Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shuffle Off to Buffalo

From my meeting in Rochester, I moved on to Buffalo where I had the opportunity to meet with the Sisters on the Leadership Team and stay at their Motherhouse.  While there, I learned that Buffalo is the third poorest city in the nation.  In order to respond to the needs of the city, the LCWR members of Buffalo (12 religious communities) have collaborated on several significant programs.  Two that I visited are Vive La Casa and Gerard Place.  I visited two other programs which you will hear about through other means.  The Buffalo Peace Camp will be featured in an article in late August that speaks about the Peace Camps that are occurring throughout the Federation.  I will also speak about the TRY program in my next blog.

Sr. Judy Justinger shared with me that collaborating has always been a tradition in Buffalo through schools, colleges, resources for retired sisters and board leadership.  This is very evident at Vive La Casa which was founded in the late 1970s to help refugees from El Salvadore seeking asylum in Canada.  This program is able to provide up to 118 asylum seekers with a dormatory bed, 3 meals and services in an old school building. This program really manages on a shoe string, with four full time staff and a 24 hour security team. The refugees speak 40 different languages with French and Spanish being the most frequently used, even though for many it is not their first language.  They receive most of their food from the food bank.  As most of us are aware, services to immigrant and refugees is not a high priority for funding in this country at this time.  Much of the funding comes from the sisters.

Audrey and Jim Mang, Buffalo Associates
It was our pleasure to share their humble lunch in the large former school cafeteria.  A donation from the food bank arrived while we were eating and all the able-bodied men dropped what they were doing to assist with bringing the food in.  It used to be that this program offered refuge for 2 to 3 weeks.  Now asylum seekers may spent months waiting for a determination about their asylum status.  It is a hard and uncomfortable wait in the un-air-conditioned school for these refugees.  The sisters do their best to provide these people with basic services and a sense of hope during a challenging time in their life.  What one sees is the importance of treating each person with dignity and respect during their time of need.

Gerard Place, also founded and funded by the 12 religious communities, serves the poorest zipcode in Buffalo.  Gerard Place strengthens the community as it empowers individuals and families towards self-sufficiency by providing housing , supportive services, community education and outreach.  Much better funded than Vive, Gerard Place has  great facilities and wonderful outcomes.  95% of their families in transitional housing graduate to permanent housing.  96% do not become homeless again. Part of the success of these programs is that they effectively motivate the clients with incentives that really work.  While I was visiting, they held a community outreach educational session on caring for your infant to avoid sudden infant death syndrome.  They had a good turn out for the program because they offered a pack and play portable crib- brand new for all participants.  Participants complete a before and after test that shows how much they have learned form the class.  Another interesting example is their cooking class. They teach nutrition to the neighborhood by gathering neighbors to prepare a healthy meal together. They leave the class with a bag of groceries that allows them to prepare this meal for their family.  This program aggressively seeks grants and foundation funding to meet the needs of the neighborhood- and the neighborhood is very involved in helping Gerard Place understand their needs.

At Peace Camp, I learned about the many works of the SSJ Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence. They are working with area churches on a gang intervention and outreach program; take a peace curriculum into schools; hold workshops on alternatives to violence in prisons and the community and so much more.  As a recent participant said, "Even the smallest choices and actions can make the world a better place. A simple smile or hug or even just loving one another helps to get rid of violence.  Nonviolence seems to be a chain reaction." The center is named after Sr. Karen, who was killed by one of the clients at a half-way house at which she worked. It continues her vision of a world without violence.  Associates of the Buffalo sisters play a major role at the center as volunteer program leaders and board members.

I really enjoyed my time in Buffalo.  The sisters here make a difference in this border town.

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