Leadership Buffalo Collaborates with United Way of Buffalo and Erie County

Where did you grow up? What (if any) struggles did you and your family face?

Did you grow up in a low-income household? Did you work your way out of poverty? Were you fortunate enough to avoid financial instability?

I ask the question because whether or not we’ve struggled, we sometimes overlook people still living in poverty. We also tend to forget that poverty is not a choice.


This is one of the things we address at Leadership Buffalo (LB). We want to increase the knowledge of our participants and create a more empathetic society. The United Way of Buffalo and Erie County’s (UWBEC) Poverty Simulation is a tool to assist with just that.

The United Way first conducted a Poverty Simulation for our classes in 2014. Due to the positive feedback, we bring it back every year as a pivotal part of the program.

The Poverty Simulation was designed to give participants an understanding of the lives of a typical low-income family from Erie County. Participants are challenged with a simulation to live one month under impoverished conditions and sensitize them to the realities of poverty in the community. The amounts and figures used in the simulation reflect actual average amounts in Erie County.

Year after year, our participants walk away with a better understanding of the issues and a desire to be a part of the solution.

“Putting myself in the shoes of someone I could never be, helped me better understand the universal plight of our impoverished neighbors,” said Kelly Showard (LB ’17), ECMC. “I’ve personally experienced poverty however, until the simulation, I didn’t really know just how broad the issue is and how insurmountable poverty can be without the proper support system.”

The United Way has conducted poverty simulations for more than 10 years to organizations, companies, schools and community groups. As the requests grow, Leadership Buffalo was a perfect organization to partner with.

As we have been utilizing United Way’s workshops for the last four years, 500 local leaders that have participated! Many of these individuals have expressed an interest in volunteering with the workshops. This led to a collaboration between the two organizations to combine resources to educate as many people as possible and affect positive change.

Both Althea Luehrsen, LB’s CEO, and Michael Weiner, United Way’s President and CEO are thrilled about the collaboration as it will directly benefit our community and make Buffalo better!

For more information on the Poverty Simulation, visit www.uwbec.org/financial-stability

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Arts, Culture & Tourism Day

By: Cindy Eberl Lawicki, Independent Health Self Funded Services

After a long rain-filled spring, warm sunshine greeted us as we kicked off Arts, Culture, and Tourism Day at Kleinhans Music Hall. After opening remarks by Althea, Anthony Lelito, ACTH planning team captain shared the day’s objectives:

  • Explore some of the “hidden gems” of Buffalo’s arts and culture scene.
  • Visit organizations that have played a role in Buffalo’s history, as well as organizations that are shaping the future.
  • Learn how the city and region have grown and changed throughout history; and what is in store for the future of the arts, culture, and tourism sectors of our community.

The day was a joint session of Rising Leaders and Class Experience. Our first speaker was Joel Dombrowski, Chief Fun Officer, Buffalo History Tours with an informative and entertaining historical perspective on Buffalo. He shared his personal journey to start his own business and advised us to “find the intersection of passion and competence” to discover our true calling. Joel was not only informative, but also hilarious telling us “I’m Irish, Polish, and German- there is nothing you can do to a potato that I haven’t seen.”

Click here for information on Joel’s new double decker bus tour!

Our second presenter was President and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, Patrick Kaler. He spoke to the group about all things Buffalo, and the new and exciting events that are reshaping our region. Patrick became a champion of the area and all it has to offer after relocating to Buffalo in 2014. http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com. The group then departed to a variety of site visits. Some of the local treasures we visited included:

  • Shea’s Smith
  • Common Roots Urban Garden
  • Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle
  • North Park Theatre
  • Silo City
  • Central Terminal
  • Torn Space Theatre

Our last speaker of the day was Douglas Love, CEO of Explore and More Children’s Museum. Doug shared the exciting plans for the new 43,000 square foot museum in the Canalside. We got a sneak peek into schematic designs and themes of the new museum, which will appeal to kids of all ages! The museum is scheduled to open in late 2018!

To wrap up the day we engaged in an hilarious game of Buffalo Trivia and put our new found knowledge to the test. The patio of the Marcy Casino was a scenic spot to enjoy beverages and bits! Thank you to Brian Burke for sponsoring the afternoon’s nosh!

Our day of discovery showed how our city has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, from a redeveloped waterfront and revitalized neighborhoods to a burgeoning craft beer scene and over $1 billion in new investments.

