Image shows the MHPC logo


11th Edition, Summer 2023

WNYIL’s Public Policy Officer

among the presenters at the

Thirty-Fifth Annual

Developmental Disabilities Day

Photo of Todd Vaarwerk smiling to the camera. He wears a blue t-shirt and sits in a wheelchair.

With the easing of pandemic restrictions, the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York once again held its Annual Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day as an in-person event. It took place on Tuesday, August 1, 2023, at the Conference Center of Niagara Falls at 101 Old Falls Street in the Cataract City.

For a 1:45 p.m. afternoon Session, “Voting Basics – You’re your ballot and let your voice be heard”, Todd Vaarwerk, WNYIL ‘s Chief Policy Officer shared the spotlight with two other advocates, B.J. Stasio, Vice President of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS) and Sam Mattle, Executive Director of the Center for Self-Advocacy. They discussed how voting is an avenue to expressing yourself, had an educational mock debate with candidates, and explained the use of adaptive voting systems in use in Erie and Niagara Counties.

WNYIL staffed a literature table representing all of its divisions at the Agency and Vendor Fair.

The full day’s agenda included the Keynote address by an author who has a child with DD, Vicki Rubin, the 18 concurrent sessions, Healthy You activities, an Art Gallery, Therapy Dog demonstrations, and DD Awareness Day Merchandise.

The day ended with a Reception. featuring the hip sounds of Universal Mind.  

MHPC's Kevin Smith was a presenter when Governor Kathy Hochul came to Buffalo to discuss New York State’s Mental Health Budget

Photo of Kevin Smith at the press conference. NYS and US flags appear on each side as he stands at a lectern. He is wearing a tie and an MHPC pull-over

A transcription of his remarks appears below:

My name is Kevin Smith, and I am the Director of the Mental Health PEER Connection (MHPC), part of the Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL) Family of Agencies -- an organization that has provided services and supports to individuals with physical and mental disabilities for more than 40 years. I grew up on Buffalo’s East Side. In fact, my family and I lived less than two blocks from the site of the May 14 tragedy at the Tops Market for more than 20 years.

I’d like to start by thanking the Governor for her efforts to drive necessary and needed resources to Buffalo and our East Side community, allowing the Resource Council of Western New York, Community Health, the Buffalo Urban League, and all the steering committees comprised of individuals, agencies and organizations to answer the call to help on the day of the tragedy and every day since.

The Governor has taken a holistic approach in the passage of a billion-dollar investment into New York State’s continuum of mental health care. We are eager to see its implementation in all communities here in Western New York.

Professionally, I became a Peer – someone who can share their behavioral or mental health experience with someone else -- in the hopes that it will help with other’s recovery. More than 30 years ago, before I knew my racing thoughts, sleepless nights, and emotional highs and lows were caused by my anxiety and depression, my life became unmanageable. Neither me or my family knew about the supports and services that were available specific to my needs. Feeling alone, I went untreated. Eventually, I began to self-medicate so I could feel “normal” and fit in with my friends. My life went from bad to worse. And, like too many people in my community, my first interaction with the mental health system came by way of the criminal justice system. But that was where, finally, through a combination of traditional and peer-led approaches to recovery, my life started changing for the better.

I remember years of shedding tears from the pain, guilt, shame and stigma I felt because of my mental health issues. The weight of that reality was immense. 

I still remember walking through the doors of Western New York Independent Living for the first time in 2003 and connecting with the Mental Health PEER Connection. They matched me with a peer and I remember him asking me what I wanted to work on. Being asked what “I” wanted was new to me.

Before I even knew what “person-centered approach” meant, I had bought into a new paradigm. I continued to meet with my peer and another traditional mental health provider and, later that same year, I was offered a job by Maura Kelley, then the Director of MHPC. She became a long-time mentor, and also a good friend. Maura offered me an exciting opportunity to share my personal story and help others. I joined a work family where many staff have first-hand experiences with mental health, substance use, and physical disabilities, and with them, became a part of an agency that was a beacon of hope to many who live in darkness.

