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About Us

Our Mission

Canopy of Neighbors creates new pathways to aging well and aging independently in community.

Our Vision

We aim to be a catalyzing force in transforming our community into an elder friendly community; to contribute to neighborhood stabilization; to convene members for socialization, communication and educational endeavors; to maintain a delivery system for desired and necessary services in keeping with our mission; and to serve as a vehicle for our community to benefit from the wisdom, experience, energy and friendship of its members and volunteers. Our staff and board of directors pledge to continue to grow an organization committed to inclusiveness, collaboration, and community.

Our Founders

Photo by Missy Kennedy Cleary -- one of Missy's many images in Canopy's book, "Changing the Face of Aging."

Our Board of Directors
Claudia Bigham
Estelle Brickner, MSW
Rebekah L. Chriss, SHRM-SCP
James Eagan, Esq.
Elizabeth Eisenhauer
Mindy Hayes
Monica Jones
Francesca B. Mesiah, MS
Maria Scrivani
Krista Shunk

Our Founders
Gayle L. Eagan
Toby F. Laping, Ph.D.
Liz Schreier

Our Staff
Sasha Yerkovich, Executive Director
Wendy Fredricks, Volunteer Director

Toby Laping, Liz Schreier and Gayle Eagan

The Founders’ Tale by Maria Scrivani

Never underestimate the power of self-interest.

“It was very self-serving,” says Toby Laping, recalling the early days of Canopy of Neighbors, the aging-in-place community she founded in Buffalo more than a decade ago with colleagues Gayle Eagan and Liz Schreier.  Laping, a social worker with a business helping seniors; Eagan, an attorney specializing in trusts and estate law; and Schreier, a development and marketing expert for a health insurance company,  came together to assist the aging population they were joining.  The personal had become political.

“I was doing home visits, and I saw older people sitting around doing nothing, and not even wanting to do anything,” says Schreier.  Eagan saw people going into assisted living and nursing facilities way too early, because they could not access resources and had no one to call on.  Activities in many places housing elderly people were demeaning to residents.    As Laping puts it, “If I never played Bingo before, I am not going to start now, simply because I’m older.” 
All could see help was needed—and yes, they were also motivated by a determination to have a better quality of life themselves as time marched on.  In Eagan’s words, “We were resisting the whole concept of how we treat people, when the focus is just on the number by their name.”    It required an attitude adjustment all around, says Laping, answering their perceived  challenge to help change a system, involving convoluted health care delivery and outdated social mores.  “In an ideal world, hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies would work together,” says Schreier.  “But our system is so fragmented, and there aren’t enough geriatricians.”

A particular sore spot to all is perception.  Who said you have to accept aging as a sad time of limitations?    Who pronounced an entire population irrelevant?  If someone sent such a memo, these three women didn’t bother to read it.  Instead, they rolled up their sleeves, and created Canopy, based on the Beacon Hill model for aging in place communities.    

“We all remembered front porches, and a time when neighbors looked out for, and helped, neighbors.  That’s what we thought we wanted as we got older,” says Eagan, who did the legal work of incorporation.   “We all saw the need for services in the city,” adds Schreier.    Canopy has evolved into a resource repository, central storehouse for volunteer opportunity, social organization, lecture series, and caring call center, where neighbors of all ages help aging neighbors. 

It all started with the belief that “age should not define what we can do,” says Laping.   
“I think of life as a series of adjustments, which you make as you go along your way,” says Eagan.  There’s still plenty of life out there, the three founders agree.  
“Don’t give me an afghan,” says Laping.  “Give me a basketball, or a frisbee.”