Perennial runner Bob Bluey gears up for the 45th Boilermaker

With thousands of running races held each year in the United States, Robert (Bob) Bluey has no trouble choosing his favorite, the Boilermaker 15K Road Race in Utica, NY.  At the age of 72, Bob is part of a very special group of runners who have participated in every Boilermaker race since its inception in 1978. This long-time Mohawk Valley resident, grandfather of three, and proud Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medicare member currently lives with his wife in New York Mills.

Bob Bluey, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medicare member, runs up the Culver Ave hill as he trains for the Boilermaker 15K Road Race in Utica, NY. (PHOTO BY NANCY L. FORD)

His love of running began in 1975, when at the age of 25 he decided to make his health a priority. “I attended a class about healthy lifestyles put on by the American Heart Association,” Bob recalls. “I took a 5 question heart health quiz and I had one of the highest [risk] scores in the class. I needed to change my lifestyle and become healthier.”  Bob’s mother had suffered from heart disease throughout his childhood, even spending time in the hospital. “As a kid it was scary,” remembers Bob.  Heart disease eventually took her life at the age of 62. “The instructor of the class talked about the importance of exercise especially if you have a family history of heart disease. It was a wake-up call.”

When putting his plan in place to get healthy, he started slowly with an easy run around the block. At that time running was just starting to become mainstream and the first sneakers designed specifically for running were introduced. “There weren’t a lot of running events to do at that time,” recalls Bob.  Then in 1978 he heard about a race happening in Utica. “The main reason I decided to run the first Boilermaker was because they were giving out free beer,” says Bob. “Every other race, you would get water, but the Boilermaker promised free beer!” 

The 15K distance was going to be a challenge for Bob, but his very good running friend Joe encouraged him to participate in some development runs and run a 15K race in Rome to prepare.  On race day Bob was ready. He remembers the crowd of around 800 people feeling enormous. “There were runners from Buffalo, Albany, New York City, and Canada. It was a big deal,” recalls Bob. “Finishing the race was pretty amazing. When I got to the end there were all of these people. Everyone stayed and talked about the race. It was great!”

Bob incorporates stretching into his fitness routine. (PHOTO BY NANCY L. FORD)

As Bob gears up for his 45th race, he still carries with him the same enthusiasm for running.  “I try to get in a run at least 3 days a week,” says Bob. He usually does a 3.5-mile loop and starts adding miles to his runs in June in preparation for the Boilermaker, working his way up to 10 miles. In addition to running, Bob rounds out his fitness routine with 20 to 30 minutes of stretching and strength training on non-running days. “I’m so much healthier because of running,” says Bob. “Most people my age take some type of medication. The only pill I take is a multi-vitamin.”  Despite being active and maintaining a healthy weight, he understands his hereditary risk of heart disease can’t be changed. “Knowing that running has kept my body in shape, motivates me to keep going,” explains Bob.  He also notices the impact running has on his mental health. “I think being physically fit makes your mental health the best it can be,” says Bob.  He maintains a positive attitude about life and looks forward to opportunities to be active.

Having run every Boilermaker since the beginning, Bob has a perspective on the race that few people have.  He has seen it transform and grow over the years in a multitude of ways. “The first race was very laid back,” remembers Bob. “Cars were allowed on the course and there wasn’t much security even though there was a professional runner, Ric Rojas, in the race.”  Bob remembers a major turning point when Olympian and marathon record holder William (Bill) Rogers participated in the race in 1984. “It turned into a big-time race with professional runners from around the world,” says Bob. “The fact that the best in the world were coming in and you got to run with them was amazing! That doesn’t happen in any other sport.  I could never play baseball with Yankee Aaron Judge, but I could run with the pros.” What is even more amazing to Bob is after the race is over the professional runners come out in front of the stage and talk with people. “They are part of the comradery. It is a really nice thing that we’ve got here that no one else has,” says Bob.

He recalls seeing the crowd for the race grow bigger each year as well.  “Now there are people everywhere. I love seeing the crowd on the stretch coming down Champlain Avenue and onto Whitesboro Street.”

