By Michael Weiner
When Katie Couric recently visited Buffalo for her series on revitalized cities, she commented that Buffalo should be proud of the way we have welcomed and embraced immigrant communities.
Her comments came after her visit to the West Side Bazaar, a unique entrepreneurial hub featuring start-up businesses by recent immigrants to Buffalo.
Couric is right – we should be proud. As the rest of the world debates the issue of refugees, our “City of Good Neighbors” has extended its welcome to those who have fled their homelands in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
Our vision at United Way is every person in our community has the opportunity to enjoy the highest possible quality of life. This includes the refugee population.
To fulfill this vision, United Way supports many programs in our community that assist these immigrants in gaining financial stability, maintaining their health and wellness and having access to educational supports to improve their quality of life.
We are proud to provide financial support to several nonprofit organizations that offer programs targeted to refugees and their families. Organizations such as the International Institute, Jericho Road, Jewish Family Services and Westminster Economic Development Initiative, which includes the West Side Bazaar, that provide English language skills, job placement assistance, housing, medical care and other services for those who have left war, civil unrest, disease and other horrors and chosen the United States.
While we can and should be proud of the helping hand we have extended to immigrants, it is important to note that our embrace of immigrants and refugees has benefited the Western New York community in ways many of us never imagined.
Immigrants have been a significant part of Buffalo’s recent population gains, a first after four decades of decline. This growth helps to add to our tax base in the form of sales tax and property tax revenues.
With a growing entrepreneurial focus in the immigrant community, we are gaining new businesses that are helping to revitalize parts of our city, including the West Side.
These businesses and the individuals who run them are also helping our citizens learn more about distant cultures as they share their food, dress and customs with Western New Yorkers.
Most importantly, these connections among newcomers from around the world open our citizens to a greater world and help to reflect back to us the things that make America great.
Michael Weiner is president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.