For the first time, I shed tears of joy… tears of appreciation… tears of gratitude… tears of thankfulness… for finding peer support and people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Today, as the Director of a peer-driven organization, I recognize the importance of community-added supports. The one billion dollars that New York is investing in mental health solutions will allow community organizations to work tirelessly with our partners in government to improve the system -- from post-discharge connections to outpatient services – so that people can choose the community-based supports that naturally help them the best. 

We have a lot of work to do. With New York State’s billion-dollar investment into the continuum of mental health care, we will strive to help our brothers and sisters achieve and maintain long-term wellness and recovery.

Thank you.

(Included in WGRZ-TV2’ s coverage, Kevin Smith’s speech starts at 34:20).

WGRZ news story about Hochul press conference featuring Kevin Smith

Disability Pride:

Celebrating 33 years

of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Photo of former President George Bush signing the ADA legislation on the White House lawn. Dignitaries are pictured around him, some in wheelchairs.

By Ernie Churchwell, Public Information Coordinator – Writer, Community Engagement

Young people who have grown up in the last three decades may be surprised to learn that, before 1990, they had very few legal protections against disability-based discrimination. There were just a patchwork of specialized laws, such as the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 barring disability-based discrimination in federally funded entities, the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, and some programs for military veterans with active-service-derived impairments, but nothing truly comprehensive.  

In the 1980’s, advocates rose up to fight attempts by the government to undermine even these handfuls of protection, (e.g., the Regan Task Force on Regulatory Relief) and develop more sweeping fortifications, entities such as the Independent Living-movement based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and individual fighters such as Justin Dart, Jr., Rev. Harold Wilke and particularly Evan J. Kemp Jr. 

A wheelchair user due to disease and accident, Kemp had worked in various government departments and the Disability Rights Center before President Ronald Regan named him to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1987. However, it was his skill at planning ahead and working in the background, while he was everybody’s favorite bridge partner, that let him convince many power brokers to support disability protections against the huge backlash of big corporations, which saw accommodations as a needless business expense. Not only did Evan Kemp ghost-write parts of the future Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when Congress was finally persuaded that passing it was the right thing to do, Kemp encouraged his friend President George H. W. Bush to embrace it in 1990!  

As he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, then-President George H. W. Bush was surrounded by: Evan J. Kemp, Jr., Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (in gray suit in wheelchair); Justin W. Dart, Jr., Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (with Texas hat); Rev. Harold Wilke of the Healing Community; and Swift Parrino, Chairperson, National Council on Disability.

Of possible interest: among the invited guests on the East Lawn of the White House were WNYIL’s Executive Director (now CEO), Douglas Usiak, his sighted guide Madeline Usiak (now Gill); and our Systems Advocate at the time, Michael Orzel (now working in the New York State Government).

Admittedly, some logical compromises had to be made to get the measure passed by Congress. It only applied to entities with 25 or more employees at first, down to 15 or more in 1994, and only required “readily achievable reasonable accommodations” be made by those for which it is “not an undue burden”. Enforcement makes no sense if providing wheelchair access to a tiny mom-and-pop store would eliminate half its shelf space and put it out of business. Exceptions are made for National Historic Sites and religious or other facilities that belong to private membership organizations.

