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A game changer for people in recovery: Town approves GCASA's social center for former Bohn's location

By Howard B. Owens


John Bennett, executive director of GCASA, has gone in a short time from the shock and disappointment he felt when people in the City of Batavia reacted with anger to a proposed social center at the former St. Nick's on Swan Street, to gratitude for the acceptance the same proposal for another property in the Town of Batavia.

Tuesday night there was a public hearing on a request for a special use permit to convert the former Bohn's Restaurant location on Clinton Street Road into a recreation center for people in recovery. There was no opposition and several people spoke in support of it. The Town of Batavia Planning Board subsequently passed all the necessary resolutions unanimously to give the project a green light.

"I'll say when I came to the town to meet with the town board originally, that I got a little choked up," Bennett said. "I got a little emotional because my reception was so different than what happened on the Southside in the city.

"(Town officials) were welcoming and they really had seemed to have an understanding of addiction and they said that this is needed in the community. I just feel blessed, actually, to be connected with this project and the town and they've welcomed us with open arms and they see the benefit of it."

The center will be the first of its kind in Batavia, a place where people who don't want to be an environment where beer, wine and liquor are part of the fabric of the party, and some people might show up with drugs. That's because the context of such an atmosphere makes it harder to resist the temptation to partake. Instead, they'll have a place to go to relax, socialize, make friends, and have a good time.

Several speakers at the public said the new center will make it easier for people in recovery to stay in recovery.

"The recovery center itself is it really a meet and greet," said Kathy Miller. "After you go in and you get treatment, you start living your life and you start getting normal, doing normal everyday things like get a job, buy a house, buy a car, have a baby -- living your life.

"You're not meeting anyone in recovery because now you're doing things and there's no place to go unless you can go into a recovery center. Then, when you're meeting other people, you don't have to say, 'hey, I'm in recovery,' because you already are there meeting people in recovery."

If you don't change the people you hang out with, Miller said, it's harder to stay in recovery.

"You need to change the people, places, and things around you," Miller said. "And sometimes that means your old friends, sometimes that's the people that are still doing the same old things they used to do. You have to find a new place. You have to find a way to live in it."

Jason Adams said a social and recreation center for people in recovery will be a game-changer for people locally. It will give them a place to engage in a variety of activities, watch sports on TV, or just hang out and talk, all without thinking about easy access to booze.

"The sky's the limit of what the program is available to do," Adams said.

The closest thing to an objection to the proposed recreation center on Clinton Street Road came from a nearby neighbor who said she supports the concept -- she understands the struggle of people in recovery because she's a cigarette smoker herself -- but was concerned that people using the center might loiter in the area or along the street, which could diminish her privacy.

A board member asked if a privacy fence would help. She said it would.

As soon as the public hearing was completed, the woman left.

During the board discussion of the project, Code Enforcement Officer Dan Lang looked up her property on a parcel map and said it was really too far from the actual Bohn's property to warrant a privacy fence.  

There is a parcel in between the Bohn's Restaurant property and the woman's property, and that property, Bennett revealed is subject of a negotiation with the town -- GCASA may swap that property with the town to settle some tax issues.

The board agreed to approve the project without the privacy fence, but left the door open to revisit the issue should circumstances make it more apparent a fence is needed.

Bennett said he totally understands the concern about people loitering and smoking cigarettes outside. He's aware of complaints about similar activity outside the GCASA property along East Main Street.

The state agency that oversees drug rehabilitation facilities has always frowned on designated smoking areas on the property of such programs or facilities but that policy is changing. GCASA has been given the approval to have a designated smoking area on the Bohn's property. He said he's working on getting approval for smoking areas on all of GCASA's properties.

"I think smoking in general in front of restaurants and other buildings the community is an eyesore and we working to remedy that," Bennett said.

Bennett said the community opposition to GCASA opening a recovery center on Swan Street caught him by surprise but admitted it may have been his own fault. He wasn't prepared for the opposition and therefore did a poor job of setting the stage and explaining the project.

At a 400 Towers community meeting where residents expressed a great deal of anger about the proposal, he could barely say anything to try and explain the project, there were so many other voices dominating the conversation.

"I guess I didn't get out ahead of this in terms of really getting out and educating people because it was such a quick grant that we got," Bennett said. "And I really guess I didn't think people would have an issue with a recovery center because people in recovery really are just like you and I.

"If you stood in a room full of  -- I bet you couldn't tell tonight who was in recovery and who wasn't, right? And the methadone clinic kind of went off without a hitch, so I just kind of thought the recovery center would, too.

