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Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

July 26, 2022 - 11:15am

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Women in recovery who are seeking reunification with their children can be encouraged by the networking that exists among provider agencies in Western New York.

That was the message conveyed Thursday at the quarterly meeting of the GOW Opioid Task Force at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road in the Town of Batavia.

About 35 people attended the meeting – titled “Parent and Family Resources in Our Communities" -- which was the first in-person gathering for the three-county group since January 2020.

Professionals representing Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, Erie and Niagara counties spoke about the services offered by their agencies.

“A lot of women who find out that they're pregnant while in medically assisted treatment or in active use are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma that surrounds them,” said Jessica Budzinack, case manager at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “So, we decided to develop a plan that has case management, parent/family support, childcare supports and other services to provide a continuum of care for these people.”

Budzinack specializes in services for pregnant and post-partum women, and for those who have had children born with exposure to substances.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

She said that GCASA has connected with Dr. Davina Moss-King of Positive Direction & Associates in Buffalo, who works with patients and babies suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.

“We have seen that she (Dr. King) was making a difference in Erie County, and we wanted to know what we can do to meet the need in our rural counties,” Budzinack said. “She has trained our team and we implement the positive direction model here at GCASA.”

The positive direction model focuses on accountability and education – giving women the tools to be successful in their recovery and, ultimately, as parents.

Budzinack said she has worked with dozens of women, including many that have an active Child Protective Services case.

“If someone has an open CPS case while pregnant and it is still active when she gives birth, that child also becomes part of that investigation,” she said. “This is to protect the child from the possibility of ‘derivative neglect’ or abuse. The Office of Children and Family Services has a form that I complete with the participants that outlines a plan of safe care – showing all of the programs and services being offered to the parents.”

She said GCASA has provided such services to nine women over the past 10 months, with only one infant having to stay past the five days that New York State requires for observation. None of those babies had to go to the NICU.

“So, we believe we are making a difference by implementing this model here at GCASA,” she added. “A lot of women – and men – are learning how to be a parent all over again, with some having young children who also have experienced the life of addiction and now are recovering themselves.”

CHILDCARE SERVICES AVAILABLE

GCASA offers family relationship peer coaches who provide support in various areas (such as transportation and assistance with the legal system and Department of Social Services) and teach ways for parents and children to communicate with each other, she said.

Additionally, Budzinack mentioned GCASA’s childcare center in Batavia, which operates Monday through Friday, and allows parents to drop off their young children – 8 weeks to 12 years old – up to three hours per day.

“The children are trained in cognitive play – which means that they learn while they play,” she said. “It’s not just a drop-off site where people sit there and stare at the kids until they're ready to get picked up. They actually have a lot of fun.”

The childcare program also offers special activities, such as trips to the zoo or family game nights, through The Recovery Station.

“We all work closely together; we all talk to each other all the time. And we all just look at each individual and see what their needs are, and talk with each other to see how they can be met,” she advised. “It’s all about rebuilding relationships and becoming effective parents while sober.”

Dawn Stone of Spectrum Health & Human Services, a peer specialist providing mentoring services to those in recovery in Wyoming County, said she works across systems to identify effective treatment plans for mothers, fathers and children.

“We work with Hillside Children’s Center, which deals with families with developmental issues, and we also have what’s called Lighthouse Station, where pregnant moms who don’t have a place to stay – and would otherwise be in jail – can deliver their babies in a non-jail setting,” she said. “We also work with other counties to learn about their programs and refer families to when they come to us.”

THRIVING NETWORK IN BUFFALO AREA

One of those agencies is Buffalo-based Caz Recovery, which was represented at the meeting by Angela Angora, director of Reintegration Services, and Morgan King, program manager at Madonna House, a 17-bed rehabilitation facility for women and women with children in Lockport.

Angora, a Genesee County resident, shared that her mother became addicted to crack cocaine in the early 1990s, a time when there weren’t many treatment and recovery programs.

She said things have changed dramatically over the years, noting that Caz Recovery offers Casa Di Vita, a 19-bed reintegration program for women in Buffalo and Somerset House, a 17-bed reintegration program in Appleton.

“We do accept women that are pregnant, however, they would have to come back with the baby here,” she said. “With this program, the women have more autonomy, they're able to go out into the community and they have community time for visits with their family.”

At each location, Caz Recovery staff provide specialized services to help women get their lives back in order and reach the point of reuniting with their children and learning parenting skills, she said.

“After individuals complete our rehabilitation program, our community residences – congregate settings – focus on volunteering, job placement and outpatient counseling, and they receive their services off site,” Angora added. “This is where you will see a greater focus on that family involvement.”

Caz Recovery also offers supportive living, with 40 beds in Erie County and 14 beds in Niagara County, serving women and men with children, as well as a housing program for families ready for that important step, she said.

BIG PLANS FOR ORLEANS COUNTY

Shannon Ford, GCASA’s director of Communications & Development, shared that the local agency will be opening a women’s residence in Orleans County next year.

“We’re hoping to have a lot of those same kind of services available for women in our rural communities,” she said. “Currently, we work with Spectrum to help those in Wyoming County coming into our residential programs, but we have not been able to offer anything specifically for women and children to this kind of level.

“So, we’re extremely excited to model our programs after that. And I'm very grateful that GCASA has been able to make referrals over many years to Madonna House.”

For more about programs for women and children in this area, contact Budzinack at 585-813-8583 or at [email protected].

Photo: Speakers at the recent meeting of the GOW Opioid Task Force are, from left, Christen Foley, task force coordinator; Dawn Stone of Spectrum Health & Human Services, Jessica Budzinack of GCASA, and Morgan King and Angela Angora of Caz Recovery.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

July 13, 2022 - 1:57pm

clyde_graphic_1.jpgDid you know:

  • That more than two-thirds of students in Genesee and Orleans counties in grades 7, 9 and 11 who reported drinking alcoholic beverages said they got it at home – some with their parents’ permission and others without their parents’ knowledge of the behavior?
  • That slightly less than 20 percent of 11th graders in the two counties reported past 30-day use of an electronic cigarette or vape pen with nicotine?
  • That less than 40 percent of students perceive there is harm caused by marijuana use, which represents a significant decrease over previous years?

Those are just three of the critical data points derived from the Community-Level Youth Development Evaluation survey administered to students in grades 7, 9 and 11 in 2021. The survey was commissioned by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and facilitated with the assistance of Catalyst Insight of Depew.

The survey, known as CLYDE, is modeled after the former Communities That Care Youth Survey, a nationally validated study developed at the University of Washington to assess youth attitudes, behaviors and community risk and protective factors. It also incorporates elements from the Prevention Needs Assessment Survey by Bach Harrison.

GCASA has been surveying youth at the Genesee and Orleans schools it has had relationships with for several years. The latest survey resulted in 2,234 valid responses from pupils in the three grade levels.

“It was determined to survey these particular grades, especially 11th graders – understanding that they would be seniors the following year and that strategies could be applied to prevention efforts targeting those students, if needed,” said Shannon Ford, director of Prevention at GCASA.

GAUGING PUPILS' USAGE, PERCEPTIONS

The survey’s questions are formulated in a way to procure accurate information regarding students’ usage of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and their perception when it comes to parental attitudes and the degree of harm caused by these substances.

Core measures include past 30-day use, perception of harm of substance use, perception of parental disapproval of substance use and perception of peer disapproval of substance use.

Risk factors explored -- related to an increased likelihood of substance use problems for youth -- included favorable laws and norms, perceived availability of drugs, family conflict, commitment to school and peers’ attitudes and use of alcohol, cigarettes and/or drugs.

Protective factors, or areas where youth can be shielded from substance use, include opportunities for social involvement, family attachment and belief in laws and norms.

“In general, students believe that their parents are opposed to ATOD (alcohol, tobacco and other drug) use, but it is concerning that 69 percent of those who reported they drink – about 23 percent of those surveyed – say they obtained the alcohol at home, both with and without parental permission,” Ford said.

Sheila Harding, GCASA’s assistant director of Prevention, said the agency continues to emphasize the dangers involved with students’ drinking at home or at their friends’ homes.

“Too many parents are not understanding the risks involved in allowing underage drinking in their homes,” she said. “There are liability issues, potential injury or even death and criminal implications. The responsible answer is to not allow this activity.”

VAPING: AN INCREASING CONCERN

Vaping is an increasing concern, Ford said, adding that “an alarming number” of 7th-graders – 3 percent -- have indicated they are vaping with nicotine.

As noted above, 19.7 percent of 11th graders in the two counties reported vaping with nicotine in the past 30 days while another 11.1 percent reported vaping with marijuana over the same time period.

“Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances around and now we’re seeing vaping with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis),” Harding said. “These vape pens are being marketed to our youth and we’re seeing harmful effects on the adolescent brain which isn’t fully developed.”

The survey revealed that marijuana use by 11th-graders was at 14.4 percent – which is down by about 50 percent from the survey of three years ago. Interestingly, the students’ perception of harm is at 38.7 percent, which also is less than previous years.

“This perception data is likely due to cannabis legalization and the use of medical marijuana,” Ford said. “But just because it is legal for adults, it doesn’t remove the risk to students. It’s still illegal for those under 21.”

LEGALIZING POT CHANGES VIEWS

 On a national level, rapid decreases in marijuana risk perceptions by adolescents have not translated to a dramatic drop in usage, however.

“Prevention leaders may need to consider different strategies as well as targeting cannabis use risk perceptions,” Ford offered. “As more states legalize recreational marijuana use, further monitoring of predicted use trends are essential.”

