Niagara Gazette

Opinion

March 3, 2014

HIGGS: Retreat is not a step backward

Niagara Gazette — I took a couple of “retreats” lately. Not the kind that is a step backward. Several online dictionaries offered synonyms for the word, such as “a refuge, haven, sanctuary, escape” to describe my experiences. I might add they were very far from the “step back or pull back” version as they all involved progress.

In early February, the Niagara Falls Block Club Council held its annual retreat which allowed block club members and other invited guests with similar interests to gather together to listen and learn about achievements, new ideas, new programs in place and definitions of some that been around awhile from local government elected and staff officials. Not all are mentioned here due to space limitations. Mayor Paul Dyster, Congressman Brian Higgins, State Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Ceretto welcomed the audience with highlights within their area of government.

Of great interest to me was Niagara County Court Judge Sara Farkas who left her seat on the dais and came into the audience to speak passionately about “the best thing she has done since her election to the bench.” She described in interesting detail how she found out about a Veterans Court in Buffalo and became immersed in bringing this advantage to the Niagara County Court system which finally began in September 2013 after four years of begging the court system to allow Niagara County to have such a court.

She described it as sort of a drug court where treatment is offered as a way to rehabilitate veterans whose substance abuse or mental health diagnosis has led to crime. There are drug courts in most communities but the difference here is the defendants are veterans and are mentored by volunteers who are also veterans, some of whom started out the same way. Our veterans court is one of only 18 such courts throughout New York. The Veterans Administration assists the court with help with veterans’ benefits. Successful release from the treatment program often reduces or eliminates the criminal charge. There are no additional staff costs for the extra work involved. Its main goal is to assist men and women who have served in the military (combat service is not mandatory) and gained problems that others cannot relate to. Court is held each Thursday at 2 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend.

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