Tape Art Event is Indescribable Experience for All

Tape ArtOn June 17th, 2017, the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center came alive with the buzz of collaborative problem solving. Students from the Cornell High Road Fellows program, Oishei Leaders from local non-profit organizations, Oishei staff and Board members and representatives from the Architecture Center worked together to create four Tape Art murals, stretching their leadership muscles and exploring the challenges that face those working to make a difference in our communities.

The theme of the day was “Navigating Narratives”. Like every city, Buffalo is defined by the stories that are told about it. It is too often the case that narratives about cities are dominated by a focus on problems and struggles. These problems become ingrained in the identity of urban communities in a way that makes them even harder to overcome. Even when progress is being made, negative narratives can make it seem like there is no hope for meaningful change.

For this project, participants were tasked with retelling these stories. They entered a space with four drawings representing the most pressing challenges that Buffalo faces today. These drawings transformed the issues of economic inequality, segregation, disenfranchisement, and urban sprawl into monsters worthy of myth. In teams, participants worked together to draw the counter narratives to these social monsters directly over the original drawings. The new narratives featured solutions to each social issue through the lens of social justice warriors.

The day ended with a discussion of the power of collaboration in solving problems and the power of using narratives in the work of social justice.

View photos from the day, read more in this booklet put together by the Tape Art team and view a short video from the day.

Tape Art 2017 Overview

Introducing "StoryGrowing WNY," a New Communications Training Program

logoThe John R. Oishei Foundation and the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York are pleased to Introduce "StoryGrowing WNY," a Unique Communications Capacity-Building Program. 

Stories have the power to inform and inspire, excite and empower. But for most non-profits, capturing the essence of the organization and its impact is easier said than done. The John R. Oishei Foundation and the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York are pleased to present “The Right Story Changes Everything” workshop on August 22, 2017 from  9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Lexus Club at Key Bank Center. The free workshop will be led by Andy Goodman, co-founder and director of The Goodman Center, and internationally recognized speaker, author and consultant known for his workshops on storytelling.

“The Right Story Changes Everything” workshop is open to all staff and board members of any non-profit organization in WNY. Coffee and a continental breakfast will be offered at 8:30 a.m. Parking is free in the Key Bank Center parking ramp.

Registration is required at storygrowingwny.org

UPDATE AS OF MONDAY, JULY 31: Registration capacity has been filled. You may add your name to the waiting list, but there are no guarantees that new spots will open up. We thank everyone for the amazing response!

“The Right Story Changes Everything” is the kick-off event for the nine-month training program “StoryGrowing WNY,” designed to help local organizations harness the power of storytelling and nurture their growth through effective branding and communications. Working directly with a variety of local professionals, WNY non-profits will learn how to balance emotional and rational messaging, target the right audiences, make efficient use of digital and social tools, and much more.

Attendance at the August 22, 2017 workshop will act as a prerequisite to participation in StoryGrowing WNY - only attendees of “The Right Story Changes Everything” will be invited to apply. 

“StoryGrowing WNY” is presented by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York. and The John R. Oishei Foundation as part of a collaborative capacity-building effort.

Paul Hogan's Most Recent Keynote: "Coalitions of the Willing"

Paul Hogan, Oishei's Executive Vice President, gave this thought-provoking keynote at the Niagara Community Partnership Project event last week...64155008 coalition word cloud concept

Coalitions of the Willing: Who's Willing, and Why?

In approaching the idea of Coalitions of the Willing, I'll do what makes most sense to me right at the top: split the two terms and talk about them separately for a while, and then bring them back together, and wrap it all up (hopefully) in a neat package.

So let's start with 'Willing,' and get that out of the way first. Based on my 18 years of experience on the grantseeking side of the table, and now nearly 17 years on the grantmaking side, during which time I've spent a great deal of effort in and around coalitions and collaboratives and collectives, I'd say right now that pretty much no one in this room is actually willing to take on another coalition. In fact, most of you are likely downright unwilling, and probably grumpy at the thought. If you're not checking your email right now, you will be shortly, and reminding yourself about everything that's going on back at the office and grumbling about what a waste of time all of this is.