Ford pointed out that although much of the national focus is on the opioid epidemic, GCASA and other agencies haven’t pulled back their prevention strategies when it comes to alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

“We’ve been able to secure grants for compliance checks of retail establishments in both counties – something that we haven’t done in awhile but will be getting back to,” she said. “In the past, we have found that bars, restaurants and convenience stores are doing a good job of not selling to those under the legal drinking age.”

Other key findings from the 2021 CLYDE survey are as follows:

  • Past 30-day alcohol use in grade 11 fell to 19.6 percent – down from 46 percent in grade 11 in Orleans in 2019 and from 33 percent in grade 10 and 50 percent in Genesee in 2018.
  • Around 90 percent of 11th-graders indicate parental disapproval of alcohol and cigarettes but that drops to 78 percent when it comes to marijuana.
  • Concerning peer disapproval, overall the percentages range from 78 to 88 regarding alcohol, tobacco and prescription drug use, but it falls to 74 percent concerning marijuana.

When looking at risk factors, 60 percent of students surveyed indicated a low commitment to school was the leading risk factor, followed by 45 percent that reported parental attitudes favorable to substance use and conflicts in the family unit.

ADDRESSING PROTECTIVE FACTORS

On the protective side, 71.6 percent responded that social skills were important, followed by 65 percent who indicated the importance of extracurricular activities in school and 60 percent who indicated the availability of community service programs.

“Social skills are enhanced by evidence-based programs in schools offered by GCASA and by the individual schools, while prosocial involvement is enhanced by community service hours and volunteering,” Ford said.

Prevention initiatives – by agencies such as GCASA and through school-based programming – have led to a significant decrease in binge drinking (five or more alcoholic drinks in a row over the past two weeks), she added.

“Overall, just 5 percent reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. That means that 95 percent of students are not doing this,” she said. “We’d like to believe that our prevention efforts are taking hold.”

Another area of concern is the mental and emotional health of students, especially coming out of two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The survey indicated that 33.4 percent of students reported that sometimes life is not worth it, 44 percent said I am no good and that 40 percent were depressed – and it was consistent across the three grade levels,” Ford said. “Without question, COVID has had an effect on students, but more resources need to be devoted to addressing this issue.”

For more information about the CLYDE survey or GCASA’s Prevention efforts, contact Harding at [email protected].

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

April 21, 2022 - 11:51am

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By integrating the opioid treatment program and outpatient counseling clinic, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse has connected the care warranted in a society dealing with the effects of a global pandemic and the stress caused by economic uncertainty.

“Here at GCASA and, hopefully, at other agencies in the behavioral health field, we take a person-centered approach, and medication and treatment go hand-in-hand,” said Kathy Hodgins, chief clinical officer at the nonprofit agency based on East Main Street in Batavia.

The medication prescribed to a person struggling with substance abuse disorder, whether it be suboxone or methadone, is going to help with the physical symptoms, Hodgins said, while counseling with GCASA trained clinicians is important in unlocking changes in behavior.

“It’s the same with a medical condition, such as diabetes and heart disease. You can give a medication to lower blood pressure, but it's not going to be as effective if you do not have a change in lifestyle to go along with it,” she added. “We give them the tools, not just medication, to learn how to cope with anxiety, depression and trauma without using illicit drugs.”

The OTP (or methadone) clinic attached to the back of the main building opened in the fall of 2018 as a “standalone” clinic.  Hodgins said GCASA recently applied for – and received – a license to integrate the OTP clinic with the outpatient clinic.

“Until now, individuals receiving treatment at the OTP clinic could only participate in services offered through the OTP clinic.  This really limited treatment options for individuals in the OTP,” she said.

STAFFING FLEXIBILITY IS PARAMOUNT

With the integration, GCASA has been able to optimize the utilization of its medical professionals and counselors, she said.

“This really allows our counselors to help our patients at the OTP and outpatient clinic by providing a more person-centered approach to care – regardless of whether the individual is on suboxone or methadone. Patients can now attend groups and individual sessions that fit their individual recovery plan and needs,” she explained.

Shannon Murphy, director of Treatment at the Batavia clinic, said the integration has additionally resulted in scheduling flexibility for the staff, something of utmost importance in light that about 10 full-time counselors are providing services to around 240 patients in OTP and another 220 or so in the outpatient clinic.

The demand for services has gone up considerably in the past two years, she said, referring to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on those at risk of a reoccurrence as well as other societal factors.

Along with substance use disorder counselors, GCASA’s Batavia clinic also employs a medical director, assistant director, clinical supervisors, two nurse practitioners, five full-time nurses and a physician’s assistant.

FENTANYL: A GAME-CHANGER

Having the proper number of medical personnel on staff has taken on added significance with the emergence of the deadly drug fentanyl, Murphy said.

“Fentanyl has dramatically changed our work as people are sicker now than ever before,” she offered. “Treatment methods that used to help people – prior to the opioid epidemic are just not enough anymore. Medication Assisted Treatment has become a vital part of the services we offer.

“Before we can start to help someone heal from an opioid use disorder, people need to physically feel better.  Fentanyl has made this more challenging due to how harmful it is and how prevalent it has become.”

Murphy said that five or six years ago, individuals would test positive for heroin, for example, and they would be shocked when they learned they also had fentanyl in their system.

“At that time, they were scared. Now, they come in and they’re positive for fentanyl only and they are not afraid of it because they don’t think they will be the next to overdose,” she said. “Similar to when we drive too fast or check a text on our phone while driving. We don't think getting hurt will happen to us, until it does.”

Allison Parry-Gurak, director of Residential Services, said tests are showing that fentanyl is present in many illicit substances, not just heroin.

“For example, we have individuals with a stimulant use disorder whose primary substance is cocaine.  More and more frequently, we are finding when we test them they are also positive for fentanyl but they have no history with opioids.” she said.

The scariest part of the fentanyl epidemic is the frequency of overdose.

“We've gotten phone calls from agencies in Rochester and reporting they’ve had six overdoses,” Murphy said. “The hardest part is that the people we see that are having fatal overdoses are patients who have gone long periods without use. And then for various reasons or circumstance they have a reoccurrence, sometimes only one time, and those are the people that are dying because their bodies aren't used to the fentanyl.”

A CONTINUUM OF CARE

Parry-Gurak oversees the Atwater Community Residence, as well as several other residential programs offered by GCASA. She said the agency’s ability to expand services over the years gives patients a greater chance in their recovery.

“Well, I think the beauty of this campus is that we pretty much offer the whole continuum of care all on one campus. Additionally, all of our programs have such great working relationships with each other and are able to work collaboratively to support our patients,” she said.

“So, there’s the residences plus now we have the detox center for those in need of medical supervision while they start their recovery journey (usually three to seven days), and then there is the outpatient treatment programs all in one place.”

Hodgins mentioned that the system is working.

“Having a campus like this where we can do the continuum of care is a great thing,” she said. “People will come to detox and then transition to Atwater, and/or walk over to the clinic for their treatment.”

GCASA also offers The Recovery Station, a drug- and alcohol-free social setting at the former Bohn’s Restaurant building on Clinton Street Road, and a shuttle service for those in need of transportation.

For Hodgins and Murphy, both longtime employees at GCASA, integration, effective medications and counseling, and expansion of services provide opportunities for people with a substance use disorder to live healthy lives.

TIME TO WITHHOLD JUDGMENT

All three women also mentioned the need to eliminate the stigma associated with substance use disorder.

“We deal with a disease that is encompassed in shame, guilt and hurt,” Parry-Gurak said. “A lot of times, people that are pointing the finger saying to us, ‘What are you doing? You're not helping them? Or you're just giving them more ‘drugs’ are either someone who has been hurt by someone with a substance use disorder or someone who truly does not understand how difficult and complex this disease is.”

Murphy acknowledged that substance use disorder is “an ugly disease, and the behaviors that can be associated with it are not pretty.”

“Therefore, the stigma associated with substance use disorder is so strong in our society and this creates an additional obstacle for those with a substance use disorder,” she added.

When asked how she measures success, Hodgins said the word has different meanings for different people.

“It's really hard to define,” she responded. “People ask me all the time, what's your success rate? It's very hard to define because it's all individualized.”

ACCESS TO SERVICES

Hodgins, Murphy and Parry-Gurak said they know that many area residents are in need of substance use services and that GCASA has an open access policy where walk-ins are accepted.

Murphy said all prospective patients are assessed to see what treatment is appropriate,

“It’s about having a conversation.  With methadone, it’s a little different because things need to be done before they're actually admitted,” Murphy said. “There's a very specific process but it all starts with a phone call to our main number, 343-1124.”

For more information about GCASA’s treatment programs, call 585-343-1124 or visit gcasa.net. Walk-in assessments, with no appointment necessary, are done on Tuesday through Thursday prior to 11:15 a.m.

Photo: From left, Holly Main, assistant director; Kathy Hodgins, chief clinical officer; Danielle Ludeke, integrated clinic director, at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

January 28, 2022 - 11:42am

rob-kent_photo.jpgAccording to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, about 100,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses in a year’s time through May 2021 and that number only will increase unless treatment providers emphasize the human aspect of substance use disorder.

That was the message conveyed from Haymarket, Va., by Rob Kent, general counsel for the White House Office of National Drug Policy, during last week’s GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting via Zoom videoconferencing.

“We need to understand in that 100,000 number … that’s 100,000 people who have brothers, sisters mothers, fathers, grandparents and kids themselves. It’s human,” said Kent, who previously served in a similar position for the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports and frequently worked with personnel at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

Kent said that when people view addiction beyond the human element, “we just we lose the opportunity to do what we need to do -- which is to help people stay alive.”

During his time with OASAS, Kent was instrumental in creating the Certified Recovery Peer Advocate program that enlists people, primarily, who are in recovery and can relate to those in need.

“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” he said. “We mandate that insurance -- both Medicaid and private insurance -- pay for them because they help engage people and they're even more critical right now.

