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Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser to feature dinner, fishing

The 13th annual BassEye Celebrity Challenge, a fundraising dinner and fishing tournament to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Western New York, will take place next week at the NFTA Boat Harbor and the Atrium at Rich Products.

The event gets started Thursday evening in the newly renovated atrium, with cocktails, dinner and music by Heard of Buffalo; it continues Friday morning, when anglers can meet at the NFTA Boat Harbor dock for a one-day catch-and-release tournament in which anglers have the opportunity to fish for bass and walleye with a professional fishing guide.

Breakfast starts at 6 a.m. Friday, boats leave the harbor at 7 a.m. and return at 2 p.m.; an awards ceremony and dockside barbecue follows at 4 p.m. 

Tickets for the Club BassEye event are $75 in advance and $85 at the door. Visit for tickets or more information.

Dress like superhero for fundraising race

An annual race dedicated to raising mental health awareness in the region will have a decidedly superhero feel when it sets off on Friday evening.

The Road 2 Recovery Superhero 5K Race and Wellness Walk will start at 6:30 p.m. at St. George’s Church, 2 Nottingham Terrace, alongside Delaware Park.

Compeer of Greater Buffalo joined forces with the Mental Health Association of Erie County to host the event, which started in 1985 as the Run for Brain Research. Proceeds support the Compeer for Kids Mentoring Program and the CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, program sponsored by the Mental Health Association.

Organizers encourage all participants to dress up in their favorite superhero costumes to help raise awareness for the CASA program of volunteers, which helps abused children have their voices heard in court. The Superhero Foundation calls attention to the idea that while every child needs a hero, abused children need superheroes. Organizers hope participants will form teams for the event, and help to fundraise leading up to the event, for all those running and walking.

Race co-chairs Christine and Paul Phillips, parent advocates, are committed to promoting a better understanding and acceptance of those afflicted with mental illness, reducing the stigma associated with it and increasing outreach through public awareness and education.

This year’s race is in memory of Charlie Sabatino, professor emeritus of Daeman College, avid runner and a friend to the mental health community in the region.

The USA Track & Field-sanctioned 5K race walk will run in tandem with a 1.8-mile wellness walk. The public is welcome to attend the event, which includes a family-friendly after-party with food, drinks, beer, children’s activities, chair massage, food trucks, a dunk tank and live music from local band Flipside. Race organizers also are having a costume contest for best individual costumes and best team costumes.

To register for the run, which costs $30, and walk, which is $25, visit by Wednesday. 

Video: 'Double Up Food Bucks' promotes healthy diets

Rita Hubbard-Robinson of the ECMC Lifeline Foundation urges low-income residents to take advantage of the Double Up Food Bucks program. The ECMC Farmers Market at Grider is a pilot site for the new program that helps low-income clients make healthier choices.


People Inc. projects leader undaunted by recent controversies

Rhonda Frederick sees big changes ahead for individuals with developmental disabilities, and their families. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

When you get to be as big as People Inc. during the last generation, sometimes you experience growing pains – particularly in a massive public health care system wrenching through changes.

Rhonda Frederick – chief operating officer of the Amherst-based agency, and subject of today’s In the Field feature in WNY Refresh – is proud of what her company has achieved during the 34 years she has worked at the nonprofit, despite some recent bumpiness:

• Three years ago, Orchard Park officials worked to keep a low-income senior apartment complex from being built, including asking for the ZIP codes of tenants who might one day live there. People Inc. instead built the project in Springville, which is happy to have the residents in its midst.

• In October, the agency will open a complex of senior apartments just south of the Southgate Plaza in West Seneca, after town officials and nearby property owners looked to stop the project. People Inc. had to take its case to state court to get the go-ahead for construction.

• Frederick also has been the point person for the agency in Newstead, where residents expressed deep concern earlier this year upon learning that a registered sex offender would be among those housed in a new group home for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to work with the town officials in Newstead,” Frederick told me this week. “I believe they handled the situation very well, in that they formed a group home committee and one of the council members, Marybeth Whiting, chairs that committee. There’s another council member and interested parties. We’ve been able to meet and discuss things.”

The registered sex offender remains in the group home, Frederick said, and it’s the first time People Inc. has taken someone into a group home with such a registration.

Is this scenario likely to play out in other group homes over time?

“Right now, for us, probably not,” Frederick said. “Our board and administration have decided to study the issue a little bit more, but there are other individuals with developmental disabilities who will need housing in the future. As you see developmental centers closing, people will be returning to their hometowns, so we may see others. I don’t know.

