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Christmas in July

The Recreation Therapy Departments of the VA Finger Lakes Health Care System (Canandaigua & Bath Campuses) and Western NY VA at Batavia, hitched their sleighs with former Miss USA Mary Therese Friel to celebrate Christmas in July with our Veterans. 

The former Miss USA, Mary Friel collaborated with Paul Root, the Author of “S.O.S. Save Old Santa,” from the Steven James Media Group, to produce a video presentation to thank Veterans. In the video, models, and actors from The Mary Therese Friel Modeling Agency bring Root’s wonderful book to life.

A presentation of the video and books was recently made to the Recreation Therapy Departments at each of the three VA Medical Centers. The video was screened for Veterans to enjoy during the month of July, and each Veteran will also receive a copy of Root’s book to accompany the video.

Hank Riegel, Recreation Therapy Supervisor for the VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System, dressed up as Santa Claus to receive the video and books. “For 22 years now, Mary Therese has been producing a talent show to entertain Veterans on Independence Day at the Canandaigua VA,” said Riegel. “Since 2020, pandemic restrictions have prevented their group from visiting us in person, so we are so thankful that they are finding creative ways to continue sharing their appreciation for Veterans.”

During Friel’s time as Miss USA, she participated in the USO with Bob Hope. Years later this experience served as the inspiration for the talent show with models and actors from Friel’s modeling agency, performing for Veterans annually on the Fourth of July at the Canandaigua VAMC. The "S.O.S" video project is an extension of the holiday cheer ongoing effort.

“This video project took months of planning and hard work from a very dedicated group of creative professionals,” said Friel. “I am so happy to bring this wonderful story to the Veterans and to keep our Fourth of July tradition of honoring those who preserve our freedoms.”

“S.O.S. is a heartwarming story of friendship, asking for help and learning to accept it,” said Root. “When Mary Therese asked if she could use the book in a project for U.S. Veterans, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough.”

The Christmas in July event was started in 2022 when Friel brought hundreds of holiday cards filled with messages of hope and gratitude to the Veterans at the Canandaigua, Bath, and Batavia VA Medical Centers for the Fourth of July. These cards were made by Goodwill Ambassadors from her Modeling Agency.

Thank you Mary Friel, Paul Root, and everyone involved. 

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