“People respond positively to others who can come to them and say, ‘I know what you're going through, I walked that walk before -- I know what it's like.’ I'm not saying they're the end-all, but they’re certainly a key component of what needs to be done.”

GCASA has woven CRPAs into its recovery policy, utilizing peers at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road and in other programs in both counties.

Kent pointed out that illegal fentanyl has become a major problem.

“I know there's an uptick with meth (methamphetamine), but illegal fentanyl is being mixed into everything,” he said. “And I think it's important for us to understand that it is lethal; it kills people easily. And it it's changed the ballgame.”

Of that 100,000 number, more than 5,000 are dying in New York State, Kent said.

Kent said the federal government has sent billions of dollars to the states in supplemental block grant funding. In March 2021, New York received $104 million from the stimulus package and, a few months later, received another $90 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

He said another $50 million to $100 million is expected to flow to the states over the next few years.

While the money is vital, spending it properly is just as important, Kent said.

“I’m not paying enough attention to New York to know how much has been spent, but they should be spending it because people are dying right now,” he said. “I’m very optimistic with the new (OASAS) commissioner (Chinazo Cunningham) that she gets what's going on. She has a heart; she cares and she will try her best to do the right thing.”

Kent said the Biden Administration has made harm reduction a key element of its comprehensive approach to addressing substance use disorders through prevention, treatment, and recovery where individuals who use substances set their own goals. Federal funds are being used to purchase fentanyl test strips and other testing equipment, sponsor syringe service programs, expand access to Naloxone and create guidelines for streamlined and expanded buprenorphine prescribing.

“I know there's reactions (from people) to harm reduction generally into the services I just talked about,” he said. “Some folks will tell you, you're enabling the drug use. I say that when we don't do those things, we're ignoring that it's happening.”

Connecting with those dealing with substance use disorder in genuine and meaningful ways ultimately will make the biggest difference, Kent said.

“We need to understand that we can continue to sit here and talk about drug use as a failure of will – a lack of personal strength, whatever you want to call it -- and we can continue to do that and watch more and more people in this country die from drug use, or we could embrace people,” he said. “We could understand they're human beings. They have families, they have loved ones, and when we focus on it from that perspective, everything then becomes possible.”

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

January 25, 2022 - 9:54am

Press release:

Evidence-based prevention services at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse will be receiving a nearly $40,000 boost thanks to an award announced over the weekend by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

GCASA is one of 87 agencies throughout New York’s 10 economic development regions that had their services negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Grants will be administered by the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports.

The local nonprofit organization will use the funds to enhance its environmental strategy efforts, specifically to fund law enforcement compliance checks in Genesee and Orleans counites, and also to purchase programming for school prevention education and to upgrade its ability to use technology in the delivery of its services, Prevention Director Shannon Ford said.

“We are thankful to Gov. Hochul’s office for accepting our grant application,” Ford said, “and are looking forward to working with the City of Batavia Police Department, Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and Orleans County Sheriff’s Office to make sure establishments that serve alcohol are checking IDs.”

About two-thirds of the $39,417 in funding will be appropriated for environmental strategies, including social media posts and targeted advertising, Ford added.

In its grant application, GCASA indicated that individuals or businesses found to be out of compliance in the distribution of alcohol will be referred to the agency’s Responsible Server Training program for employees.

“For the media portion of the strategy, we will submit press releases to local media recognizing establishments who are in compliance with the Alcohol Beverage Control laws specific to underage drinking,” Ford said. “We will also use social media to boost prevention messages and create targeted ads for youth and adults regarding the dangers of underage drinking and consequences for serving underage youth.  In addition, we will create and print materials targeting adults and youth with prevention messages regarding the dangers of underage drinking.”

In announcing the awards, Hochul spoke off alcohol’s impact on her family.

“Like many New Yorkers, my family has been affected by addiction," she said. "Expanding support services for those dealing with addiction is as vital as ever as we battle the opioid crisis. We will continue to work with local partners to boost preventative measures and treatment to help set New Yorkers on the path to recovery.”

OASAS Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham said, “Prevention is an important pillar of the OASAS continuum of care, and during the COVID-19 pandemic our prevention providers have faced unprecedented challenges in delivering their services. Providers awarded funding through this initiative have the opportunity to greatly increase their prevention infrastructure, and make the changes that they need to continue to provide these lifesaving services in the communities they serve.”

January 18, 2022 - 11:30am

rob-kent_photo.jpgPress release:

Rob Kent, former general counsel for the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports who currently is serving in a similar position for the White House Office of National Drug Policy, will be the keynote speaker at the GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting on Thursday.

The public is invited to watch and participate in the meeting, which is scheduled from 9:30 to 11 a.m. via Zoom videoconferencing.

To register, go to www.gowopioidtaskforce.org. Once registered, a confirmation email with Zoom information and a link to join the meeting will be sent.

Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro said that Kent (pictured above) will share the federal government’s perspective on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as what is being done at the national level to combat the opioid crisis.

“It is important that we continue the conversation surrounding the opioid crisis and ways we can help amidst the pandemic,” Ferraro said. “People in our community are still struggling and in need of support and treatment services. This virtual meeting helps us to stay connected and to safely reach even more of the concerned citizens in our tri-county region.”

Ferraro said she will share highlights of the task force’s accomplishments over the past year and provide updates on the various work groups.

Kent is well respected among several professional groups, receiving glowing endorsements from the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Association upon his hiring by the Biden administration.

In his role at OASAS, Kent provided overall legal support, policy guidance, and direction to the OASAS Executive Office and all divisions of the agency.

He led OASAS efforts to implement New York State’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force recommendations, which included the Combat Addiction/Heroin Campaign, the Federal Opioid Targeted Grant program, and Medicaid Redesign Team initiatives. He also led efforts on the implementation of historic legislation to increase access to treatment, including harm reduction services.

Kent has co-authored articles on patient confidentiality and sober homes and has presented nationally and throughout New York State on the addiction system of care.

Most recently, he served as vice president of Advocacy and general counsel for the American Association of Orthodontists, a national healthcare organization.

For more information on the GOW Opioid Task Force, contact Ferraro at [email protected].

January 7, 2022 - 11:49am

campbell_1.jpgStephanie Campbell has felt the pain of addiction in her life and now — as a key employee at the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports in Albany – she works to help others overcome the devastating effects of substance use disorder.

So, on Thursday afternoon, as she toured the new detox center on the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse campus on East Main Street and spoke to the 50 or so people attending an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony, Campbell’s appreciation and gratitude came shining through.

Campbell (photo above) introduced herself as the director of OASAS’ Behavioral Health Ombudsman office, a program that connects people to substance use and mental health treatment.

“But, more importantly,” she said. “My name is Stephanie Campbell and I'm a person in sustained recovery. And what that means for me is somewhere in 1989, someone picked me out of the gutter, and gave me the message of hope. And, and I say that because so many people right now are desperate for that hope and that care and that compassion.”

One of four speakers during the open house, Campbell said that “community and connection” – vital aspects of GCASA’s mission to provide comprehensive services at all stages of substance use disorder – are what turned her life around.

“I can tell you that back in 1989, when someone reached into that gutter and picked me up, and gave me that message of hope, and that compassion and treating me like a human being, I was able to go from being homeless street kid to having three master's degrees, being a professor, and being a director and having an extraordinary career,” she said. “And that's not to brag— there's millions of people just like me — who get the care and compassion that they need.”

She then turned to GCASA Executive Director John Bennett, commending his team as having “some of the most heart-warming, heart-feeling” people on it.

“When someone's in pain, and they look in someone's eyes, they know when that care is there,” she said, “and they know when that connection is there, that compassion -- and that makes all the difference.”

Campbell said hundreds of thousands of people are dying from drug overdose.

“I get the calls from the mothers and fathers on the phone desperately begging for help for their loved ones. I get people who can't get access to the medication and who are incapable and don't know where to go,” she said. “I also get the follow up calls from people who say, ‘If you hadn’t helped, I would be dead today.'”

She said it’s “the heroic folks,” such as the people at GCASA, that are making a difference.

“Talk about essential workers, you guys are saving lives,” she said. “And each life that you save is someone who gets to go back into their community, take care of their kids, be a productive member and pay their taxes.”

Bennett Expresses Thanks to OASAS

bennett_1.jpgBennett (photo at right) shared the circumstances that ignited the project around five years ago, citing statistics showing that Genesee County had one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the state at 37 deaths per 100,000 people.

He said that Rob Kent, lead counsel for OASAS at the time, was instrumental in getting the funding for the two-story, 20-bed facility.

“I went to him and said that rural communities just don’t have the services that we need and we have just as many problems in our rural communities, but we just lack the depth that some of the urban communities have in place,” Bennett said. “We have 3 ½ acres here, and could you help me build services that meet the demand that we have in our community?”

Bennett said GCASA received a grant in 2018, but the pandemic put the project on hold until last year. Previously, the agency constructed a methadone clinic across the parking lot on the campus.

“We’re incredibly indebted and thankful to OASAS,” Bennett said.

Speaking from the experience of seeing the negative effects of alcohol abuse years ago in his family, Bennett said he foresees the detox center as a starting point toward ending generational cycles of substance use disorder.

“There weren’t services like this back then to help families, and then what happens is it just goes on for generations and generations. I just want the community and the staff who are going to be working here to know that everything you do – every person who walks through this front door – you’re going to impact their life.”

Bennett sees the detox center as a “building of hope – a wonderful place for people to start their recovery.”

“It’s going to be a place of hope and, hopefully, a place where people can break the cycle of addiction for themselves and their families as the start the beginning of their recovery,” he said.

He also credited the Orchard Park architectural firm of Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst for designing a building that fits with the campus’ historic theme.

