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Looking for last-minute family New Year's Eve options?

Betzy Medina, right, and Jesenia Gonzalez, of Latin Souls, from the Hispanic Heritage Council, will perform tonight at First Night Buffalo in the Buffalo Convention Center. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Here are a few options to ring in the new year with family tonight:

First Night Buffalo: This drug- and alcohol-free family event celebrates its 25th anniversary from 5 to 10 p.m. in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, 153 Franklin St.; features games, a black light dance party and entertainers which this year will include Nickel City Reptiles & Exotics, Xpogo, and the Red Trouser Show. A new Multi-Cultural Celebrations Stage also is part of the fun. Learn more about the woman at the helm of the event here.

Hard Rock Guitar Drop (for older kids): Runs from 8 p.m. to midnight outside the Hard Rock Cafe Niagara Falls USA and is highlighted by a free concert featuring Living Colour; A 10-foot likeness of a Gibson guitar will be lowered on the Giacomo Hotel, the city’s second-tallest building, at midnight, followed by fireworks.

Over the border : More than 50,000 people are expected tonight in Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls, Ont., for a live outdoor concert featuring Demi Lovato, Serena Ryder and Sam Roberts. Portions of the concert will be broadcast live across Canada. The party also includes fireworks over the falls at 9 p.m. and midnight.

Of course, you can just stay inside by a warm fire or under a blanket and play board games with family and friends. That's what I intend to do.

Enjoy New Year's Eve, and check back on the Refresh Buffalo Blog Wednesday morning for tips on how to  keep your New Year's resolutions.

– Scott Scanlon

Trio of BAC group fitness leaders to stay with women-only clubs

Robbie Raugh says it took her "10 seconds" to decide staying with the BAC ownership was the right fit for her. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)


Mary Anne Cappellino, right, will bring her fitness and wellness chops to the BAC for Women full-time. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News file photo)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Three high-profile fitness instructors with the Buffalo Athletic Club have decided to stay with the chain in its clubs for women.

Ellen Coleman, the BAC regional aerobics director, and veteran group fitness instructors Robbie Raugh and Mary Anne Cappellino each have opted to stay with the BAC ownership group after the owners sold the coed clubs last week to LA Fitness.

Coleman  and Raugh made their decisions in the days before Christmas while Cappellino finalized her decision on Monday afternoon.

“I’m excited about it,” Cappellino told me during a phone interview shortly after making her decision. “I think it’s a perfect fit. The BAC was the right decision for me based on the respect I have for all the BAC did in Western New York over the past years and all the BAC for Women will do for women in Western New York.”

Coleman played a similar role in both BAC coed and women-only clubs, and now will handle the women-only club duties.

Raugh and Cappellino – who both taught classes at BAC coed and women’s clubs – will now teach a greater number of fitness classes at the women-only clubs, primarily the Evans branch.

Raugh told me during an interview Friday at the BAC for Women at Evans Street and Sheridan Drive in Williamsville that all the female-only sites will be improved in the coming months and the Colvin site will undergo a $2 million renovation and expansion. She and Cappellino also said the clubs will place an even greater focus on nutrition and wellness, areas of great interest to the two instructors who each have gained a large following during the last two-plus decades in the Western New York fitness community.

LA Fitness already had clubs on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls, Transit Road in Clarence and Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo before it last week bought the BAC coed clubs in downtown Buffalo on Delaware Avenue, on Union Road in Orchard Park, the Eastern Hills location on Transit Road in Clarence, and at the Boulevard Mall on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst.

“It took me about 10 seconds” to choose to stay with the BAC, Raugh told me. She’s already worked for a big chain and prefers the coziness of a locally-owned gym setting.

“I know what I’m getting at the BAC,” she said. “The owners are walking through these clubs. They are reachable and approachable. That means a lot.”

Cappellino said she’s excited to still be working with Coleman and Raugh.