“New York State needs to be a little clearer on what they’re going to allow...,” she added. “Organizations like ours, it’s our business providing services to people with developmental disabilities. First and foremost, that was this gentleman’s issue. We do provide 24/7 care; we have all kinds of security measures and a very good staffing pattern and I do not feel the community is in any way, shape or form in harm’s way.

“My phone is always open. Last week, I met with a neighbor. This morning, I took a call from a neighbor about the grass. We’re very open, we want to do the right thing. As an organization, we feel we have the clinical expertise and resources to provide services to this particular gentleman.”

Here’s what Frederick had to say on the West Seneca senior apartments – one-bedroom flats open to anyone 62 and older with an income of less than about $23,000 a year:

“In West Seneca, there seemed to be a lot of issues. There were issues with the particular parcel. There were issues with who would live there. I think part of it was just NIMBY, not in my backyard, without a specific concern about what it was. I did not anticipate it in West Seneca. If I learned anything, it was perseverance.

“I think it’s a great project. Right now, we have 161 initial inquiries for tenancy there. There are 46 units, and we won’t be done until October, so the interest and the need is very high.”

What would she like people to know about the seniors who are going to be moving into those apartments, and the agency’s senior projects altogether?

“These are affordable housing units. These are your parents, your grandparents, predominantly women – about 90 percent women – who are living on Social Security and maybe a small pension. The average age is in their 70s.

“When people move in, they’re there for a long time. This isn’t transient housing; people don’t come and go. It’s delightful. I can think of no other word to describe it. We don’t have a lot of parties. We don’t have a lot of cars. We have no one going to school so we have no impact on the school system.”

Tenants can have pets, she said, but they must weigh under 25 pounds.

The controversies have garnered much of the media attention when it comes to the agency in recent years. Meanwhile, People Inc. continued to grow behind the scenes.

• The agency in January 2013 affiliated with the developmental disabilities part of DePaul Developmental Services, which continues to operate its much larger mental health services in Rochester and Buffalo. The developmental disability piece chipped off is now known as People Inc. Finger Lakes.

• They also forged an affiliation with Headway of Western New York, an organization that helps people with brain injuries and continues to work under its original name

• Almost a year ago, it affiliated with Agape Parents’ Fellowship, a small, faith-based developmental disabilities organization in Lackawanna which also kept its name.

* And last month, Rivershore, an organization based in Lewiston and also working with developmental disabilities, became affiliated.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen as a large organization with a great infrastructure and resources, we’ve been able to reach out to smaller organizations that were either struggling or their boards looked at the future and felt that they needed to be affiliated with a larger group,” Frederick said.

What do the affiliations mean?

“We share the same board of directors but the groups have maintained their own 501c3 status,” Frederick said. “Their boards have become advisory. As a small organization – like Agape for example – we do payroll and purchasing and hiring and training, all those things the executive director did but couldn’t continue to do.

“We live in a very incredibly regulatory environment, both from the Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities as well as every other group that governs not-for-profit organizations. It’s getting harder and harder without people who are specialized in human resources, corporate compliance analysts. With something like Rivershore, nursing is an incredibly important part of what we all do. They have two nurses. If one of them is sick or goes on vacation, or decides to retire, you have a problem. Here, we have a large number of nurses, including supervisors. We have a certified home health agency, a licensed home health agency, the Elmwood Health Center, so we have all kinds of things to help.”

It’s a matter of regulation and resources?

“As the state calls for you to become more efficient, you don’t want to cut direct support services to people,” Frederick said. “You’ve got to cut at the top, so to join forces and work together is a good thing.”

Frederick said all of these changes are just the beginning of how the Affordable Care Act will reshape the care of people with developmental disabilities in the years to come.

How has the desire to decentralize settings for people with developmental disabilities changed People Inc. over the years?

“The philosophy has changed and we want to see more folks fully integrated into the community,” Frederick said. “It’s not quite as easy as teaching somebody how to cook and how to clean and saying, ‘Here’s your apartment.’ There’s more to it. A group home becomes your family. There’s always somebody there, somebody to talk to, and what we’re finding with some people is they have wonderful skills and get out into their own apartment and social isolation is a problem.

“We’ve started a roommate connection with other organizations in Western New York to let others know who’s looking into an apartment or looking for a building where others rent and that might be your support system. I think we’ve started to forget as a field about the social isolation.

People Inc. also has life coaching.

“It’s probably a little different than what most people think,” Frederick said. “It’s more like, ‘Now I’ve got to find the bus and I’ve got to find the pharmacy,’ all these things our folks might need a little more help on.

