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The French Festival is Cancelled

Five words — “the French Festival is cancelled” — five simple, innocuous words strung together. However, those words struck a blow to the community, businesses, and organizations of Cape Vincent never felt.

I am a member of the French Festival Committee. The committee last met at the end of February. I remember a couple hushed remarks then about the future of the Festival in light of the news overseas of the coronavirus but we stayed positive and kept on task: mass gathering permits were acquired, fireworks contract finalized and coordinating with DHS to set off the fireworks, reviewing of half of the vendors who were already registered, bands and parade entertainment that were partially or already booked, and what contracts, permits, volunteers, vendors, organizations, and sponsors  that still need to be secured. As the head of the French Festival Sponsor Sub-Committee, I met with my team a couple times in early March, fully functioning and spearheading towards sponsorship acquisition. Then, by the third week of March, schools closed, businesses were shuttered, and New York residents were ordered to stay home.

The COVID-19 outbreak was spreading throughout the United States and Northern NY was under quarantine.

The future of the French Festival was uncertain.

As history tells it, the French heritage in the Cape Vincent area stems back to as early as 1615 when French explorers first set foot upon our shores. In 1655, the French missionary priests Father Chaumont, Father Dablon, and Father Simon LeMoyne came to the area to establish missions and homes. Between 1790s-1800s, James LeRay de Chaumont acquired many thousands of acres of land in Northern New York. Cape Vincent was named after his son, Vincent. It was LeRay’s influence that drew many French emigres and refugees of the Napoleonic regime to come and settle in Cape Vincent. Many of their descendants still live in the area. 

I was the reigning French Festival queen in 1987
Miss French Festival 1987: Kristie Stumpf

It was because of this French heritage and history that the French Festival was born! In 1968, Cape Vincent residents, June and Jack Walker, Gary, and his first wife, Jackie King, Jerry and Ida Radley, and Jessie and David Otis met to discuss how Cape Vincent could celebrate its French heritage and share that knowledge with younger generations. They partnered with the Chamber of Commerce with a budget of $300, the annual tradition got its start. 

Two months passed after our last French Festival Committee Meeting, when on May 5th the Cape Vincent Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors decided during their monthly Chamber Meeting to cancel the 52nd Annual French Festival. A sound decision for the health and well-being of the community but one surely difficult to comprehend.

For the first time in fifty-two years, Cape Vincent was not going to be hosting the Annual French Festival. A yearly summer tradition that brought together so many families and summer residents in the North Country for a weekend of French-inspired fun, entertainment, pastries, a parade, and fireworks. But even more so, it meant that local businesses and community-based organizations that benefited from the weekend would be losing revenue and donations.

Cape Vincent has had its share of hardships throughout the years: The Blizzard of 1977, the Ice Storm of 1998, and the high-water flooding in the Spring of 2019; and the community has always rallied to weather the storm. So, how are the businesses and organizations in the Cape going to cope with the loss of the French Festival?

Even before the announcement of the French Festival cancellation, local amateur photographer, Alex Davis, son of long-time resident, Barry, started collecting donations for the Food Pantry and Ambulance Fund with the #FrontDoorProject, or also known as The Front Steps Project. The Front Steps Project is a nationwide project where photographers decide what local organization will inspire their communities and then photograph a family on their front porch for a donation.

With the reliance on social media for communication during quarantine paired with a grassroots swell in supporting regional products and buying local, the handful of Cape Vincent businesses that remained open during April and May certainly felt the love of the community. As with every other disaster encountered, the community as a whole collectively picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and kept moving forward. Information about take-out, delivery, and products (maple syrup, wine, Black Angus beef) available was shared amongst residents online and folks kept those businesses busy.

How is Cape Vincent businesses and organizations going to deal with the loss of French Festival? They are going to do what they always do – persevere with the support of the community! After any disaster, the community of Cape Vincent has proven it will always rebuild. The strength of the Cape Vincent community is what makes this town remarkable.

So, we do not have French Festival this year. That is okay.

Cape Vincent will be all right.

As the featured writer for the Cape Vincent Chamber of Commerce Monthly Newsletter, I have the opportunity to spotlight local businesses, people, and non-profits.

“The French Festival is Cancelled” was published in the Thousand Islands Sun newspaper, as well as the Chamber newsletter.