“They’ve actually done the last four or five projects for us, and they do a wonderful job in keeping with the historic nature of some of our buildings,” he said. “As you can see, the outside of this building is in keeping with the Atwater House (Community Residence).”

The official opening of the detox center is yet to determined.

Others speakers were Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, GCASA Board Finance Chair Fred Rarick and OASAS Regional Director Colleen Mance.

-- Stephen Hawley presented a certificate of merit to GCASA, thanking the agency for its efforts because substance abuse and addiction “has not gone away as a result of this (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I’m sure that it’s grown more dire,” he said. “The challenges we faced in our lives because of the pandemic have had an especially harsh impact on folks in recovery and those who support them -- all of you here today.

“With circumstances changing constantly in this fight, it’s critical that we remain persistent in our work to raise awareness of ongoing substance abuse and help those who are affected by it.

“This facility will give hope to hundreds of folks struggling with substance abuse over the course of the upcoming years, and I’m certain that it will help save many lives.”

-- Colleen Mance emphasized the importance in affording everyone “the same opportunity to access treatment and a continuum of care.”

“Congratulations to GCASA on this new milestone. I know it’ll be a huge success and we looked forward to the benefits that this will bring to Genesee County and the surrounding area,” she said.

-- Fred Rarick, a defense attorney, noted that many of his clients have families and friends who are affected by substance use disorder.

“You can have one individual in a family ... who has substance abuse issues and that impacts the entire family. It impacts their children who, many times, follow in the footsteps of their parents to become involved in the criminal justice system.

“(GCASA) is on the front lines of what we want to accomplish, and together we can all do it … I think it has come a long way from some of the initial programs. When people take advantage of these programs, they’re less inclined to be out on the streets, committing crimes.”

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From left, Colleen Mance, OASAS regional director; Randi Johnson, detox center physician's assistant; Stephanie Campbell, NYS Behavioral Health Ombudsman Office director; Allison Parry-Gurak, GCASA director of Residential Services; John Bennett, GCASA executive director; Fred Rarick, GCASA board finance chair; Assemblyman Stephen Hawley; Kathy Hodgins, GCASA chief clinical officer; City Council members Tammy Schmidt and Eugene Jankowski Jr.

Photos by Howard Owens.

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Bennett conducting a tour of the new detox center. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

December 24, 2021 - 9:12am

shannon_murphy.jpgFirmly entrenched in a profession where compassion and knowledge work hand in hand, Shannon Murphy, director of Treatment/Batavia office at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, stands out from the crowd.

“Shannon is more committed and the most dedicated in this field than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said GCASA Executive Director John Bennett, marking Murphy’s longevity award as a 25-year employee of the nonprofit agency on East Main Street.

“She loves the patients. That’s her strength and her gift. She’s always there for her team, the agency and the people she serves.”

Murphy (photo at right) was one of 14 GCASA employees to receive longevity awards, ranging from 25 years to five years with the company.

Not one for being in the public eye, she said she “was so grateful” for her job and her co-workers.

“I love everybody here,” she said. “It has been an honor.”

Treatment Director Kathy Hodgins, who has worked with Murphy for the past 20 years, called her colleague “a game-changer.”

“She is the most loyal person I’ve ever met – my comic relief (noting Murphy’s quick wit) – and sincere and genuinely compassionate,” Hodgins said.

Others recognized for their longevity were as follows:

TWENTY YEARS

  • Liz Riter, director of Corporate Compliance/Quality Assurance, Batavia office;
  • Lisa Schutt, chemical dependency counselor, Batavia office.

FIFTEEN YEARS

  • Holly Main, assistant director of Treatment, Batavia office;
  • Sue Murphy, registered nurse, Batavia/Albion offices.

TEN YEARS

  • Sarah Millen, billing clerk, Batavia office:
  • Shellye Dale-Hall, prevention educator, Batavia office.

FIVE YEARS

  • McKayla Burvid, registered nurse, Batavia office;
  • Beth Collee, executive secretary, Batavia office;
  • Gretchen Franke, registered nurse, Batavia/Albion offices;
  • Shannon Ford, director of Communications & Development and Prevention, Batavia office;
  • Dawn Sagerman, director of Prevention Resource Center, Batavia office;
  • Gina Henry, prevention educator, Batavia office;
  • Matt Martin, chemical dependency counselor, Batavia office.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is publicist for GCASA.

October 31, 2021 - 4:35pm

greg_ireland_1.jpgIn the eyes of City of Batavia Fire Captain Greg Ireland, his department made a wise and potentially life-saving decision to join the Public Safety Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative in Genesee County.

Ireland, speaking at the GOW Opioid Task Force meeting via Zoom earlier this month, said access to a specially-built foyer in front of the fire headquarters on Evans Street for those struggling with substance use has made a big difference – not only for those individuals who are seeking help but also for the fire department personnel assigned to support them.

The Task Force, in conjunction with the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, hosted a public event at the fire station this summer to welcome the City of Batavia FD into the fold – joining the City of Batavia and Village of Le Roy police departments and the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.

The City of Batavia FD is the first fire department in the state to be a part of the PAARI network.

Ireland (photo at right) said that by educating them about substance use and addiction, firefighters learned to understand what some people are going through.

“There were some in our department who said they didn’t want those people in our building; that they didn’t want to deal with addicts,” he said. “Through education, that was a very easy hurdle to change. Educating our firefighters and employees to the opioid crisis.”

PERCEPTIONS HAVE CHANGED

He also said a key factor in the education process was when a GCASA peer advocate came to the fire department and met with every one of the firefighters.

“That really bridged that gap. They were able to see that these are real people who have real struggles and eventually can be successful,” he said.

Ireland, in thanking the GRHF for a grant that made it possible, pointed to the secure area for PAARI intake at the building’s front door as overcoming another hurdle.

“We were able to build a double-door foyer for intake now, and that’s where the process starts,” he said. “But a firefighter is assigned to stay with that person from the minute they walk in until the peer counselor from GCASA arrives.”

Ireland took on the role as coordinator of the PAARI program for the department after learning the success the Chatham Police Department had in starting several years ago. The initial thought of Chatham organizers was to reduce petty crime by taking those with substance use disorder off the street by getting them help.

“Think about these folks who have that substance use disorder, and they’ll basically take from anything to feed their habit,” he said. “So, what they found is that by eliminating the people with substance use disorder in his community, they reduced the petty crime – theft and things of that nature because people weren’t stealing to buy drugs. That was the whole goal of this program. It reduces crime and there’s some scientific evidence to prove that.”

Ireland said medics use special business cards – printed with “Addiction is not a crime, it’s a disease” and “Help is available 24/7” – when responding to calls involving drug use.

“We will leave the cards on the kitchen table as we leave,” he said. “Our hope is someday maybe they will pick that up, see it and maybe it’s the right time for them to accept the help.”

NON-ARREST PATHWAYS TO TREATMENT

PAARI’s mission is to provide training, guidance, support, and resources to help law enforcement agencies nationwide create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery.

It was founded by the Gloucester (Mass.) Police Department along with the Angel Program in June 2015 – creating a simple, stigma-free entry point to treatment and reframing addiction as a disease.

Under this program, those struggling with substance use can go to the law enforcement agency 24/7 and receive help, stigma-free, GOW Opioid Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro said.

“What that means is that an officer will meet them at the door and they will help them to get the help that they need,” she said. “If they have drugs on them, police or fire officials will dispose of those drugs for them, they will connect them with the resources for treatment and recovery, and kind of be that first entry point to getting help.”

One of those resources is the support of a GCASA peer support advocate – a team player, often in recovery, who steps into the role of providing a bridge between providers and clients that facilitates the medical and psychosocial care of the client.

Rob Shields, who spoke during the meeting, is one of those people.

MAKING CONNECTIONS IS THE KEY

“As someone in recovery, I wish that I knew about a program like this due to the fact that I might have not gone through the struggles that I went through,” Shields said before explaining his responsibilities.rob_shields_1.jpg

He said that those struggling with substance use need someone they can connect with – someone who can relate to their situation.

“A peer advocate or peer support advocate emphasizes their support for the peer they're working with,” he said. “They connect with the peer and fight for what they need. Peer advocates can be found next to peers in court. They help them come up with coping skills and ways to monitor their own progress.”

Shields (photo at right) emphasized that substance dependency can be “a scary place.”

“You get to the point where you don’t know where to turn, and you don’t know who to talk to. You’re in so deep, that nothing else matters in your life,” he explained. “You think that people won’t give you the time of day, but with the PAARI program you have people that are there to support you and connect you to the resources to help you on your road to recovery.”

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Along with the options of going to the agencies mentioned above, other avenues for those seeking help with substance use disorder are the 24/7 telephone hotline -- CARE + CRISIS / WYO CO CRISIS 585-283-5200 / PEER PHONE LINE 585-815-1800 -- and GCASA’s The Recovery Station at 5256 Clinton Street Rd., Batavia.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

September 20, 2021 - 10:42am

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Two members of a prominent family with deep ties to Batavia – notably a pair of the stately homes that now are part of the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse campus – paid a visit last week to the community that has provided them with many fond memories.

Stephen Atwater of Walnut Creek, Calif., and his sister, Sarah Atwater Mayer, of Scarborough (Westchester County), are the grandchildren of Edward Perrin and Rowena Washburn Atwater, who purchased the historic house at 424 East Main St. in 1937. Edward P. Atwater was president of Batavia National Bank.

(Stephen and Sarah are in the photo above with John Bennett, GCASA executive director, in front of the home at 424 East Main St.)

Built in the 1830s, the Greek Revival and Italianate-style structure has for the past 23 years served as GCASA’s Atwater Community Residence, a place where up to 17 adult male and female clients can live while receiving professional services to help in their recovery.