Raugh, one-time national director for Bally’s Total Fitness, has developed a brand, the Raugh Truth.  She has a Saturday morning radio show on WDCX 99.5 FM, appears frequently on local television, has a string of home exercise videos, and also specializes in nutrition. She teaches kickboxing, body sculpting and yoga.

Cappellino, a 22-year veteran of the BAC and the chain’s former wellness director, was based at the Eastern Hills branch, where she taught Zumba, Zumba toning and body sculpting. She also is in the midst of writing a children’s wellness book series and teaches corporate wellness classes, and owns her own small business, Creatively Fit.

The vast majority of participants in both their classes have been women.

When it comes to Raugh, there’s been one notable exception: her husband, Jeff, a University at Buffalo alumnus. He plans to do his weight training at the UB gym and his cardio work at home, using his wife’s videos.

Raugh had to say goodbye last week to about a dozen men who have been taking her classes for a couple of decades, men who followed her to the BAC from Bally’s in recent years. She’s encouraged them to “shop around” for a new club.

Meanwhile Monday, more than two dozen students who take aerobic jazz classes in the Eastern Hills branch heard about pitches that have been made from the BAC for Women and LA Fitness to keep them. Both chains vowed to keep their classes, but four instructors appear to have split in terms of where they will teach: two at the BAC and two at LA Fitness. That means class members – some of whom have worked out together for more than 20 years – likely will split, too.

Male instructors don’t have the same latitude as their female counterparts. That includes Cappellino’s brother, Tom Couch, a spinning instructor at the BAC Boulevard Mall location who’s decided to take a similar job with LA Fitness at the same location.

Cappellino and other local gym experts urged male BAC members – as well as BAC member women struggling with what to do – take their time with any decision to change clubs.

“(BAC/LA Fitness) members have until January 31 to decide what’s the best fit for them,” Cappellino told me.

That’s advice I plan to take. I renewed my BAC membership for a year on Dec. 18, the night before BAC staffers were notified by email that the chain’s coed branches would be sold. Staff did not know about the pending sale at the time.

I’ve already decided to take my time choosing my next fitness club option.

I plan to attend an open house at the Northtowns YMCA on New Year’s Day (find out more here) and to check out at least two or three more fitness centers before making a final decision.

That’s how I ended up at the BAC in the first place when I moved back to Western New York in 2004.

I look to ask lots of questions – and pay a lot of attention – while testing out these clubs.

If you want to weigh in on some of the questions I should ask, or the things I should consider, drop me a message at the email address below, or leave a comment at the end of the blog.

And find out Saturday in the print and online editions of WNY Refresh what fitness club experts suggest you should ask when choosing a gym.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Falls medical center names new officers

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center recently announced its medical officers for 2014-15:

• Dr. Komal Chandan has been elected president of the medical staff, will take office next week and serve a two-year term.

• Dr. Robert J. Gadawski was elected vice president and Dr. Mark Perry was elected treasurer.

Chandan, a 21-year member of Memorial’s medical staff, is a graduate of the University College of Medical Sciences in India. He is board certified in Family Medicine and serves as medical director of Memorial’s Schoellkopf Health Center.

Gadawski, a graduate of NiagaraUniversity and SUNY Health Science Center (now Upstate Medical University) in Syracuse, has been a member of Memorial’s medical staff since 1997. He is board certified in pediatrics and has served as chief of the Department of Pediatrics since 1999.

Perry, a graduate of the University of Rochester and Albany Medical College, is board certified in radiology and has been a member of the medical staff since 1983. He has served as chief of the Department of Radiology since 1995 and is a member of Memorial’s board of directors.

Save on membership to YMCA on Jan. 1

Those considering the YMCA Buffalo Niagara this year may want to set aside a little time on Wednesday to check out the family fitness clubs it runs across the region.

All YMCA locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on New Year’s Day, and those who sign up for a membership will save up to $75. The YMCA will waive half of the join fee for those who sign up during the rest of January. Additional savings may be available through your health care provider, YMCA officials said. 