Fair enough. I'll assume that more of you are unwilling than willing, but that then leads to the question of "Why are you here?" Again, my experience tells me you're here defensively: that is, you want to know what's going on, and what you might stand to gain or lose because of it. Everybody usually comes to the first meeting. After that, it's generally a crap shoot. A small core will continue, maybe get something going, a few more folks will come back, and at some point, everyone will find their ''WIIFM'' - their ''What's in it for Me?" - that will let them justify continuing to participate.

2012.08.03 WIIFMWIIFM and willingness are directly related. WIIFM is the first rule of fundraisers everywhere: people give money or time only when they perceive there's a benefit to them personally, even though the benefit is ostensibly to someone else. WIIFM isn't a bad thing - it's a human thing. Mother Theresa had a WIIFM. She certainly had service to her religion in mind, but I believe she also had something personal that was central to her willingness to continue her very difficult work. I don't know what that was: Maybe something in her early life. Maybe a personal friend she carried in mind. Whatever it was, it was what made her willing to keep going.

Many people are unwilling, even embarrassed, to identify their WIIFM in relation to their non-profit work or support. It's charity, after all, and we are supposed to be doing or giving selflessly, for the good of others, not selfishly, or for ourselves. But it doesn't actually work that way, and there's plenty of research on why people give or volunteer to substantiate that, to the extent that some research has identified seven specilic reasons someone would be willing to give or volunteer. It could be a tax break; it could be having some personal connection to the work; it could be responding to a friend's interest that has nothing to do with anything else. And let me say this again: WIIFM is not a bad or shameful thing. It isn't something that should be hidden or avoided. In fact, most good fundraisers will look intently for the potential donor's WIIFM - whether it's a person or a foundation - in order to understand why that donor would be willing to give or volunteer. The best fundraisers can show a donor why the donor would benefit from giving, not why the organization would. Because willingness is personal, not institutional. That leads to the second most famous rule of fundraisers: People give to people, not to institutions.

So everyone here this morning is secretly, maybe unconsciously, looking for their WIIFM. And again, to be clear: you're not looking for the WIIFMO, or What's in it for My Organization.

That's ostensibly why you're here, maybe even primarily why, in your mind. But if you - personally - don't find a way to become willing to continue, then you won't, which means your organization won't. So a corollary rule here is that people interact with people, organizations don't interact with organizations. And that's a rule that's almost always forgotten or ignored in the formation of coalitions. It matters as much, and probably more, what people are at the table as it does what organizations are. When people talk about their experiences with various coalitions, they don't say "Boy, that NFMMC is sure blah blah blah;" they say "Boy, that Sheila Kee is sure blah, blah, blah." For all the great expectations that are assigned to coalitions, and what organizations must be present, success or failure or stagnation almost always comes down to the people who are there and how they interact. It might be critical in everyone's view that such-and-such an organization be present in the coalition, but if the person from that organization is unwilling, then the organization's 'presence' will be useless. This leads to a critical point: "How you are there" is as important as "Why you are there," and "How you are there" is directly related to your willingness to be there, which is tied directly to your WIIFM. Come to an understanding about that in your engagements, and you may find more personal reward in your coalition work, or maybe a good reason to spend your time elsewhere. But, you may be asking yourself, why should anyone be there at all? That is, why build a coalition? From an operations standpoint, it doesn't make much sense. It doesn't really save time, it doesn't usually save money, and it can lead to a lot of aggravation. The for-profit sector is pretty mystified by the whole activity, and look at it as just one of the ways that non-profits fail to manage their businesses well. However, that criticism is offered from the framework of a fundamentally different enterprise. Let me float up to the 30,000 foot level again for a moment and explain.

