WNYIL ACCESS news Summer 2018


Doc D'Amato

A salute to Richard “Doc” D’Amato

By Douglas J. Usiak 

About 25 years ago, WNYIL, (then known as “the Western New York Independent Living Project”), entered into a joint project with Housing Options Made Easy, a mental-health-consumer-operated not-for-profit agency in Gowanda, to assist individuals residing at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center to transition back into our communities. That’s when I first encountered Richard D’Amato, (later to be known as “Doc”). Once you met him, you remembered him, as Richard had a strong deep voice, he spoke with confidence, and always posed his questions so they went straight to the point. Richard had signed up to be one of our many “Peer Support Specialists” that WNYIL was training to pass along Independent Living Skills to individuals eligible to leave the hospital and re-enter the community. That hiring began WNYIL’s relationship with Doc.

We quickly discovered that Doc was already a founding member of the peer movement for individuals with mental health disabilities in our community. In fact, he was one of the most active peers, connecting many individuals to area services and programs in the Buffalo area! He initiated, and ran for years, the Unity Club, a peer self-help support group for persons diagnosed as having Bi-polar Disorder. Doc was on the Board of Directors of the agency Action for Mental Health when it merged with WNYIL for a few years and continued on their Council, until political issues caused it to be spun off again.

Never one to let idle hours go unfilled, Doc served on countless State, Regional, and local committees to ensure that the voice of the peer was heard by those who designed and implemented government-supported mental health services in New York State. A former U.S. Marine, after his heart surgery, Doc became very active in the issues of U.S. military Veterans and began offering his time to the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center. As always, he made sure that the voices of the people who were receiving the services were heard. (This philosophy of service recipient inclusion was often expressed as “Nothing About Us Without Us”, a slogan used by Eastern European and South African disability activists in the 1990’s and popularized by authors James Charlton and David Werner.)

It’s impossible for us to measure the enormous impact that Doc’s advice, guidance, and assistance for others will ultimately have in this community, as his caring touched literally hundreds of individuals. It’s accepted that Doc was a pioneer in the “Peer Movement” here in Western New York, and now he will persist as a legend for those of us who had taken Doc’s omnipresence in every activity for granted. When individuals with mental health issues had needs, he was always there with a wealth of information, ready to help and connect them to the resources they required. And he was always glad to see you, or anyone; that’s just the way he was!

Doc, after being a vital member of the WNYIL family since 1995 and overseeing the longest running self-help support group in Buffalo history, left us, suddenly, in mid-July, while with his family in Denver. All of us in our family of advocates will greatly miss him — but we will continue to see his touch on the many individuals he empowered! 

I salute you, Doc, wherever you are now – although I’m pretty sure that you’re above us, looking down. I thank you for the decades of kindness, caring, and passion that you gave to your avocation of demonstrating that people with mental health disabilities can live, work, and play in our communities, and take their places as contributing members of the general populace. Doc, I am eternally grateful for all your work in “The Three E’s”: Educating the community about your beliefs and Empowering the peers to take control of their own lives, so we all can live as Equals in our society.

Stephanie Orlando

Independent Living names long-time advocate as Chief Operations Officer

By Ernest Churchwell

The Western New York Independent Living, Inc. Family of Agencies (WNYIL) is excited to announce that Stephanie Orlando has recently joined their team as Chief Operations Officer (COO), second only to Chief Executive Officer Douglas J. Usiak. As COO, she is responsible for the overall supervision of over 2,500 employees at seven offices, serving 12 counties, that have an annual operating budget of over $40 million. She will help manage 61 contracts, including 18 Management Care and Managed Long-Term Care agreements, including Federal grants, as well as State and local contracts. In addition, she helps manage 13 sub-contracts with community-based organizations that provide services to 23 counties. 

Some selected highlights of Ms. Orlando’s accomplishments and honors:

In 2005, the Western New York native moved to Albany to work for Families Together in New York State where she developed the statewide network YOUTH POWER! (YP!). Through peer-to-peer mentoring YP! empowers young people to be leaders and advocates. Notable among the other programs she helped develop, was the 2015 New York State Office of Mental Health Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waiver Youth Peer Advocate training curriculum, which she co-authored with Jutta Dotterweich of Cornell University.  She transitioned out as YP! Director in 2017.

Also, in 2005, Ms. Orlando connected to other advocates by joining the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN). Attending their Leadership Institute resulted in her serving for years on the National Council on Disability’s (NCD) Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), holding the positions of Outreach Workgroup Leader, Chairperson, and Mentor. In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed her, (confirmed by the U.S. Senate), to serve a two-year term on the full NCD. In this period, Stephanie served on the Executive Committee as the Chairperson of the Governance and Planning Committee.

From 2001 to 2005, she was the Executive Assistant for the Children’s Mental Health Coalition of Western New York, organizing a variety of activities.

