BUFFALO, N.Y.-One hundred and fifty kids from one of Buffalo's poorest neighborhoods will be educated at the new $3.5 million Buffalo Promise Neighborhood (BPN) Children's Academy which opened today on Bailey Avenue.
The 12,000-square-foot academy - operated by Bethel Head Start to provide the academic and social service support needed to prepare children for kindergarten - is the latest addition in a $31 million, public-private partnership led by M&T Bank to provide a life-changing continuum of "cradle-to-career" services to neighborhood children.
"The BPN Children's Academy will serve as the foundation for academic success for children in the Promise Neighborhood," said M&T Bank Chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers. "Transforming an economically-challenged neighborhood into one that can prosper begins by providing children with the opportunity to be successful in school."
Neighborhood leaders celebrated the academy grand opening Friday with M&T Bank Chairman and CEO Wilmers, other business leaders, and local, state and federal government representatives.
The academy is located across the street from the Westminster Community Charter School, which was adopted by M&T almost 20 years ago. The Promise Neighborhood also includes Highgate Heights Elementary School and Bennett High School.
Buffalo Selected From 339 Communities Nationally
M&T's involvement in the neighborhood began in the early 1990s when the Buffalo-based bank adopted one of the city's lowest performing schools. Over the last 20 years, the Westminster Community Charter School has transformed from an underperforming school into a school of choice for hundreds of families.
Looking to build upon the success at Westminster, M&T led an effort to bring the national Promise Neighborhood model to Buffalo in collaboration with a team of leaders in education, community services, philanthropy, health care and government.
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood was one of only five communities (out of 339 total community applicants) receiving an implementation award in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Education. That $6 million federal grant was matched by M&T Bank.
"The grand opening of the Children's Academy shows just how much can be accomplished when the community gets behind a project and works together to make a positive difference," said Senator Charles Schumer. "I was a strong advocate on behalf of the application for a federal Promise Neighborhoods grant to the tune of $6 million which in turn has now leveraged over $30 million in additional support. I congratulate M&T Bank and so many in the community who collaboratively worked to make this day possible and most of all for bringing 'promise' back to the neighborhood."
"The Buffalo Promise Neighborhood has become an anchor in the community," Senator Kirstin Gillibrand said. "Not only will this new building help to physically transform the neighborhood, it will offer children a solid foundation for a successful academic career, serving as an asset for generations to come."
"Federal Promise Neighborhoods were established with the goal of transforming communities through partnerships that lead to better opportunities for our children," said Congressman Brian Higgins. "Education holds the best promise for a successful future and we are thrilled to open the Children's Academy, a new center for learning in the City of Buffalo."
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood has used these investments to leverage over $31 million in additional resources. This includes a group of 15 M&T employees who work full-time managing the BPN's daily operations.
The Buffalo Promise Neighborhood initiative has partnered with a wide array of national and local organizations to fill the gap for services and programs to help children and families struggling to break the grip of poverty. This includes a $6 million grant from the prestigious Annie E. Casey Foundation, which will be used to provide family counseling and job training services to adults in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood Improvements Beginning to Multiply
The many ongoing improvements in the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood already include:
A partnership with Belmont Housing Resources for WNY to purchase and restore up to 10 neglected properties, which will provide neighborhood families the opportunity to own a home.
A new playground was constructed at Highgate Heights Elementary School, and a new teaching garden installed at the Westminster Community Charter School.
Every Person Influences Children (EPIC) is providing hospital-based services and community workshops for parents of infants and toddlers.
Read to Succeed is providing literacy services within the Children's Academy, and through home-care provider programs.
The Community Health Center of Buffalo is ensuring that neighborhood families have access to preventative health care services and other medical care, regardless of their ability to pay.
The University at Buffalo's College Success Center (CSC) helping students at Bennett High School prepare for college.
As many as 80 high school students are participating in the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection, where they are tutored and prepared for employment at area grocery stores and other locations.
Johns Hopkins University's nationally recognized school turnaround organization is running staff development programs at the neighborhood schools.
"A critical strategic objective of our organization is to strengthen the education continuum by developing, cultivating and sustaining a solid, consistent and supportive education pathway from birth to career for children in our community," said Robert D. Gioia, president of the John R. Oishei Foundation. "This is exactly what is being done in the Promise Neighborhood and the opening of the Children's Academy is a foundational milestone in building this pathway."
Neighborhood Residents Provide Leadership
Residents in the Promise Neighborhood also are beginning to take an active role in the initiative. Residents have formed a Community Council that is diligently working on plans to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. From building community gardens to neighborhood clean-up programs and the coordination of other services with the City of Buffalo, residents have a platform to find solutions to improve the quality of life for those that live in the neighborhood.
"The goal of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood program is to create better opportunities for children to help them develop and become high achievers, both in school and in life," said Mayor Byron Brown, who provided critical public funding that leveraged private sector dollars to the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood program. "The new BPN Children's Academy will have a powerful impact on the lives of hundreds of students and families, preparing them for successful transitions in the cradle-to-college-and career continuum being implemented in this neighborhood."
Funding for the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children's Academy includes a $1 million grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation with additional funding from M&T Bank, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the HealthNow Healthy Living Fund. The Children's Academy was designed by Watts Engineers and construction was done by SLR Contracting. Both companies are based in Buffalo.
About Buffalo Promise Neighborhood
Founded in 2010, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is a multi-stakeholder not-for-profit organization that seeks to improve performance at three schools on the northeast side of Buffalo - Bennett High School, Highgate Heights, and Westminster Community - and transform the surrounding community by providing a continuum of solutions to children and families, including neighborhood resources, streamlining family services and improving educational supports.
BPN is a unique public/private partnership that collaborates with a broad range of partners and service providers, including businesses, block clubs, non-profits, public entities and other organizations. BPN is supported through financial and human resources generously provided by M&T Bank as well as support through the Westminster Foundation. BPN also receives funding from U.S. Department of Education and the John R. Oishei Foundation. For more information, please visit www.buffalopromiseneighborhood.org.
About M&T Bank
M&T Bank, founded in 1856, is one of the top 20 independent commercial bank holding companies in the nation, with $83 billion in assets and 725 branch offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Read more about M&T Bank online at www.mtb.com/newsroom.
Earl Wells/Dan Giacomini