Nevertheless, compared to the small handful of protections that previously existed for people with disabilities, its comprehensiveness was staggering, including individuals with physical, mental, developmental and other hidden disabilities! The principal provisions barred disability-based discrimination:

  1. In Employment, as long as the applicant can carry out the duties of the position, even if some requirements need to be swapped with other employees, (such as reaching high file cabinet drawers).
  2. By Public Entities including state and local governments, schools, and public transportation (I.e., fixed-route bus systems must have wheelchair lift-equipped buses and paratransit vans.)
  3. By Places of Commerce and Public Accommodation (stores, restaurants, theaters, hotels, care providers, recreational facilities, etc.) It expressly permits service animals and auxiliary communications aids.
  4. In broader Telecommunications needs, such as Telecommunications Relay Services for the Deaf and Video Relay Services. However, with the advances in smartphones, capabilities of the Internet, and other technological innovations, there are newer options.
  5. An additional Miscellaneous section of the ADA covers other aspects, such as barring retaliation against those who make complaints of ADA violations or who assist others in making them.

While this is the law of the land, that has not prevented various parties in and out of government from attempting to chip away at its protections, if they believe that would be to their advantage, financially or otherwise. WNYIL and its community partners celebrate the signing of the ADA every year with Disability Pride events to inform the young what a game-changer came to their lives, 33 years ago. Plus, it’s to remind us that we must be vigilant to prevent possible erosion of those rights, particularly in an era when some elected leaders are actively working to minimize the protections for the “little guy”.

Summer traditions in Buffalo:

Places and events that have changed and evolved, yet remained constant

By Charlene Shotwell, Program Assistant, Independent Living Center

Shared experiences bring people together and help us relate to each other as Buffalo area residents. Not everyone’s life or history is the same, but certain places and experiences belong to us all and help us feel that Buffalo connection. 

As a lifelong Buffalo area resident, I’ve noticed not only do we embrace the few short months of warm weather that we have, but that certain local places or events have been always there and have become traditions associated with summer. We enjoy them through different phases of our lives. Many of these places and events have also changed and evolved through the years, from our childhoods through now.

Myself, as a “Generation Xer” getting closer to 50, and with my children now teenagers or college-aged, I can reflect on how the places that are so important and enjoyable to us have changed through the years, but they remain constant and renew themselves and continue to be part of our Buffalo summer traditions.

The Buffalo Zoo

My father talks about how his Lithuanian immigrant father would take him to the zoo when he was a child, back when it was free and part of Delaware Park. There are black and white photos of them out for a stroll. As the years went on, the Buffalo Zoo added several new exhibits. Two of my children’s favorites were Sea Lion Cove and the Rainforest Exhibit. My children loved watching the sea lions in Sea Lion Cove swim past the glass of the underground viewing area or watching the birds up close in the rainforest exhibit. Now as teenagers, my children take their friends and dates to the zoo and enjoy the after-hours exhibits such as the “Zoomagination” light show. The zoo keeps growing and changing with the times and adding new events and features.

Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly Albright Knox Art Gallery)

We may remember going there first in our youth and seeing the famous Andy Warhol soup cans painting, or the paper mâché sculpture of the man installing letters on the marquis, or the mirrored room. Maybe we went with our parents, or on a date, or during one of the free family nights. We are lucky in our city to have had so many famous paintings that even appear in art history textbooks, Picasso or Monet or Pollack, hanging in the gallery right in our own city.

My children always enjoyed posing for pictures near the sculptures in front of the art gallery while we were walking around the grounds after a visit, then stopping by Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park behind the gallery.

Now the new expanded and remodeled Albright Knox hs opened is is realizing its promise to be even more of a draw for a city of art lovers such as Buffalo. We all look forward to the new exhibits and activities that will continue to bring us together and challenge and inspire us and make us think.

Elmwood Avenue: “The Strip” to “The Village”

Many of us may remember hearing our friends say, “Let’s go to Elmwood!” back in our teenage years. That's when it was still called “The Elmwood Strip.” We’d spend the day hanging out and going to coffee shops, maybe at one of the old incarnations of Pano’s, or looking at vintage clothing stores or quirky boutiques and record stores. And of course, to people-watch and meet interesting characters along the avenue. Years back, Elmwood had more of an edgy vibe and was marked by the blue strips of neon that went along the roofs of the local businesses. The rising moon neon sign and the dancing couple also were things to look for when cruising “The Strip.” In recent years, we’ve seen them bring back some of those old neon animated billboards and old-time nostalgia.