From the little city that thought it could blossoms a city that shows it can!

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Criminal Justice Day

By Steve Jagord, The Pride Center of WNY

Leadership Buffalo Rising Leaders learned about various facets of the local police and court systems and community organizations working to assist victims of violent crimes during its Criminal and Social Justice Day Session on Wednesday, April 12.

The day began with speakers at Hodgson Russ LLC, located in Louis Sullivan’s historic Guaranty Building at the corner of Church and Pearl streets. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn spoke about the scope and breadth of cases his office sees each year. Then he turned the conversation toward the disproportionate arrest, prosecution and incarceration rates of African Americans.

“In order to right a wrong, you have to realize there is a problem in the first place,” Flynn said.

Flynn spoke about different interventions the district attorney’s office could use beside prison to help with reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. These included requesting law enforcement assisted diversion programs (the first local one is being piloted in Cheektowaga this year) and post-arrest diversion programs that include treatment. A third option he mentioned was a judge sentencing a treatment program instead of jail time.

“We can all work together to solve the social justice problems in this country,” Flynn said. “And we have to reverse the course we have been on the past 50 years.”

Buffalo Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kim Beatty spoke after Flynn. Beatty began her career in law enforcement after years of working with community activism groups and neighborhood block clubs. She is currently chief of E-District, which has one of the state’s highest violent crime rates in addition to thousands of students at multiple college campuses.

In order to address some of the issues facing E-District, she began instituting Community Police Officer trainings to encourage officers to be more outgoing and engaging with people in the streets.

“As a CPO, you have to look at the problems that exist in your district while at the same time realize that its OK to smile at people,” Beatty said.

Beatty then spoke about providing opportunities for young women in the department, even for those who in the past may have seen the inside of a police vehicle for the wrong reasons.

“Sometimes you have to arrest people to change their lives,” Beatty said of one young woman who thanked her for arresting her years before she would eventually become an intern for the deputy commissioner. “I was glad [the arrest] provided a positive change in her life.”

The E-District chief went on to speak about the murder of a 13-year-old girl that affected her greatly and how that event relates to her ability to look beyond a person’s past.

“We see so much on a daily basis that we need our families to understand we just need to sit down for a minute when we get home,” she said. “Sometimes you just need to shut your office door, sit down and cry.

“That’s why I give young ladies another chance.”

Following the speakers at Hodgson Russ, the Rising Leaders class headed a few blocks north to Erie County Family Court to learn about what happens daily in one of the city’s busiest buildings. Deputy Chief Clerk Lisa Virgilio gave a brief overview of what kinds of cases are heard at the court – most involve custody of children or juvenile defendants. The court processes about 40,000 cases annually and the building houses more than 350,000 files on record.

RL members were split into four smaller groups so they could attend one of the hearings taking place, one of which was interrupted by a physical altercation and had to be postponed. Those in courtrooms that completed their hearing were able to ask the judge questions about the case afterward.

After the Family Court visit, the class walked over to Buffalo Police Headquarters on Franklin Street for lunch. There, Julie Palmer gave an overview of People Against the Trafficking of Humans (PATH), the nonprofit she oversees as executive director.

In addition to advocacy against trafficking rings, services for victims include reestablishing life skills, job skills, various therapies, counseling, support groups and spiritual care.

Palmer also discussed stereotypes associated with human trafficking, local trafficking rings and how social media is misused to lure victims.

“Just be sure you know who you’re associated with online,” Palmer said. “If you don’t know them, delete them.”

A panel discussion followed lunch in the ceremonial courtroom in Old County Hall. Panelists were: reformed individual and public speaker Tuhran Gethers, City Court Judge Susan Eagan, Buffalo Police Officer Tommy Champion and Federal Public Defender Jayme Feldman. The focus of the discussion was on racial disparities in the criminal justice system and the societal hurdles that minorities face when engaging with it. Some of those hurdles included a lack of inspiring opportunities for youth and education for adults that leads to jobs.

Champion said that many children look up to people involved in criminal activity because of the visual cues being sent by seeing a drug dealer wearing trendy new clothes and driving an expensive vehicle.

“If all you see is these people being successful, you’re going to want to do it too,” he said.

