GCASA leader says big increase in people suffering anxiety, depression and other mental health issues
Agency recognizes staff and supporters for efforts to fight substance use disorder
By Mike Pettinella, GCASA Publicist
BATAVIA – Understanding the importance of enlisting all segments of the community to fight the scourge of substance use disorder, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse leaders on Monday afternoon recognized its board of directors, staff, scholarship recipients and “friends” at the nonprofit agency’s annual meeting.
About 80 people attended the luncheon meeting at Terry Hills Restaurant.
Four individuals and one business were presented with Friends of GCASA awards:
• Mickey Edwards, superintendent of Albion Central School (and former superintendent at Byron-Bergen Central School), Friend of GCASA Prevention;
• One World Projects, Harvester Avenue, Batavia, Friend of GCASA Residential Services;
• Hon. Sanford A. Church, judge for the Orleans County Court Multi-Bench in the Eighth Judicial District of New York (and former Orleans County public defender), Friend of GCASA Treatment;
• Joy Mercer of Corfu, licensed mental health counselor, Friend of GCASA Treatment;
• Charlotte Crawford of Batavia, R.N., interim executive director at Crossroads House and retired chief executive officer at Lake Plains Community Care Network, Friend of GCASA Recovery.
Four students each received $1,000 GCASA Foundation Scholarships as a result of their enrollment in fields related to substance abuse prevention/treatment:
• Kendra Lonnen, a 2022 graduate of Lyndonville Central School, who will be attending Genesee Community College to study Human Resources, with a goal of becoming a social worker;
• Sarah Volpe, a 2022 graduate of Elba Central School, who also will receive an associate’s degree in General Studies from GCC this summer. She will be attending Daemen University in the fall with direct entry into the Physician Assistant program.
• Samantha Kabel, a 2022 graduate of Alexander Central School, who also will be attending Daemen University in the fall to study Pre-Medicine Biology;
• Tess Pettit, a 2019 graduate of Albion Central School, who is graduating from Houghton College with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
“It is our honor and privilege to recognize the people that support the work that we do here at GCASA, and to be able to assist in the education of those who are choosing to pursue careers that ultimately will make a positive difference in the lives of so many of our neighbors,” GCASA Chief Executive Officer John Bennett said.
Bennett underscored the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic upon substance use disorder prevention and treatment, noting a remarkable spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems among those dealing with drug and alcohol issues.
“At the same time,” he said, “filling vacancies for mental health and substance use disorder professionals has become a huge concern. The increase in individuals leaving and the lack of individuals coming into the workforce have created even more problems for a system that has been hit hard by the pandemic.”
He said that the profession is bouncing back to some extent, but “the challenge of the next year or two is to figure out what is the new normal.”
Calling his staff “the heart and soul of this organization,” Bennett thanked GCASA employees for “persevering and keeping our doors open over the past two years.”
“You are truly amazing and I and the board of directors appreciate you more than you can imagine,” he said.
Outgoing Board President Virginia Taylor, Ph.D., presided over the election of new board members and the slate of officers. Bennett commended Taylor, a Higher Education Administration consultant, for her dedication and passion to the GCASA mission during her six years as a board member.
Elected to three-year terms were Jerry Ader, Genesee County public defender; Don Allport, Orleans County legislator; Gary Graber, Darien Town justice; Gretchen Rosales, superintendent at Elba Central School; Jennifer Wakefield, GCC Foundation director of Development & Alumni Affairs.
Officers elected were Tim Batzel, president, Alexander Central business administrator; Katie Cotter, vice president, specialist with WNY Independent Living, and Fred Rarick, secretary-treasurer, Batavia attorney.
In 2021, GCASA provided 812 comprehensive substance use disorder evaluations through its outpatient treatment services, with 249 admitted to the Batavia Outpatient Clinic, 191 admitted to the Albion Outpatient Clinic, and 124 admitted to the Opioid Treatment Program.
Forty-three individuals were admitted to the Atwater Community Residence in Batavia, with another 18 admitted into supportive living.
GCASA’s Prevention educators served 28,938 youth and adults in various programs, while the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force membership stands at 441.
The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road in Batavia served 477 individuals, hosting activities five to six days per week throughout the year, while Employee Assistance Program counselors provided services to 46 people.