‘Our default answer is yes’: Operation Northern Comfort builds desks, more
The goal of Operation Northern Comfort is simple: to help those in need, both in Central New York and beyond.
Family Times recently talked to CEO Norm Andrzejewski, about the organization’s roots, its current projects, and what he sees in the future for Operation Northern Comfort.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
1. What was the inspiration behind Operation Northern Comfort, and how did it grow into what it is today?
It started as Operation Southern Comfort, and the inspiration was, ‘Let’s go help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.’ I called my Rolodex, and ended up with 13 other people, so 14 of us went down to New Orleans to help out. That grew into what you see today. We came back and said, ‘This is crazy.’ Nothing was working, no stores were open; it was awful. We agreed to go back down. We’ve done 50 trips to New Orleans, Mississippi, Houston, Baton Rouge and, most recently, North Carolina. But then COVID got in the way, so we’re hunkered down. In the meantime, about five years ago or so, some of us felt that we have needs up here we should be attending to, so Operation Southern Comfort kind of morphed into Operation Northern Comfort. We changed the name because our spotlight changed. We went to Oneida and worked on several houses there after the flood. Most recently, we’ve been building ramps. There are a lot of people that can’t get out of their homes because they just can’t negotiate stairs, and a lot of these people don’t have the means to pay for a ramp, so we’ve been building them. In September of last year, we heard about desks for kids. It was just something that we said, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s talk about numbers.’ Five-hundred was our goal and we’re there. We have made or acquired 500 desks and delivered 475 of them. And we’re going to continue. You hear a story about a kid doing his homework at the kitchen table with three siblings and you say, ‘Wait a second, what’s wrong with this picture?’ So that’s the story.
2. What is your mission or goal?
I’d say it’s to be helpful. People come to me and say, ‘I just want to help.’ And if there’s a need out there I think I have the skills to help with, I do. My particular skills don’t include woodworking, but I can put people together. I find carpenters and people who have those skills, find a place for them to work, and find some money for them to buy the materials. And we go on our way.
3. How can Family Times readers get involved with Operation Northern Comfort?
On our homepage, the first thing that you see is ‘Need a desk? Give a desk?’ You can click on that, and tell us what you want. Do you want a desk? Tell us that you would like a desk. If you want to help, tell us that you would like to help. We’ll get back to you either way. We have 60 people that have volunteered to work on this project, and most of them are new to us.
4. What do you see in the future for Operation Northern Comfort?
One of the things we’re thinking about doing is a contest to ask the kids who got a desk what they think about the whole thing. That’s not necessarily something we’re going to do, but it’s something that I’m thinking about. We are going to build more ramps. We have two or three on the drawing board right now. And we’ll try to respond to whoever has a need. There’s always something that comes up that tests our imagination. Our default answer is yes.
5. Is there anything you would like to add?
People say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I’m looking at this picture of one our chair people on the sidewalk carrying a desk with a kid who looks like he’s going to be the recipient of that desk. And I say, ‘That is so cool.’ That’s the reward that we get. And I kind of wish everybody could have the opportunity to experience that; putting a desk together and seeing the end result.
For more information about Operation Northern Comfort, visit operationnc.org.
– Courtney Kless
Everson Museum of Art hosts virtual Sunday Fundays
Sunday Fundays are back at the Everson Museum of Art – in a new virtual format.
Each week through March 28, families can create a work of art, including air dry clay pinch pots, watercolor Valentine’s Day cards and more. Kits will be provided.
The cost for non-members is $15/week, and families must register each Thursday.
For more information, visit everson.org.
Fairmount Community Library to Offer Virtual Spanish Classes
Virtual Spanish classes are now available at the Fairmount Community Library. Each lesson will include songs, a craft and more – this month, children can make a Valentine’s Day card (February 12) and a snowflake (February 26).
“Our family Spanish classes have always been a hit here at the library,” said library Director, Brenda Shea in a press release. “Miss Patience introduces greetings and vocabulary in fun themes related to seasons and holidays. We are so happy we can offer this program virtually to families so they can view it in the comfort of their home.”
For more information, visit fairmountlibrary.org.
Syracuse Stage Makes Changes to Virtual Season
Planning to catch a performance by Syracuse Stage? It recently announced some changes to its season.
Syracuse Stage will present Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 from February 3-14, followed by Annapurna (March), I and You (April/May), and ‘Master Harold’ . . . and the Boys (June) – dates will be announced at a later time.
“Much like our need to make a programming pivot in the first half of our season, it is abundantly clear that we cannot proceed as planned with the second half of our season,” said Robert Hupp, Syracuse Stage artistic director, in a press release. “We’re challenging our creative team and engaging dynamic guest artists from across the country, to innovate, to experiment and to explore ways of making entertaining, engaging experiences for Central New York. We’re excited to share these with our audience.”
For more information, or to view a performance, visit SyracuseStage.org.
Utica Zoo Introduces Winter Virtual Programs
Looking for something to do this month? The Utica Zoo recently introduced its virtual winter programs.
Families with children ages 2-5 can sign up for the zoo’s Virtual Hatchlings program. Each 30-minute Zoom session will include songs, crafts and more – with a focus on one animal each week. This month, families can learn about hedgehogs (February 4), owls (February 11) and opossums (February 18). Sessions are $10 each, and will be held each Thursday at 10 a.m. For more information, UticaZoo.org/education/hatchlings.
Families can also join the Zoo’s Education Facebook Group, Facebook.com/groups/uticazooeducation, to access more resources.