Feldman said there needs to be more focus on rehabilitating offenders instead of incarcerating them, noting that people commit crimes first because they can’t support themselves in the employment sector.

“What we need is realistic and inspiring opportunities for youth and education for adults that leads to job,” she said.

All of the panelists agreed that education was the most effective tool in breaking the cycle of younger generations repeating the mistakes of older ones.

The day ended with a tour at the Family Justice Center of Erie County at Main and Court streets. Executive Director Mary Murphy began her presentation sharing personal stories and reflections about two female victims of domestic violence that led her to establish the FJC.

Murphy explained that more than 14,000 domestic violence emergency calls are made annually in Erie County and that most victims return to their abuser.

“It takes a victim an average of seven or eights times retuning to a dangerous situation before they realize their angel is a monster,” she said.

The center has assisted more than 10,000 people, including Peg Symons, now in her seventh year volunteering with FJC. She spoke after Murphy about her experience leaving an abusive relationship and likened some of their stories to her own.

“The people coming through the doors here are the ones who have driven with the car heat on full blast on a hot summer day because they have chills from fear,” she said.

RL members toured FJC’s facilities then enjoyed happy hour at Local Kitchen & Bar on Chippewa Street before departing for the day.

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Education Day

Erik Eustice, Day Session Blogger, reflects on the Education Day for Class Experience.

A new initiative for the 2017 is Day Session Bloggers. Each day a member is identified to recap the day on behalf of themselves and his/her classmates.

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Privilege

The beauty of a poverty simulation, is just that, it is a simulation. Afterward you get to go back to your regular life. So often we forget to consistently consider the other side. Or not even the other side just other people.

Our first day session for the 2017 class was focused on Hunger and Poverty. We visit non-profits throughout the community (ex. Food Bank, City Mission, Matt Urban Hope Center, St. Vincent De Paul, Meals on Wheels, Gerard Place, etc.) and end the day with a poverty simulation through the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. It is always my favorite day because it sets the tone for the rest of the year.

This year was special for me as I participated in the Rural Outreach Center’s #ROCResolutions challenge just a month prior. My task was three outfits for one week and one pair of shoes. Initially, I thought it would be simple – clothes are just things. However, I quickly realized that “things” to someone without many things are far more important and sentimental. While I thought I was very in tune with myself, I realized I take too many things for granted.

I grew up privileged. I am white, educated and was raised in Williamsville. I was able to see the world in different ways; I attended a university of my choosing, moved to Florida on a whim, and when returned, found a job that would act as a stepping-stone for my career. Sure, I have had my fair share of issues along the way, but I also had (and still do have) a support system that is strong.

How many times do we stop and think about our privileges? I’m sure it is not enough.

Working at Leadership Buffalo has opened my eyes 10 times over to the injustice and the poverty of my community, and I am grateful for that knowledge and the ability to give back. The ROCResolutions challenge showed me another community, something outside my comfort zone.

Let me lay down some basics for you:

  • For the first time since 1954, there is more poverty outside of cities.
  • In Erie County, 62% of people living in poverty live outside the City of Buffalo.
  • The rural poor have fewer resources, less transportation options and services more spread out.
  • 41% of rural communities do not have access to public transportation.
  • 224 billion free or reduced lunches have been served since 1946.

So now we have all this information, what do we do with it? My only hope for this blog is that one of you reading this will take action. We all share the world and it is up to us, not just those in power, to make a change.

Volunteer at a local organization, create challenges for yourself to generate empathy, participate in a poverty simulation, sit down and talk to someone that is the opposite of you, OPEN YOUR MIND.

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Thank You Buffalo

What are you thankful for? We are thankful for YOU; our alumni, our community, our neighbors.

In the midst of the occasional societal chaos, we often forget to be grateful for the things that are good and for what keeps us going every day.

At Leadership Buffalo, we are exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly; and instead of dwelling on the ladder, we look for ways to take action and make Buffalo better. None of this could be possible without our outstanding alumni.

This year for our 4th Annual LB Project, we had 70 graduates and current class members from 16 different classes, assist in our clean up at the Commodore Perry Housing Authority. On September 30, 2016 the group successfully painted a laundry room, two community rooms and four common areas. Others gardened five areas and planted eight mums, another group surveyed over 160 trash and recycling totes.

We are thankful for our class project initiative and for the teams keeping their plans in motion.