For more information on the regional YMCA and its six locations, call 565-6000 or visit

Y memberships include free fitness classes, a 12-week fitness program, family nights, unlimited use of the pool, gym and wellness center, child care and more.

Family fun planned at Science Museum

Families looking for together-time fun in the coming days can unlock the secrets found just beneath our feet with Science Rocks! activities at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Staff will help museum guests explore geology activities during the winter school break from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Wednesday.

The following activities, included with general museum admission and free to museum members, will take place throughout the museum’s science studios and workshops:

• Salt painting: Explore the many textures and colors of salt. Add some glue, water and paper to make a work of art that will glisten and shine.

• Asbestos awareness: Learn about its uses and the damage it can do to our body.

• Mystery minerals: Gold or fool’s gold? Diamond or cubic zirconia? Try your hand at some real scientific tests.

• Tectonically Speaking: From earthquakes to volcanoes to supercontinents, moving tectonic plates can pack a punch; but how do these huge continents move?

• Ancient invertebrates: Peek back into history with the help of fossils.

For more info, visit

Resolve to get in better shape in 2014

Personal trainer Melissa Panzarella, of Getzville, suggests eating more foods like this, a capered quinoa salad, with lemon wedges. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Want to feel better during the new year?

For many of us, that will lead to resolutions to lose weight and exercise more.

That’s where folks like Melissa Panzarella – the subject of today’s “What are you eating?” feature in WNY Refresh – comes in.

Panzarella, 38, lives in Getzville with her husband C.J. and their children, Mariana, 12, Ava, 9, and Tommy, 6.

Melissa is a personal trainer and nutrition consultant who started as a running group coach, a specialty she continues. She will run a New Year’s Boot Camp and “Biggest Loser” competition starting Jan. 6 and said interest has been brisk. Find out more at

Meanwhile, here are some tips she will give to folks in those classes:

1. Track your food: “It’s really a great tool to see what you’re eating,” she said. “Nobody wants to do it. It is a pain in the neck to do, but when you track your food, if you’re writing it down in a journal, you just know what’s going in your mouth.

“There’s also so many different apps you can use. I always tell people to use myfitnesspal. That’s the one I tend to use. I don’t think people realize what they’re eating until they start tracking it. You put one of your kid’s Cheese Puffs in your mouth and you don’t realize you’re eating it if you’re not writing it down. My clients have a lot of success with tracking. People tend to eat pretty much the same and after a month you know what you're taking in. If you stop and gain weight, you can track again.”

2. Eat clean: “My diet consists of a lot of chicken, a lot of fish, a lot of green vegetables,” Panzarella said. “I try to put spinach and kale in different protein shakes. I’m trying to get my kids to do it, too, but as soon as I see that it’s green, it’s a little bit of an issue. I also love sweet potatoes. I eat a lot of nuts, a lot of raw almonds, walnuts. I eat a lot of lentils and black beans. I eat a lot of quinoa. I eat a lot of eggs.

3. Eat enough: “I think people think they have to be hungry and that’s the only way they’re going to lose weight,” Panzarella said. “When I help people with their nutrition plans, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lot of food!’ You have to feed yourself. You’re exercising, you have to make sure that you’re eating right, you’re eating a healthy amount of food."

4. Embrace – don’t cringe over – a healthier lifestyle: “Some people feel like, alright, I’m on this diet, I can never eat another cookie,” Panzarella said. “Ninety percent of the time, I stick to a good, clean-eating diet and the other 10 percent, I like to live my life, too. If I want to have fun and have a glass of wine, I’ll have a glass of wine. If I’m at a party and want one of my cookies, I’ll eat one of my cookies. I’m not going to eat a plate of them. I feel a lot of people, if they don’t have it and they feel like they’re depriving themselves, they want even more. But if you know you can have one, you’re going to have one and then you’re going to be done with it.”

