WNYIL Spring Newsletter

From the CEO

Douglas J. Usiak, Chief Executive Officer 

This year for WNYIL is proving to be a challenging one for the Family of Agencies as we have suffered personal, and professional losses to the spirit and heart of our Center. The loss of our long time President Dennis M. Kessel (37 years as a Board member and 30 years as president), came as a surprise to us, and has challenged the Board of Directors to pick up his vision and ensure that the Center continues to follow, practice, and facilitate the IL philosophy in all we do. To date I can proudly report that all the members of the Board are standing up to this charge and are stepping up on all fronts. The Community Engagement Committee is developing plans to expand our ability to reach all areas of the community, bringing in more partners in our Disability Pride celebrations, and making sure that we are at as many venues as possible to get the word out about the Family of Agencies.

The ever vigil Program Committee is reviewing all our programs, assuring that we are doing what we are supposed to do, evaluating our outcomes, seeking customer and visitors opinions on not only what we do, but how well do we do it, and how to empower the members in directing their programs and services. Many of the other committees of the Board are looking deeper and harder to make sure that WNYIL is solid, viable, and remains a leader in our promise of Education and Empowerment for people with disabilities in Western New York to achieve Equality.

This year has seen a long-time program of WNYIL, OAHIIO, pass from our family of agencies. With many of the purchase strings tightening up, WNYIL was not able to maintain the program. However, on the bright side, the sister agencies of ILC, MHPC, ILGR, and ILNC are able to ensure IL services to the OAHIIO consumers, and with the same staff that were providing the service at OAHIIO. Our infrastructure shrunk, but not our service, and for any of you that are reading this article, please contact the family member agency in your area and you will see, that WNYIL maintains a strong support for people with disabilities regardless of the name of the program.

Weather and the years have not been kind to our youngest member of the Family, the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service is in need of critical repairs. Efforts so far have been made to repair the roof, not just replace the shingles, but right down into the rafters and even some of the wall supports, as well. However, on the bright side, once we are able to raise enough funds to repair and upgrade the building and equipment, the award winning volunteers, who bring the local, regional, State, and national news to the person who is unable to read it, will have beautiful studios and facilities to support NFRRS. We also believe that in bringing the building to a fully accessible and state of the art office building, we will be able to rent out the additional space to provide a stable revenue stream to assist in supporting the Radio Reading service into the future. So, when you hear about the many events, appeals, and requests out there to raise the money needed for this job, get involved, participate, and by all means tell your friends, families, and enemies.

Even with these challenges that face us, as people with disabilities who wish to continue to live in our homes and communities, WNYIL still remains strong. While we take a few blows now and then like any Family, our Board, Volunteers, and staff remain committed to take on the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating equally in our communities. We promise you that our future of making positive changes in our region with our members will be as great and powerful as our history has been. Please get involved with WNYIL and its Family Agencies. Volunteer to be a member of our Board, our Councils, participate in our community events and ask how you can help our Family.

Contact any of the following agencies and speak with their Director and see what you can do:

Independent Living Center of Western New York, 3108 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
716-836-0822 ext. 115 or ltorgalski@wnyil.org
Lynnette Torgalski, Director

Independent Living of Niagara County, 746 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, NY 14301
716-284-4131 ext. 209 or slanzo@wnyil.org 
Sarah Lanzo, Director

Mental Health Peer Connection, 3108 Main Street, Buffalo, NY, 14214
716-836-0822 ext. 162 or mkelley@wnyil.org 
Maura Kelley, Director

Independent Living of the Genesee Region, 319 West Main Street Batavia, 14020
585-815-8501 ext. 406 or rfrank@wnyil.org 
Rae Frank, Director

Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service, 1199 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga, NY, 14227
716-821-5555 or mbenzin@wnyil.org
Mike Benzin, Executive Director

To Those of us Who Lead... Remember to LEAD BY EXAMPLE!!

Cathie Campbell

As I do every Saturday, upon waking I review all the events of the past week to see if there is any way I could have done better, learned a lesson I may have missed, etc. I do this ritual every week because I believe that the purpose of life is to work towards becoming the best version of yourself. I also believe that we should pay that forward by assisting those who look towards us for leadership, so they too can be the best version of themselves. I am not sure where this belief stems from, I only know that halfway through being a mother it dawned on me the importance of being a good leader. That if I continued living life in a self-centered fashion and holding on to my control issues, that I would never be a good leader for my children.  

