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Elizabeth D. Capaldi makes more than $200,000 a year as University at Buffalo provost and helps run an institution with a $750 million budget. She often travels to Albany, New York City and Washington, D.C., and hobnobs with the likes of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On Friday, Capaldi stood alongside dozens of other area women supporting Cornerstone Manor, a shelter for homeless women and children, and had a simple message.

"Women in Western New York are only as strong as the weakest and most vulnerable among us," said Capaldi, who helped to kick off a new fund-raising campaign to support the shelter.

Cornerstone Manor, operated by the Buffalo City Mission, plans a $6 million shelter renovation and expansion to accommodate a growing demand for services.

But the campaign launched Friday is not seeking to raise capital funds. The organization wants to be certain it has enough financial support to cover operating expenses for a larger facility, which would double occupancy.

"People in the community don't know about Cornerstone, but when we tell them about it, they want to help," said Mary Beth Popp, advancement director for City Mission.

The campaign is known as "Courage to Call." The slogan not only asks donors to give, but also doubles as encouragement to women in tough situations, such as domestic violence, to seek help.

Paula Schrembi knows how difficult that call can be. Thirteen years ago, after two failed attempts, she and her two children fled an abusive relationship.

She had no job, no money, no health insurance. She found a safe home with family.

"I know the fear, the embarrassment, the shame, the desperation of having found yourself in a situation you never expected to be in," she said.

But Schrembi rebuilt her life, starting with an entry-level insurance company job. She now is an account executive with Arxcel, a Hamburg prescription benefit management firm that will donate up to $10,000 in matching grants to boost the campaign.

Cornerstone, said Schrembi, may be the only safe harbor available for many women and children in need. Even that is in jeopardy on some days.

In 2001, Cornerstone had to turn away 37 families and 47 single women because of lack of space and resources. Women come to the shelter for a variety of reasons. They get evicted, lose jobs, encounter legal problems, suffer from drug addiction or get abused by their spouses or boyfriends, to name a few.

"Cornerstone Manor is filled to capacity today and filled to capacity 99 percent of the time. That alone is a problem," said Lora Warkentin, director of the center.


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