In the West Side of Buffalo, the idea of a Promise neighborhood brought hope to a community. A grant- funded program focused on educational initiatives, youth development with a goal of cradle-to-career solutions. When the federal grant was denied, Rich’s stepped in to create the West Side Promise.
After the grant had been officially turned down, John Siskar, Senior Advisor for Educational Pipeline Initiatives at Buffalo State, remembers giving his partners the bad news. To his amazement, many of them wrote back the same thing: “This is the right work, and we ought to be doing it” – federal grant or not.
Since then, the partners have continued to discuss how to reach their vision of a West Side Promise. Just like the federal program, they wanted to create supportive avenues for children and youth through education and leadership development; with the further goal of focusing on people of all ages and from all walks of life in the West Side neighborhood.
Many challenges have been faced over the last few years, but the West Side Promise has remained committed to its vision of “people from all cultures and walks of life thriving in a vibrant West Side community.” One example is its community leadership program, which targets natural leaders from West Side and gives them the opportunity to work with mentors and learn more formal skills of community organizing. The program has been successful, and trained many leaders who are representative of the rich diversity of Buffalo’s West Side.
In addition, they continue implementing their three-year strategic plan, which was developed under the guidance of Shari Rife, Rich Products manager of Creativity and Facilitation. Siskar said he knew that a strategic plan was necessary for the Promise neighborhood to make progress, especially because the sheer number of groups involved often hampered the planning process. With the help of multiple workshops hosted by Rich’s and regular communication with Rife, the West Side Promise Neighborhood now has a strategic plan that everyone believes will help the group reach its goals. At the meeting to go over the plan, Siskar found that individuals were volunteering to take on more jobs and more responsibilities than ever before. He explained, “To me, that was indicative that they felt this was a project with real potential, and they really liked the strategic plan and were energized by what went on. The mission and vision really spoke to them in ways that were deep and powerful. So, when you talk about how critical Rich’s has been… this involvement is worth its weight in gold.”
Throughout the next three years, West Side Promise will continue to work with partners who are in it “for the long haul,” and they are grateful to count Rich’s among the many Buffalo groups involved. “They don’t just want to give money,” Siskar said appreciatively. “They want to be an active partner in the neighborhood. [And] they don’t come to the table telling us, ‘This is what needs to be done, this is the way to do it.’ They come embracing the notion that if you’re going to impact a neighborhood, you have to make sure that every voice is at the table and all are heard.”
Photo courtesy of West Side Promise