“We have someone who deals with your service plan and somebody who does your employment, somebody comes and helps you cook. This life coach is somebody who comes and helps you put a whole bunch of things together. Not forever, it’s a temporary thing."

Only a small percentage of individuals with developmental disabilities that People Inc. serves are ready for apartment house living. In fact, roughly 1,000 are on the waiting lists to get into group homes.

As they wait, those people can stay at the agency’s respite homes during a crisis, but otherwise – like the vast majority of those in the region who are developmentally disabled – they will continue to live with family members.

“There’s been no new (group home) development over the last couple of years,” Frederick said, “other than people moving into group homes from institutions, so it’s all crisis management. Right now, the system is totally crisis driven.

"There’s many changes. When we move into a managed care model, thing are going to be different.”


“People will be assessed,” she said. “There’s going to be a standardized assessment tool to assess people’s needs and you and your family will be told what you’ll be eligible for.

“For instance, in the past we might have had people who could start in a group home – gain some skills and some confidence – then move into an apartment. The way we believe the system is going to go is you would be assessed and you would be told the only services you would be eligible for are some supports that are available while you are living in your own home, and that you can’t start in a day program; you need to be competitively employed.

“People were more transitioned into services in the current model. It’s not to say there are people who can’t do this, but not the vast majority.

“We’re really turning around the ship here in a short period of time. It could get very uncomfortable. ... Starting now, and over the next 10 or 15 years, we’re going to see some pretty significant changes. We have to be more efficient and more creative.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Buffalo teen grounded when it comes to advocating healthy food

Riverside teen Dillon Hill hopes he and other students can keep working to support healthy food alternatives next school year in the Buffalo Public Schools. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Chances are most of you reading this have never heard of the Youth Advisors Council of Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities – Buffalo and or the Food Policy Council of Buffalo and Erie County.

Both organizations are relatively new and have been working pretty much in obscurity.

The youth council aims to improve food and fitness prospects in Buffalo Public Schools.

The food policy council looks to create a healthier, more sustainable local food supply – particularly for citizens most vulnerable to a lack of affordable options.

Both groups are concerned about health in the region, particularly the obesity rate. During a press conference several weeks ago, group leaders pointed out that 45 percent of Buffalo seventh-graders are considered obese.

“Students themselves are giving us a solution to this problem,” said Jessica Bauer Walker, executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo and Health Committee chairwoman for the District Parent Coordinating Council. “They are building partnerships with the Buffalo Schools Food Service Department, as well as parents and community supporters. It is imperative that we as adults get behind our youth to support improved student nutrition and their overall health.”

Dillon Hill, 17, of Riverside has a hand in both food groups.

The Frederick Law Olmsted High School student, who just completed his junior year – and is featured in today’s What are you Eating? piece in WNY Refresh – was one of two students who launched the youth advisors council, which since November has met every third Thursday of the month during the school year. By the end of this school year, two representatives from 14 city schools were participating.

“We started with different ideas, from making healthy vending machines to having fresh, local apples in high school lunches,” Hill said. “In the end, we decided on salad bars because everybody agreed it was more realistic to try and do.”

By the end of the school year, salad bar options were available in about 15 schools, Hill said, including Olmsted High.

Meanwhile, the food policy council’s time has yet to come.

“We haven’t really decided what we’re going to do,” Hill said. “We were just allowed to be created this year. That’s more a community effort. It’s a group made up of people from various places, from farmers to youth to senior citizens to people who run restaurants, just a very general group of people. We’re trying to improve our local (food) economy and environment, and make it more sustainable.”

Hill’s involvement with the Massachusetts Avenue Project spawned his interest in agriculture. He has been part of MAP’s youth program for four years, planting, tending and harvesting a variety of vegetables on the West Side urban farm.

It’s an effort that has rubbed off on his family, including parents Daryl and Heather Hill, and siblings Koury, 22, Kyle, 15, Sara, 11, and Eli, 10. All benefit from the produce he brings home from the MAP farm stand.

The entire experience also may help shape the future for Hill, who looks to go to college after his senior year.

After that?

“I don’t really know yet,” he said. “I was thinking about trying to stay at MAP. I like what we’re doing there, I know what we’re doing and I have a lot of experience there.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Free dental care offered Friday in East Aurora

Westermeier & Martin Dental Care will offer free dental care – examinations, X-rays, cleanings, fillings and extractions – to low-income people Friday in East Aurora.

Patients will be seen on a first-come basis, with no appointments accepted in advance. Adults and children will be treated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the dental office at 950 Main St.

The 10th annual “Dentistry From the Heart” event coincides with the practice’s 80th anniversary.