I'll start by saying that I believe that capitalism is neither moral nor immoral. It is amoral, which means that it is simply a set of instructions to guide a particular set of activities. How those instructions are interpreted and applied is what is good or bad. So saying that for-profit enterprise is different from non-profit enterprise doesn't mean that one or the other is better or worse. It only means that the rules for one cannot be applied to the other in a wholesale way, which is what tries to happen all too frequendy. I once published an essay in the Nonprofit Quarterly called Not-for-Profit is NOT For Profit.

Here's why:

The basis of activity in the for-profit sector is extractive and transactional, and the primary goal of the activity is to maximize profits for small groups of people. That means that the for-profit enterprise exists to take things out, to extract them, like raw materials or natural resources, and create some product or service that will lead to a transaction, a sale, with buyers. The transaction is direct between buyer and seller, and that completes the cycle. As far as the for-profit enterprise is concerned, the transaction is zero-sum: that is, whatever part of the cost of product or service, plus profit, that isn't paid for directly by the buyer is 'lost.' But loss is relative in business, much more so than many people believe. By that I mean that how profit is calculated, and how much profit is enough profit is different for different business people. Many businesses provide greater levels of payor benefits to their employees, or spend more on environmental stewardship, or to ensure excellent working conditions, all of which change the ways that profits from transactions are allocated. Higher fixed costs lead to lower net profits. But consider that in this way, the profits aren't lost at all: they are simply allocated differendy, to the greater benefit of employees or the community in which the business operates. Regardless, the for-profit enterprise still is fundamentally extractive, transactional, and profit-driven.

coalitionNon-profit enterprises, on the other hand, are relational and restorative, or generative. The basis of activity in the non-profit enterprise is personal and interactive, and seeks to restore or help generate whatever people need to improve their lives, or the life of the community in which they live. The non-profit enterprise works with people, usually over a long term, and -- especially as it relates to health care -- across many aspects of an individual's life. That work requires trust as its foundation. If an individual does not trust the people who are providing the service (again, the person, not the organization), then they will not be willing to participate, or, in healthcare terms, to comply with what
is being offered to them.

It could be argued that even this exchange is transactional, no different from a for-profit interaction. But there is a critical difference: the person to whom the service is being provided is not usually the source of the payment for the service. I don't pay my doctor or my dentist or my phlebotomist, someone else does, and generally, I have no idea what amount is actually paid. So the non-profit person-to-person interaction is not zero-sum or about money or profit at all; it's about the relationship that is established. And it is this disconnect of the cost of service from the third-party reimbursement for that service that destabilizes the non-profit sector in ways that the for-profit sector does not deal with or need to understand.

This isn't restricted to healthcare or human services, either. The amount you pay for a ticket to many of the arts organizations you attend is subsidized, sometimes heavily, by outside public or private funders. If most arts organizations had to charge the full amount they needed in order to operate, most of us wouldn't be able to afford to attend. That's important because the health of people and communities depends as much on arts and culture as it does on all other non-profit work, and arts must be as accessible as healthcare and education. Funders frequently decide to change the amount they will grant, or stop making grants completely, meaning that all non-profit budgets are continually in flux. And that's why, ultimately, the basis of service for non-profits is inter-relational: non-profits must rely on people not only as clients or patients or consumers, but as supporters and advocates as well. They need volunteers and donors and telephone bank operators and letter writers. Each side of the interaction in a non-profit setting needs its WIIFM. Not just: "How can you help me?" but "How can we help each other?" After, of course, enough time has been spent to establish critical trust. But all that still doesn't really explain what's up with the coalition thing. It may explain the interaction between an organization and the people who patronize it. But it doesn't explain why organizations, or more accurately, people from organizations, should sit down with each other and try to figure out how to work in cooperation.

