LaSalle Ambulance Service President Douglas H. Baker persevered, and Brian Hillard and Terrance Stokes are happy he did.
The two are among 28 students who successfully completed LaSalle Ambulance Service's emergency medical technician course and are waiting to hear the results of their state board examinations.
"Brian and I are the next two black paramedics in the City of Buffalo," Stokes predicted.
Theirs is one success story of the Neighborhood Based Alliance, a state-backed community revitalization program. The Alliance has three target areas: the lower West Side, Kenfield-Langfield, and Fillmore-Jefferson. In these impoverished neighborhoods, more than 60 percent of the 53,000 residents live in poverty, unemployment rates range from 20 to 50 percent and homes are often havens for lead poisoning.
Through existing agencies, the alliance tackles a variety of problems, including rehabilitation of housing and developing after-school programs for youngsters. There is also family-case management and plans to coordinate a countywide block-club conference this fall.
The alliance also played a key role in an EMT training program. And though Hillard and Stokes both had decent-paying jobs, they also dreamed of something better.
"I wanted to be a professional, but at the same time show the young people in our community that we can have professionals like any other community," Hillard said.
Donna Rice, the alliance's executive director, said Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve alerted the alliance to the EMT program.
The ambulance-training course relied on a variety of resources. LaSalle Ambulance provided the technical training; Seventy Eight Restoration, a human service agency, provided remedial training; and Social Services provided its clients, who were in the program, to help with transportation, uniforms and child care.
All did not go smoothly at first.
"Of the 40 who initially signed up, 28 completed the course, passed the in-house exams and took the state boards," LaSalle's Baker said. "The first two classes had maybe four or five finish out of up to 50 students."
"You want to put people from your community to work and I want to employ them," Baker recalled telling Eve.
"From that moment on . . . we were on our way."
It was two years ago that Buffalo was selected as one of six cities in the state for the five-year pilot alliance program and received a $500,000 start-up grant. Overall, it has received a total of $1 million in state funding.
It took almost a year to put together an advisory council representative of neighborhoods and the business and educational community.
As a result, traditional programs now have a new twist:
Instead of waiting for a child to be diagnosed with lead poisoning, outreach workers from the St. Augustine Center and the Buffalo Prenatal Network are knocking on the doors of homes and apartments in the target areas to warn parents and urge them to have their children tested and their homes inspected. And, help is offered to find new housing and money for moving expenses.
The director of the Buffalo Community School Improvement Center is putting her "student" parents on television.
"When they first come to our parenting classes," Thelma L. Roberts explained, "we do a video of them telling about their background, where they think their problems are and what they hope to learn in our classes.
"At our graduation, we do another video as each parent tells what they have learned and how their thoughts on parenting have changed."
Administrative staffs at the Father Belle Center and Hispanics United are collaborating on a program in an attempt to reach parents and offer help with family problems.
"We have up to 150 kids come into our center after school," said Modesto Candelario, director of Father Belle. "We are concentrating on getting their parents involved.
"Hispanics United is going to focus on reaching parents through an in-school program and both of us are looking for assistance from all of the other agencies in our neighborhood."
Another agency, the Citizens Alliance, is trying to put all of the pieces in place to obtain funding to buy, fix up and resell several homes in the target areas.
"We would like to establish a revolving loan fund to help first-time buyers especially," said Kenneth E. Sherman, Citizens Alliance director.