BUFFALO, N.Y. -- To keep Buffalo's senior citizens healthy and
active in the community, they must be able to live comfortably in
their own homes.
Healthier elders can boost the morale of the community and keep
it diverse. Access to services that aid in everyday life -- from
making households safer and providing transportation to identifying
those in need of financial assistance -- is imperative in helping
the elderly remain in their homes.
Organizations like Canopy of Neighbors, a not-for-profit that
serves the needs of senior citizens living independently, embrace
and improve the lives of a specific community of elders in Buffalo,
says University at Buffalo Law Professor Anthony H. Szczygiel.
Szczygiel, a recipient of a 2012-13 UB 2020 Civic Engagement and
Public Policy Research Fellowship, is working with Canopy of
Neighbors on a project to ensure that senior citizens have access
to essential, life-enhancing community services.
Szczygiel's goals, as well as those of Canopy of Neighbors, are
innovative, targeting a "village" in Buffalo and easing the burdens
that accompany elderly life. The "village" is bounded by Main
Street on the east, Richmond Avenue on the west, North Street on
the South and Delaware Park Lake and Nottingham Terrace on the
The goal of the Canopy of Neighbors Public Benefits Screening
Project is to bridge the gap between Buffalo elders in need and
programs within the community that can accommodate those needs.
Szczygiel's desire to make available "good programs that are
underutilized" will help the elderly age in the community by
bringing those services to them.
The most important goals of the project include identifying
those disadvantaged by poverty and making sure they are not
excluded from services based on their income, as well as
effectively using data to the community's advantage.
With 30 years' experience in elder law and health law, Szczygiel
has seen the gaps and weaknesses in accessibility of services for
the elderly. The project's mission is to reassess the needs of the
community as a whole to avoid these setbacks and ensure that
individuals are getting the care they need.
"Canopy of Neighbors does not provide duplicate services, but
they attempt to bridge a chasm of services that are not offered,"
As a result, Canopy's collaboration with health care providers
and other entities that offer helpful services promotes the
project's growth. Szczygiel's role is a crucial component in the
community's large network of efforts. Canopy is open to all
community members within the village over 62 years of age; it
recently implemented a membership system for those who cannot
afford its services, but surveys reveal seniors with moderate
income still need attention.
Szczygiel, his law students at UB and volunteers are able to
focus on moderate-income households through their screening
methods. The goal is to determine "who knows what;" more
specifically, to see what information about assistance is available
and for whom.
"If there is a barrier, we can help remove that barrier," says
Szczygiel, who has been on the board of directors for Canopy since
it began in 2011.
Szczygiel acknowledges that aging well for some moderate-income
individuals depends on their eligibility for valuable programs like
Medicare, Veteran Health Care and Food Stamps. The screening tool
will identify eligible and ineligible individuals, and make it
possible for those members of the community to seek help.
Census information and websites like https://www.mybenefits.ny.gov
-- combined with the hands-on research of the clinic students and
program's volunteers -- will bridge the gaps in information through
the screening processes, Szczygiel says.
Another objective of his research that already is under way is a
"The sourcebook and the survey are a work in progress," says
Szczygiel. To ensure the fast, effective, up-to-date use of data,
the book will make access to information easier.
"It will be a detailed compendium of the authority for each
public benefit program," he says. "The idea is to collect all the
rules for each program in one place, so advocates can easily find
the answer to questions and we can ensure that we are using the
most authoritative and current rules."
The sourcebook will address the hurdle of thoroughly
understanding the inner-workings of these programs.
"For the benefit screening project, it is essential that we
understand the rules before we try to apply them to the many and
varied circumstances of community members," he says.
Szczygiel adds that the sourcebook, along with the ongoing
acquisition of data, will help advance the goals of the