About 10 or 12 years ago, a fascinating man was brought in to Niagara Falls to help kick off what was then being called the Mayor's Health Care Task Force, or something like that. His name was Lee Kaiser, and the first thing he said to the people gathered there was: "Everything you need to do what you want is already here." And then he said it again: "Everything you need to do what you want is already here." What he was driving at is that the non-profit sector, for many reasons, some of which are actually relevant, operates in a mentality of scarcity. We believe there is never enough funding. There are never enough resources. There are never enough people who understand the
problems we're dealing with and who will help us advocate for more.

On the face of it, that can certainly seem to be true. But when I look at the combined assets of, say, the five biggest Blah Blah providers, I see a heck of a lot of resource that isn't deployed. It doesn't even matter much what sector of non-profit we're talking about. In almost every sector, I can see ways of combining resources that could significantly improve the ways we address issues or provide services. Certainly, the Oishei Foundation has made it a priority to attempt to facilitate this kind of work. By this, I want to make clear, I'm not talking only about getting organizations to merge or fold, although we have helped with some of those. We have been successful and unsuccessful and pretty so-so. And over the course of the last decade, I think attitudes all around have been changing in a positive way toward this kind or work. There is more here that we can use than we see or acknowledge. And there really are ways it can be tapped.

Before any of it will ever be tapped or engaged or deployed, though, relationships must be built, because this is a relational enterprise. Non-profit organizations are not by and large in competition with each other over market share; they are applying for revenue to many of the same third-party entities, like foundations and state funding agencies. Even that isn't a competition in the classic for profit sense, because most of those funders are looking for ways of broadening impact by funding partnerships or collaborations. Again, for-profit enterprise is based on taking away, one from the other, in order to accumulate as much as possible. But non-profit enterprise is based on building up, wrapping services around, filling in need where there are gaps. That's a fundamental difference, and seeking funding for that work is not the same as competing for customers or market shares. In the non-profit world, we don't seek to 'crush the competition' - we seek to expand our overall reach.

We are, in the non-profit sector, working on the broader view, the more inclusive view, and the best of us are trying to invent ways to do that better all the time. There is a notion that capitalism's greatest contribution to humanity is innovation, which is driven by competition, and that without competition, the non-profit sector cannot or does not innovate. I submit that's untrue. Those of us dedicated to this work always look for ways to reach more people, to engage them more deeply and productively, to alter the conditions in which they live so that they, and we, can improve. We play off of each other's ideas and generate new ideas or approaches, or bring in new ideas from outside. But that's not being competitive, it's being generative. We are co-creating. And if we're not doing that, we're just talking to ourselves, and not much good generally comes of that. Even more important, many of us also look for ways to engage the beneficiaries of our work on their own behalf, and doing this is another fundamental reason our work can't be compared with for-profit work. EngagiDSC00466ng people in their own care or the care of their communities requires time, in order to build trust, in order to help them understand and act on their own WIIFM - their "Why should I do this?" It is a human process, which is never efficient. It can't be value-engineered. There are certainly better and worse ways of going about it, and that's a sound and central reason for experts, like the people in this room, to talk with each other.

In that sense, it is never a waste of time to just talk with the people who are your colleagues, which is different, in my view, than 'meeting' with them. Your willingness to continue to do the work you do depends on productive interactions with the other people in your life, both professional and personal. The intensity of non-profit work, its basis in personal interaction, is draining by its nature, and all of us need relief and assurance from others, encouragement, ideas, and good and bad stories. I absolutely extend this to social interaction with colleagues, like dinners, non-work gatherings, or even happy hours. Real trust, deep trust, is only built when people find ways to connect without the mediation of flipcharts and powerpoints and webinars and agendas. Our time as professionals is never wasted when we "just talk." The more deeply we trust each other, the more ways we will find to innovate and improve the work we do, for the benefit of the communities we serve.

So I strongly encourage you to think a little differently about what it means to be willing, and what the real value is of sitting around a table with your colleagues. First and foremost, I think, you're there to find connections with peers, to better understand the people around you who do the same work you do. There can be a primary benefit to you just in that - your WIIFM - and that benefit will extend back to your colleagues and your organization and its work with the people it serves. Whatever work is achieved by 'coalitions of the willing' beyond that, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty much gravy.

