When Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble met with colleagues this year to discuss the status of women in Niagara County, she discovered some shocking news. Ninety-eight percent of households on public assistance are headed solely by women, according to a Niagara County Social Services report.
The data spoke loudly and clearly to Ms. Kimble and to other members of area women's groups: Women and children have a high proportion of serious need.
They also realized there was no centralized data base regarding women's issues in Niagara County.
On Nov. 17, the County Legislature approved a measure sponsored by Ms. Kimble, a Niagara Falls Democrat, and Legislators Shirley Gregory-Urtel, R-Cambria, and Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, and appointed a 21-member task force of men and women to study the status of women in Niagara County.
"I felt it was extremely important to bring this information to the Legislature and to propose a task force with which to examine these women's issues, to see what type of services are available now and what we can do to prepare ourselves as the country moves into the 21st century," said Ms. Kimble.
The volunteers, who were chosen because of their expertise, according to Ms. Kimble, will consist of lay people, leaders, educators, professionals and specialists in their fields.
"We decided that 21 was a manageable number for a task force, and we also will be working with area organizations that already deal with women's issues to find out if there is any overlapping of services or lack of services," said Ms. Kimble.
"The group's mission will be to examine such concerns as employment, welfare, housing, transportation, child care, education, health care, mental health, teen pregnancy, violence against women, domestic violence, legal/judicial/legislative concerns, senior women's concerns, racial differences, religion, recreation, cultural, pay equity, child support, political, economic, social and whatever other issues the group feels need to be evaluated.
The task force will then issue a written report to be completed by Sept. 21, 1999. "At that time, they will then compile and present their findings to the County Legislature to analyze current trends and programs that affect women and make specific recommendations," said Ms. Kimble.
According to Shelley Stuchell, president and chief executive officer of Niagara County Planned Parenthood, the task force is long overdue. "Niagara County has never had a real study done, and I think it's wonderful. The more people that we can bring together to work on our common goals, the more information we'll discover to improve people's lives . . . We'll have a better community."
Ms. Stuchell, who will serve on the task force, also praised Susan Curran-Hoyt, executive director of Erie County's Women's Task Force, for providing her assistance in planning Niagara County's task force. "She came in and discussed what Erie County has been able to do with its task force, whose success has been both a model and an inspiration for us."
The new task force will not only research the negative aspects surrounding women in Niagara County, but also the positive resources and services, which Ms. Stuchell hopes can be used as examples to improve less effective programs or as models for new ones.
"We definitely will be looking at the positive areas. I presume the task force will view and assess the various socioeconomic issues for both good and bad. It would make me very happy to find something really powerful to improve women's lives," she said.
Kathleen Granchelli, YWCA executive director and member of the task force, praised the efforts of Ms. Kimble and the Niagara County Legislature, along with the many behind-the-scenes community members who have worked to make the task force a reality.
"Without the efforts of Renae Kimble and the approval of the Legislature, the task force wouldn't happen," she said.
"There are a lot of issues that people don't realize that are critical to the welfare of the whole population. We can now look at these issues, come to terms with them and deal with them," said Ms. Granchelli.
Ms. Granchelli noted that the task force will be particularly instrumental in the lives of children.
"Wherever there are women, there are usually relationships with children," she said. "As the lead agency for women's issues in Niagara County, the YWCA will be a strong partner to the task force."
The group plans to meet in early December to begin laying out its game plan and to discuss how to effectively approach each issue, according to Ms. Kimble, who said she is not the only one excited to get the project started.
"Everyone asked to take part in the task force was extremely receptive to the project," she said.
Ms. Kimble said the group will receive no funding for its research at this time.
"At this point there is no need for any kind of funding. Once the research is compiled, we will see at that time where the findings will lead us to. The data will give us some idea of where we are now, where we can improve in the future, what services are needed and what we can do to prepare women in Niagara County as we enter the millennium," said Ms. Kimble.
According to Ms. Stuchell, the task force will have an impact not just on women, but on the county as a whole.
"The more that we can do to improve the lives of the people in our community, the more we can build our community's self-esteem to become a model in our county. We want to be able to help people to have pride in who they are," she said.