Advocates describe it as a cradle-to-college approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is a public-private partnership that spans a 97-block area that surrounds Bailey Avenue. It aims to improve academic performance in neighborhood schools while working with businesses and community leaders to revitalize the area.
Yvonne S. Minor-Ragan, president of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, talked about the program with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer. Here is part of an interview in the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: In this area with 12,000 people, including 3,000 children, we all know about the challenges that exist: high poverty rates, high teen pregnancy rates. We know there are crime problems. We know there’s blight. How does an entity like yours go about trying to tackle such gargantuan systemic problems?
Minor-Ragan: We go at the issues systematically. First, we had a research study done to look at ... the major issues and also the positive assets of the community. Working on the strengths, that’s how we’re going to go about helping to improve the quality of life for the residents and in particular our children.
Meyer: You’re really trying to break the cycle of poverty ... You’re trying to tackle it from multi levels. We’re now in this brand new center which looks at the early foundations category.
Minor-Ragan: This children’s academy was built to tackle the problem from ... the earliest age of our children. We will enroll children from six weeks all the way up to pre-K age. That’s because the earlier we work with our children in terms of brain development, in terms of socialization skills and in terms of working with the parents in parenting skills and academic support ... the better chance our children will have at being successful in elementary school, in high school and in the careers that they choose.
Meyer: So many of the issues involving academic success hinge on good parenting. How do you deal with that here?
Minor-Ragan: We have a very strong parenting component in our academy. Not only are we working with the parents through workshops, we also have a two-generation approach ... where we are not only working with the children but we’re coupling that by working with the parents in work-force preparedness, getting them ready. If they need a GED, we’re providing GED training for them, and also after-high school training if they need job training skills, as well as advanced certificates.
Meyer: What kind of a track record can you point to? Granted, you haven’t been around for many years. This really started in 2010.
Minor-Ragan: It started in 2010, but we can show some success. For example, last year we provided support for our kindergarten children at Highgate Heights Elementary School. Ninety-eight percent of the children came out of kindergarten at age-appropriate readiness, so they went into first grade prepared. In addition to that, we have a very vital community council that works with M&T Bank. They have their business planning agenda. They’ve worked out plans with the business residents along Bailey Avenue. And they also are advising our community engagement director on what they want to see in the community. One of them is safety within our community, and we now have [as a result of a grant] ... better safety within our community – we have more police presence. So you see differences there. In addition, we have a home rehab program. We’re in the processing of rehabbing 12 homes. Six of them have been completed, so now we’re selling them back to the community at market rate. And there’s financial support for that.
Meyer: You mentioned M&T Bank. You’ve had a lot of private-sector help. You’ve had foundations such as Oishei come through [with resources]. What’s the message as it relates to trying to solve neighborhood issues? Is the message that government just can’t do it?
Minor-Ragan: No, our entire Promise Neighborhood started with a government grant. But with that, we have leveraged funding. I think the key is that we have collaboration and committed partners to make this whole approach work.