Dentists, technicians, assistants and staff volunteer their time as a community service.

To date, more than 700 patients have received a total of nearly $225,000 in donated dental care. 

Wanted: Outdoor fitness class info

Are you a group fitness instructor planning to put on outdoor classes this summer, or an outdoor fitness lover aware of a great class that you wish others knew about, too?

WNY Refresh plans a story soon about outdoor fitness classes and we want to share information about them with readers.

If you run or organize a class, please email details – including time, day, cost-per-class and a contact phone number – to

Mental health conference to focus on peer counseling

Health care providers acknowledge that people who have learned to navigate mental illness can be key in helping others dealing with similar conditions.

That’s why the regional mental health community seeks more of them.

The first Western New York Regional Peer Conference will take place Saturday in the Butler Rehabilitation Center on the campus of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, 400 Forest Ave.

The theme of the conference will be “Peers Promoting Wellness and Recovery Throughout the Lifespan.”

Peers have the lived experience of mental illness. The peer perspective is viewed as a way to help others maneuver through health and mental health services that focus on wellness and recovery. The conference aims to:

• Attract new people to the mental health peer movement.

• Offer education to peers, providers and families in our community.

• Give peers an opportunity to share their skills and expertise, and network with others involved in supporting recovery.

• Increase awareness of how peers can contribute to others in recovery from serious mental illnesses.

Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan, commissioner of the state Office of Mental Health, will give the keynote address, and a variety of peer-led workshops will be part of the conference. Topics will include: peers working with peers; stepping beyond illness; youth peer mentorship in the community; understanding peer support services in the Veterans Health Administration; and the power of laughter for wellness.

“Much of the training offered today is through webinars and video presentations,” said Kathy Lynch, director in the psychiatric center’s Center for Self Discovery and well-known local peer advocate. “We find that those living in the rural areas of the Western New York region rarely have the opportunity to connect one-on-one with others involved in the peer movement. The peer conference will make it possible for peers to meet and learn from more experienced peers.”

The Regional Peer Conference will be preceded Friday by the 13th annual HA HA Conference – Healthy Alternatives Through the Healing Arts – also taking place in the Butler Rehabilitation Center. The HA HA conference will provide a variety of workshops to help individuals use holistic healing to support their recovery journey.

The registration fee for peers is $15 for one day and $24 for both days. Partial peer scholarships are available. The fee for non-peers is $20 for one day and $32 for two days. The fee includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

For more information, contact conference co-chairs, Lynch, 816-2142, or Sharon Ward, 816-2913.

The conference is sponsored by the Center for Self Discovery in collaboration with peer and mental health provider organizations that include Healthy Alternatives Through the Healing Arts (HA HA), the Restoration Society Inc., Mental Health Peer Connection, Peers Helping Peers, New Directions Recovery Center, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, and the state Office of Mental Health Western New York Field Unit.

Older adult health grants awarded

The state Office of Mental Health announced recently that more than $4 million in grant money was awarded to community-based programs that offer physical and behavioral health care services to older adults, including those in Erie and Niagara counties.

Erie County Medical Center Corp. received $185,447 to help older adults with serious mental illness. ECMC will collaborate with the University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine, providing peer advocates to help address unmet needs for primary care services in two outpatient mental health clinics, state officials said.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center received $500,000 to partner with The Dale Association to help improve physical and mental health outcomes for seniors at one of the hospital’s primary care settings, the Summit Family Care Center in Wheatfield. A part-time senior advocate will help link vulnerable seniors with housing, meal, caregiver and other services and the project aims to teach doctors in training and other health providers about the value of integrated care.

“Across the United States, individuals with serious mental illness are dying 25 years earlier than the general public,” Acting Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan said in a statement. “By integrating mental health services into primary care, and vice versa, New York is enabling our health care system to more quickly identify mental illnesses and intervene with appropriate treatment.”

Avid runner thanks dad for fueling her passion

Ashley Fisgus, flanked by her husband, John, left, and her dad, Tracy Sigrist, at the Cleveland Marathon.

By Ashley Fisgus – Contributing Writer

The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. It’s early February and a snowstorm had just rolled in the night before. It’s cold, really cold, and snowy – amounts that make Saturday mornings quiet.

I turn off my alarm, ready to turn over and go back to sleep under the warmth of my winter bedding. I call my dad to let him know my plan. After two rings, in his usual cheery-early morning voice, tells me he’s on his way over.

Here we go!

It’s marathon training and no matter what the weather, we have miles to run and a lot of them!  Thankfully, on days like this, I have my dad as my running partner.