Oishei Foundation's New Strategic Plan

IMG 1896forwebsite

The Board and staff of the Oishei Foundation, along with our wonderful consultants, spent many months developing a new five-year strategic plan for the Foundation.

We believe it is important to be clear about our direction and to serve as a positive role model for nonprofit management by engaging in best practices. While strategic planning can be grueling at times, it is well worth the time and energy.

It is also important for us, as a private foundation and key community asset, to be transparent with our efforts, so we developed this overview brochure to provide a topline description of our new plan.

We hope you'll take a moment to page through it. If you have comments or questions, feel free to reach out to any of us. Our contact information is listed here.

BCAT Video Journal Shows Amazing Path of Progress

constructionpicHopefully you’ve heard about this amazing place on Main Street in Buffalo called the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT). It’s an inspiring, bright, colorful place filled with hope and opportunity for young people and adults alike.

It is based on Pittsburgh’s Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC), a nationally recognized arts and training center founded by Bill Strickland. MBC's results are excellent: 85% of its adult students attain meaningful employment and over 90% of high school students enrolled in its arts programs graduate from high school.

The idea of creating a center like MBC in Buffalo was sparked in 2008 when Bill Strickland came to Buffalo to speak at the Buffalo City Forum. In the summer of 2009, local community leaders traveled to Pittsburg to view MBC first hand. In June of 2010, the Oishei Foundation Board unanimously approved a $150,000 grant to fund a feasibility study to determine Buffalo’s potential as a replication site. By March of 2012, the feasibility study was completed – it gave a green light to the City of Buffalo.

After a solid fundraising effort, construction began in summer of 2013. By December of that same year, BCAT celebrated its Grand Opening Day!

During the development process, talented filmographer, Jon Hand, followed the progress with his camera. He spent endless hours interviewing key partners and staff members...filming construction, mural creation, coding classes and student recording sessions. He eventually even filmed the graduation of some of BCAT’s hard-working students.

The final result is a series of moving videos. The first is dubbed “Constructing Change” and may be viewed here. We hope it lends understanding for what went into the creation of BCAT and how very important its work is here in Buffalo.

"charitySTRONG" -- A New Program to Help Nonprofit Boards is Formed

Nearly a dozen local partners and funders have joined together to launch charitySTRONG. The new initiative was created with support from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to assist nonprofit organizations in achieving the highest standards of board leadership, governance and oversight. The first pilot sites are the Greater Buffalo region and the New York City metropolitan area.

charitySTRONG will accomplish its mission to strengthen board leadership through two programs, which are accessible through the organization’s website, www.charitystrong.org

The first program, "onBoard," is an innovative matching service designed to connect community-minded individuals interested in board service to nonprofit organizations in need of board members.

The second program, "Directors U," is an online library of educational and training resources that focuses on governance best practices and nonprofit laws andWNYAC small for web regulations.

charitySTRONG resulted from the work of the Leadership Committee for Nonprofit Revitalization, commissioned by Attorney General Schneiderman which included Oishei EVP Paul Hogan. This group was tasked with identifying ways to strengthen governance and create efficiencies in the nonprofit sector. Recognizing that strong board leadership is fundamental to the well-being of nonprofit organizations, the Committee recommended the creation of a new organization dedicated to improving director recruitment and training throughout the state.

Western New York is home to more than 5,000 nonprofit organizations. In 2015 alone, the nonprofit sector in our region generated $7.4 billion in revenue and held $11 billion in total assets.

charitySTRONG’s services are free of charge and are open to individuals interested in board service, nonprofit organizations seeking help with recruitment and governance resources, and employers looking to provide their employees with community leadership opportunities.

All are welcome to register and learn more at www.charitySTRONG.org.

