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When elderly women and men can no longer live in their homes, "the financial burdens on individuals, families and the system are enormous," said Mary Dee Martoche, chairwoman of the board of the Greater Buffalo Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"The numbers are staggering. The average cost of a nursing home placement is $6,000 per month, and the average cost for assisted living runs between $1,500 and $3,000 per month."

Helping more seniors safely stay in their homes longer is the mission of the new Lifeline to Independence for the Elderly project. The Red Cross, lead agency for the project, announced this week it will be working to provide services such as handyman chores, shopping, errands, pharmacy pickup, in-home safety training, pet care, weekend transportation and nonmedical trips.

A three-year pilot program to help those 60 and older, the project will start with 300 seniors from the Concerned Ecumenical Ministries senior case management program, plus another 300 seniors not enrolled in the Ministries' program but who also live on the West Side of Buffalo. Eventually the project will extend to seniors living in all areas of Western New York.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, Camp Fire Boys and Girls, and Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services are among project collaborators. They also include the Concerned Ecumenical Ministries, the county Department of Senior Services, Coordinated Care, Kaleida Health-Upper West Side Family Health Center, the Father Belle Center and the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care-Life Transitions Center.

Working with the county Senior Services Department, the Red Cross will develop and implement an orientation and training program for volunteers, who must complete training before being assigned to any task. The "faith community" will also be called upon to help with the project.

Erie 1 BOCES Western New York Regional Health and Wellness Center will take the lead in linking community service to classroom instruction, developing and evaluating the curriculum.

The project is supported by a $600,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation that is payable over three years.

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