By Brenda Alesii
Erie County commissioner of senior services: ‘Our senior services are not what people think. They’re fun and awesome’
Make no mistake: the University Express is not the latest fast-moving train that will quickly take you to your destination. It is instead a free program offered by the department of Erie County Senior Services, featuring a variety of topics offered both virtually and in person throughout Erie County. Older adults are classified as 60-plus years, while some federal programs deem the age as 55-plus.
The University Express programs, lasting 45 minutes to an hour, include law, finance, current events, history, the humanities, science and wellness and personal enrichment, to name a few.
Amherst resident Angela Marinucci is the Erie County commissioner of senior services. In her post since March of this year, Marinucci, a graduate of American University Law School, is a passionate advocate for all the programs under her purview.
Q & A
Q. The mission of your department is to promote the well-being of all older adults through coordinated and cost-effective services, which enhance the independence, dignity and quality of life. What sort of feedback have you received from people who have attended University Express programs?
A. People love it. I know of a gentleman who signed up for 20 classes.
One of the more popular topics is fantasy football. A group attending that program formed the Akron Senior Mafia; they enjoy talking football and socializing around a common interest.
Our University Express is the best kept secret in Erie County, but seniors who have discovered it are taking advantage of the incredibly robust programs. Since its inception in 2014, we’ve grown every semester and more people are learning about the wide array of topics being offered, all free. There is also no cost to the senior centers.
Q. Have you sampled some programs yourself?
A. Yes. I attended a few, including a fascinating program on the evolution of dollmaking at the Delavan Grider Community Center. I’m out and about at least two days a week, attending University Express programs, visiting senior centers, open houses, farmers markets. I’m lucky to work in an administration that values older adults. I enjoy talking to people who need our services; it is so gratifying to help combat social isolation and keep people healthy and safe.
Q. How do you publicize the University Express?
A. We email information to senior center directors and place fliers in supermarkets, coffee shops. A wealth of info can be found on our website and on social media, and of course through word-of-mouth.
Q. What else is offered by your department?
A. Other programs include Club 99 — fitness classes held in parks and senior centers. We also work with several centers to provide lunch across the county. This past summer we received a grant that funded a group outing to a Buffalo Bisons game. More than 1,200 older adults attended the game and enjoyed hot dogs, soda and a wonderful summer afternoon in downtown Buffalo. With the cooperation of the Bisons, we arranged for our group to be seated in the shade, another example of a large-scale event in which our seniors felt safe and healthy.
We also have book and trivia clubs. Contrary to what people may think, many people aged 60-plus are internet-savvy. In reality, older adults have been using computers for more than 20 years since the time they were working.
This isn’t like the life portrayed on “The Golden Girls.” Our senior services are not what people think. They’re fun and awesome.
Q. With winter looming, does your department provide help with cold weather needs?
A. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is available starting this month; we do outreach around the county. Using grant money, we work in conjunction with FeedMore WNY and Meals on Wheels to provide eligible adults with home- delivered meals.
Q. How can your office be reached?
A. Our phone number is 716-858-8526; website: www.erie.gov/seniorservices. More info can be found on Facebook and Twitter.