Over the years this belief poured over into other areas of my life. Back then I was teaching 4 days a week to a group of individuals much like myself and once again it dawned on me that my behaviors and actions were looked upon by others who looked to me for guidance. I remember thinking back then that I was scared because that gave me a lot of power over the way these individuals thought and behaved. That if I guided them into a way of thinking that would cause them, or their children harm, how would I live with that.

That is when I began evaluating my behaviors at the end of each week. When I began to understand that being a leader was a very important job that should never be taken for granted. Power in the wrong hands causes harm and a domino effect that can hurt so many. Sadly, over the years I see so many leaders who seldom look within when guiding. They have control issues and a self-centered way of viewing the world. Now with that being said, I began this by saying I was a mother, which by default means I am a leader and so are all of us with children. As a society we must do better because many of us are leaders creating and guiding the next generation. If we don’t evaluate ourselves - how can we be sure we are guiding those we lead effectively?

Good Luck leaders … I leave you with one important lesson I have learned over the years: when a leader wants to know how well they are leading they must look to the group they lead. I have learned that if the majority of those in my classes do not succeed, that is because of the way I am leading, not because they failed to live up to my guidance. Being an individual that has been both the student and teacher I now understand that if my message is not clear and consistent, then most become confused and cannot understand which direction to take. That I as the leader must look within to find a way to assist others in doing their best and when I don’t know how to lead effectively most will fail because they are unsure, unaware, undirected, etc. It is the teacher’s job to teach in a way so that all become better versions of themselves. If we punish those who don’t live up to our unrealistic expectations, we are the ones who are failing. 

So again, Good Luck Leaders / teachers / parents / to all those who have others who look to them to do better ... this is our most important job because so many look to us to do better! And when we know better, WE CAN DO BETTER!

Medical Loan Closet

Daniel Colpoys

If you, or a family member, are in need of durable medical equipment to assist with personal needs or mobility, WNYIL has a supply of canes, walkers, commodes, wheelchairs, and shower benches to provide the required assistance as needed. You do not have to be a consumer of the agency – we are happy to help anyone in need of such equipment. Simply call 716-836-0822 to arrange pick up (sorry, we do not deliver).

We are also happy to take such items as donations to help those in need. Donations can be dropped off at 3158 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

What Depression Means to Me

Maura Kelley, MHPC Director; CPRP

I don’t think I was always depressed. Except I do not remember the happy and “normal” times of my past, during my depressions. But this I know, for me, to be true:

When I am Depressed

  1. Everything seems like a hassle.  
  2. I’m grumpy and mean.
  3. Everything is a “should”. So, I don’t do it.
  4. I don’t clean my house, mow the lawn, cook or do responsible things.
  5.  It’s sort of “Blank Thinking” - No direction, no desire, no will…just blank.
  6. I make commitments and then don’t keep them. Important ones involving trips, other people’s time, and a lot of money.
  7. The days become one big blob - one leads to another, then another, they are all jumbled into one mass.
  8. I didn’t know I was like this until I wasn’t like this.

When I get with my fellow Peers, this is what I know:
When I am Not Depressed

  1.  The world looks different, a little brighter, a little more optimistic.
  2. I effortlessly see the positive, naturally.
  3. People are nice to me.
  4. My house is cleaner (though not clean).
  5. I am more likely to agree, with meaning; and disagree less, in perspective.
  6. I reach out more - to people, community, nature.
  7. I wake up refreshed and then get up.
  8. I laugh and then notice that I laugh.
  9. I clench what other people have, trying to find my way, knowing I have hope in doing so, as well.
  10. I belong.

NY Connects program links people to services to help them stay independent

Julia Lange, NY Connects Region 1 Program Assistant 

As Dorothy Gale said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” In the beloved classic, Dorothy tries to find her way home to Kansas after getting sucked up in a tornado. She and her trusted friend Toto make their journey to find the Wizard of Oz, who turns out to be a sham. At the end of the movie, Dorothy finds her way home with the help of Glinda the Good Witch. 

Like Dorothy, our aging populations and people with disabilities would rather be at home than anywhere else. However, trying to navigate their way through the systems of care can be like Dorothy’s journey through Oz. With the NY Connects program at Western New York Independent Living, Inc. we aim to be like Glinda and help guide people (and their loved ones) on their journey to find long-term, community-based supports. 

Funded by the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), NY Connects started as an initiative for our state’s aging 60 and over population. The program linked seniors, their loved ones, and professionals to long-term supports and services in their area. 

In 2017, a need to link people under the age of 60 to long-term supports and services arose. As disability experts, NYSOFA brought aboard Independent Living Centers (ILCs) as an expansion to the NY Connects Program. The NY Connects program has five regions across New York State. Western New York Independent Living, Inc. heads Region 1. 

