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Care designed to keep people at home; HART Interfaith gets a boost in its efforts

A helping hand at home can sometimes seem like a lifeline for those in need, and a Lewiston-based organization is eager to let people know how to find it from a qualified source and at an affordable price.

Home Assistance Referral Team (HART) Interfaith Inc. is a nonprofit referral service, matching people in need with skilled nurses, personal care aides, home maintenance providers, drivers, and even companions.

Founded nearly 30 years ago by a few members of the First Presbyterian Church of Lewiston, the group has relied largely on word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied clients.

But a $3,000 grant last year from the Patrick P. Lee Foundation has helped the group update its way of reaching people.

New program manager Susan McBee is now able to "take the show on the road," with a short Power Point computer presentation on equipment purchased with the grant money awarded by the foundation, which is based in Amherst and Key Largo, Fla.

McBee, a former teacher who joined HART last October, said she is eager to accept invitations to speak before area senior groups and civic organizations.

"We need to get the word out there," she said.

She was gratified to be invited to speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 639 Main St., Niagara Falls, earlier this year.

"On the third Sunday of each month, they donate their offerings to a different group and they chose us," she said.

HART concentrates mainly on Niagara County, although it will try to accommodate residents of Grand Island and the Tonawandas.

Citing the 2009 U.S. Census, McBee said, "The Census said 15 percent of the population in Niagara County is age 65 or older, but we believe it's even higher than that.

"We are trying to reach out to the caregivers, and we have a website now, which is especially helpful if the children live out of town," she said.

Through the Lee grant, HART was able to purchase a new laptop computer and movie screen and print new brochures in its effort to reach new audiences.

"We rely on fundraisers, foundations and individual donations to cover our costs," McBee explained. "And that's difficult because everyone is holding on to their money a little tighter in this economy."

The Community Tea Ladies will present an elegant Victorian Tea to benefit HART at 1 p.m. May 14 at the First Presbyterian Church of Lewiston, 505 Cayuga St. Tickets are $25 and the deadline for reservations is April 30. For reservation information, contact HART at 754-8313.

HART is heavily relying on this fundraiser, as additional support from the Town of Lewiston has been slashed and foundations often want to see specific plans for the use of the money so grants will not cover simple operating costs, McBee said.

"That's tough," McBee said, explaining how the group tries to keep costs to a bare minimum. "We pay three part-time salaries and our phone bills and the church donates space to us."

While the church is no longer affiliated with the group, per se, it does provide free office space in its administrative building.

Neither the person seeking help nor the person seeking employment pays a fee to HART. Once the match is made, the rate of payment for care is mutually agreed upon by the service provider and recipient. The group's goal is to provide names of prospective service providers within 24 hours of a request.

"We have a database of over 200 potential caregivers," said Nancy D'Arcangelo, who, along with Reva-Belle Kramer, serves as a case coordinator on a part-time basis.

"There is nothing comparable to our organization in Erie County," said D'Arcangelo. "We get calls from people in Erie County, but our caregivers are based in Niagara County and it's tough for them to travel too far into Erie County because they usually have multiple cases.

"We are different from anyone else providing these services because we're nonprofit," she added. "We take no part of the income our caregivers receive."

The caregivers are carefully screened prior to being accepted into HART's database. HART tries to give each client at least a couple of choices in order to set up personal interviews and make the best compatible selection.

D'Arcangelo, who joined HART as a volunteer long before becoming an employee in 1999, said she has seen the need for this service rise with societal changes, such as more women entering the workforce and more adult children leaving the area.

"Families are scattered now," she said. "Even just 10 years ago, someone might have had somebody here in the family who might be able to help out during the day. But more [adult] children are working and they still want to keep their parents in their own homes, but can't get the help they need to do that. We're pleased to have this website now so that out-of-town families can be referred to us. It's very helpful."

"We offer a really personal touch," added McBee.

For more information on HART Interfaith, visit the website at www.HartInterfaith.org or call 754-8313 from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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