When I was 12, I decided I wanted to be a runner. I didn’t grow into it, or find myself doing really well at it.  I just decided I was going to be a runner.

My best friend came from a running family and they made it look easy. They ran the local races, participated in summer community track programs, and made running part of their family life.

I can’t be sure of my dad’s reasons for starting his running journey, but he joined me. Did he look at my best friend’s family the way I did and think running had to be the coolest thing ever?  Or did he decide that, at 37, his bad habits should take a back seat because he wasn’t going to be in his 30s forever? Whatever his reasons, I knew mine. I was going to be a runner.

A couple evenings a week, my dad and I would put on our reflective vests and run under the dark, starry sky.

Early Saturday morning, my dad would wake me to run the quiet country roads. While my dad embraced the quality time together and movement forward – his distances lengthened, his times improved, his body changed, he quit smoking – I didn’t share in his enthusiasm.

I enjoyed his company, when he ran slow enough to stay with me, and I felt tremendous guilt for wanting to quit the very activity we were doing together, but I hated running. I despised running, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, I did feel the joy of crossing a finish line. The runner’s high found me, even then, so I continued running for many more years, but I always hoped my dad would quit. It would make it easier for me to quit.

Running was hard! It hurt – my feet, my legs, my arms, my chest from breathing the cold air, the hot air, no air! It wasn’t easy, therefore, in my mind, I couldn’t do it.

He didn’t quit. I, on the other hand, did. 

Fast forward through college, two children 13 months apart, and suddenly, my body wasn’t what I had remembered.

I tried many forms of fitness and my body did come back, but it wasn’t the same. Of course, through all these years, my dad kept running, continuing to make strides in his fitness, approaching 50 and in fantastic shape.

Unbeknownst to him, I conceded. I started small at the gym and kept my milestones, mostly, to myself, but I began to understand the reasons why he started running in the first place.

Our reasons may not have been exactly the same, but, like him, I found my reason for starting, and it wasn’t out of guilt, or regret of being a former quitter. For the first time, my running “career” was about getting in touch with myself and taking care of me. 

It was then that I could begin training with my dad again.

By this time, however, he had accomplished so much! He had improved his race times significantly and even completed his first half marathon. But, if he could do it, I could do it!

I may be a mom, but I was not going to spend the rest of my life in “mom jeans!”

My dad may have worked toward his first half on his own, but he wasn’t going to leave me to navigate the journey by myself. He encouraged me when it hurt, and when I was scared of seeing miles I had never seen on my GPS before. He told me his stories of difficulty, of feeling defeat, of wanting to quit…

Wait, what?  All this time, I thought his athletic upbringing – national pairs champion figure skating parents, siblings whose names graced the high school record boards – made him a natural!

My dad wasn’t superhuman. He just set goals and had the strength to push through the ups and downs to see them through. I guess, in a way, that did make him superhuman!

Like many parents, my dad tried to find words  to help build me up, to give me the strength I needed to finish … but he gave me so much more. He gave me a true partner in training.

I no longer felt bad about myself; about the fear of hard work, the achiness in my muscles. I wasn’t alone. He fought through the same challenges.  I ran my first half, from start to finish with my dad. He helped me navigate the unknown and together, he paced faster than his previous half. Back in my “quitting days,” my dad forecasted completing a full marathon together, but I scoffed at the mere thought, yet now, here I was, setting that as my new goal!

We trained hundreds of miles. Through snow storms, stress fractures, sore muscles, lessons in fueling, and hitting the wall at 22 miles, and from start to finish, together, we did it! Running for that long, for that many miles, created a bond few can understand. 

Though, these days, our mile goals aren’t always the same, we are still very dependent on our running partnership. When my 22-mile run beckons, it’s my dad waiting for me at the half-way point with fresh bottles of fuel and fresh legs to pace my second half. When he leaves me after 12, my fuel is missing at 20, and I’m delirious at 22, it’s my dad I call, for few know it’s nothing a bottle of Gatorade can’t fix! When I’m on my way to a PR full in Cleveland, and pass out from heat exhaustion, it’s my dad, who after running his own strong Cleveland half marathon, helps me pick up and runs me through the first half of the Buffalo marathon the next week. 

My dad says we are equal running partners and I like to think the nutrition advice and pacing I offer to help him reach his time goals makes for an equal partnership, but what he has given me, well, let’s just say I made out in this partnership!

Ashley Fisgus, of Clarence Center, is a personal trainer and nutrition and wellness instructor.

Tracy Sigrist influencing the next generation of his family, Emery Fisgus, during a Girls on the Run race in WNY.


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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 |