Furthermore, Stephen and Sarah are the great-grandchildren of Judge Edward A. Washburn, who owned what is known as the Washburn house at 430 East Main St., which now is GCASA’s primary substance use disorder treatment facility.

And their mother, the late Patricia Carr Atwater, was the granddaughter of C.L Carr, who founded the Carr’s department store in downtown Batavia. It was later taken over by her father, Robert Carr, and then her brother, (the late) Steve Carr.

Stephen and Sarah’s aunt, Beth Carr, who resides in Stafford, was closely involved with managing Carr’s store with her husband, Steve, prior to its closing.

“It was known as Batavia’s Finest,” Stephen said of the store, “and it still is.”

'WE HOLD THE CITY NEAR TO OUR HEARTS'

“Moreover, we’re proud to be a part of Batavia and to have a strong attachment to the city based on our family history as it relates to the Atwater, Washburn, and Carr families,” he said. “We hold the city near and dear to our hearts.”

Stephen and his twin brother, John, and sisters, Sarah and Martha, were born at Genesee Memorial Hospital in Batavia and, although they grew up in Rochester, spent much time during their childhood years in the 1960s at their grandparents’ home at 424 East Main St.

Sarah and Stephen said they are pleased about the way GCASA has maintained the architectural heritage of all of the houses on its East Main Street campus.

“We think it’s wonderful,” Sarah said, with Stephen adding, “We’re happy to see it is being used and that they have maintained the appearance and integrity of the houses. The fact that they maintained the character of the house is priceless.”

A special feature of the interior is the Mexican mahogany paneling in the library, which was one of the last jobs completed by the Batavia Woodworking Company before it ceased operations in 1939.

Stephen said he and Sarah were in the area to take care of things at the Rochester home of their father, Julian “Joe” Washburn Atwater, who passed away on July 30 at the age of 90. They also went to Le Roy to check on the headstone of their father, who will be buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, where his brother, Edward, and his wife, Patricia Carr Atwater, are buried.

Julian Atwater received the nickname Joe while he worked at the former Massey-Ferguson plant in Batavia back in the ‘50s, Stephen recalled.

“Someone asked him what his name was and he said, ‘Just call me Joe.”

Their father, who went on to become a corporate lawyer in Rochester, had two older brothers -- the late Edward, and James, now 93. They were the sixth generation of their family to live in Western New York.

A 'GIFTED' CHILDHOOD IN BATAVIA

Sarah said the many days in Batavia with her grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins contributed to a special childhood.

“We had a very, very gifted childhood by being able to spend so much time in Batavia in the sixties,” she said, noting that the four Atwater children would take the Trailways bus from their Rochester home to Batavia to stay at their grandfather’s house.

Stephen said he remembers sliding on the bannister and playing billiards on the pool table that was “right at the bottom of the staircase.”

“And they had a cat named Walter Mitty,” he said. “One of the things we did when we got to the house would be to try to find the cat, but often times we couldn’t find him.”

He said he recalls going to the Treadway Inn with his grandmother to have roast beef au jus, dining at Mancuso’s Italian Restaurant and attending St. James Episcopal Church.

Sarah said she enjoyed the walks down Main Street and having lunch at the counter at JJ Newberry or going to see their maternal grandfather at Carr’s store.

“I love Batavia but when I come here, I try to imagine it the way it used to be,” she said. “It’s getting better, though. My brother and I went to Eli Fish and the brewery – because GCASA has one of Eli Fish’s old houses, too. We noticed the old JJ Newberry sign.

“Carr’s Department Store (being gone) makes us really sad because we loved that. I still talk to people who say their parents went there for everything. They bought their furniture there, their makeup, their jewelry, their baby clothes. We rode the elevator; I remember the gumball machine on the third floor.”

ATWATER HOUSE CALLED 'ICONIC'

Stephen, a veterinarian specializing in treating animals with cancer, and Sarah, who is retired, were joined by their brother, John, on a phone call with The Batavian. Martha passed away in 2013.

John, a chemist from Potomac, Md., called the house at 424 East Main St. “iconic.”

“It represents the wonderful times that I spent there as a kid in Batavia, which was such a fun town to be in,” he said, with Sarah adding, “A charming, small town.”

Although the long row of storefronts on the north side of Main Street gave way to Urban Renewal in the early 1970s, Sarah remarked that the city still has “a lot of potential.”

“We still love it,” she said, asking about the Greet yogurt plant (which now is HP Hood in the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park), O-At-Ka Milk Products and other places of employment to attract young people to Batavia.

Ultimately, Stephen said they consider it an honor that the Atwater and Washburn family name continues to hold a special place in the community.

“I think the fact that we are able to give something back to the community that maintains the name of the Atwater family is an honor,” he said. “And to have that history entrenched in the City of Batavia as it was, obviously, is such a large part of our heritage.”

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Photo: Atwater family photo from 1964 in the Atwater House living room -- sitting on floor, from left, children Connie, John, James and Stephen; seated from left, James and his wife, Joan, holding son, David; Rowena Washburn Atwater and her husband, Edward Perrin Atwater, holding grandchildren Rebecca and Sarah; young Ned, with his father, Edward C. Atwater, and his mother, Ruth Prole Atwater; standing, Patricia Carr Atwater, holding daughter Martha, and her husband, Julian Washburn Atwater. Julian and Patricia are the parents of Stephen, John, Sarah and Martha.

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Photo: The Atwater grandchildren in 1964. Front from left, David, Connie, Ned; middle, Rebecca, Sarah and baby Martha; top, John, James, Stephen. Andrew, the 10th grandchild of Edward Perrin and Rowena Washburn Atwater, wasn’t born yet. Andrew passed away in 2013, three days before his cousin, Martha. Submitted photos.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

July 1, 2021 - 10:21am

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Acknowledging that she is at the starting line, longtime Batavia City Schools administrator Julia Rogers says she has great expectations for the district’s new Batavia Community Schools program.

“I think the biggest thing is that we want to get our outreach in many different areas,” said Rogers, a Batavia native. “Batavia Community Schools wants to be everywhere and anywhere so that people know that we’re here to support the community – even during the summer when we’re based at Robert Morris (building on Union Street).

Rogers was speaking during an interagency informational event in conjunction with Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse last week at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road.

She said the goal of Batavia Community Schools is to inspire student success in many different ways, exploring opportunities and activities beyond the classroom.

“We find that in order to encourage success in the classroom, you also have to support the families. And by supporting the families, we’re looking at all aspects – from integrated student supports, mental health, dental, medical, healthy lifestyles and also jobs,” she said.

The program’s framework is adaptable to communities of all sizes, she said, mentioning that Wayne County has launched one for its school district.

“For Batavia, it really works with our demographics,” she said. “We have all different needs in our community. We’re going to be working with elders and working with the young. Really, this goes beyond the academics of school.”

Rogers said that as someone who grew up in Batavia, she understands the community and most of its needs, but admitted “that I’m learning through this position that there are needs that I wasn’t aware of.”

“The initiative is going to continue to grow as we have evening and weekend programming lined up. We’re building this and we’re open to ideas from residents to help us move forward,” she said.

Several agencies participated in the event, including Richmond Memorial Library, Hillside Children’s Center, ACT, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Young Life and, of course, GCASA.

Sherri Bensley, assistant director of Prevention at GCASA, said she set up a “Hidden Mischief” test for parents – a mock teen bedroom that was “planted” with numerous illegal drugs (facsimiles), drug paraphernalia and drug references.

The object was to see how many of these things parents could find in the three to five minutes they were given to search the bedroom.

“Once they do that, we do a presentation and show them different things that kids have hidden, such as a stash can or drug references that parents don’t know about,” Bensley said. “It has been a program that we have taken throughout Genesee and Orleans counties -- to schools, open houses and those type of things. It’s really a popular program right now that is providing valuable education to parents about the drug culture.”

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Photo at top: Julia Rogers, center, Batavia Community Schools coordinator, greets Erin Mattison, left, and Halee Potter, educators with ACT, a Community Action of Orleans and Genesee program that offers a curriculum geared to helping those from the ages of 11 to 21 make responsible choices when it comes to sexual health.

Photo at bottom: Carla Laird, front, and Melissa Vinyard search for drugs and drug-related items during a "Hidden Mischief" exercise offered by GCASA at the recent informational fair at The Recovery Station.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the media specialist for GCASA.

May 20, 2021 - 1:17pm

Press release:

Two senior class members from Charles D’Amico High School in Albion and one from Pavilion Central School were honored with Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Foundation scholarships today during the organization’s annual meeting via Zoom videoconferencing.

Melissa Robinson and Madelin Tabor, of Albion, and Madison Maniace, of Pavilion, each will receive $1,000 toward their college education once they complete their fall semester at their chosen colleges.

The GCASA Foundation also honored an adult student, who wished to remain anonymous, with a $1,000 award.

The scholarship was established to provide financial support to individuals pursuing their education at an institution of higher learning in the fields of human services or social services for the purpose of contributing to improving community health. One goes to a Genesee County student, one to an Orleans County student, one to a technical student and one to an adult student.

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Melissa Robinson, who will be attending Nazareth College in the fall to study Nursing, was involved in numerous school and community activities, including Future Farmers of America, basketball, tennis, cross-country, pit orchestra, 4-H, dance and horseback riding. In her application, she emphasized the importance of community service and being active in her church, adding that growing up on a farm helped her to learn the value of hard work and dedication.

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Madelin Tabor, who plans to attend Niagara University in the fall to study Nursing, also will be graduating from Orleans Niagara BOCES, where she is a Health Occupations Technician student. She, too, has been involved in various activities, including horseback riding, 4-H, sailing, soccer, cheerleading and dance. In her application, she said her quiet demeanor and sharp sense of humor will serve her well in helping people with medical emergencies.