The village has now become a sought-after area for people to live or visit and gather, and the recent Elmwood Village Porch Fest music festival was a lively and extremely enjoyable time, as residents from all over the city and outlying areas came to see live music, chat with their friends and neighbors, and just take in that quirky and spirited Buffalo vibe. My son is a musician and he enjoyed seeing his past music teachers and friends’ bands performing.

The Buffalo Waterfront and Now Canalside

So many of us remember as children going to the ships at the Naval Park, getting ice cream at The Hatch, watching the boats go by from the shore, or riding the Miss Buffalo. Or my favorite was climbing the Erie Basin Marina Observation Tower, while playfully dodging seagulls and sandflies. But it was worth it to get a great view of the boats on the water.

Now in more recent years, the Canalside end of the waterfront has been built up and is home to many more events and concerts. And posing with the Shark Girl statue has become an area tradition. The Canalside and Erie Basin Marina areas are adding new features such as more events and museums and the area will likely continue to become a summertime tradition in new ways for years to come.

Summer Festivals

Years ago, the Allentown Art Festival was one of the few outdoor summer festivals in the area, along with a few ethnic festivals or smaller gatherings. In more recent decades, the Buffalo area has gone, let’s admit it, festival crazy. We have everything now from chalk festivals to taco festivals, to you-name-it. It seems each weekend in the summer there are half a dozen festivals or more from which to choose. But no matter which you attend, they all have a relaxed and happy energy and are full of people jubilant to be coming out of their homes after a long winter. It gives us a chance to see the people we normally don’t get to see, of all ages and backgrounds, and to absorb that Buffalo “city of good neighbors” vibe.

In a town that is dark and gray most of the year, we embrace the sunshine and the chance to move about in the open air and celebrate pretty much anything worth celebrating. Again, it brings us all together. That’s the spirit of our region and our city. The summer sun and shared experiences and shared traditions.

I hope you all enjoy your summer!

Summertime Memories

By David Meyers, Contributing Writer

Summertime is the time of year that lays the foundation for the landscape of my positive emotions. It seems that the times I am feeling ill in spirit, I relate to times of blizzard or freezing cold. Yet the incoming sunshine of May helps me remember I have a foundation of peace I may fall back on.

I remember those years running in a field in the midst of a cool July evening. I enjoy in my past time I was frolicking with fireflies. As the sun set beyond the horizon, I came upon a waterfall and slid down an adjacent ravine. In other memories, I broke my parents’ instructions and used an ATV throughout the land. 

My friends created the opportunity of further warm evenings surrounded by forest. At one afternoon I had come upon a deer wishing to drink from a swamp at the edge of a field. In fear, I took off screaming. That was my mindset as a pre-teen, that everything was out to get me. But that summer I waltzed through the fields with my favorite cousins, even amongst the loss of love. That love was seen at a party with another, and I cried.

I was given the chance as a young guy to materialize my poetic talent. Those summers led to great stories coming to the surface at a computer of the military-industrial complex. Though my dad was an engineer, he facilitated my artistic growth. Yet I happened to experiment with numbers and engineered my own breakdown.

The next summer faded, though I had come to Life once again. Inner life can’t be destroyed without consent. It has appeared at times, coming to the surface to replenish any kind of love of life. Things at once were pushed down, but the music on the porch brought my family together. Growth on the outside brought my guitar as a learned skill as a teenager.

Yet, as a child, I was lost in the woods with my cousins the day I made my second covenant with God. I sealed my time moving forward into greater change, even if I was kicked down by others while playing soccer. Then, later on, I beat friends in football. The forum for football was my front yard, and that evening I frolicked with fireflies feverishly once again. Every summer, growth happens, and movement is ever present. Love is real.

What’s on the Agenda for the

Disability Pride 2023 Celebration?

