Kelly Ames, Carol Mandigo HonoredAs Oneonta’s ’19 Woman Trailblazers

Art & Caring

Kelly Ames, Carol Mandigo Honored

As Oneonta’s ’19 Woman Trailblazers

Oneonta Trailblazers flank Mayor Gary Herzig, Carol Blazina at right, and Kelly Ames at left, at the Tuesday, April 2, reception in Oneonta City Hall. (Ian Austin/

By JENNIFER HILL • Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal

ONEONTA  – Early on in Carol Mandigo’s career, she decided to combine art with social services “to give a better quality of life in a fun way.”

“I wasn’t drawn to putting art in a gallery in a city with only a limited amount of people looking at it,” Mandigo said.  “I brought art and theater to inner city schools, so kids could be exposed to art because their families might not be able to do that for them.”

The director of the Catskill Puppet Theater, a prevention specialist at LEAF Inc and the artist behind the murals on the side of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, Mandigo was named as one of the 2019 Women Trailblazers, alongside Kelly Ames, Catholic Charities.

Ames, a volunteer with the Big Buddy program, was able to see first-hand how much her mentorship helped her 8-year-old buddy.

“She was insanely shy and quiet and wouldn’t talk to other kids when we started out,” Ames said.  “Her family is very loving, but they are on a fixed income and can’t take her to things.”

Ames takes her to dance classes five days a week and then out to a restaurant for snacks and dinner.

“She now talks to a few of the kids in her dance classes and she can order from a menu at a restaurant,” she said. “I like the Big Buddy program because you only need to do a minimum of four hours a month and you don’t have to plan a big event with your buddy,”

As for Mandigo, she also wanted to use her background in art and theater both to help people in the region to connect with one another and to help people combat addiction as she does at LEAF, “to make the medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar.”

Recently, Mandigo has been involved in the Opioid Task Force at LEAF, focusing on bringing awareness to the community by “getting people to tell the stories of the Opioid Crisis.”

She starts the stories and conversations through art and poetry, using events such as the upcoming art and poetry contest at LEAF.

“We have 250 pieces of poetry submitted already,” she said.  “The theme of the contest is, home is where the heart is — how people transcend problems, especially with addiction.”

The deadline for the contest is April 12.

Ames’ experience in the Big Buddy program – she was previously named Big Buddy of the Year – led to her and her husband deciding to get foster care licenses and to become foster parents.  Last October, a 15 year-old boy joined their household.

In her acceptance speech, Ames said that she took many of her cues from Betty Lee, a nurse and active volunteer. “I do so much more work because Betty inspired me,” she said. “She’s involved in everything, on top of her career.”

Mandigo, meanwhile, reflected on the city and everyone she knows. “Oneonta is so damn beautiful because you are all here,” said Mandigo in her acceptance speech. “I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life, and I know that my relationships with all of you will be what makes that time good for me.”

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