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INVESTMENT IN SELF-RELIANCE IS CORNERSTONE OF U.S. SPENDING ON LAKEVIEW OVERHAUL

Much has been made of the $78 million in federal Hope VI dollars that is being funneled to the city's Lower West Side for a controversial overhaul of the Lakeview public housing project. But not all that money is going toward construction costs.

In fact, $2.5 million is going toward what some consider the most important facet of Hope VI -- self-sufficiency programs designed to wean residents from public assistance.

Erie Regional Housing Development Corp., the not-for-profit organization that runs the Father Belle Community Center, has been given the responsibility of developing these programs for the past year.

It has spent about $682,000 of the $2.5 million on a variety of programs designed to give poor neighborhood residents greater access to education, training and employment, according to the group.

"It's a small amount of money, but a big investment," said Donna Rice, the Hope VI self-sufficiency coordinator for Erie Regional. "If you look at the way public housing has been set up in the past, it did not encourage people to become self-sufficient. There weren't a lot of initiatives in public housing to encourage people to be successful."

These new programs are designed to change that, she said.

Among the new programs being offered to the Lower West Side community:

Teenage pregnancy prevention, designed in partnership with Planned Parenthood of Buffalo and Erie County. The five-month course would be billed as debutante pageant preparation, intended for teenage girls who are not yet pregnant or mothers. The goal is to reach 40 girls a year with the pregnancy-prevention message, including career counseling and goal-setting.

Erie Regional has earmarked about $15,000 for the program so far, said fiscal officer Tom Williams, not including additional support from Planned Parenthood and other outside grants.

Adult leadership development, including two programs that train public housing residents to be active participants and leaders in the Lakeview community.

Erie Regional has spent about $110,000 on those two programs. One is being offered in partnership with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. These programs had reached 33 residents through December.

Case management, which features one-on-one assistance and is one of the initiatives most heavily funded by Hope VI dollars. Three case managers actively work with 72 families formerly receiving welfare benefits to help them make the transition to independent living. Workers typically deal with situations involving senior citizens, the disabled, single parents and non-English-speaking residents.

The cost of the program so far is $257,000, with a total estimated cost of $835,000.

A computer resource center. Erie Regional is working to outfit the Belle Center with a modern computer lab with Internet access for use by the Lower West Side community, as well as for computer classes.

Ten computers and additional hardware have been purchased, and high-speed Internet wiring for the computer room is expected to be completed by March. About $30,000 has been spent on the lab, which has a total estimated cost of $80,000.

A youth employment initiative, which was begun at the Belle Center in November as the Youth Opportunity Program. The project focuses on job placement and retention, high school completion and college enrollment. So far, 216 youths have enrolled.

Developed with the assistance of the Buffalo Employment and Training Center, this program is affiliated with Hope VI but supported through a $7.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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