Frank Cammarata and Hayley Joyce carry the Disability Pride banner in the Pride Parade.

By Hayley Joyce, Community Engagement Coordinator

By now, I am sure you have read all about why we at WNY Independent Living get so excited about celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Last year, after surviving COVID-19, we decided it was time to get us all back together in person again. Held at Canalside, we hosted over 30 community vendors, served hotdogs and pizza, and were entertained by various artists! In 2023, we returned to Canalside on the official ADA day—July 26th! We had even more traffic from the surrounding community so we, and all our vendors had the chance to inform and educate passersby of all the great resources of which they, or a loved one, can take advantage.

WNYIL was also excited to be participating in the Buffalo Pride Parade on June 4th, to showcase our support and the intersectionality between people living with disabilities who are also members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We hope that this also encouraged those who attended the parade, to inquire about the programs we have to offer that may be helpful to them.

This summer is the first in recent years that WNYIL will be out in the community in full swing as we were in the past. We met many new faces and reconciled with those we have not been able to connect with!

Favorite summertime memories

By Denise Munir, Peer Support Specialist


The summer of 1985 was the summer to be remembered. It started off heartbreaking, but it took a turn and ended up giving myself and my family exactly what we needed and when we needed it.

My Dad was a contractor who would travel to different farms, picking for different people with whom he was contracted. From babies on up, we picked strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, cherries and that summer we were on our way to Okeechobee, Florida to pick oranges. Leaving Buffalo to travel was bittersweet because we were leaving my grandmother and that was painful. We drove all the way there in a station wagon listening to blues and jazz music. Our favorite song was the one where the lady was upset with her husband and decided to make it into a song. The house we found up there looked like it was made of stone at the bottom and wood at the top. It was right across the street from a store that would end up becoming my favorite candy store. This store had the best candy ever and all you needed was pennies and nickels. We started picking oranges right away. 

The best part about working on the farm was the fresh air, and the sound from the birds. It was the most peaceful place I knew when I was a kid. Although, when we tied grapevines, it was cold but the summer months on the farm made up for the cold ones during the year. The orange grove was so pretty. There was a huge acre of big, beautiful orange trees with the biggest oranges, and they were so sweet. The people we were contracted with always lived right near the place where we worked. Their house would always sit afar from the road, and they always had a big furry dog running around chasing the animals. I would always say that this would be the life I would want to live when I got older. A farm that was far off the road away the city, that was peaceful and full of all kinds of animals. What made the trip so special was we met a family down there that took us in as their own family. They would watch us during the week after we came from summer school. They always had fish and grits hot and ready to eat. There was always fresh cold water or fresh cold lemon iced tea.

They were sweetest couple ever and they would make us call them ma’am and sir. The funniest part would be how often I got it wrong and how close I came to getting in trouble. I guess what I loved about them is that they loved me so much they only pretended to be mad, but they knew my smile and sincere apology would always change their reaction. To be honest I never got it right, but I never really got in trouble. They had children that we adored, and my sister dated their son. What made things so beautiful is that he became the brother I never had. I adored him, and he taught me everything. I often wondered how he had time for my sister when he was always teaching, playing, running, and even playing pool at the bar across the street. 

The first thing I did when I came home from summer school is I would run across the street with a quarter for the juke joint to play my favorite song from the juke box. Although it was a place for adults, they loved my sister and I so much they loved to see us coming. My favorite song was “Saturday Love” by Cherelle. Between that, playing pool and playing with the brother I never had that made my summer the best. Another thing that was super fun was summer school. For recess we played 2 square and 4 square. We also played jump rope and volleyball. The class itself and the teacher were creative and fun.

I can still remember my dad taking me to the store and he knew the only thing I wanted was ice cream and chocolate syrup. Sometimes it is the little things in life that go so far and you remember it like it was yesterday. The family and my brother were the sweetest people I ever met and when it was time to go home it was not great. The time I spent with my “brother” and all the things he taught me were so memorable it stuck with me until even this day.  

