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GCASA Foundation scholarship

Scholarship recipients, 'friends' honored at GCASA event

By Mike Pettinella
GCASA 'Friends'
Receiving “Friends of GCASA” awards for 2023 are, seated from left, Heather Jackson, Jay Balduf, Megan Boring; standing, Patrick Cecere, Pam McCarthy, Scott Wooten, Matt Prawel, Lt. Bob Tedford.

Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse officials on Wednesday afternoon honored six “friends” of the nonprofit agency and five GCASA Foundation scholarship award winners at their annual meeting at Terry Hills Restaurant.

Friends of GCASA awards went to the City of Batavia Fire Department, Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Prawel, Patrick Cecere, Heather Jackson, Mercy Flight EMS and the United Memorial Medical Center MOMS Program.

Scholarship recipients for 2023 are Carly Cerasani, Arianna Hale, Valerie Pastore, Lauren Reimer and Lilly LeTourneau. They each received $1,000 for enrolling in fields relating to human services and/or social services.


-- City of Batavia Fire Department was recognized for its role in becoming the first Public Safety Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative fire department in New York State. It is one of only a few fire companies in the United States to take part in PAARI, which enables people struggling with substance use to reach out to police and fire department personnel for help, without fear of arrest.

-- Deputy Matt Prawel, a school resource officer for the Albion Central School District, developed a fentanyl awareness presentation to fifth through 12th graders, which includes a video about the deadly drug for families to view. He also is a leading member of the school’s prom awareness committee, and is committed to delivering the message of making safe and healthy choices.

-- Patrick Cecere works at the Genesee County Public Defender’s Office as a social worker/case manager. He consistently has assisted clients of GCASA as they navigate the legal system, advocating for all with fairness, professionalism and compassion.

-- Heather Jackson, an Orleans County Social Services caseworker and former probation officer, has worked collaboratively with GCASA counselors in various areas, notably assisting with patient-centered treatment plans and through programs that provide essential services to youth clients of GCASA. She also chairs Orleans County’s National Night Out, an event that brings law enforcement and community groups together in an alcohol- and drug-free setting.

-- Mercy Flight EMS, with its operations center on Call Parkway, Batavia, has been called on upon more frequently as GCASA’s medical needs have increased since the inception of its detoxification program, and was recognized for the “kind and respectful way in which personnel has interacted with clients.” Mercy Flight EMS staff also were commended for listening to GCASA’s clinical recommendations, especially when it comes to transporting individuals to other facilities.

-- The UMMC Moms Program, specifically Megan Boring and Jay Balduf, has partnered with the Health Moms/Healthy Babies initiative at GCASA. Boring and Balduf were honored for making themselves available to serve GCASA clients as a referral source to those who have yet to receive support for their substance use disorder. Boring has made great strides through her coordinator role of the Prenatal Task Force in Batavia, while Balduf shared her wealth of experience as a registered nurse and maternal health educator at UMMC Healthy Living.


-- Carly Cerasani, a 2023 graduate of Pembroke High School, who is considering attending Brown University in the fall to study Psychology, with a long-term goal of obtaining a doctorate degree. She aspires to improving others’ lives, especially children.

-- Arianna Hale, a 2023 graduate of Pembroke High School, will be attending Genesee Community College in the fall to study Humanities and Social Science, with plans to go on from there to earn a degree in Psychology.  She said that she wants to focus her energies on people who need care and support.

-- Valerie Pastore, a 2023 graduate of Byron-Bergen High School, plans to attend Alfred University in the fall to study Psychology. She seeks to work in the healthcare field, with an eye on helping people through research.

-- Lauren Reimer, a 2023 graduate of Batavia High, will be receiving her associate’s degree from Genesee Community College this spring through advanced placement credits. Her future college plans are to be determined, but she plans to study Biomedical Sciences.

-- Lilly LeTourneau graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and currently is enrolled in the New York State Fellowship Program through the Genesee & Orleans Health Department. She has assisted in a project with Genesee County Mental Health to assess the impact of COVID-19 on mental health services. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Buffalo.


Lynn Strzelecki and Bradley Mazur were elected as new members of the GCASA Board of Directors while President Tim Batzel and directors Jackie Dunham and Pattie Kepner were re-elected. All terms are three years.

Strzelecki is a previous GCASA director while Mazur, the Genesee County undersheriff, joins for the first time. Mazur is the chair of the Genesee County Stop DWI Advisory Council.

Batzel, Vice President Katie Cotter and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Rarick were re-elected.


