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"Little Heroes" program offers grants to bring activities within reach for children of military

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A suburban Buffalo agency that serves military veterans and families in need has a program available that makes many youth programs attainable for those who might otherwise struggle to afford it.

WNY Heroes Inc. provides services such as financial assistance to veterans or military who are struggling, for example, with bill payments. They also provide service dogs and other assistance to military and military families in need.

One of their programs focuses on helping children of military families stay active in sports, arts or other activities which help maintain a sense of normalcy at home while a parent is away. The Little Heroes program provides once-a-year grants of up to $250 per child for needs including the purchase of sporting equipment or uniforms for school teams, musical instruments or uniforms for school orchestras or concert bands, gymnastics, Tae Kwon Do, dance academies and activities for younger children hosted by businesses such as Rolly Pollies or Music with Mar.  

"Keeping them involved in any type of sports is going to help them stay out of trouble," said Lynn Magistrale, program coordinator for WNY Heroes. "It's going to help them with teamwork. It's going to help them with social skills that they may lack, or improve what they already have going for them."

Music with Mar instructor Katie Webster wasn't aware her program was on the list of eligible activities for Little Heroes grant money but was pleased upon learning so. She explained to WBFO how the program works with younger children.

"We use music to teach. We're not necessarily a music class but we use music to teach young children a lot of basic skills," said Webster, whose business Mr. Froggy's Friends manages Music with Mar sessions in Western New York. "We work on fine motor and gross motor and cognitive skills. We work on speech There's so much you can teach through music."

Many activities, meanwhile, are ineligible for Little Heroes grant money, including attendance at sporting events or concerts, amusement parks, birthday parties, video games or mini-golf. Grant money also may not be used for private school tuitions, medical expenses or child support payments.

Grants of up to $250 are awarded per child on an annual basis. Families must apply and Magsitrale says not all necessarily qualify.

"We like to say we will 100-percent be able to help all of our veterans. Unfortunately there are times we can't. But we can assure them that we will be able to refer them out to another agency that we potentially work closely with," she said. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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