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Madison Maniace, who is going on to Rochester Institute of Technology’s bachelor’s/master’s degree Physician Assistant Program in the fall, also will be graduating from Genesee Valley BOCES Health Careers Academy. Her extracurricular activities include competition dance, yearbook club, literary club, debate team, Spanish club, varsity soccer and varsity track, as well as community service. In her application, shared a very personal story that inspired her to pursue an occupation where she can support and comfort others in their time of need.

FRIENDS OF GCASA AWARDS

Various GCASA departments nominated individuals and organizations with Friends of GCASA Awards.

Recipients are as follows:

Jeremy Barber, Friend of GCASA Residential Services

Nicole Davis, director of Residential Services, presented the award to Barber, a Genesee County senior probation officer.

Davis recognized Barber for being “extremely patient and supportive during a particularly tough year” and continuing to meet with residents either by telephone or in the GCASA parking lot, adhering to social-distancing guidelines. She added that he made himself available to staff and residents and contributed significantly to the agency’s efforts in helping those in recovery.

Greater Rochester Health Foundation, Friend of GCASA Prevention

Christen Ferraro, coordinator of the GOW Opioid Task Force, presented the award to the GRHF, which was represented by Matthew Kuhlenbeck, president and chief executive officer.

Ferraro recognized the GRHF for providing grant funding for two Prevention Department employees to continue working following March 2020 when COVID-19 caused economic uncertainty. She said that the foundation kept the communication lines open throughout the year and provided stability to the Prevention Department during the pandemic.

Dennis Romero, Friend of GCASA Genesee Treatment

John Bennett, executive director, presented the award to Dennis Romero, Region 2 administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Bennett said that Romero played a pivotal role in helping GCASA establish a drive-thru methadone clinic during the pandemic, allaying the agency’s fears that it wouldn’t be able to sufficiently serve the 180 or so people in recovery due to the social-distancing and room-capacity restrictions.

Romero, a high-level federal employee, responded to an email by Bennett seeking assistance in hosting a drive-thru setup using the agency’s mobile clinic and worked diligently to get approval for the alternate site. Bennett said Romero “was very humble, helpful and kind at every turn.”

Orleans County Emergency Management Services, Friend of GCASA Orleans Treatment

Allison Parry-Gurak, director of Treatment Services, Albion Clinic, presented the award to the Orleans County Emergency Management Office and its deputy director, Justin Niederhofer.

Parry-Gurak recognized Orleans County EMO for providing personal protective equipment – hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and no-touch thermometers – “at a time when this was very difficult to obtain and all at no cost to the agency.”

She said Orleans County EMO’s contributions were extremely vital to the operation in Orleans County as it strived to ensure the safety of staff and clients.

Recovery Coach University, Friend of GCASA Recovery Services

Rosalie Mangino-Crandall, director of Project Innovation and Expansion, presented the award to Recovery Coach University of Rochester, represented by founder Lori Drescher and social worker Keith Greer.

Mangino-Crandall recognized RCU for its work in training and coaching GCASA’s recovery peers, recovery coaches and peer supervisors, while also providing training for other staff members, individual supervision, group supervision and technical assistance.

She added that RCU has made a profound impact upon GCASA employees who work with those in recovery, giving them the tools they need to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

BOARD WELCOMES NEW VP, DIRECTORS

The board elected two new directors, Batavians Kattie Cotter and Tom Kinsey, to initial three-year terms.

Cotter is a former teacher and now serves as a family advocate for Head Start and is a member of the Council for Independent Living, while Kinsey has been involved with Community Action of Orleans/Genesee, and currently is a reporting analyst at Genesee Community College in the Office of Institutional Research.

Also, current director Tim Batzel, business administrator at Alexander Central School, was elected as the new vice president, replacing Victoria Elsenheimer, who along with Linda Knipe has stepped down after serving two three-year terms.

Fred Rarick, a Batavia attorney, was elected to a second three-year term on the board.

Officers for 2021-22 are incumbent Virginia Taylor, president; Batzel, vice president, and Rarick, secretary-treasurer.

March 6, 2021 - 10:56am

As more people get vaccinated and, hopefully, as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to subside, the executive director at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is increasingly optimistic that all of the agency’s services soon will be returning to “in-person” status.

“The Recovery Station (on Clinton Street Road) is open to the public two days a week and our residential program is fully open because we had limited beds for a while,” John Bennett said. “We’re starting to do more in-person counseling and actually look to resume in-person group (sessions) by springtime."

He also mentioned that transportation of clients is starting to pick up and, “as always, our peer recovery advocates are available at all times to help those in need.”

GCASA has expanded its programming through the awarding of grants and is looking forward to embarking upon significant capital projects to provide essential services.

Making Room for a Detox Center

One of the major projects slated for the Genesee County campus on East Main Street is the construction of a 20-bed detoxification facility.

“Work has finally started on the new detox center, which will be attached to the existing Atwater Home residential building. This project will have 16 detox beds and four swing beds for a total of 20 beds,” Bennett offered. “The four swing beds can be used as transition beds from detox to another residential setting and/or as overflow for Atwater.”

Bennett said the detox center originally was scheduled to open in December of this year but in all likelihood won’t open until the beginning of 2022.

Supporting Living Gets a Boost

Last month, it was announced that GCASA will receive $250,000 from the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative for an additional 10 units (beds) to go toward operating costs of its supportive living program. This means that the agency will have 15 units in Genesee County to go along with its two units in Orleans County.

ESSHI funds are earmarked for operation of the program, Bennett said.

“The home that we are renovating for this is 99 percent completed and ready to be used for the ESSHI grant,” Bennett said. “This five apartment unit will become permanent housing for individuals who have substance use disorder in the family. It can be a family member who has SUD or the individual who needs housing.”

Bennett underscored the demand for suitable housing for the population that is served by GCASA.

“Having adequate housing, jobs, daycare, food and balanced sober recreational activities can have a huge impact on the outcomes for persons and families dealing with SUD,” he explained. “By building more permanent housing, GCASA is addressing the social determinants of health that can make a difference in person’s recovery.”

Women’s Residential Facility in Albion

GCASA also is excited about the construction of a 25-bed women’s residence to be located in the Orleans County Village of Albion. Bennett said the agency is hoping to have its state Department of Health contract within weeks, with construction bids to go out in November.

“Ten of the units will have the capacity to house women with children,” Bennett said. “It’s sorely needed as there aren’t that many programs around that offer services to women and their preschool age children, which is a significant barrier for women to receive the intensive-type treatment they may need for addiction.”

He said that there are only two programs west of Albany that assist women and children in this way.

“Our percentage of female population has gone up over the years. I think when we wrote the grant it had gone up over 12 percent in a three- or four-year period – up to the mid- or high-30’s,” he advised.

Renovations at The Recovery Station

Bennett said GCASA has received several bids to complete the Phase II renovations of The Recovery Station (the old Bohn's Restaurant). This project will create office space for eight employees of the Genesee Prevention Education department – who will relocate from the East Main Street office -- as well as a laundry room, new bathroom and small meeting room.

“A final Phase III project for The Recovery Station will be completed at a future date and will include rebuilding the commercial kitchen, creating storage and two small additional offices,” he said. “This has been an amazing reuse of an old commercial building.”

Another project focuses on renovation of the kitchen space at GCASA’s childcare center on Harvester Avenue, said Bennett, adding that childcare will resume within the month or as soon as the renovations are complete.

Hotline is There in a Crisis Situation

He mentioned the GCASA peer hotline is available “24/7 for people in crises.” Calls coming into (585) 815-1800 will trigger response from the agency’s trained peer recovery advocates.

In closing, he said that the addition of these new programs and projects has increased the organization's size by close to 40 percent over the past five years.

“All the credit goes to our staff, who have tirelessly worked through this pandemic to serve our communities,” Bennett said, noting that most GCASA employees have been vaccinated.

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

February 11, 2021 - 3:20pm

DePaul Properties Inc., and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse are among 104 community providers in 41 counties to receive funding from the fifth round of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative.

Announced at the end of January, DePaul’s Batavia Apartments at 555 E. Main St. will receive $400,000 for an additional 20 units (beds) – increasing the facility’s capacity from 42 to 62 units – while GCASA will receive $250,000 for an additional 10 units (beds) to go toward operating costs of its supportive living program.

Additionally, DePaul’s Batavia Apartments have been granted $4.7 million from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program to cover construction and design costs.

“We’re really excited for Genesee County,” said DePaul President Mark Fuller, also mentioning that the agency opened the 60-bed senior apartment building known as La Rosa Villas in Le Roy last September.

Fuller said he was particularly pleased that the project includes the installation of an elevator.

“The elevator will make it more user-friendly for both the existing and the new people,” he said. “I’ve been working on this for a while.”

He noted that when constructed about a dozen years ago, DePaul decided to save some money by not putting in an elevator.

“The first floor was handicapped accessible, but the reality is that a lot of our residents have real mobility problems – getting up and down – and they also have different handicaps. So, that has been an issue,” he said. “And other issue is that there has been a huge waiting list, twice as many people (as apartments that are available).”

Fuller said the push to build 20 more units has been in the works for about three years.

“This will enable an enhancement of the services that we’re providing,” he said. “And the need is definitely there. As Batavia, Genesee County and Upstate New York ages, we’re seeing more and more frail elderly, and they lack good, handicapped-accessible housing.”

He said the ESSHI money – broken down as $20,000 per unit times 20 units -- will be used to run the addition and will be reimbursed after it is open.

Of the new units, 10 will have no age requirements for tenants and 10 will be limited to those 55 and over. The previous 42 apartments have no age requirements, he said.