Personally, for Bob the meaning of the race has also evolved.  “Many of the people I’ve known since my early days of the race, mentors in running, friends who would take me to the starting line, have passed on,” says Bob.  “Now my family is what makes the race special.  I have relatives that come from all over for the race.”  He has family that joins him from as far away as California. It has turned into a weekend long family reunion with as many as 50 relatives showing up to run the iconic race. “They love it! We begin celebrating on Friday with different events – dinners, baseball games, the kid’s run. The whole family is here for the weekend,” explains Bob.

Passing on his passion for running is important. “My sons, nephews, grandkids, everyone sees that running is a healthy way of life,” explains Bob. “Even my older brother, who for the longest time thought I was insane, started to run races.”

Some may wonder what keeps Bob coming back to the Boilermaker year after year. Having run four marathons, including the New York City Marathon and the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C., Bob still thinks the Boilermaker is the best race around. “Over the years, I’ve seen people I work with and friends along the course in different places,” says Bob.  “I probably don’t go a half mile without seeing someone I know waving to me. I’ll see friends I worked with 30 years ago, and my family waiting for me on the Parkway.”  And he has no plans to stop. “It gets harder all the time, but I use my health as my motivation.”

Bob is looking forward to the 45th Boilermaker 15K Road Race presented by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield on July 10. “I can’t wait to get to the starting line, get back to normal, and see thousands of people.”

Bob chats with Excellus BCBS Regional President Eve Van de Wal at the iconic finish line of the Boilermaker 15K Road Race. (PHOTO BY NANCY L. FORD)

“We are excited to continue our support of the Boilermaker as the presenting sponsor of the 15K road race and cheer on runners like Bob,” says Eve Van de Wal, Excellus BCBS Utica regional president.  “This event showcases the spirit of our community, as athletes from around the world and in our neighborhoods gather together to enjoy this one-of-a-kind race. We are inspired everyday by Excellus BCBS members like Bob to further our mission of improving the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve. We can’t wait to be there at the finish line!”

Using development tools to grow from intern to executive

When Melissa Gardner began her career with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield 18 years ago, she didn’t set out to become executive vice president chief population health engagement officer.  In fact, she wasn’t even aiming for a senior leadership position. “It wasn’t my goal to be at the executive level,” explains Melissa. “But I did aspire to solve bigger problems and help more people.  I’m fueled by solving problems and crave learning something new.”

Like pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together, Melissa’s eagerness to learn and take on new challenges coupled with the many development opportunities offered through Excellus BCBS, created the career we see today.  Her journey began when she was offered an internship with the provider operations department during her junior year of college.  Melissa’s forward thinking contributed to a process improvement initiative that had a great impact on the organization’s ability to track provider information.  Her success led to an offer to become a permanent employee even prior to graduating college.  She accepted the position and began working with Excellus BCBS in February while finishing her bachelor’s degree in the evenings.  “The company was able to provide me with a flexible schedule that allowed me to finish my degree,” says Melissa. “They were flexible with my work location as well.  I was able to finish school in Ithaca and move to Rochester after I graduated in May.”

Since that time, Melissa went on to earn her Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina utilizing the tuition assistance program offered through Excellus BCBS. She has gained experience in almost every department within the organization, having had more than 10 different positions during her 18-year career. “My core strength is being a connector, understanding others’ strengths, and connecting people, processes, and technology,” explains Melissa. “When an area needed to work cross functionally, I was often asked to lead those teams.”

While hard work, talent, and determination played an important role, those are not the only factors that led to Melissa’s success.  She took an active role in her employee development, taking advantage of the many opportunities offered through Excellus BCBS including community volunteer opportunities, mentorship, internal and external executive coaching, sponsorship, LinkedIn Learning courses, the Excellus BCBS learning corner, emerging leader courses, and tuition assistance.

Mentorship has been one of Melissa’s most impactful development tools. “Our organization is focused on making sure that employees who have leadership potential have access and connection to leaders through the mentor program,” says Melissa.  Mentorships, whether formal or informal, can be extremely valuable. “I never felt alone because of my mentors. I always had someone who believed in me, and if I didn’t know how to do something, they were there to help.”