Stillness and Acceptance

By Contributing Writer, David Meyers

Today, I listened to AC/DC while reading guidelines of support groups which promote good mental health. Heavy metal music is almost completely opposite to the chakra balancing book and crystal book I have. Even so, I am spending time balancing my emotions with stones, essential oils, and even Enya often.

The nature of holistic healing is much different from the science I enjoy studying. Yet holistic healing provides me with a greater capacity to understand and tolerate scientific material. My ego is separated from the material, as I hold back judgment of the facts.

I think holistic healing is a big connection between science reading and my interest in mental health peer support. Tolerance for detailed and complex information is happening for me through enlarging my mindfulness practices.

I am taking the opportunity to unlearn some of my conditioning by increasing my meditation time with grounding through natural scenery in the springtime. I see how much of my thinking has been misguided.

The world out there is in a state of transition. As the world shifts in these present times, I seek to align myself with important truths.

Years of moving too fast and trying hard to meet everyone’s expectations left me jaded and judgmental. I am beginning to say goodbye to a book of unwritten rules of life by Western society and arrive where I need to be.

I say goodbye to judging myself as I adjust to the present moment. The sun shines and it is beautiful, and that is all I really need to know right now.

My favorite summer pastimes

By Lisa Maria Cruz, former MHPC Outreach Peer Support Specialist and current Medicaid Application Assistance Program Coordinator

I have very fond memories of the Buffalo Infringement Festival which, logically enough, takes place in Buffalo, NY. This year's event took place from July 28, to August 7, 2023. It happens each year for 11 days from late July to early August at various locations throughout Buffalo. Every year starts out with a parade led by a marching band. The band and other community members walk from the Co-op House on the corner of North and Elmwood to Nietzsche’s on Allen Street. It is always a good time!

My husband Bill Smythe is an organizer for the Buffalo Infringement Festival. It’s a big event and all the organizers donate their time because of their love for the festival. We especially fancy attending live music. We also check out spoken word, dance and acting.

I enjoy being a performer for the Buffalo Infringement Festival. As a spoken word artist, I recall performing at Rust Belt Books at the former location on Allen Street and their later location on Grant Street. I always felt very comfortable in that space and enjoyed reading there. I recall one year I read outside Kleinhan’s Music Hall. I enjoyed performing there, but I was lucky that day because it did not rain. (I prefer performing indoors.) I have performed at coffee shops, museums and restaurants. I also have a friend Deedee who does spoken word, as well, and sometimes we are on the same bill, which is wonderful!

I also have a large collection of Infringement t-shirts from all the years I have attended. Even though my t-shirt drawer is getting very full, I can never resist purchasing an Infringement hoodie or t-shirt. I enjoyed the Buffalo Infringement Festival 2023!

Virtual Support Groups

A Journey to Healing, Wednesdays, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Eddylees Guzman, 716-836-0822 ext. 164, or email at [email protected] contact to register. We will bring awareness, education, and support surrounding addiction to families who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. Participants will learn how to set healthy boundaries, learn the stages of grief & loss, model coping skills, and the importance of self-care.

Positive Perspective, every other Wednesday, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Ashanti Brown, 716-836-0822 ext. 160, or email at [email protected] contact to register. How do we change our thinking? Let’s find the positive in this very negative world!

Hand & Hand, Thursdays, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Ashanti Brown, 716-836-0822 ext. 160, or email at [email protected] contact to register. Reaching out to the community with a trauma and support group.

I Believe in You Support Group, Thursdays, 11:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m.

Denise Munir, 716-836-0822 ext. 169, or email at [email protected] contact to register. Come get the support that you need because you matter.