From 1999 to 2001 Stephanie worked as the lead Youth Peer Advocate for Mid-Erie Counseling and Treatment Services. Also, in 1999, Stephanie was selected as an original member of the New York State Office of Mental Health Youth Advisory Council and elected Chairperson.

Having received her high-school-equivalency diploma, Ms. Orlando obtained her Bachelor of Arts and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University at Buffalo in 2005.

Among her honors are: the Erie County Executive Award for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (2004); Mental Health America’s mPower Award (2006); the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)’s Diana Viets Memorial Award (2008); and the Leila Salmon Advocacy Award from The New York State Mental Health Association (NYSMHA).

With all of the accomplishments and abilities she brings to the position, we of WNYIL look forward to working with Stephanie Orlando in this exciting new role.


By Julia Lange

ClearCaptions provides a free telephone service to US residents with hearing loss and who have difficulty communicating via telephone. 

ClearCaptions can also be used on smartphone, iPad and tablet via Wi-Fi or cellular data through an app. 

The captions are displayed in real-time and provided free through ClearCaptions. The phones have speaker phone functions and digital amplification to boost voice up to 50 decibels. 

To qualify, the consumer must have some form of hearing loss documented by a doctor, a home phone line, and internet at their home. 

If you or someone you know qualifies, please contact Douglas Braun at 716-381-7624 

You can also check out their website at: https://www.clearcaptions.com/

“Peer to Peer’’ “Get Connected!!”

By Maura Kelley, CPRP; NYCPS 
MHPC Director

That is what we shouted to over 1,000 spectators in the Buffalo Puerto Rican and Hispanic Parade on August 18, 2018. MHPC Staff and friends rode along the Parade Route, distributing favors and a message: Uno y Uno, Conexión de Compañeros en Salud Mental. 

We were amazed at the reception the crowd gave us. One of our folks said, “This is Grassroots”. Looking around at the crowd-all ages, races, socioeconomic status’, I thought, “And, we should have been here for the last 16 years”. 

Is everyone in the disability and mental health world at the table? “No”. But at MHPC, we as staff and those we serve belong. Having looked at my life lately and talking to people at the agency daily, I know I belong, and we try to make it known that for all people labeled with mental illness that they belong too. Belonging starts at MHPC and spreads out throughout our community from our agency leading to ample community involvement and belonging. Despite all our diversity in every category we all can choose to belong in our community. 

WE who have been labeled with mental illness often feel alone, isolated, separate from the community. Staying in our own world in our own dwelling thinking, “I don’t fit in”. Often the community says we do not belong either - denying us housing, jobs, custody of our children, access to banking, freedom, and the right to choose. 

WE renewed our commitment at this Parade. Peer to Peer, we can belong in the community. Get Connected to our agencies underserved population of Puerto Ricans and Hispanics in our community. 

WE are committed to serving all those with mental health issues in belonging in our community. One can start at MHPC, Peer to Peer, sharing our struggles with each other and with the community. MHPC can provide: Advocacy, Independent Living Skills, Benefits Advisement, Child Custody, Support in Mental Health Court, and support to those with addiction issues. Some people at the parade shared their issues with us, we look forward to helping you. 

It is said that 1 in 5 people suffer from mental issues. There is plenty of room to start belonging at MHPC.


By Joseph K. Randle

With all the shame and guilt I feel, 
I felt my life was through. 
So then I fell upon my knee, 
And asked God what to do. 

I said, I did some awful things Dear God,
And I take all the blame. 
What am I suppose to do, 
With all this guilt and shame? 

He said; turn your burden over to me,
And accept me in your heart. 
Believe that I am your Savior, 
And you’ll have a brand new start.

Then go and take a shower, 
And wash those sins away. 
Be humble when you do my will, 
In what you do and say. 

Now I give up all my shame today,
Because it’s heavy and I am made anew.
You can do the same dear friend, 
The choice is up to you!

Consumer Needs Survey

WNYIL is conducting a Consumer Needs Survey of individuals who have received services from the Agency. The Board of Directors would like to know what your needs are in regards to programs and services WNYIL offers. The survey will be open until September 30, 2018. Thank you!

Amazon Smile

When you shop at AmazonSmile, Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price to Western New York Independent Living, Inc.

Bookmark the link http://smile.amazon.com/ch/22-2316065 and support us every time you shop.

Summit on Aging & Independence

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Adam’s Mark Hotel

120 Church St., Buffalo, New York 14202

Thank you to our Night for Independence Gala Sponsors!

Blue Cross Blue Shield

Pro Carpet

Integrity Health Group





Main Mobility

Queen City

M&T bank

Claus & Company

Key Bank


Save the Date

6th Annual A Night for Independence Gala, May 2019

Save the Date

Disability Pride Parade & Festival,  July 2019