Local funders of charitySTRONG include the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, The John R. Oishei Foundation, the M&T Bank Charitable Foundation, the First Niagara Foundation, the Western New York Foundation and the Burt Flickinger Jr. Leadership Fund.

The following members represent the 2016 Western New York Advisory Council:

o Brian Ahern, Williams Lea
o Molly Anderson, Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness, University at Buffalo School of Management
o Adam Bartoszek, The Service Collaborative of WNY
o Liz Callahan, Buffalo Niagara Partnership
o Karen Christie, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County
o Tod Kniazuk, Arts Services Initiative of Western New York, Inc.
o Althea E. Luehrsen, Leadership Buffalo
o Karen Lee Spaulding, The John R. Oishei Foundation
o Tasha Villani, Leadership Niagara
o Mike Weiner, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County

75th Anniversary Annual Report Website

75th website

As part of the Foundation's 75th Anniversary Celebration, we've created a special, expanded annual report and coordinating website. We're pleased to share the stories of many of our partners and grantees throughout the book and site.

Please take a look when you have a moment!

More About ACCESS of WNY from Executive Director Gamileh Jamil

Our 2016 Cornell Fellow, Andrew Grais, wanted to tell us more about ACCESS of WNY, so he interviewed Gamileh Jamil, the Executive Director of ACCESS. Here's what he found out...Gamileh

What does ACCESS of WNY stand for?

ACCESS of WNY stands for Arab American Community Center for Economic Social Services of Western New York.

What are your responsibilities as the Executive Director of ACCESS?

As Executive Director, I try to keep everything going as smooth as possible to ensure that we’re meeting the outcomes of creating healthier, stronger families.

What are the challenges of being in the community of Lackawanna?

I don’t like to consider them as challenges. I see them more as part of the process. However, there are some things that you have to move forward and look past. I wish there was more energy and insight. There are a lot of disparities in Lackawanna, and we need to be proactive in executing solutions instead of pointing fingers. It’s easy to find the solutions, but it’s actually executing the solutions that is the hardest part.

How is ACCESS trying to execute solutions in Lackawanna?

Engagement. Engagement with clients, nonprofits, and the community in general. Whether it’s with nature, individuals, businesses. You have to be around all of those aspects to really appreciate them in your decision making. ACCESS really tries to see itself as an intricate part of this system. You can’t afford to be part of one little silo. Everything is like a body system—­it’s all interrelated. You have to be engaged with the police department, engaged with the education department, and engaged with the environment. If you’re only concentrating on one aspect, you’re not really doing justice to executing solutions.

Were you always interested in nonprofit work? Was there a shift that led you to where you are right now?

I’ve always been, at a very young age, in tune with helping others. I didn’t call it nonprofit work- I just called it helping people who needed help. Even with my nursing background, helping others is as essential as breathing for me. If I don’t feel engaged in helping people, I just don’t feel complete in my life. I think it’s part of who I am, my anatomy.

Who is your biggest role model?

My biggest role model is the prophet Muhammad. He’s where I really learned how to appreciate humans. He taught me that you can have so much social change by helping people understand their rights as a human being. Just appreciate that you are a human being. You have a right to education, you have a right to owning your own business, and playing in a clean environment that’s not toxic. Those are human rights that, even if a human doesn’t believe, that the prophet Muhammad exuded that in his relations with people who surrounded him.

What is the greatest resource/gem of Lackawanna and how do you use that?

The biggest gem of Lackawanna is its diversity; diversity in faith, diversity in different cultures. I think Lackawanna demonstrates immigration to its fullest. People might not dress culturally, but there is still great pride in their culture. It needs to be embraced. We should embrace it even more. We would have an even healthier community if we could pray together, work together and have that understanding instead of finding reasons not to coexist.

Where do you see ACCESS in ten years?