Community involvement was another pivotal aspect of Melissa’s professional development. “Having spent my career with Excellus BCBS, I needed to look outside the organization to gain new insights,” explains Melissa. “My ability to join various community boards provided me with that experience without having to leave the company.”  She had individuals who advocated on her behalf in the community and suggested her for board roles.  This is where sponsorship is essential.  Many of us think of sponsorship in terms of supporting an organization or event through funding. But as Melissa explains, in the professional setting, a sponsor is someone in your organization who says, “I’m going to take on the assignment of paving the way for you to be successful by mentioning your name and volunteering you for projects that will help you grow.” 

Sponsorship, mentorship, and coaching are important components of a professional development plan for employees within Excellus BCBS.  While a mentor can provide guidance and advice, a coach will act as your accountability partner, helping you work through challenges. “We encourage our leaders to take on these roles, not only to develop future leaders, but also because they learn so much from the experience themselves,” says Melissa. In addition to books and other learning resources, Melissa continues to gain new knowledge through conversations with her mentees.

If you are taking your first steps toward professional development, Melissa has some advice. “Begin by learning. Invest in your job knowledge to help drive the conversation.  Be present and ask for help, or a contact who can share new information, or a special project to gain additional experience.” 

Excellus BCBS strongly encourages employee development, education, and board and community involvement. Melissa’s journey from intern to executive is an example of what is possible when an employee utilizes the many support tools available within the organization. To learn more about employee benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit careers.excellusbcbs.com.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition, Jason Helsdon, at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Well-child visits over summer break:  Book them now!

It’s not too early to arrange the medical and dental visits your kids will need over the summer break from school. With planning, you’ll be able to easily fit the well-child visits, camp physicals, and dental check-ups into your schedule of day trips, summer school, and tee ball. 

“You wouldn’t wait until the last minute to make your vacation plans because hotels might be booked up, so don’t wait too long to make your child’s summertime medical and dental appointments because your doctor may not have openings when you want them,” says Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, and vice president medical affairs and senior medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Appointments can get scarce as September approaches, so secure pediatric medical and dental visits now.” 

Children ages two to 21 years old should have an annual physical to make sure immunizations are up to date, including the COVID vaccine; growth and development are on track; hearing and vision are optimal for learning; and important topics are addressed such as eating and sleeping habits, social behaviors, and family dynamics.

For children with asthma, an annual physical provides an opportunity to review and update the child’s asthma action plan, and to make sure all adults who care for the child have a copy, including camp counselors, coaches, teachers, caregivers, and even parents of their friends.

“Routine checkups not only offer preventive care, but also create strong, trusting relationships with providers that will benefit your child throughout their life,” says Fitzpatrick. 

Regular dental care is just as important as well-child visits and is recommended every six months.

“Preventive dental care is essential for good oral health, and also for general health,” says Fitzpatrick. “Untreated oral disease has a large impact on quality of life and productivity, including for children.” Each year, U.S. children lose an average of 34 million school hours  because of emergency dental care.

Fitzpatrick advises parents to make the most of their children’s medical and dental visits by making a list of topics they’d like to address with their child’s health care provider. “Bring your top three to five questions or concerns with you to discuss at the start of the visit.”

School may not let out for the summer for several more weeks, but that doesn’t mean it is too early to start planning the most efficient way to use the break. Make your well-child and pediatric dental appointments now so that the summer calendar fills up on your terms, instead of allowing these important medical and dental appointments to dictate how your family spends its summer vacation.

Building tomorrow’s future today

What do I want to be when I grow up? What do I want to study? What are my options? All questions middle and high school students ask themselves. As potential future employees, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is engaging and educating students in grades 7-12 about exploring a career in health care.  

​​​​​​​In March, we sponsored and participated in the virtual Junior Achievement Inspire Career Fair. Filled with interactive exhibits, chat rooms, and video presentations, students in school districts in all Excellus BCBS regions could “chat” with our employees to learn about our company, health care, internship opportunities, and our support of local communities.

