INDEPENDENT LIVING: Recognizing those who contribute

Sarah K. Lanzo, Independent Living

January 31, 2020


"Thank God for the everyday heroes; It's a better world because of you." – Aaron Lines.

In writing this column, it has been my desire to spotlight the efforts and the participation of two-fisted disability rights advocates, whose contributions have improved the lives of everyone in our communities. We who work in the field know how they rise to the occasion and quietly act heroically to the benefit of all their neighbors. This year, the Western New York Independent Living “Family of Agencies” (WNYIL, known locally as Independent Living of Niagara County), is taking steps to recognize “local heroes" throughout the region at two upcoming events. We are seeking your nominations to assist us in finding these folks who do the right thing primarily because it is the right thing.

WNYIL's seventh annual "Night for Independence" Gala, an event that raises funds for the purchase of wheelchair-lift-equipped vans to provide accessible rides for people with disabilities in Niagara, Erie, Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties, takes place on May 16. As a key focus of the gala, the Anthony Serra Independent Citizen Award, recently renamed in honor of the founder of both the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Independent Living Centers, who passed away in 2019, will go to a person with a disability meeting the following five core values:

  • Exemplifying independence in the community, such as: by beginning a special project, spearheading an awareness effort or gaining the support of decision-makers, for the benefit of others with disabilities or the general community.
  • Going above and beyond what would be expected to assist others, by offering personal experience or expertise, organizing individuals around an issue, enlisting partnerships, and/or revealing self-sacrificing work.
  • Remaining active in the community over an extended period, even after an initial success with an activity or major project.
  • Rejecting others’ criticism or doubt, that potentially could have deterred the individual from striving to reach and achieve personal goals.
  • Showing the world the value of one person’s actions by encouraging others to have a contributing, encouraging and positive attitude about making the community a better place for all.

If you are aware of someone who largely fits these criteria, nominations are due by Friday, April 17th.

For the first time, WNYIL is opening two honors at its 40th Annual Meeting on June 9 to nominations by the public; submissions are due by May 15.

The Elayne G. Wels Community Support Award, given to an individual who personally and/or professionally supports, promotes and embraces the Independent Living (IL) philosophy throughout the community. The IL philosophy puts the desires of the person with a disability first.

The Corporate Support Award, given to a company that supports, promotes and embraces the IL philosophy throughout the community. Some honorees from prior years include Northtown Automotive Companies, Main Mobility and Zajac Funeral Home.

We encourage you to submit nominations for any of these honors to WNYIL's Chief Community Engagement Officer, Daniel Colpoys, at (716) 284-4131, extension 166, or email him with the nominee’s name, a paragraph about qualifications and contact information, as well as your name and contact information, at

You can identify and then applaud the honorees along with us, knowing that your support will help us show to the Western New York region that people with disabilities can, and do, live in our neighborhoods, work side-by-side with us in the community, and are equal partners in the growth of our society.


Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131, extension 200.