Nearly three dozen University at Buffalo students packed into a halfway house on Monday morning armed with sandpaper, paint rollers and cookie sheets.
The students, who get part of their education paid for by a local foundation, were making food and sprucing up Bissonette House on Grider Street.
It was one of the first stops in a weeklong seminar of workshops and tours that are part of a yearlong fellowship program aimed at keeping Buffalo’s budding entrepreneurs and leaders in the Buffalo area after they get out of school.
The students, who range from juniors up to doctoral students and study everything from engineering to the arts to business and urban planning, get to use the region as their laboratory for learning, said Hadar Borden, program director for the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship Program.
“Our effort is to make sure the talent is retained here in Western New York, so when they graduate, they don’t even think to look outside of Western New York for employment,” Borden said.
The competitive fellowship program is offered to students of both UB and Canisius through the Prentice Family Foundation. Program participants receive up to $25,000 toward schooling costs and also participate in a summer internship. The program began at UB in 2009 and expanded to Canisius a year later.
UB students used Monday’s stop at the Bissonette House to help refurbish former office space, which is becoming a computer lab. They also helped bake cookies to help feed the 21 residents who have recently left incarceration and entered the state parole system.
UB grad student Kevin Cullen, a Prosperity fellow, and his wife, Christian, spent part of Monday morning doing some handiwork in the future computer lab and learning about operations at the Bissonette House, which is run by Peaceprints of Western New York.
The couple started their own business, SUP Erie Adventures, at the same time Kevin entered the fellowship program last May. SUP stands for stand-up paddle boarding, and the company offers paddling lessons and guided trips out on Western New York’s waterways.
The networking available through the program has helped them build their business, which hopes to get outdoor recreation activities more ingrained in the community and culture of Western New York.
“We both moved back here and just saw this place in a whole new way,” said Kevin Cullen, 30. “We want to help other people see it in a whole new way because it’s world class.”
The Bissonette House, across from Erie County Medical Center, is one of two facilities run by Peaceprints.
The UB students’ work to help establish the computer lab is important because among the residents’ barriers to employment is computer access, since virtually all job applications are done online, said Cindi McEachon, executive director of Peaceprints. McEachon called the students’ help critical to the future of her organization, as well as Buffalo as a whole.
“They are the folks that are going to continue moving Buffalo along,” she said. “And obviously, it’s important to know that we exist and that this idea of re-entry is truly an important topic.”