​​​​​​​“Our experience was overwhelmingly positive. Students came equipped with thoughtful questions that exemplify a future generation in the workplace that will provide innovative thought and value,” says Patrick McDaniels and Dan Haasis, Talent Acquisition Sourcing Specialists.

Pittsford Central School District Teacher Suzanne Graser says, “bringing the career fair to the classroom is a spectacular idea and gave students valuable tools and career options to explore in a unique and fun setting.” ​​​​​​​

From the impact our employees have volunteering their time with Junior Achievement to the collaboration of our Talent Acquisition, Community Investments and Partnerships, and Corporate Communications and Marketing teams, our efforts to create a path inspiring tomorrow’s leader is a true workforce development partnership. 

“We are proud to serve on the board of directors for the Junior Achievement Program in the Central Upstate New York Greater Syracuse Region and Central Upstate New York Region to support effective teaching and student development programs that prepare young adults for future workforce opportunities and empower them for success,” say Kelli Lasher, Regional Sales Manager and Matt Wagstaff, Strategy, and Corporate Administration Director at Excellus BCBS.

Patrick and Dan are looking forward to future involvement with the program and say, “we are proud to work for a company that values the employee lifecycle from grade school until retirement.”

A great corporate culture / A great place to work

How does a company maintain an engaged and collaborative corporate culture when it no longer has hundreds of employees under the same roof, interacting in the corridors, or chatting over lunch in the cafeteria? That’s a dilemma for every business that’s gone to a flexible work arrangement, but it’s something in which Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has had some success.

“What’s your evidence?” you ask? The health insurer operates across upstate New York, and in one of its regions, it has again been among the top honorees in a competition to recognize the best places to work … a competition based on confidential and voluntary employee surveys conducted by a research firm retained by a weekly business newspaper.

This year, the health plan earned the Silver Award in its size category of 250+ employees, and over the dozen or so years it has participated in this event, it has consistently finished with Gold, Silver, or Bronze.

“Even more gratifying than finishing with a medal each year, is being recognized for maintaining genuine goodwill among our workforce family as we’ve transitioned from an in-person to a home-based model,” says Jim Reed, health plan president and CEO. “If there’s a ‘secret sauce’ to this success, a key ingredient is undoubtedly our program for Volunteer Time Off, or VTO.” 

Each year, full-time employees of Excellus BCBS get eight hours of paid time off to use to volunteer in the community. The hours can be used all at once or spread out over any number of days. Some employees use the time to chaperone their kids’ school outings, while others use their hours with community-based organizations that serve individuals most in need.  

“The benefit to the community is obvious, since every organization could use the occasional extra set of hands,” says Olivia Linke, a regional community affairs director with the health plan, and a point person for finding and coordinating group VTO opportunities for employees. “But on those occasions when we organize a VTO outing to make it easy for our colleagues to use their volunteer hours, the benefit to our corporate culture is beyond anything we can measure.”

Linke describes the teams of employee volunteers as strangers who start their day bound together only by the branded t-shirts they were issued, and who end their volunteer experience as a tight-knit group of friends eager for the next chance to pay it forward in the communities we serve. Often, when the next volunteer opportunity is presented to staff, they use their own personal time because they have exhausted their VTO.

“Our VTO teams represent every department and every level within the company,” says Linke. “It’s not unusual to have new hires who are looking to meet people, painting alongside a corporate vice president at a Habitat for Humanity build site.”

By creating personal connections that span job titles and even regions, the bonds of friendship are strong, and the contributions to corporate culture are lasting. Linke shares the story of a regional sales director who met one of the IT Department’s experts in Microsoft Teams at an event. They struck up a friendship, and then a collaboration, creating a Teams channel and training program for the sales department.

The reality is that you can build a strong corporate culture in this new flexible work environment: Excellus BCBS has a wall full of gold, silver, and bronze medals to prove it! 

How personal development led to professional gains

Is a college degree in your future?  For Juan Munoz, what started as an idea quickly became a reality as the father of three found himself enrolling in college while working full time. Juan began his career with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in 2008 as a help desk analyst.  When he was later promoted to help desk team lead, the wheels started turning. 

