GUEST VIEW: Opportunities Unlimited official discusses grave maker situation - Niagara Gazette: Opinion

GUEST VIEW: Opportunities Unlimited official discusses grave maker situation

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Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2014 3:00 am

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for highlighting the topic of preplanning ones funeral/memorial/burial in Michele DeLuca’s article “Wheatfield woman advocating for stones on unmarked graves,” published on Friday. This is a very important and sensitive topic, for all of us, and especially, as the article points out, people with disabilities and their families, guardians and/or advocates.

However, as the executive director/CEO of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, I would like to provide additional information and facts which will more fully and accurately reflect the agency’s position on the events leading up to DeLuca’s article and the letter to the editor, “Lack of burial markers raises questions,” also published on Friday.

First and foremost, I believe, that it is very sad that the individuals discussed in the article do not have grave markers, and it is my sincere belief that everyone should have one. Unfortunately, many of the individuals we support and their families, advocates and guardians do not preplan ... in truth, many of us do not preplan for our final expenses for any number of personal and financial reasons. It is important for people to know that the dedicated team of Medicaid service coordinators at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara work hard to encourage and help the individuals we support and their families to develop plans to set aside burial funds, but many choose not to do so or are unable to do so. Medicaid and Social Security insurance funds do not fully cover burials. As you know, a person’s final expenses are significant. Our local funeral homes have been very generous to help provide an appropriate and dignified burial for the people we support. I spoke with other local Niagara County agencies that provide services for individuals with disabilities, and they do not pay for grave markers as they also do not have the funds available to do so. As a service provider we are not intended to be a funding mechanism for the provision of burial expenses, and consistent with that, by law, the funding we receive cannot be used for this purpose.

It is also important to note that the Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Foundation Board did review the grave marker request, referenced in the letter to the editor, at its February meeting. The request was tabled for further review and consideration, and that decision was communicated via telephone message. As stated in the article, we are almost fully funded by New York state Medicaid dollars, and our funding must be provided for each year in the annual budget from the state. Funding may change from year to year and has decreased substantially in recent years. The foundation’s goal is to discern the funding priorities for the entire agency before making any appropriations from the limited unrestricted charitable gifts we receive. The Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Foundation, which is under the direction of Associate Executive Director, Elaine Duquette, was founded to provide a long-term source of financial support to ensure that people with developmental disabilities have opportunities toward independence and integration within the community. For nearly 60 years, the community, area businesses, and our families have been very generous in supporting this mission by attending our various fundraisers and supporting our appeals. We are extremely grateful for our donor’s generosity. However, much of the money raised by these endeavors is restricted for very specific purposes. It is very important to note that when a donor designates a specific use for their contribution, it is the ethical and moral responsibility of the foundation to ensure that the money is spent with the purpose that it is intended by the donor and with no administrative fees deducted. We are also, in fact, required to do so by law, and that is exactly how we conduct business.

Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara’s primary mission must be, and is, to support the more than 600 people living with intellectual and other developmental disabilities who depend on our agency to provide them with the necessary resources to take their rightful place in our community — to live, learn, work and play as full members of society. Every day our professional staff delivers these critical supports through innovative and high quality services and programs. And every day, donors help us to do so through their generosity and kindness.

It is my hope that DeLuca’s article will help to stimulate continued dialogue on the issue and will help all families to understand the importance of preplanning in order to provide a lasting tribute to their loved ones.

I thank the community for their generous and ongoing support on behalf of the people we serve.

Kellie A. Spychalski is the executive director/CEO of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara.

Kellie A. Spychalski is the executive director/CEO of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara.



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