In 2022, GCASA prevention educators provided services to more than 36,000 youth and adults, with the WNY Prevention Resource Center providing 18 trainings to nearly 500 people. The GOW Opioid Task Force lists 460 active members, with many of them trained in the administration of Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

On the clinical side, GCASA opened a 16-bed detox center in Batavia in early 2022. Medication programs now serve more than 300 individuals in two locations, with clinical visits topping 21,000 last year. The Genesee Opioid Treatment Program and outpatient clinic were awarded an integrated certification to create a seamless program for outpatient services.

GCASA scholarships
GCASA Foundation scholars for 2023 are, seated from left, Lauren Reimer, Lilly LeTourneau; standing, Carly Cerasani, Arianna Hale, Valerie Pastore.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

GCASA presses on as overdose numbers rise; Virginia Taylor elected as board president

By Mike Pettinella

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only adversely affected business operations and the economy, it also has fueled a surge in the opioid crisis, placing added strain on those in substance use recovery who have been isolated by state-mandated stay-at-home orders.

John Bennett, executive director of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, drove home that point on Wednesday during the agency’s annual meeting via Zoom videoconferencing.

“Obviously, COVID-19 has changed how we do business and it has changed the landscape of where we were at a year ago,” Bennett said. “From 2017 to 2018, we saw a reduction in opioid overdoses across the country, and just last year alone there was a 5-percent reduction, according to the Centers for Disease Control.”

But this year, things are very different, he said, reporting that the overdose rate went up 18 percent from a year ago in March, 29 percent in April, and a 42 percent in May.

“So, overdoses are up 42 percent across the country, and I don’t think regionally that it’s any different. We’ve seen an increase in overdoses and overdose deaths,” he said.

Latest statistics were compiled by the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a national surveillance system that provides near real-time suspected overdose data.

Despite the disheartening news, Bennett said that GCASA is steadfast in its mission to offer a wide spectrum of services to those in need.

“GCASA has been a regional leader in building new addiction services that normally aren’t in rural communities, and we continue to be committed to maintain our efforts to expand services so that folks in our regions and in our communities don’t have to travel outside the area,” he said.

Bennett, who took over as executive director in 2012, commended the board – “very committed and dedicated individuals who are kind and caring” – and praised his staff.

“To my staff who are on the call today, I’m super proud of all of you,” he said. “You’re always willing to pitch in and assist our community partners and advocate for people suffering from addiction.”

Outgoing Board President Brian Paris conducted the election of new board members and presented the new slate of officers.

Elected to their first three-year terms were as follows:

  • Jennifer Groff -- The director of fiscal operations and child support for Genesee County Department of Social Services, she has served on the GCASA Foundation board since 2018.
  • Stefano Napolitano -- The City of Batavia fire chief, he also serves on the Foundation board and his department participates in the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative in conjunction with GCASA.
  • Jackie Gardner -- She is vice president of client services for Claims Recovery Financial Services.
  • Pattie Kepner -- She is the associate executive of quality assurance for the Arc of Genesee and Orleans, having worked in human services for more than 30 years.
  • Tim Batzel -- He is the business administrator at Alexander Central School, which contracts with GCASA for Prevention services.

Bennett thanked the outgoing board members for the six years of service. They are Paris, president; Shelley Falitico, Shawn Heubusch, Holli Nenni and Daniel Thurber.

The new slate of officers:

-- President, Virginia Taylor.

She holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education, which she received at the age of 50.  She is a recipient of the WNY Network for Women Leaders in Higher Education Bernice Poss Award, a Buffalo Business First 40 Under 40 Recognition Award, and Niagara County Community College Distinguished Alumni Award.

-- Vice President, Victoria Elsenheimer.

She is the executive assistant to the Vice President of Advancement, a position she has held for the past 12 years at Brockport State College. She joined the U.S. Army in 1989 and was enlisted in the Army Reserves for 17 years; honorably discharged as a Sergeant in 2006.

-- Secretary-treasurer, Frederick Rarick.

He is an attorney in Batavia; practicing law for 35 years in the representation of individuals charged with crimes. He is licensed to practice law in New York, California, and Washington, D.C. He was a past board member of the Genesee County Veterans’ Support Network.

Menzie, LeBaron Earn Scholarships

As previously announced, Jillian Menzie, of Bergen, and Ashlyn LeBaron, of Albion, received GCASA Foundation scholarships for 2020.

Each award was for $1,000.

Menzie is a 2020 graduate of Byron-Bergen Central School who plans to attend Brockport State College to pursue a nursing degree with a minor in Spanish.

In addition, she plans to study abroad as well as join the Army ROTC program. Throughout her high school career, she participated in many sports teams, music programs, and clubs. 

LeBaron is a 2020 graduate of Charles C. D’Amico High School in Albion and valedictorian of her class. She plans to attend either Cedarville University in Ohio or Roberts Wesleyan College to pursue a career in nursing.

She, too, participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including sports, band and orchestra.

Disclosure: Story written by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

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