Juan was eager to further his career in management and thought a college degree might be important to his advancement.  He turned to the vice president of his department for some advice and the answer to a simple question, “Do you think I need a degree to further my career?”  Familiar with Juan’s skills and abilities, his VP told Juan that, to him, the degree was not necessary; but if Juan wanted to advance throughout the organization, it would definitely be to his advantage to further his education.  Juan quickly heeded his advice and enrolled that week.

His decision was made easier knowing that Excellus BCBS offered tuition assistance.  “Enrolling in the tuition reimbursement program was really easy,” explains Juan. “The company’s internal website had simple instructions to follow.”  He worked with the school to provide information on the classes he was enrolled in and the corresponding costs.  His leaders reviewed this information and signed off indicating their approval.  Once the semester was complete, he would submit his grades.  “The company reimbursed the full cost of my entire undergraduate education,” explains Juan.

But Juan didn’t stop there.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in business management from SUNY Brockport, he enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.  As you can imagine, attending school, working full-time and raising a family of three young children was not easy.  In addition to the support of his wife, Juan received support from his work family as well. “They provided me with the flexibility I needed,” remembers Juan. “This was vital, especially while earning my bachelor’s degree. I often had classes that started at 4pm so I would need to leave work early or come in late depending on my schedule.”  The Executive MBA program took place on the weekends but required one Friday each month devoted to class time. “I was fortunate to have lots of flexibility and understanding from Excellus BCBS. In fact, my letters of recommendation for the MBA program came from within the organization.”

Another employee development benefit he took advantage of was the company mentorship program. This allowed him to build on his leadership skills and seek advice when needed. “The relationship I developed through my mentorship still continues today,” says Juan.

Throughout this process, he not only gained valuable knowledge, but he also experienced career advancement, moving to manager of IT Service Management and then to his current role director of IT Computing Operations Management.  “My education provided me with a great deal of background knowledge of business management. At the end of the day, you need to understand how to lead people and how organizations need to operate,” explains Juan.  Taking the initiative to continue your professional development can set you apart when opportunities for advancement are available. “I think it goes a long way and shows that you are willing to put in the work,” notes Juan.

With three years spent earning his undergraduate degree and an additional two earning his MBA, Juan looks back on the experience with a great sense of accomplishment and would recommend it to others.  “As long as you are willing to dedicate your time to the program and make it a priority in your life, it is a great experience.”  He does caution that managing your time can be a challenge. “Your free time is going to be limited so it is important to plan each part of your day.”

Juan’s story is just one among many who have taken advantage of the tuition assistance program to further their own personal development.  Excellus BCBS greatly values the pursuit of education, understanding that it strengthens the team and fosters innovation. At the start of 2022, a new option was added to the tuition assistance program that allows employees to receive their assistance prior to the start of their class. 

To learn more about tuition reimbursement and other benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit careers.excellusbcbs.com.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Boy giving a high five to doctor

A Day to Honor Doctors

On National Doctors’ Day and all year long, we are proud to celebrate the important work of physicians throughout our community and within our organization. This annual observance on March 30th honors physicians for the work they do for their patients, the communities they support, and our society. For many, it is not only a love of science and medicine that draws them into the profession, but an innate need to help, heal, and serve others. “We are fortunate to work with more than 18,500 physician partners throughout our regions to fulfill our organization’s mission of helping our communities live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care,” says Jim Reed, president and CEO of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Doctors’ Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the value our physician partners bring to our organization and our members.”

A strong relationship with community providers is essential to providing quality care to our members. Ninety-nine percent of providers within our service area are part of the Excellus BCBS provider network and 100 percent of hospitals are within the network. Through these relationships, we can implement effective programs such as accountable cost and quality agreements (ACQAs). These agreements focus on integral collaborations between our Health Plan and systems of doctors and hospitals. We work together to improve quality and keep costs down by identifying opportunities for efficiency, closing gaps in care, and helping to manage chronic conditions among members.