Virtual Open Mic: Freedom of Expression, 1st and 3rd Thursdays, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Denise Munir, 716-836-0822 ext. 169, or email at [email protected] contact to register. People can freely express themselves through spoken word, singing, playing musical instruments, theater, dance, and comedy.

In-Person Support Groups

Hope Heals Family Support Group, Tuesdays, 12:00 – 1:30 p.m.

Sparks of Hope, 107 Main St., Hamburg, NY 14075.

Alan Tomaski, [email protected], or 716-931-0380 to register. Please wear a face covering for the duration of the group. As family members, our pain grows as we watch our loved ones suffering from substance abuse. The confusion on how to help can be overwhelming. Anger and fear become a part of our everyday lives.

Healing Families, every 1st and 3rd Tuesday, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Rural Outreach Center, 730 Olean Rd., East Aurora, 14052.

Alan Tomaski, [email protected], or 716-931-0380 to register. Please wear a face covering for the duration of the group. Come join us for our peer family support group. We can help rebuild our lives after the devastation of substance use in our homes.

In-Person SMART Recovery, Thursdays, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Revive Wesleyan of Hamburg, 4999 McKinley Pkwy., Hamburg, NY 14075

Alan Tomaski, [email protected], or 716-931-0380 to register. Please wear a face covering for the duration of the group. (Room is open 30 minutes before and after the group.) Our goal is to help individuals gain independence from addictive behavior and lead meaningful and satisfying lives.

Wellness for All Group, every other Friday, 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Amity Club, 340 Military Rd., Buffalo, NY 14207

Randy Oaks, 836-0822 ext. 182, or [email protected] to register. Peer support group for socializing. A pool table, dart board, and television are available. Drinks and snacks can be purchased on-site.

Mental Health Support Group, Mondays, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Western New York Independent Living, 3108 Main St., Buffalo, N.Y. 14214

Marie Therese, 716-435-0238 or [email protected]. Open to anyone with any mental health challenge. Please call before attending for the first time.


An important note about the RSVP process and privacy:

To maintain your privacy, we do not publicly share phone numbers and links to our virtual meetings. We will respect people’s wishes to remain anonymous. 

Cheesy Meatball Casserole

This cheesy meatball casserole is a family favorite, with basil adding flavor to the meatballs and grated onion adding moisture. Melted mozzarella cheese tames the spice, but feel free to cut back or eliminate the crushed red pepper if you prefer a milder dish. By Liv Dansky

Published on June 9, 2022 in EatingWell

Reviewed by Dietitian Emily Lachtrupp, M.S., RD

Active Time: 20 mins

Total Time: 1 hrs.

Nutrition Profile: Healthy Pregnancy High-Protein Nut-Free Soy-Free


  • 16 ounces whole-wheat fusilli pasta
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar lower-sodium marinara sauce, divided
  • 1 pound 90%-lean ground beef
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup grated sweet onion
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups shredded low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese


  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta; cook until the center of the pasta is still somewhat firm, about 4 minutes less than package directions. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add half of the marinara sauce to the pasta and stir to coat.
  • Combine ground beef, panko, onion, basil, egg, Italian seasoning, salt, and crushed red pepper in a large bowl; gently mix with your hands (do not overmix). Form the mixture into 16 (about 1 1/2-inch) meatballs, nestling the meatballs into the pasta mixture as you work. Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the casserole and top with cheese.
  • Bake until a thermometer inserted into the meatballs registers at least 160°F and the cheese is lightly browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Garnish with basil, if desired.

Nutrition Facts


total carbohydrate 53g

dietary fiber 7g

total sugars 6g

protein 29g

total fat 17g

saturated fat 6g

cholesterol 78mg

vitamin a 529iu

vitamin c 5mg

vitamin d 11iu

vitamin e 1mg

folate 56mcg

vitamin k 7mcg

sodium 607mg

calcium 241mg

iron 5mg

magnesium 94mg

potassium 505mg

zinc 6mg

vitamin b12 2mcg