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BC/BS grants $2.5M to 12 groups for healthy lifestyles

Mike Desmond
Recipients pose for a photograph.

If you run a health insurance company, encouraging healthy lifestyles is good for business. The BlueCross BlueShield Blue Fund gave out $2.5 million Thursday to a dozen groups around Western New York that encourage healthy lifestyles, from drug treatment to increasing access to healthy food.

Directions in Independent Living, serving Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties, is getting money for a bus.

"A lot of people do not have access to transportation to get to the limited things we have for healthy lifestyles," said CEO Lenny Liguori. "So part of this, we'll be able to educate them on healthy lifestyles, but also get them involved in, instead of worrying about the events that are being offered, giving them a way to get to the events. It seems wild that that would be a problem, but that's a huge problem in our area."

Liquori said the bus will also help people in the two counties get access to behavioral health services, which they can't get to without that bus.

Gerard Place President and CEO David Zapfel said his organization's $274,00 grant will help a training program in the Bailey-Delavan area to provide healthcare job skills.

"The community that before Gerard Place opened the new community center really didn't have a lot of job training," Zapfel said. "With the Blue Fund, we're going to be able to train home health aide workers, LPNs, CNAs, we have a new culinary arts program. That coupled with a early childhood academy that allows young moms to leave their child in the academy and go upstairs and get job training."

The Willie Hutch Jones Educational and Sports Program received $100,000 to expand its reach to kids whose first language isn't English.

"Besides Arabic, we see Burmese coming in. It's like certain people may only speak seven languages and none of them are yours," said Jones. "So it's a service that we need to expand and this Blue Fund is going to help us go into that area. Ironically, we just got a new contract with the Maryvale School District, where we're servicing another 300 kids. This is after school programming."

Other grants will pay for new parks in North Tonawanda and Martin Luther King Jr. Park, opening a medically oriented gym for Jericho Road, and design and programming for the Western New York Land Conservancy's DL&W Corridor Trail.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.