In addition to our work with outside providers, within our organization we have a team of 21 clinicians who serve as medical directors and are key to ensuring our organization manages cost, quality, and care for our members. They seek out innovative opportunities to engage our members in enhancing their health and wellbeing. This dedicated group of physicians serves as advisors and leaders for dozens of initiatives to support our organizational goals and improve our service to our members.

“Our medical directors are proud to actively collaborate with our provider partners, seeking their input and feedback in areas such as medical policy, quality improvement and medical management,” says Stephen Cohen, MD, SVP and corporate medical director. “This collaboration leads to improved member care and healthier communities.”

Happy Doctors’ Day to physicians everywhere and thank you for your continued commitment, compassion and dedicated care for others. 

Caring for Our Customers

Our Customer Care Advocates are often the first point of contact for our members and consistently demonstrate our corporate value of “Passionately Serving Our Customers.” They have the power to make an impact and change people’s lives, and they do. In return, the work they do and members they help make a lasting impression on them.

Maryanne Todd and Peggy Crist, both Customer Care Advocates, share how members touched their lives. Both say their work makes them proud to work for a company that cares about its people, members and community.

Maryanne Todd, Customer Care Advocate

“I have always been in the servicing area and really came to love assisting people over the phones. I love speaking to people, hearing their issues and being a problem solver. I really enjoy interacting with our members. I recently had a call from a member. He had several questions about his account and really needed me to explain in detail each of his questions.

The call lasted a better part of 35 minutes. Just before he hung-up he stated that he really appreciated the professionalism and the time I took to go over his questions in such detail that he was able to understand it. He stated I made his entire weekend and really thanked me for being such a nice professional customer service rep.

I’m not sharing this for “kudos” but to show my passion for my job and our members. Health Insurance is very important and very confusing when you don’t work in the field day after day. I feel like I made a real difference for a member and educated him. This is what I enjoy about my job!!!

Peggy Crist, Customer Care Advocate

“I received a call from a member who had recently been diagnosed with a chronic condition.  She needed to see how much her treatments and medicines were going to cost.  She was scared. I was the first person she told about her diagnosis.  We talked about her life and her family. We cried together. Then I looked into her medications. With much relief to both of us they were all covered with minimal costs.  She thanked me for “being her angel” that day. I still think about her.”

“Passionately serving our members is part of our customer care organization’s D.N.A.,” said Alex Levi, vice president Customer Care for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.  “We aim to provide an experience for our members that is low effort, worry free and full of compassion. Our members have a significant impact on our advocates as they help navigate the health care system, often in very challenging circumstances.”

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in other’s lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com

boy playing in snow

Hidden Gems: Winter in the Mohawk Valley

Those of us who choose to live in upstate New York do so for a variety of reasons. For many of us, one of the biggest is because we love the region’s four very distinct seasons, each with its own unique opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure.

Picture of a woman snowshowing

Eve snowshoeing at Moss Lake

Winter Traditions in the Mohawk Valley

Usually, at this time of year, there would be annual winter-themed festivals that would pull people out of the warm confines of their homes and into the crisp winter air, such as the Ice Harvest Festival in East Meredith and the Cooperstown Winter Carnival, both traditionally held in February.

Even though we can’t do most, if not all, of those types of things right now, we still have plenty of options in the Mohawk Valley when it comes to getting outside and being active during the winter.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Potato Hill Farm in Boonville: My favorite place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is Potato Hill Farm. It’s part of the Black River Environmental Improvement Association (BREIA); it’s amazing, beautiful land, and there’s a bonus: there are bathrooms on the trail!
  • FT Proctor Park in Utica: In the winter season, there are few better places to partake in one of my favorite activities, snowshoeing. The park has some hills and a creek – and provides a very tranquil setting for getting out and exercising.
  • South Woods Switchbacks at Roscoe Conkling Park in Utica: Another favorite is Roscoe Conkling Park and its South Woods switchbacks. The wooded hills provide a good work out whether you’re hiking, shoeing or skiing; and I’ve seen many deer and a few wild turkeys while out on the trail!
  • Sherrrillbrook Park in New Hartford: Sherrillbrook Park is great for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with its varied landscape through open fields and woods. Dog owners should also take note of the park’s dog run.
  • Moss Lake Trail in Eagle Bay: The Adirondack Park has a lot of places to go, obviously, but one gem that’s on my favorites list is Moss Lake and the Moss Lake Trail. It’s a relatively short jaunt around the lake, but its location deep in the Adirondack Park makes it a particularly beautiful spot – you’re bound to see plenty of wildlife, and the wooden bridges on the trail afford a pleasant view of the surrounding woods and water.