The 2014 Class is moving along stronger than ever; they recently finished turning a basement storage room at Matt Urban Hope Center into a warming center for those cold months around the corner. The Class of 2014 was honored at Matt Urban’s annual event for their dedication to the cause.

The Class of 2015 is consistent with their work at the Food Bank of WNY, Gateway Longview, The Kevin Guest House and Journey’s End.

The 2016 class wrapped up their retreat with multiple projects in place; Boys and Girls Clubs, Kids Escaping Drugs, The Teacher’s Desk, Buffalo & Erie County Library and Erie County’s Summer Employment Program. We will keep you posted on their progress.

If your class is working together to make Buffalo better, please send us a note so we can share the impact!

From all of us at Leadership Buffalo, we are sending thanks and gratitude to all of you, not just during this holiday season, but all year. Your devotion to this community keeps us motivated and gives hope for an even better Buffalo.

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FEED Buffalo

We are always asking ourselves at Leadership Buffalo (LB), how can we make Buffalo better? In 2012, we implemented class projects to follow the program year. At the last day session and closing retreat, the group is charged with developing a project or projects utilizing all the information they learned throughout their LB year.

Many classes have “adopted” an agency or organization and continue to work with them based on their needs. The 2013 class is still working with the Food Bank’s BackPack Program at Hamlin Park School and the 2014 class continues to make differences at Matt Urban Hope Center.

One of the projects to come out of the 2015 class is FEED Buffalo. This project offers the opportunity to give and assist different charities throughout the year through collections made during social gatherings.

Cyndie Huynh (RL ’15) of Roswell Park, one of the projects team leaders, says, “While volunteering is a great way to help, the idea of FEED is to utilize parties, dinners, and events in which we are already participating as another avenue to assist organizations.” The event supports a different agency each time; the class has supported Toys for Tots, The Food Bank of WNY, The BISON Children’s Scholarship Fund and Boys and Girls Clubs.

“It is a great way for LB alumni to stay connected while increasing our impact by appealing to a larger audience,” said Huynh.

This Thursday, at Leadership Buffalo’s 5th Annual Recruitment Open House, the class be supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo and their Backpack Program. They are asking for packages of lined paper, pens, pencils, pocket folders, backpacks or monetary donations.

To read more about our class project initiative, click here and see how you can help!

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Making Buffalo Thankful

The holiday season is upon us! To most, that means time with family, the exchanging of gifts and an abundance of turkey and pies. To those less fortunate, it means seeking shelter, finding warm clothes and figuring out the next meal.

This is a critical time in Buffalo to remember what you are thankful for and to show that thanks through giving back. As many of us know, Buffalo is the third poorest city in the country, the poverty rate is more than twice the national rate, and more than 50% of our children are living in poverty.

Spending time with loved ones is a wonderful way to spend the holidays, but why not think about how that time is spent.

Here are just a few ways to give back.

Buffalo City Mission
Meals are a big deal at the Buffalo City Mission. For just $19.80 you can sponsor a table of 10 meals for those who are hungry, hurting and waiting to take that first step.

Food Bank of WNY
Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness. You can donate your time or goods and change the lives of those benefiting from the Food Bank. Every $1 donation helps provide approximately six meals for hungry families in need.

Journey’s End Refugee Services
We all know how cold it can get this time of year. Refugees arriving in Buffalo come nothing but with the shirt on their backs. Coats, gloves and scarves will make the transition healthy and happy.

Matt Urban Hope Center
Things as small as socks and toiletries are needed at the Hope Center. Hosting a drive at your company or school is a small way to make a big difference.

Salvation Army
It’s never been easier to donate goods. When you donate goods to The Salvation Army, those items are then sold at the Family Stores. And the proceeds are used to fund the Adult Rehabilitation Centers, where those in the grip of addiction find help, hope, and a second chance at life.

The Service Collaborative of WNY (TSC)
TSC creates opportunities for all individuals to serve their communities, challenging them to turn their ideals into action and their passion into positive change. Their new website, VolunteerWNY.org, is constantly updated with opportunities to help.

Next time you are out shopping for the holidays, perhaps add an extra little something in your cart for a person in need.

We’re Making Buffalo Thankful and invite you to as well! Share your thankful stories with us by using the hashtag #MakingBuffaloThankful. Together, we can Make Buffalo Better.

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