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Erie County celebrates Older Americans, Mental Health Awareness Month in May


Thu, May 2nd 2024 10:00 pm

Erie County Executive Poloncarz joins 100 older adults at Burchfield Penney Art Center as part of Senior Services’ University Express program

Submitted by the Press Secretary to the County Executive

May is both Older Americans Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, and Erie County officials kicked off the month by joining 100 older adults for a tour of the Burchfield Penney Art Center as part of the Department of Senior Services’ University Express program.

University Express offers free educational classes for older adults in Erie County with programs in the spring and fall semesters. Classes are designed to stimulate the mind and provide opportunities to build social networks and reduce social isolation while covering a variety of categories such as current affairs, history, humanities, finance and medicine.

Along with the group of older art enthusiasts, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Deputy County Executive Lisa Chimera, Commissioner of Senior Services Angela Marinucci, Commissioner of Mental Health Mark O’Brien, and Director of the Office of Health Equity Kelly Wofford joined Burchfield Penney Art Center Executive Director Scott Propeack for the gallery tour.

“The University Express program overall, and this field trip in particular, demonstrates how Erie County promotes the mental wellness of older adults in Erie County every day, keeping older residents involved and active with their peers,” Poloncarz said. “As we celebrate our older residents this month, we’re also providing more ways for them to stay healthy and connected to the community.”

The Burchfield Penney gallery tour had a strong response and spots filled up quickly, so the Department of Senior Services is already planning a second “field trip” for the fall. University Express offers 172 unique class topics over a total of approximately 374 sessions for the spring 2024 semester. The classes serve around 1,000 individual older adults in Erie County each semester.

“We have a tremendous set of instructors who are experts in their field who volunteer to design and teach these classes. It is a wonderful experience for everyone involved,” Marinucci said. “These classes and the act of learning encourage connections within the community, support overall mental health and wellness, and combat social isolation for our county’s older adults.”

Since its inception in 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has provided opportunities for discussion and action to address the challenges faced by millions of Americans living with mental health conditions. The Erie County Department of Mental Health (ECDMH) plays a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being of individuals across Erie County through a comprehensive system of community-based programs for mental health, developmental disabilities, chemical dependency, and children's care.

O’Brien added, "Like viewing the experience of the eclipse, connectivity to our minds, bodies and communities are the common threads that unite us. May is the time of year that we celebrate our efforts at mental wellness and lift up the voices of those unheard and unseen who struggle every day to find places of emotional safety and healing."

Recognizing the importance of mental wellness across all age groups, in 2023 ECDMH launched the EriePath app, a groundbreaking initiative that has swiftly gained traction countywide. This innovative app serves as a vital bridge to connect residents of any age with essential mental health resources within their community, and all right at their fingertips. By prioritizing mental wellness and providing easy access to support services, ECDMH fosters a culture of proactive care and resilience, emphasizing that mental well-being is crucial at every stage of life.

ECDMH and Erie County Senior Services are currently working with community partners under the banner of Live Well Erie, a collaborative initiative dedicated to achieving greater health outcomes and improving the overall quality of life for county residents. Maintaining a clear focus on the social determinants of health, Live Well Erie covers three populations: children, working families, and older adults.

For more information on Older Americans Month, visit https://acl.gov/oam/2024/older-americans-month-2024; on Mental Health Awareness Month, visit https://www.nami.org/; on the Burchfield Penney Art Center, visit https://burchfieldpenney.org/; on the Department of Senior Services, https://www3.erie.gov/seniorservices/; on the Department of Mental Health, visit https://www3.erie.gov/mentalhealth/; on the Office of Health Equity, visit https://www3.erie.gov/health/health/health-equity.

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