See more tips in today's WNY Refresh in The Buffalo News print editon.

Why don’t most people stick with their New Year’s resolutions?

“I feel like it’s just not interesting to them,” Panzarella said. “When I go into my gym, there’s so many people there in January and February, and in March you can have any treadmill in the place. I just feel like people don’t know what to do, they don’t know where to begin. People my age, who are moms, feel like we get to the point where you want fitness to be a bit of a social outing and you want people to help you and tell you what to do. That’s why I feel my groups have really started to grow.

“The women and the men who come in, they hold each other accountable, they’re all motivating. We’ve become this great group of friends, and a I think that’s what keeps people wanting to come back. They enjoy it, they have fun.”

What’s the healthiest way to lose the weight you may have gained over the holidays?

“Just being dedicated, being consistent,” she said. “It’s not about losing weight or dieting, it’s about changing your lifestyle and just being healthier. It’s about thinking about being around longer, being around to do stuff with your kids. All of a sudden, it changes your perspective.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Independent Health Foundation puts health and families first


Carrie Meyer, executive director of the Independent Health Foundation, credits Jennifer Mitri, the rest of her staff and more than 50 volunteers for helping bring off First Night Buffalo. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

The Independent Health Foundation has become a force under the leadership of Carrie Meyer, its executive director, who started working with the foundation in January 1995 as an intern.

First Night Buffalo, which takes place Tuesday night, launched the foundation in 1992. You can read more about Meyer and the alcohol-free, family-friendly festival in the “In the field” feature in WNY Refresh.

The foundation – a nonprofit supported by Independent Health and a number of other community-minded organizations – now is involved in more than 100 events annually across the region, including seven “signature” programs and events: First Night Buffalo, Kids Run, Fitness for Kids Challenge, Serving Up Success, Soccer for Success, Good for the Neighborhood and Healthy Options.

Meyer, a Hamburg native and current town resident, talked about some of those other programs and events during our recent interview, which also involved more about First Night than I could put into the Refresh story.

The foundation’s mission is to improve the health of the Western New York community, Meyer said.

“We’re encouraging parents and grandparents to be good role models for their children and bring them to these types of events that provide safe and healthy alternatives, and to show why it’s so important to live a healthy lifestyle,” she said.

“We encourage healthy New Year’s resolutions, as well,” she added. “To have goals for the year that are all about eating right, exercise and living a healthy lifestyle.”

Most of the foundation’s signature events are free, and involve dozens of volunteers.

“First Night is one of the only events that we charge admission,” Meyer said, “but we’ve kept it affordable; 25 years ago, it was $5 a ticket. It’s only $8 a ticket 25 years later.” The cost includes rides and all entertainment.

Kids Run is the first Saturday in June and about 3,000 people attend.

As part of the Fitness for Kids Challenge, “We adopt elementary schools and set them up with a variety of different challenges and we reward them if they meet some of those challenges,” Meyer said.

That program is built around the “5-2-1-0 challenge,” Independent Health spokesman Frank Sava said. The challenge recommends children base their daily habits around five fruits and vegetables, no more than two hours of TV or computer screen time, one hour of physical fitness and zero sugary drinks. A family fitness challenge at First Night also is based around the concept.

The Healthy Options program works with more than 100 restaurants across Western New York to improve their menu options. “We take all the work out of it for them,” Meyer said. “There’s no charge to any of the restaurants. We will analyze their recipes and we provide them with all the nutritional data and information and give them an analysis, and we’ll give recommendations on how they can tweak them to create a healthier option. We have great restaurants that are partnering with us and we’ll showcase them in a variety of different venues,” including on the website.

Foundation programs are not limited to Independent Health members.

Below are excerpts from more of our interview:

How does the foundation raise money and how are the proceeds used?