NY Connects Region 1 Coordinator, Amanda Pinter, oversees 18 counties and one territory in Region 1. Amanda works with seven ILCs, including the three in the Western New York Independent Living family of agencies. Each county collaborates with their local office for the aging to offer services across the lifespan.

NY Connects direct service staff give information on long-term supports and services to people via telephone or in person. Staff provides options to the person needing services, or their family members, friends, or professionals. The staff can also provide screening for public benefits and help people in need apply for them. 

People in need of services in Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, or the Seneca Nation of Indians may contact NY Connects at 1-(888) 564-5171 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday

Got the Picture

Lynnette Torgalski

What I see in the mirror What you see when you look at me What you should see. Got the picture.
man in the mirror wheelchair wheelchair user lifting weights
woman in the mirror wheelchair wheelchair user ice skating
man in the mirror prosthetic leg runner with prosthetic leg
man in the mirror prosthetic arm woman with prosthetic arm playing tennis
woman in the mirror service dog woman shopping with service dog


Consumer - Beyond Webster’s Definition

Lynnette Torgalski

In the world of service providers, we are often questioned about a word that is used. For staff at WNY Independent Living the frequently questioned word is the one used to identify the individual receiving services. The word can go from client, patient, participant and in WNYIL’s case, CONSUMER. 

So, to provide an explanation and understanding beyond the standard dictionary definition of “one that utilizes economic goods” or “an organism requiring complex organic compounds for foods which it obtains by preying on other organisms or by eating particles of organic matter”, let’s get into the history of why WNYIL and other Independent Living Centers use this word. 

The Independent Living Movement; History and Philosophy to Implementation and Practice, Training Manual identifies the following explanation of Consumerism. “Consumerism, a movement led by well-known national figures such as Ralph Nader, contributed another element to the growing disability rights and independent living movement. People with disabilities were, for the first time, stressing their role as consumers first and “patients” last. In other words, individuals with disabilities wanted the right to educate themselves and decide for themselves what services and products they wished to purchase (even if a third party was paying for the service or product). As “clients” or “patients,” people with disabilities were rarely given any autonomy or power over the services and products they would use.” 

Ralph Nader: Ally of the American Citizen-Consumer article by Genevieve Shaker on Living to Give Website sighted from other sources: Consumer rights, the idea that customers are entitled to certain treatment by corporations and government and have certain expectations about the products they purchase and services they receive.”

“Closely related to consumer rights is corporate responsibility. That is, businesses should feel a sense of obligation toward their customers and community, and their standards, products, and policies should reflect this concern.” 

So how does this apply to IL Centers in its simplest of forms. The word consumer gives the individual living with a disability power over their services. This provides the consumer the ability to make an informed choice of the services they receive. They can expect a set of standards to govern the delivery and quality of these services. ILC’s want to educate, empower and enhance the quality of life for people living with disabilities to make their own choice on what they do with the service/information provided. The result - CONSUMER CONTROL. A far cry from Webster’s definition of a consumer.

So, if you hear that a person who is receiving services or participating in a program at WNYIL Family of Agencies referred to as a consumer now you know why. However, regardless of what your preference is as to how people should be referred to at our agencies, remember we are, you all are, and everyone who comes to WNYIL Family of Agencies are, and will always be, a person first, in charge of, in control of, and deciding on their own direction in life, with WNYIL staff at best a partner, a resource, and friend.

Vitamin D

Bryan Dulny, Peer Specialist, The Renewal Center

With summer now in full swing, it’s important to remind ourselves of the importance of sunlight to our health. To be more specific, Vitamin D plays a huge role in every aspect of our health, including our mental well-being. Some studies estimate that upwards of 70% of adults in the world do not receive enough Vitamin D in their daily lives. Researchers have found low amounts of Vitamin D to be linked with increased rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and even diabetes – all of this on top of its well-known connection with reducing depressive thoughts. Its link to improved mood and lower feelings of depression is due to its function as an activator of genes responsible for releasing important neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. In simpler terms, sunshine tells your brain to make you feel good! As we learn more about its importance, doctors and researchers have been consistently increasing the amount of Vitamin D recommended for a healthy and happy life. In fact, the official recommendation for Vitamin D is considered to be five times lower than what most experts now recommend. However, just like anything else in mental health recovery, Vitamin D isn’t a cure but rather another important piece of the puzzle, one that is often overlooked. So, whether for yourself or your consumers, remember this summer to stress the importance of spending time outside in the Buffalo sun while you can. But don’t forget sunscreen!

vitamin D

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