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What's Happening

St. John’s Episcopal & the Child Advocacy Center

As the featured writer for the Cape Vincent Chamber of Commerce Monthly Newsletter, I have the opportunity to spotlight local businesses, people, and non-profits.

The Child Advocacy Center was established in 2006, when Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services recognized the need for a safe space for victimized children, where the child would be interviewed only once by a forensic interviewer and not by multiple agencies. The Center is 97% grant -funded and is under the agency of The Victims Assistance Center.

The CAC houses interview rooms, a medical examination room, a waiting room with stuffed animals, toys, age-appropriate movies on the TV and warm, inviting colors. Most important of the rooms in the CAC is the room where all the agencies involved in the case can gather to review the interview. In that room, the walls are lined with laptops and headphones. This is the reason the Center was established. One interview. One Interviewer.

Watertown is the Main Hub for the CAC, but they also have two satellite offices, one in Lewis and another in St. Lawrence county. As well as, two 33-foot-long Winnebago’s outfitted with victim intake capabilities that travel to destinations in rural Lewis and St. Lawrence counties when travel is difficult for the victims.

Of the cases the CAC manages:

  • 95% Sexual Abuse
  • 5% Physical Abuse/Witnesses of Traumatic Event

Of the children served in 2019:

  • Jefferson: 397
  • St. Lawrence: 279
  • Lewis: 90

Ages

  • 0-6:    234
  • 7-12:  292
  • 13+:   240

St. John’s Episcopal Church of Cape Vincent has been a blessing to the children of CAC. 

In 2018, St. John’s wanted to make the rectory a Safe House but requirements such as 24-hour police accessibility were not attainable. So, they sold the house and the funds were allocated to the Child Advocacy Center. The center used $25000 of the allocation in 2018 to update their offices with contemporary equipment, furnishings and technology. The remainder of the funds were to be contracted in the amount of $5000 over the course of four years. In 2019, the CAC used the first $5000 to purchase all new furniture to outfit their site. This year, they are testing the theory of digitizing documents, and using iPads in the field, so CAC Advocates and the agencies they work with can quickly sign and release critical and time-sensitive materials.

But St. John’s support is not just financial.

An exuberant woman by the name of Charlie Fix, a retired Fort Drum Public Health Nurse and member of St. John’s, first introduced me to the CAC – St. John’s connection during a French Festival Committee meeting I attended in January. She talked about how not only did one of the CAC Winnebago’s participate as a float in the parade but also joined forces to provide a Comfort Station for festival goers. 

I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about St. John’s involvement. Charlie set up a meeting for me with Amy, the CAC Program Director, Priest Lisa of St. John’s, and Therapy Dog Emelia, at the Watertown office. 

Amy has been with the CAC since its inception. First as an Advocate (an Advocate works directly with the non-offending family members of the victim), then as Coordinator, and now in her present position. She is also the lucky soul that gets to take home the beautiful golden Emelia each night at the end of the workday.

Amy was more than happy to discuss the support St. John’s provides the children that enter the doors of the CAC. In the Waiting Room, along the mantle, are a row of stuffed bunnies. The bunnies are made by a woman in Cape Vincent. Before the bunnies are transported to Watertown, Priest Lisa blesses them. When a child is interviewed, they are given one of St. John’s blessed bunnies for comfort. When the interview is over, the child can take the bunny with them to continue to be consoled.

St. John’s regularly donates much needed blankets. Some are made (knitted, sewn), some new, others gently used – which are given to the child, like the bunnies, to hold and take with them for comfort. They also supply snacks for the Waiting Room to keep the waiting child engaged and nourished.

At the beginning of the school year, backpacks are prepared with school supplies for those children in need. And, when a child comes into the CAC with few personal items, Amy lets St. John’s know and the clothing and donations flow in abundant.

St. John’s does not just provide indispensable care and donations to the children. Recently, when the staff of the CAC had endured a couple grueling months a harrowing, sometimes unresolved cases, the emotional toll was evident. To help boost morale St. John’s hosted a luncheon to remind them that they are worthy, supported and the job that they provide is vital.

The CAC and St. John’s will work together again this summer for the 52nd Annual French Festival, entering one of their Winnebago’s in the parade, providing a Comfort Station for Festival goers, and offering the public insight into what an important program the Child Advocacy Center is for the victims of abuse.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Promote the prevention of child abuse by considering a donation to the Victims Assistance Center, the Child Advocacy Center, or by purchasing a Blue Pinwheel from the Cape Vincent Community Library.