and after a simply hour-long meeting, representatives from the Make-A-Wish Foundation shook Falso's hand and jumped on board to the Kristy Pollak Memorial Christmas Park event.
"They do not use the word 'no' to anybody," Falso said. "That's why we teamed up because if three children come to our attention or four children, if they apply to Make-A-Wish for their wishes, I'm going to say 9 1/2 out of 10 times they're going to be granted."
Tim Riley, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northeast New York, said Friday that the partnership is really all about helping local kids.
"From the very beginning, it's always been about local people helping local kids," Riley said. "Make-A-Wish's involvement has expanded it even more so."
Last year, of the 90 children whose wishes were granted by the chapter, 10 children were from Fulton and Montgomery counties.
And their wishes ranged from shopping sprees to trips to Disney World, Riley explained.
The funding and support from the Kristy Pollak Memorial Christmas event allowed that to happen, he added.
"It's still very true to its roots," he said. "It's still generating funds to help a broader range of kids now."
And the event is unique to Make-A-Wish, Riley said.
"It's the only holiday-type event like this that we have in our chapter and, in fact, I don't know of another one that any chapter has," he said. "It's unique on a number of accounts."
The drive-thru display will brighten on Tuesday evening and the event will run from Nov. 21 through Jan. 1 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. each night.
"The local support of folks from really throughout the region there who really are interested in seeing this every year and make it part of their tradition, I think that makes it very special," Riley said. "For a relatively small town to really pull this off is a testament to the volunteer teams and Dave Falso and the supporters that really made this thing happen.
"I think it's really impressive."
Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane said Friday that the endless generosity of Falso is inspiring to her and it's a nice thing for the community to be apart of.
Falso said he's made a powerful and long-term commitment to the event and feels it's important for the community.
"It's starting to create memories now for children from the past," he said. "I think it's something that has made a mark where kids are not going to forget it."
As much as the park is established as a fundraiser, Falso continued, it's also important for people to know that it's also just a fun family activity and allows the community to keep core family values together.
William C. Trigg III, CEO of the local Make-A-Wish chapter said in a news release that the annual event has also built awareness for the organization.
"We appreciate the support of those who make donations why they visit the light display," he said, adding that the support helps "brighten the lives of seriously ill local children.