"I didn't really see people being upset and angry about this. I missed that and then I should have done a couple more things to educate the public, especially down on the Southside."

Photo: Sue Gagne and John Bennett.

Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming County Volunteers Gather to Kick Off 2010 Appeal for Catholic Charities

By Kevin Manne

About 70 parish workers, clergy and volunteers from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties took part in a luncheon and volunteer training workshop Saturday at Bohn’s Restaurant & Lounge in Batavia. The annual event was held in preparation for the 2010 Appeal for Catholic Charities, which carries a goal of $10.5 million.

Fund-raising events and activities for the annual campaign are already under way. One week in particular – Appeal Week which will take place March 21 through March 28 – is vital to the overall campaign as parishes across Western New York will celebrate those parishioners who have already donated, and encourage those who have not yet donated to consider what they can do. The theme for Appeal 2010 is “Whoever. Whenever. Wherever.” capturing the very essence of the organization’s mission - to serve anyone in need throughout our eight-county region, empowering individuals, children and families to achieve and maintain meaningful, healthy and productive lives.

Catholic Charities serves tens of thousands of people across the eight counties of Western New York each year. Catholic Charities helped more than 3,200 people from Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming counties alone in 2009; through such programs as emergency assistance and advocacy, Our Kids: Parent Education and Awareness Program, Domestic Violence Program for Men, the School Intervention Service program in LeRoy schools, and ProjecTruth.

Bishop Kmiec recognized that the Appeal goal of $10.5 million is an aggressive one, but he reminded attendees at today’s workshop how essential this year’s Appeal is to the Western New Yorkers in need, who depend on Catholic Charities each day.

“Our goal is 10.5 million dollars, down slightly from a year ago, reflecting the challenges we face raising funds in the current Western New York economy while also taking into consideration the ongoing, and great necessity for the programs and services we offer,” he said.

Offices in Batavia, Warsaw, Albion and Arcade provide individual, couples and family counseling, as well as assessment, evaluation, assistance or referral to Catholic Charities or other community programs as appropriate.

The agency also offers other specialized programs in the area, including Our Kids: Parenting Education and Awareness Program for separated, divorced or never married couples experiencing conflict raising their children, and a Domestic Violence Offenders Program, a court-mandated program that holds offenders accountable and works for change to end domestic violence.

Those in attendance heard from a counseling client* who shared her story about how she found herself at Catholic Charities in Batavia after fleeing a domestic violence situation at home.

“I had tried in the past to reach out for help – and when I didn’t find it, I felt trapped,” she said. “So I left home, and found myself living in a safe home that helped me meet my immediate needs. From there, I was referred to Catholic Charities. My counselor Tammy helped me to get back into my career and into a situation at home that is healthy for me and for my children. Catholic Charities is my lifeline for support.”

Also in attendance at the event were Sister Mary McCarrick, interim diocesan director of Catholic Charities; 2010 Appeal Chair Michael “Mick” Whipple; members of the Appeal leadership team; Paul Battaglia, CPA, member of Catholic Charities Board of Trustees, who served as emcee for the luncheon., as well as community volunteers, clergy and lay leaders from the 19 parishes in Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming counties.

Sister McCarrick said, “Catholic Charities is always there for whoever is in need of help …infants, children, the evicted adult and single parent, low-income families; wherever help is needed –– we are in every city in Western New York, and whenever help is needed – in a troubled marriage, with parenting skills or in a basic needs crisis.”

Appeal Chair Mick Whipple recognized and thanked the volunteers in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming Counties who have once again pledged their time and commitment to the Appeal.

He went on to tout the efficiency of Catholic Charities and how each donation will help.

“Catholic Charities is an excellent steward of donations – fund-raising costs are very low, at about seven percent, administrative costs are just 11 percent,” said Whipple. “Share the story you heard today – the success story – with people you come across so they know that when they donate to this organization, change happens.”

Catholic Charities is the most comprehensive direct human service provider serving all eight counties of Western New York, with 70 programs and 61 locations. Founded in 1923, Catholic Charities also provides, without regard to religious affiliation, comprehensive counseling services for children and families, anti-domestic violence programming and emergency services, among other social and mental health services.

The goal for the 2010 Appeal is $10.5 million and is under the patronage of Saint Damien.

For more information on the 2010 Appeal or to make a donation, contact Catholic Charities at (716) 218-1400 or go to

*Client wished to remain anonymous.

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