I hope to see ACCESS as a nonprofit community center that is a place where people feel comfortable and confident that if they can’t get the help they need at home, especially with youth, that ACCESS is a safe place to come. The same thing with people of both genders, and aged seniors. ACCESS embodies that service leadership with staff as well as clients. I’m hoping to have that feeling of innovative brightness that we’re working towards.

What’s your educational background?

I feel that my first student experience is actually with my parents. I feel that we, as humans, sort of forget our upbringing and instead, focus on what PhD and degree we have. I feel that was my first student experience because I feel that my parents were very involved in teaching us cultural norms but also teaching us how to build, do plumbing, things you don’t learn in college, you don’t learn in high school either. I think that would be very first background. If I could put that on my resume, that would be the first thing.

Academically, I went to nursing school. Then, I took a pause for ten years to raise my family. Afterwards, I went back to school to get my bachelor’s in nursing. I thought I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, and then I saw there were a lot of changes in healthcare. These changes didn’t allow health providers to really give the nursing care that patients needed. I wanted to give more. As a result, I shifted to health leadership and administration. I wanted to be changing policies and guiding the policy changes that were happening at the state level and the federal level, so that clients and patients, and the voices of patients could be heard. Then, I came to ACCESS and worked here while getting my masters in health administration. While obtaining my masters, ACCESS provided me with essential experience in administration, and I fell in love with the organization. And here I am today.

How does your nursing background translate to your work with ACCESS?

As a person, I feel that my nursing background helps me as a leader at ACCESS and as a community leader because we’re nursing a community. We can see social disparities as diseases that can’t be healed. However, I feel that every disease has its cure. Nothing is a cookie cutter, so just as dynamic as the human body is, there’s no cookie cutter on how to fix the community needs. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself, if you have the right amount of sleep, etc. Same thing with the community. If you have the right amount of healthy venues and the focus is to heal within the self, it will come out, and it will the exude the environment and the world around it.

This past June and July, Samir Jain, a Cornell High Road Fellow, served with Access of WNY. He is worked alongside Andrew Grais, the Cornell High Road Fellow affiliated with The John R. Oishei Foundation. Together, Andrew and Samir worked on capacity building and strategic planning for ACCESS.

--Andrew Grais, Cornell High Road Fellow

ACCESS of WNY's Story


Imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and realize that everything you’ve known is not there anymore. Your friends disappeared. Your comfortable society has vanished. And, you are just dangling in a new world where your family is just as helpless as you are.

This is a familiar reality for many Yemeni families who decide to immigrate to the United States. Some of these families leave their home countries due to political turmoil or religious persecution, while others leave in search of better opportunities overseas. Similarly to many Yemeni immigrants, my family and I emigrated from Egypt to the United States. My parents, who both held accounting professions, sacrificed their comfortable lifestyle in exchange for better futures for their children. Regardless of the reason, all families dream about their future in “The Land of Free.”

When Yemeni families land in the United States, many of their dreams are hit with the cold wind of reality. Families are confronted with language barriers, racism, employment difficulties, broken familial relationships, and poverty. “When a family loses stability, they become increasingly vulnerable to the many ills of society.”

After numerous years of witnessing families struggle and fail to find their footing in the United States, a group of concerned Arab Americans sparked community interest and founded ACCESS of WNY, Inc. in 2005. The mission of ACCESS of WNY, Inc. is to promote understanding and strengthen the bonds of faith and friendship between members of the Arab American community and people of other nationalities and cultures living within the United States; to help newly arrived immigrants adapt to life in the U.S.; to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of Arab culture within the American public; and to promote the common good and general welfare of the Arab American community. Since its creation, ACCESS has assisted hundreds of low income families, at-risk youth, immigrants, and unemployed workers in the Greater Buffalo community with education needs, youth development, immigration services, and support services.

Throughout my short time at ACCESS, I witnessed its great impact on individual families and the larger Arab American community in Lackawanna. Under Executive Director Gamileh Jamil, ACCESS’s voice and impact is growing in the Greater Buffalo area.

--Andrew Grais, Cornell High Road Fellow