Virtual Learning Centers (VLCs), opened last fall with funding from Erie County CARES Act dollars supplemented with support from the Buffalo Public Schools. These funds expired on Friday, March 5th, potentially leaving families scrambling for childcare support. Nationally it is estimated that up to 2.5 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic with lack of childcare cited as a significant factor.
Recognizing the critical need for both students and their families to have a safe location to continue learning while allowing parents to work, a group of philanthropic funders, led by The John R. Oishei Foundation, collaborated to find solutions to address the funding gap. Together they have contributed up to $745,000 to keep 13 existing sites open, to continue to support approximately 400 students from public, private, charter, and parochial schools.
Funders including The John R. Oishei Foundation, The Cullen Foundation, Key Bank/First Niagara Foundation, Western New York Foundation, The James H. Cummings Foundation, M&T Charitable Foundation, The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, and Rich Family Foundation have contributed. In addition, the WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund, a collaboration of local philanthropic organizations created to respond to our region’s needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, has also allocated $150,000 as part of the total contribution.
The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo has been a key partner in this effort and will administer the majority of funding through the WNY COVID-19 Response Fund.
The VLCs have been operated by various community organizations and provide a safe and supervised place for students who are learning remotely. Students have a chance to see other students, have a dedicated space to focus on schoolwork, and can get assistance from adults for technology or academic issues while there. The sites have also been a lifeline for many families by addressing food insecurities, WIFI access, and offering other learning and social-emotional supports during these times.
Say Yes Buffalo was instrumental in setting the VLCs up and in their initial operations and will now transfer all operations to the individual sites. Philanthropic funding will provide support for currently enrolled students and to those that may have been discharged due to anticipated funding gaps.
The John R. Oishei Foundation is the most comprehensive private foundation in Western New York focusing on a broad range of interrelated issues and offering philanthropic support that goes far beyond funding. Our mission is to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership, and network building. The Foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.