Weekly Feature



2017-12-13 / Front Page

Hearts and Hands sees funding restored in county budget

by ETHAN POWERS
Editor

The Erie County Legislature has supported the request of Legislator Ed Rath to restore funding for Hearts and Hands in the 2018 Erie County budget.

Legislators approved his request for $50,000 at the Dec. 7 session to assist the Clarence organization in its efforts to improve the quality of life for older individuals in the community.

“The demand on Hearts and Hands continues to grow as more and more residents need help getting to important appointments,” Rath said. “Without Hearts and Hands, many residents would be put at risk and wouldn’t be able to get the care they need.”

Hearts and Hands and its agency of volunteers are able to provide services to the elderly and disabled at no cost to the care recipient. Typical benefits offered include transportation for medical appointments and errands, yardwork and snow removal, as well as respite services for caregivers.

By linking those in need with a volunteer, Hearts and Hands hopes to enable older adults and those with long-term health concerns to remain safely in their homes.

“There’s no cost for any of our services, so we exist on the generosity of the community and any money that’s given to us at the state or local government level,” said Kathleen Oczek, executive director of

Hearts and

Hands.

Oczek noted that the restoration of funding within the county budget couldn’t have come at a better time, given that the organization did not receive an expected grant this year from the state Department of Transportation that would have allocated $250,000.

“It was essentially half of our budget, but we didn’t cut any services,” she said. “We’re definitely under-funded, so there are challenges to getting through each year.”

The costliest component, says Oczek, is recruiting new volunteers who have the wherewithal to drive throughout the community to assist care recipients. She attributes the agency’s resiliency to the persistence of the volunteer staff, as well as the support from donors such as the Wilson Foundation and Health Foundation for Western & Central New York.

“Their support has helped us to build a sustainability plan to examine what it is we do on a daily basis and where our strengths and weaknesses are, so that we can come up with a plan so that we’re never caught like that again,” Oczek said.

Ultimately, the fiscal constraints imposed on the organization have made it a stronger and more efficient one, says Oczek.

“The money will help to stabilize our program,” she said. “It makes it easier for us to continue to do what we’re doing.”

Rath successfully lobbied for funding restorations for other groups in Clarence within the 2018 Erie County budget.

New for 2018 is funding for Rock the Barn, which will mark its 14th year, as it continues to be among the largest fundraisers for Meals on Wheels services in Clarence, Akron and Newstead.

“We are very grateful for the efforts of Legislator Rath and other members of the Legislature in providing funding for Rock the Barn and the Clarence-Newstead Meals on Wheels Task Force,” said Paul Stephen, chairman of the Clarence-Newstead Meals on Wheels Task Force, Inc.

“Support for the Rock the Barn festival is not only support for a major cultural event on the Clarence summer calendar, it’s funding that helps keep our seniors and disabled in Clarence, Akron and Newstead living independently with food and friendship in the form of Meals on Wheels.”

Rath also identified the Clarence Historical Society as receiving $7,250 and the Clarence Concert Association, $4,000, in his funding request.

“This funding will benefit all the citizens of Clarence as our organization is 100 percent volunteer-operated, so all of the money will be used by the trustees of the Clarence Historical Society to improve our programs for the public at large,” said Thomas A. Steffan, president of the society.

In support of veterans’ services, Rath also secured $2,500 for American Legion Post 838.

The additional funding for the Clarence organizations and those in other communities was added to the 2018 budget while the legislature also was decreasing the property tax rate for the fourth consecutive year.

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