Rent is fixed for the one- and two-bedroom units but potential tenants are subject to income limits.

Fuller said the company has acquired building permits and is in the process of getting it designed en route to the financial closing. He said he hopes to start construction by June and expects completion within a year.

Funding Ups GCASA's Units to 15 in Genesee

At GCASA, Rosalie Mangino-Crandall, director of project innovation and expansion, said the ESSHI awards permit up to $25,000 per bed/unit and “that is what we ask for per unit or very close to it each time.”

“So, for the units about to open, we will have just shy of $125,000 (5 units x $25,000), and for the newly announced award, we will have about $250,000 (10 units x $25,000).”

GCASA also operates two units of ESSHI housing in Orleans County.

Mangino-Crandall said 100 percent of the ESSHI funds will go for operations of the program, which are paid when the agency submits a list of expenses incurred to the state for reimbursement.

She said for this project, renovations on the units of a property previously purchased are almost done, setting the stage to provide supportive housing for those with a substance use disorder who are homeless or a risk of not having a home, or have a history of housing instability. Individuals and families are eligible for this service.

The ESSHI, per its website, has been set up to provide $30 million annually to fund support services and operating costs for at least 1,200 units of supportive housing for homeless persons with special needs, conditions or other challenges. The conditional awards provide service and operating funding for permanent supportive housing units.

February 5, 2021 - 11:28am

Press release:

The Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Foundation has expanded its scholarship program this year beyond the high school student pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Foundation officials announced that four $1,000 scholarships will be awarded, as follows:

-- One to a Genesee County resident;

-- One to an Orleans County resident;

-- One to an adult student pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree;

-- One to a technical/trade school student pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The GCASA Foundation Scholarship is open to Genesee and Orleans County students entering college in the fall of 2021. Completed applications must be postmarked by March 5.

The scholarship was established to provide financial support to individuals pursuing their education at an institution of higher learning in the fields of human services or social services for the purpose of contributing to improving community health.

Scholarship criteria and information includes:

  • Applicant must have their primary residence in Genesee or Orleans County;
  • Applicant must be accepted at an accredited college or university and enrolled in or matriculated in an eligible program/major;
  • Eligible programs or majors include: Social Work, Nursing, Health Science, Mental Health Counseling, Psychology, or Human Services;
  • Current GCASA employees, board members and GCASA Foundation board members are NOT eligible, although relatives of GCASA employees, board members and GCASA Foundation board members ARE eligible;
  • Applicant must provide academic history such as high school and/or college transcripts, as well as two letters of recommendation from someone who knows the applicant’s work/volunteer/academic history. Letters from relatives will not be accepted;
  • Applicant must provide a resume or personal biography including work history, volunteer experiences, and extracurricular activities, and an essay that addresses educational and employment objectives as they relate to the mission of GCASA. Financial need, volunteerism, employment history and civic involvement will be given careful consideration.

The recipients will be announced at GCASA’s annual membership meeting in May 2021 upon verification of acceptance into an accredited college or university. Funds will be awarded upon completion of the fall semester. The award recipient must provide a copy of their transcript demonstrating at least a 2.0 GPA.

Applicants should send their contact information and name of the college or university they plan to attend or are enrolled, along with their course of study or program to: Diane Klos, Prevention Secretary, GCASA, 430 E. Main St., Batavia, NY 14020.

For more information, contact Klos at (585) 815-1883 or at [email protected].

November 17, 2020 - 11:36am

Press release:

The Recovery Station at 5256 Clinton Street Road, Batavia, is hosting an alcohol- and drug-free social event on Nov. 25.

Open to community members 18 years of age and older, the activity will kick off a monthly activity known as Lighthouse Lounge at the center, a program of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

“We’re inviting adults who are interested in social interactions and events featuring movies, ping-pong, darts, karaoke, arcade games and much more,” said Chris Budzinack, coordinator of the agency’s reentry program. “Bring a friend, embrace a change of scenery and discover recovery with us!”

The event is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m.

Budzinack said that all COVID-19 guidelines will be in force, including face coverings, social distancing and maximum occupancy.

He said reservations are not required, but staff members will be checking identification and will make sure that they don’t exceed capacity.

October 8, 2020 - 1:13pm

COVID-19 is not about to stop the GOW Opioid Task Force from continuing its vision of collaboration and engagement leading to a community free from opioid-related deaths and overdoses.

Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro today announced that the group will conduct its first virtual quarterly meeting from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Oct. 22 via Zoom videoconferencing.

“Now, more than ever, it is important we continue the conversation surrounding the opioid crisis,” Ferraro said. “This new virtual setting of our quarterly meeting will help us to do that and reach even more of the communities across our tri-county region.”

Ferraro said the meeting will focus on the topic of non-opioid alternatives to pain management.

“Two local professionals have agreed to share their knowledge on this topic with an opportunity for questions to follow,” she said. “This meeting is open to the public and the community is invited to learn more on this topic and share any questions they may have.”

To register, visit www.gowopioidtaskforce.org for more details. Once registered, a confirmation email will be sent with Zoom information and a link to join.

The task force, serving Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, currently has more than 350 members from across the tri-county region.

Members represent various sectors of the community, including public health, mental health, human services, local government, substance use disorder treatment and recovery agencies, law enforcement, emergency medical services, faith-based groups, health systems and medical practitioners, education, businesses, concerned individuals, families, and individuals in recovery.

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella. GCASA publicist.

October 3, 2020 - 9:51am

John (last name withheld) is a 50-year-old long distance truck driver who has been out of work for some time due to a 20-year addiction to alcohol.

He’s also someone who has found renewed hope and strength toward living the remainder of his days in sobriety through his participation in recovery programs offered by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

Originally from Corning and most recently a resident of Saratoga Springs, John has found himself in the Batavia area and, as a result, things are looking up for him for the first time in decades.

“I have had a problem with alcohol for my whole life,” he said while taking part in a special game day and potluck dinner recently at The Recovery Station, GCASA’s social gathering place on Clinton Street Road.

John said he was taking too much time off work “because all I really wanted to do was sit around and drink all day.”

He was able to gather the wherewithal to get into a 28-day program and was referred to a local residential facility to continue the recovery process.

He Hasn't Had a Drink in Six Months

“They referred me for a little bit of aftercare, and I’m glad that I did it,” he said. “It was the best thing that I did in my life because I haven’t had a drink in six months. That’s the longest that I’ve been without a drink in probably for 20 years.”

John said that the counselors at the residence, which houses several people in recovery, helped him tremendously.

“I’m the type of person that likes to isolate a lot and everybody over there is really open and they make me feel very comfortable. I feel that I can talk to them about any mood that I am in or anything that I am feeling throughout the day,” he explained.

He then mentioned the importance of The Recovery Station in his efforts to remain sober.

“This place has been a godsend,” he said. “You can come here and work out as they’ve invested in exercise equipment and they have many different activities throughout the week if you look at the calendar.”

John said the certified peer recovery advocates at The Recovery Station are “good listeners who have helped me considerably.”

Social Gathering Place Fills a Gap

“From what I hear because I’m not from here, this area needed a place like this, and I think that everything that GCASA is doing for this city as far as recovery goes is wonderful,” he said. “Really, I can’t give this place enough accolades.”

The Recovery Station is meeting the need for him to treat “mind, body and spirit,” John said.

“I had the mental support and counseling support, but I always wanted to have a place to come and play games and work out. It has made a huge difference thus far,” he said.

John’s downward spiral with alcohol started when he was 13 years old and hanging out with some older boys.

“It was peer pressure from the bigger kids. They said that if I would carry their beer to the campsite – we used to go camping in the woods – then they would let me drink with them,” he recalled. “That’s what got me started but what kept me drinking was that I always had a self-esteem problem. I got picked on a lot when I was a kid as I had buckteeth and was kind of skinny.”

He said that when he “found alcohol, it took that all away.”

“It takes the inhibitions away. It makes you fit in. You don’t really care what other people say about you. It just makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s what kept me drunk my whole life,” he shared.

Alcohol Catches Up to You over Time

In time, the effect of alcoholism reared its ugly head.

“As you get older, your body starts to wear down and it can’t process (the alcohol) anymore and it starts to affect your health,” he said. “For me, when I start to drink in excess, it makes me very unmotivated. I’ve never been really fired from a job, but I always have quit because I didn’t want to go to work or I didn’t show up to work.”

John said he realized that he was traveling down the wrong road.

“At my last job, I knew that drinking and driving don’t mix but also I didn’t have any desire or energy to go to work because the alcohol takes all of your energy away and makes you not care about anything,” he said.

Divorced with a son, John said alcoholism didn’t cause the marital split, but admits it didn’t make things easier. Still, he is grateful for having a relationship with his son and says his self-esteem and health are improving since he stopped drinking.

However, he is aware that the battle to overcome the disease is far from over.

Support is a Key to Sobriety

“It’s a struggle if I don’t have support around me,” he said. “My whole life, and I don’t know if it’s a man thing or an ego thing, but I’ve always had a hard time accepting help from other people. I’ve always wanted to do everything on my own.”

John said he’s made a conscious effort to accept help from others and to get involved in social activities.

“That’s what has kept me from wanting to drink again,” he said.

He also spoke about how alcohol triggered the depression that has buffeted him.

“Depression is a side effect of alcoholism, for sure. A lot of people use alcohol to stop their depression, which helps for a little while,” he offered. “But then, as you get into the disease and you start to rely on it, it compounds the depression and makes it worse than it was before. It absolutely turns on you. Then the depression doubles and triples.”

John said he’s working through some issues and seeking to develop a support system and a sponsor – with the goal of being in a position to help others.

