Kenyan kids or soldiers in Iraq: Lacey teenager helps them all

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Asbury Park Press, originally uploaded by rsdscrpsnews.

Kenyan kids or soldiers in Iraq: Lacey teenager helps them all

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 07/2/06

BY ANDREA CLURFELD
STAFF WRITER
Kids in Kenya aren’t glued to PlayStation or plugged in to the endless stream of electronic entertainment that amuses Americans their age. So when Patrick Joseph Hughes de Ferrari heard some 500 Kenyans had written letters seeking American pen pals, he pitched right in and helped make connections in correspondence.

Retirees in Patrick’s neighborhood in Lanoka Harbor, Lacey, aren’t always able to get out and shovel their walks or make it to their mailboxes in thigh-high snow. So Patrick arms himself with a sturdy shovel to clear those walks and, when need arises, plays mail carrier for that last lap from mailbox to door.

Children in the earliest grades love stories, but can’t yet read enough words to make it through a favorite tale. So Patrick volunteers enthusiastically and faithfully in the reading-buddy program at the Lacey Branch of the Ocean County Library.

Troops overseas in Iraq often are in need of special items from home and sometimes public spaces close by could stand a bit of a brush-up. So, through Boy Scout Troop 42, Waretown, Patrick collects and sends goods to the troops and rolls up his sleeves to clean up, for example, old cemeteries in the area.

Broadway’s glitter may be many miles north of Southern Ocean, making local theater appreciated and needed. So Patrick devotes time and spirit to the productions of the Barnegat-based nonprofit Our Gang Players, both in starring roles and in backstage crew work.

It would be easy to go on about the good works of Patrick Joseph Hughes de Ferrari, but these good works, you see, are only just beginning.

Patrick is just 13 years old.

He also is this week’s Asbury Park Press Hometown Hero, a veritable go-to guy in his community when anyone’s in need of serious help or a merely a temporary hand.

“Patrick learned to help out early on,” says his mother, Nancy de Ferrari. For a time when Patrick was younger, Nancy used a wheelchair as she worked through complications from RSD — reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a pain disorder resulting from a serious accident and subsequent surgery. “It’s in his nature, I think, to just help others.”

Patrick, humble, polite and at ease with folks from toddler to octogenarian, shrugs off praise. “When I do something for someone, it always makes me feel good,” he says. “I realize that some people don’t have everything they need, so it helps if I can give them a little bit of kindness.”

“Patrick will not let a person in need go without help,” says Josh Goff, owner of Utopian Gardens, a yard-makeover enterprise based in Tuckerton. Patrick looks at Goff, whom he met through Our Gang Players, as a very special mentor and admires Goff for establishing Kenya Hands of Hope, the program through which all those pen-pal matches have been made.

With help from his mother, Patrick enlisted other Scouts, members of Our Gang, congregants at local churches, students in local schools. “Every letter has been sent back now,” says Goff. “Patrick realized it was as important for us to learn about Kenyan culture as it was for the kids there to learn about ours.”

Patrick says: “After he went to Kenya and came back with all these letters, I knew I wanted to help. The kids here who have been writing are shocked at how it is over there, how life is harder there. They appreciate how good they have it here now.”

Karrie Bergamo, who was Patrick’s third-grade teacher at Lanoka Harbor Elementary School, recalls the day this spring when Patrick came to speak to her class about the pen-pal program: “He presented a whole program about what’s going on over there. Nowadays, you don’t see children willing to help others. He’s getting nothing out of it; he’s just doing it.”

Patrick brought with him to Bergano’s class a visitor from Kenya whom Goff is sponsoring, a 16-year-old named Bradox Ochieng.

Patrick credits Bradox with providing him with invaluable insight: “Through Bradox and from writing to a couple of kids in Kenya, I’m learning what their life is like. There’s lots of working, some hunting, walks to Lake Victoria — and soccer; soccer is big over there!”

The 13-year-old is big himself with the 5- to 7-year-old set at the Lacey Library, says Kate Costanzo, coordinator of the reading-buddy program in which Patrick participates. “He’s so full of life and so enthusiastic about reading to the kids, and that helps the little kids increase their reading skills.”

Boy Scout Master Marc Thalheimer, leader of Patrick’s Troop 42, agrees that “he’s an eager volunteer. If there’s work to be done, Patrick just does it. The other kids think he’s cool — everybody likes him. He’s done so many service projects with the Scouts, like collecting items for the troops, doing cleanups. He’s getting ready to become an Eagle Scout.”

He’s also getting ready to play the part of Diesel in Our Gang’s “West Side Story,” according to production manager Jorge Salazar. Last weekend, Patrick completed his run in the title role of “Aladdin,” says Salazar, who adds that Patrick is that rare person who “adapts to whatever role we need him to play, be it onstage or behind the scenes.”

“Patrick is an awesome kid,” says Salazar, a police officer in Beach Haven. “He gets along with everyone.”

His mother agrees: “Patrick’s been in commercials” — for Chuck E. Cheese, for Nickolodeon, for various toy products — “and he had a role in a movie called “My Brother’ starring Vanessa Williams” that’s due out soon. “He likes to surf, he likes to ski, he plays soccer. He’s always been artistic and creative. And he believes in pitching in.”

So what does Patrick do in his spare time, if there is spare time?

The young man who will enter eighth-grade at Lacey Middle School in September sails on the 12-foot Sunfish his grandparents, Paul and Mickey de Ferrari, gave him and enjoys listening to his “Mom’s music — Mozart and Beethoven.” History and reading are his favorite subjects in school (“I’m into archaeology and paleontology; when I was 5 or 6, “Indiana Jones’ caught my eye!”) and track might be his favorite sport. “I love to run,” he admits.

But most of all, Patrick Joseph Hughes de Ferrari loves to extend a hand. Because helping others, he says with sincerity, “makes me appreciate everything I have even more.”

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