These, of course, are only a handful of the vast number of great locations to get out and explore, exercise or just relax and do a little sightseeing. If you’re looking for more ideas and other places to go, check out the NYS Parks website here: https://parks.ny.gov/ and the Discover Upstate New York website here: https://www.discoverupstateny.com/. Now get out there!

Picture of Karen Goossen

Good Health Begins with Good Food

When the pandemic forced Karen Goossen to close the doors of her business this spring, she knew her income was at risk. She didn’t realize the economic fallout would also put her health at risk.

Goossen, of Monroe County, had been following her doctor’s advice to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to her diet to help manage her heart health. However, with her income limited, those healthier choices became luxuries.

“I had to find a way to stretch my dollars,” she said, “so sometimes I had to do without fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Food Insecurity

The ability to earn a paycheck and feed a family are at risk for many people because of the pandemic and this is leading to a growing number of people experiencing food insecurity.

A recent study by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, showed food insecurity in the 10-county area including Monroe County is expected to rise 45 percent this year due to the pandemic.

Loss of income, poverty, a person’s environment, education levels, and discrimination can all contribute to health risks. Known as social determinants of health, these factors can have significant impact on a person’s quality of life and well-being.

“I had been working hard, trying to eat healthier to improve my health and when I had to close the doors of my business, I had to limit the types of food I could buy,” she said. “I never thought I would be in this position at this point in my life. It’s an unusual and challenging time.”

Healthier Diet = Health Care Goals

This summer, Goossen’s nurse care manager contacted her about a new pilot program designed to help her and others who have health care needs and are at risk of food insecurity. The “Fresh Account at Curbside Market” program provides monthly vouchers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

The program was developed in partnership with her health insurer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and local food bank, Foodlink. The Curbside Market is Foodlink’s mobile farmers market, which provides affordable and convenient access to healthy foods in underserved communities.

Picture of a food market truck

Foodlink Curbside Market Truck

“You need a healthy diet to improve and maintain good health,” said Dr. Brian Steele, vice president medical affairs, clinical services at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. This seemed to be an area where we could intervene.”

“The Fresh Account program helps people access healthier foods and celebrates making the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink.

Farmers Market on Wheels

Participation in the program helps Goossen extend her food budget and meet her health care goals. “My first visit to Curbside Market I purchased peaches, nectarines, corn, celery, cherry tomatoes, grapes, onions, white and sweet potatoes – they had more than I anticipated!”

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The wide variety gave her the opportunity to try some new foods. “I love to cook, so I’m finding new recipes and making creative meals. It’s been helpful to me. I’m learning more about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables I normally wouldn’t purchase.”

The best part?

“I’ve already lost 20 pounds!” She gained 50 pounds during the pandemic and credits her healthier diet for her weight loss. “Now I’m grabbing more fresh fruits and vegetables for a snack instead of something that will put weight back on and negatively affect my health.”

Staying Positive

Goossen says she’s concentrating on staying positive.

Picture of Karen Goossen

Karen Goossen

“In the early ‘90’s, when my children were little, I benefitted from the WIC program and food pantries. I know what it’s like to have family go without,” she said. “When I was able, I gave back, volunteering to help others and providing Thanksgiving dinners for those in need – it’s nice to give back.”

Although she didn’t expect to be on the receiving end again, she’s grateful to have this resource. “It’s a great idea. There’s a need and people are benefitting and appreciative.”

She calls the program “a blessing. The timing was perfect. I really needed it. And when I’m able, I’ll give back again.”