“I’m making good progress at that. I just don’t have a complete plan in place to be able to help somebody else right now but I can see that coming in the near future,” he said. “I’ve been doing a really good job about taking advice. People say the only way you can keep your sobriety is by giving it back to others and helping others. I do see that as being my long term solution to keeping my sobriety.”

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

July 9, 2020 - 8:15pm

detox_center_renderings_gcasa.jpg

Genesee County planners tonight recommended approval of a site plan application from Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to tack on a two-story, 20-bed detoxification center to the agency’s Atwater House residential facility at 424 E. Main St.

The new 8,788-square-foot addition of the medically supervised detox center enhances GCASA’s ability to treat people afflicted with substance dependency who are seeking support and recovery.

“The great thing about this project is that it allows for the continuum of care,” said Raymond Murphy, representing the Orchard Park architectural firm of Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst on behalf of GCASA.

The detox center will be constructed as a two-story, wood-framed building attached to the southern end of Atwater House. It will consist of 16 beds serving state regulations for medically supervised detoxification and four transitional residential beds (similar to those available at Atwater House).

Murphy pointed out that the architecture is “in kind to what is already on campus .. the proposed volume is two stories to match and fit in nicely with the existing volumes.” He added that clapboard siding and roofing materials similar to those already on Atwater House will be used.

Earlier today, GCASA Executive Director John Bennett said the new configuration will streamline the delivery of services to those in need.

“Operationally, the Atwater residence and the new 816.7 facility (denoting the Office of Addiction Services and Supports Part 816.7 regulation) will benefit from close proximity to one another,” Bennett said. “This will offer more flexibility, comfort and support to clients in transitioning to a residential program – a key component in the continuum of care.”

Bennett said overdose rates have increased significantly due to the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic.

“Addiction is a disease of isolation and the pandemic has certainly isolated people from being able to attend self-help meetings, group counseling and other forms of support,” he said. “When you couple people in early recovery with isolation, the odds of relapse become increased. We need short-term medical detox more than ever in our communities.”

A letter from the architect to the planning board indicated that the proposed location of the addition is fairly open and will require the removal of about 10 trees directly within the building and parking footprint.

It also noted that a new 13-space parking lot will be added, increasing the total number of spaces to 113 (including 18 of them leased from Cornell Cooperative Extension to the west).

Plans call for the first floor of the detox center to house the “communal” functions of the building such as dining, serving, group rooms, intake and employee offices, while the second story will be split into two wings, each of which will contain four shared bedrooms (two beds each) and a bathroom.

The center block – situated between the wings – contains a central lounge, client laundry and nursing/physician spaces.

The $3.6 million addition is being funded by OASAS capital projects and will create 20 or more new permanent jobs -- nurses, counselors and support staff -- as well as several temporary construction jobs, Bennett said.

Planning Board Member Tom Schubmehl called the detox center “a welcome addition to the community … relatives and friends who have had to go for any help have had to go a long ways to get there. So, it is nice that GCASA is doing this.”

Bennett said that the proposal and architectural renderings previously were reviewed by the City Planning & Development Committee.

“They loved the way we designed it in that we made sure that it flowed with the existing Atwater House,” Bennett said. “Overall, the response was very favorable.”

The City PDC is expected to make a final ruling on the site plan at its July 21 meeting.

In other action, planners recommended:

-- Approval of a special use permit site plan and downtown design review application from V.J. Gautieri Constructors Inc., to create 10 apartments on the second floor of the Save-A-Lot building at 45-47 Ellicott St.

A previous story of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative project, known as Ellicott Place, appeared on Wednesday.

Planners’ approval suggested that future development of ground floor commercial space address access and activation of the south elevation toward Ellicott Street, and that the applicant apply for 9-1-1 address verification with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department to meet Enhanced 9-1-1 standards.

The DRI award was for $1.15 million; the balance of the $2.3 million venture will be funded through a loan with a financial institution, said Victor Gautieri, president of the Batavia company that owns the building.

In response to a question from Schubmehl about Save-A-Lot parking lot disruption during construction, Gautieri said crews will be operating for the most part within the east parking lot where most of the Save-A-Lot employees park their vehicles.

“We will be working in conjunction with those folks to make sure they still have access to the loading dock and make sure they have access to their side doors,” he said. “Save-A-Lot has been a tenant for quite some time and we have a good relationship with them.”

Gautieri said store management is “welcoming the redevelopment of the building and believe it’s going to enhance their sales.”

He said Save-A-Lot is planning a facelift of its own – “with new signage and reorientation within the store to freshen it up.”

Previously, Gautieri said the renovation will give the Ellicott Street neighborhood a long overdue modern look.

“When Ellicott Station (across the street) comes to be, it will complementary to ours and ours to theirs,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to attract some businesses that are not in Batavia now, which would be very good for the downtown area.”

-- Approval of a special use permit for Krista Lewis, on behalf of the Hesperus Lodge #837, to convert the first story of the historic building at 12 S. Lake Ave. (Route 19) in Bergen from a hair salon (Radiant Hair Designs) to a laundromat with micro-salon rentals.

In documents submitted to the planning board, Lewis indicated that she plans to install six washers and six dryers for the startup. The proposal calls for the laundromat to be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Additionally, three spaces are being set up for hair stylists to rent.

-- Approval of a site plan review submitted by Russ Walker to operate a candy shop in an existing commercial building at 21 Main St., Oakfield, location of the former Warner’s Flower Shop.

Approved as a gift shop in March, the operator is looking to add a 20-foot by 40-foot addition to the rear of the building. The addition would house a commercial kitchen, storage space and renovated bathroom.

According to plan documents, the new construction would be a pole barn design, with steel siding similar to the building on the other side of the municipal parking lot.

-- Approval of zoning text amendments to address solar energy systems and battery energy storage systems for the entire Town of Alabama.

Planning Director Felipe Oltramari said Alabama is the first local municipality to put battery energy storage systems into its zoning code, noting that he considers these primarily as standalone “accessories” to solar systems.

July 9, 2020 - 11:43am

mardinos.jpg

Whether they were spending time at their Albion home or on the job at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Albion residents Nick and Cyndi Mardino are grateful for the opportunity to share their experiences together.

The Mardinos retired at the end of May after long careers at GCASA, primarily at the Albion clinic on East Avenue but also at the Batavia campus on East Main Street.

Cyndi began employment there in 2000, the last 18 or so years as the agency’s customer service supervisor, while Nick started in 2005, first as a part-time maintenance man while he worked his full-time job as a corrections officer at Orleans Correctional Facility and then, over the past year, in a full-time role.

Driven by a mindset focused upon togetherness and teamwork, and guided by a strong faith in God, the Mardinos made a tremendous impact upon GCASA staff and clients, alike.

“Both Cyndi and Nick were excellent employees. They always went above and beyond their job duties, and they were loyal and dedicated to GCASA,” said Kathy S. Hodgins, chief clinical officer, a close friend of Cyndi.

Hodgins said Cyndi, as support staff supervisor, “treated her staff with respect and valued each one of them,” while Nick made sure “the building and grounds in Albion were always immaculate.”

Interviewed by telephone on Wednesday, the Mardinos said that working at GCASA has been “a blessing” and while they miss the work, they miss their colleagues and clients even more.

“I have enjoyed my experience with GCASA and getting to know so many people who over the years had become like family to me,” Cyndi said. “I have enjoyed working with the front staff and Beth Collee and Rachel Patten were the most amazing people to work with and they were family to me. The front office team was a joy and I was very sad to leave.”

Nick, an Air Force veteran, said his time at GCASA was “a pleasure,” and he especially enjoyed taking on all kinds of projects with coworkers Jeff Helenbrook and Ron Hall.

And they said it was extra special to be able to interact with each other at different times.

“We always worked well together, so if somebody needed something, I would say, ‘Nick, can you do this?’ Or if one of the counselors needed something done, I would ask him and he’d always take care of it.”

Cyndi said people would ask her how she could work with her husband and then go home. “I would say, ‘You know what? He’s my best friend.’ ”

Nick agreed, simply stating, “We do everything together.”

Cyndi believes that working at GCASA was meant to be.

“Kathy (Hodgins) always said 'you’re here for a reason,' ” she said. “Because I grew up in an alcoholic family and my first husband was an alcoholic, so there’s always a reason.”

The Mardinos were always quick with a smile and a word of encouragement, traits of their outgoing personalities.

“I always enjoyed talking to the patients because you wanted to have a good rapport with them. I told the staff -- my team – ‘Listen guys, they’re walking in here and a lot of times that first step is the hardest to do.’ When they walk in that door, they have to be treated as a human being,” Cyndi said. “They have problems and we can’t help them with that, but we can be that smiling face – that person who could be there if they have questions or if they just need someone to smile at them.”

The Mardinos were looking to retire a couple years down the road, but changed their plans, opting to close the full-time employment chapter of their lives at the young Social Security ages of 62 (Nick) and 63.

“God intervened and we said it was time,” Cyndi said.

They had anticipated to take a cross-country trip this summer, but that’s on hold due to the coronavirus.

Still, they said they have plenty of projects around the house, are welcoming family members (they have three grown children and six grandkids), love the time with Bella, their chocolate Labrador retriever, and soon hope to be able to visit Nick’s mother who is in a nursing home.

The Mardinos met as a result of a blind date 33 years ago and were married in 1993. Cyndi lived in California, Oklahoma, Texas and Maine before returning to her hometown of Albion to stay. Nick is a native of North Collins in Erie County.

GCASA Executive Director John Bennett tried to keep the Mardinos on a bit longer, but that wasn’t in the cards. He did, however, manage to convince them to stay on as “per diem” employees.

So, in a pinch, GCASA employees may be able to share some moments with Cyndi and Nick once again – giving the Mardinos another chance to express their well-wishes, thanks and appreciation for two decades of service.

DISCLOSURE: Story written by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

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