If it’s a family friendly event, we’ll look to organizations that align with that type of project. For example, Fisher-Price has been a sponsor for First Night Buffalo for 25 years. Rich Products has been a sponsor, Wegmans. ... Here’s something that’s an alternative for the Western New York community. It’s a safe place. It’s a drug- and alcohol-free event. It aligns nicely with a lot of those (sponsoring) organizations, as well.

Do you break even on First Night?

Sometimes we lose money, but it’s anticipated. Our parent organization supports us as well, so Independent Health will provide dollars to support the events and activities. … If we have money left over, it goes right into next year’s event.

What about overall?

All of our events are break-even. For example, the Kids Run costs us about $25,000 to put on. If we raise $30,000, we will take that $5,000 extra and put it back into the next year’s event or we’ll donate it to a good cause. We’ve donated to Children’s Hospital with the proceeds we’ve made through sponsorships, so everything goes back to the community. We’ve donated to Buffalo Prenatal. For First Night, when we’ve had additional dollars, we’ve supported Western New York United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

What sort of background does your staff have?

We have business majors and we also have community health majors. And we also have dietitians.

What do staff members do?

Along with the signature events, we do over 100 other events throughout Western New York each year and we have project leaders for the different programs. So there is one person who focuses on First Night Buffalo, so they’re the project lead for that, but all year long, they will also support another project lead on other projects and events. We have another project manager oversee all the advertising and the promotion. And we have Independent Health as our parent organization, so we have this great PR team.

Do you compare First Night notes with other cities that hold similar events? What have you borrowed?

Yes. We’ll ask other cities, ‘What was your best entertainer?’ And now we’ll fly some of those entertainers into Buffalo. We’ll talk to other First Night cities to see what they’ve had in their community, to kind of change it up. They’ll ask us too, ‘Who are your top performers? And, ‘What was the most liked activity or event?’ And they’ll bring us to their cities. This year, we have the Red Trouser Show. They’ve done First Night Boston and some other First Nights. We’re flying them into Buffalo. They’re really high energy. We had them last year and it was a huge hit. They have fire juggling and they climb a 50-foot ladder. It’s that Cirque de Soleil kind of thing.

Who picks the activities and performing acts?

We survey the participants, and ask what their top performers are, and we listen. People always say Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics. He is a huge hit and he’s local. His name if Jeff Musial, and he brings a variety of different animals and he really has a show that goes with it. It’s comical and kids can go up on stage and touch the animals. We also work closely with our own children. Jennifer (Mitri, who coordinates all the entertainment and promotion and advertising for First Night) has a daughter, Casey, who’s 9 and she comes every year and is obviously someone very close to the event who we can ask, ‘What would you like to see?’ So we’re always asking children what they would like to see. We also work really closely with our volunteers. They’re at each one of these sites and we ask, ‘What worked well?’

... We have had some challenges. Seven feet of snow came in right before one of our events, driving bans, so we’re always (potentially) challenged by the weather. … Every year, we assess where we’re at with First Night and we realize that we hit over 5,000 families coming out, that it’s something people love and appreciate. We’ve seen a changeover. My children have grown up with it and I hope their children grow up with it. Right now, it’s something the community is interested in supporting it’s something we want to continue to support.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Tracking changes for BAC members

Earlier this week, LA Fitness included information on its website,, that it will honor all of the active membership agreements after the Southern California-based company on Monday purchased the Buffalo and Rochester athletic co-ed clubs.

LA Fitness also announced the following:

• All active BAC/RAC co-ed members with multiclub privileges will have access to all BAC/RAC co-ed clubs. They will also have access to the six LA Fitness locations currently in the greater Buffalo and Rochester areas, if they sign the LA Fitness agreement.

• All active BAC/RAC co-ed members with single-club privileges will have access to the same club they were assigned to at the time the transaction closed.

Officials with LA Fitness have not returned messages left for them last weekend and during the holiday week.

