BIANYS Snubs Volunteers & Support Groups

The Brain Injury Association of New York State refuses to reimburse its volunteers for their out-of-pocket expenses, even if it means the end of some of its support groups.

Before I continue, it is important to note that the root of this rather bewildering stance on BIANYS’s part rests with its leadership; several sources say there are BIANYS board members and others in BIANYS’s ranks who not at all comfortable with fact the group is pretty much run  by two people, Judith Avner, its executive director and Marie Cavallo, its president.

No organization runs well under the thumb of one or two people.

The genesis of this essay goes like this. Beginning in 2008 I volunteered to facilitate weekly support groups in Albany for BIANYS.  BIANYS covered the necessary liability insurance and all was well. At the time, my round-trip commute to the Albany support group site was 50 miles and I was able to afford the gas. Late last year I had to move from my rental and as a result, moved to a place 75 miles from Albany. I had no intention of letting the distance stop me from facilitating the groups but the now 150-mile weekly round-trip (600 miles a month) became financially unwieldy and the group and I reached out  to BIANYS (Avner and Cavallo) for help with the mileage, i.e., the cost of gas. BIANYS reimburses its staff at a rate of 50 cents a mile. I was told things were tight financially and if they were to help this group with expenses maybe the other volunteers who facilitate groups across the state would expect to be reimbursed for their expenses as well (I am fighting off the urge to say, Well, duh.).

Group members then began an email campaign writing to BIANYS (meaning Avner and Cavallo), telling them how important the groups are to their lives, and suggesting that BIANYS help with half its normal mileage reimbursement rate which would mean $150 a month for the 600 miles rather than $300. Finally, Avner and Cavallo agreed to help for three months at which point they would review things.

Well, as the end of the three months I approached I wrote in and group members wrote in asking for to continued help, Avner was away, Cavallo said she didn’t have the authority to approve even one check to tide the group over until Avner returned. Avner’s return did nothing. Then the story changed.  Avner and Cavallo now said they did not have the authority to approve the help in the first place and would need to refer the matter to the board (I wonder if that ever actually happened). Finally some of the groups had to be cancelled.

Facing the lack of support from the BIANYS that still likes to claim these support groups as its own, group members agreed to cut back to only two groups a month. BIANYS – meaning Avner and Cavallo – were asked, via email, if BIANYS could help with just $75 since now we were down to two groups. Avner didn’t even bother to respond to the request and Cavallo’s response was non-committal. A second email request for $75 did not get a response from either one of them.

And this is the organization that claims to be the state’s leading organization on behalf of brain injury survivors? If you believe that, write me. I know a great bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.



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