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Jennifer Gunia receives Network in Aging Meritorious Award

Nov 02, 2021

Jennifer Gunia…a Voice of Seniors in the Southtowns

Jennifer Gunia, Harmonia Collaborative Care’s Senior Services Coordinator is this year’s Meritorious Award recipient. And, for good reason. Jennifer has spent the last 18 years supporting seniors in isolated areas obtain the help they need to stay independent in their homes.

Originally from Buffalo, she has lived in Derby, NY since the age of 13. She started her education at ECC looking for the right place to share her interest in helping others. She then attended Hilbert College, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Human Services. As she started out in her profession, she followed in the career path of her high school friend, Angel Schoenhardt, with whom she found support and inspiration. Jerry Bartone, then CEO of Community Concern of WNY, the predecessor to Harmonia, hired Jennifer; the rest, as they say, is history.

“My roots are in the Southtowns community. When I started out, I helped the grandparents of people I knew. Now, that has shifted to helping folks my parents age,” said Jennifer. “I have a strong connection with the local area. I feel that I am a voice for seniors and their caregivers in the areas we cover.”

Working for New Era and JPs Pub in Lake View and other restaurants since the age of 16, Jennifer knows the community well. She does her best to get the word out about the senior services Harmonia offers by word of mouth, tabling at farmer’s markets and attending events. She can’t go door to door, but smiling she says, “I have been known to hand out my business cards to those in need of support at the grocery store or restaurant. I see people struggling or hear about caregivers in need of guidance and I have to find them help.”

Over time, she has seen the challenges of seniors grow. “Everyone wants to stay in their home. It’s their comfort zone,” shared Jennifer. “There really is no place like home.” Jennifer and her staff work to link isolated individuals to services that will keep them in their homes.

They work at helping clients come up with alternative solutions to get their needs met, whether it is transportation, getting to their medical appointments, food or medications. It’s the big things, but also the small things they do that make seniors’ lives better.

“Recently, a home bound client called and needed help getting her cat to the vet. There is no walking down Route 5 carrying a cat carrier. So, we brainstormed solutions to get her the help she needed,” said Jennifer.

When the COVID pandemic hit, the agency scrambled to continue to meet client needs. The Senior Services team continued to reach out to their frail homebound clients through routine calls to those who lacked support. One woman with very little support said she looked forward to our calls. Jennifer shared that, “she said she imagined herself being ‘stuck alone’ in the forest and ‘hearing your voice gives me hope.’ This is why we do what we do. I love that we can empower our clients and help them remain independent in their homes.”

“I am proud of the work Jennifer does supporting seniors. She is the voice of our seniors within our office and in the community. All of us at Harmonia want to thank Network in Aging for this great recognition,” said Valerie Nowak, LMHC, MPA and CEO of Harmonia Collaborative Care.

Jennifer lives in Hamburg, NY with her husband, Anthony, and twin nine-year-old sons, along with their two-year old Black Lab, Luna. She enjoys the sports her sons play as well as cooking, baking and her long walks with Luna.

Harmonia has been a member of Network in Aging for her entire 18 years. Jennifer has enjoyed the collaboration with the other Network agencies to share information and resources. She is grateful for the Network’s recognition of her work and selection for the 2021 Meritorious Award.