Those of you trying to decide how to address the change in club ownership can keep at eye on The Refresh Buffalo Blog. Refresh Editor Scott Scanlon, a longtime BAC member, will spend the next two or three weeks deciding whether to stay with LA Fitness or find another gym, and will share answers to the questions he’s been asking. A week from Saturday, turn to WNY Refresh for a cover story on how to choose a gym, or change gyms, in the new year.

Keep in mind limits of those with dementia as holidays continue

Holiday visits can be very stressful for someone struggling with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. The Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has some ideas for caregivers who are hosting celebrations and for those traveling with a loved one who has dementia that may ease the stress for everyone involved.

Chapter Program Director Lesley Kennedy advised in a news release that “while traditions are important, making adjustments to reflect the new reality of caring for someone with dementia can go a long way in eliminating or reducing tension around what is typically a very stressful time.”

Some simple steps could mean the difference between an enjoyable holiday with family, and a situation that could spiral into an ugly scene:

1. Adjust expectations: Make sure visitors are aware of the situation with your loved one and consider simplifying plans instead of hosting large-scale get-togethers.

2. Build on the past: A loved one with dementia may find comfort in the familiar songs of family sing-alongs of holiday favorites.

3. Take care with decorations: Avoid using candles, artificial fruits or vegetables, and consider changing blinking lights to static ones to avoid confusing your loved one.

4. Keep routines: Mealtimes, medication schedules and bed times should be adhered to whenever possible.

5. Control overindulgence: Rich holiday food should be served in moderation and alcohol should be avoided.

6. Take time for yourself: Caregivers need to take advantage of offers of help so they can recharge their own batteries.

If you plan to visit a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, keep in mind:

• Unannounced drop-in visits are not a good idea. Call ahead before you visit and try to be flexible. The unpredictable behaviors of some people with Alzheimer’s disease may make last-minute changes unavoidable.

• Don’t use a third party to speak to the person with Alzheimer’s disease; speak directly to them and make sure they are within earshot.

• Keep your visit short and quiet, and try to limit the number of people who are visiting at one time.

• Acknowledge the caregiver. They would probably welcome a note or other gesture that indicates “I care and I am thinking of you.”

• Stay in touch with the caregiver. The holidays may be over, but the challenges of dementia caregiving never end, and a phone call or scheduled visit may be just what they need to reconnect, stay focused and take some “me” time.

Kennedy said Alzheimer’s Association experts can be reached around the clock every day “to provide confidential advice for caregivers who may feel overwhelmed or just don’t know what to do.” The “Helpline” phone number is (800) 272-3900.

Drop off used skates this weekend to benefit others

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and the Buffalo Sabres Foundation are partnering in an ice skate drop-off this weekend in which the partnership will then provide loaner skates to the Martin Luther King Jr.Park free ice skating program at the refurbished basin.

The Good Neighbor Skate Drop Off will collect unwanted ice skates regardless of condition or size. Donated skates will be refurbished, cleaned and sharpened by Pure Hockey, then donated to the park as to be used as loaner skates.

“This program will allow individuals with unused ice skates in their attic, outgrown, or tucked away to ‘pay it forward’ to those who don’t own ice skates or may have never ice skated before,” BlueCross BlueShield Senior VP Gretchen Fierle said in a news release. “The use of this OlmstedPark in winter months to engage in one of the region’s favorite healthy winter past-times at no cost supports our mission, and that of the Sabres Foundation.”

The drop-off starts from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday at the BCBS headquarters, West Genesee and 7th Street, in downtown Buffalo. Sabretooth will join health insurance representatives in greeting folks and collecting skates during a drive-by drop off event.

Drop off skates from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Pure Hockey, 3265 Sheridan Drive in Amherst; get the chance to meet Buffalo Sabre Zemgus Girgensons between 4 and 5 p.m.

The drop-off concludes from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at First Niagara Center, in advance of the Sabres-Capitals hockey game. Donors do not need a game ticket to drop off skates during this time. For more info, call 887-8951 or visit

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |