Growing up in poverty, Daniel Alexander looked upon the Seneca-Babcock Community Center as a lifeline.
On Tuesday, Alexander showed his gratitude in a million ways.
Now an orthopedic surgeon, Alexander and his wife, Gail, pledged $1 million to help build a new community center.
“We are blessed with so much, and I have a very successful practice. We just decided to give back,” Alexander said.
He grew up one of seven children in a 700-square-foot home with two bedrooms on Steuben Alley, a mile from Seneca-Babcock.
“My wife and I like to give to the poor and underprivileged,” Alexander said. “That’s sort of our mission. When I was growing up people helped me succeed, so this is just paying it forward.” Alexander said the Seneca-Babcock Community Center and the Babcock Boys Club – now the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo – helped shape him into the person he is today.
“It was a safe place to go and grow,” Alexander said. “Growing up, I didn’t really have the tools to succeed in life, but with specialized programs they helped kids like me succeed. They played a vital role in my development.”
As part of the project’s second phase, the City of Buffalo will convert the current site into an expanded day care facility, food pantry and workforce development site. The city is spending $600,000 to tear down former School 26, which has been closed since 1980, to make way for the new community center,
A medical and mental health care clinic – adjacent to the new community center, and in partnership with Erie County Medical Center – will be built in the project’s third phase.
Alexander lives in Canandaigua and is president of the Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center. As a father of three, he finished college and his first year of medical school while working as a firefighter with the Buffalo Fire Department.
The new $6.1 million Seneca-Babcock Community Center will be built at 82 Harrison St., a quarter-mile from its current location at 1168 Seneca St. Construction is expected to begin this summer, with Ciminelli Real Estate volunteering its services as project manager. The 26,000-square-foot facility will more than double the size of the current building. It will include an expanded computer lab, kitchen for cooking classes, full-size gymnasium, recording studio and small theater.
The new site will also include a multipurpose outdoor field for football, baseball, soccer and lacrosse, a playground, and an outdoor court for basketball or roller hockey.
The center serves 300 youth and 120 seniors each week. It also offers a range of services, including emergency assistance, food and clothing, educational programs, GED preparation and after-school programs for children.
“Right now there’s no field where children can play football, soccer or outdoor sports,” said Brian Pilarski, the community center’s executive director. “Our young girls compete in national cheerleading championships despite the fact that we don’t have a gym. This $1 million investment will transform our struggling community for years to come.”
Alexander’s father repaired typewriters, and his mother was a bus aide, a nursing home aide and factory worker. Children slept in the living room and dining room, and they could reach out the window and touch the building next to them.
“We were so poor that the poor kids didn’t want to hang around with us,” Alexander laughed. “I grew up with a lot of love. My mother didn’t give us material possessions, but she taught us the value of education, and especially reading.”
Alexander graduated from Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, and he attended the University at Buffalo before leaving in his junior year after passing the firefighter exam at age 20, becoming the youngest firefighter in Buffalo’s history.
Alexander worked for the Buffalo Fire Department from 1989 to 1996, taking night classes to finish his English degree.
Trained as an emergency medical technician, Alexander also went on rescue squad calls. He started reading about medicine, and eventually the 31-year-old father of three gained acceptance into UB’s medical school.
Alexander continued to work as a firefighter during his first year as a medical student.
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Anderson said. “That was a lot of work. It was very challenging fighting fires and going to medical school.”
Alexander, 51, did his residency at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, graduated in 2004 and started practicing orthopedics in the Finger Lakes in 2004. He started his own practice two years later.
The Alexanders have also given $500,000 to build an emergency ward at Newark Wayne Community Hospital, 35 miles southeast of Rochester.
Alexander recalled something else about how community centers influenced his life. He was 15 when he received a special honor from the Babcock Boys Club.
“One of the things that instilled a lot of self-worth and self-esteem in me was when I was named ‘Boy of the Year.’ That was a pivotal thing because it made me feel like I was somebody, and that maybe I could succeed in life,” Alexander said.
“It’s things like that that really make a difference in kids’ lives,” he said. “It could also be a safe place to hang out, a place to participate in sports or do homework, or to get something to eat.”
Mayor Byron W. Brown thanked the Alexdanders in a statement.
“Our renaissance is being fueled by public-private partnerships like this one between the city and community. I thank Dr. Alexander for his faith and confidence in this important project for this area,” he said.
Other companies working on the project at free or reduced rates are Kideney Architects, C&S Engineers, Siracuse Engineers, Kavinoky Cook LLP, Frey Electric, J.W. Danforth & Co. and Davis-Ulmer Sprinkler Co.
Stefan Mychajliw, Erie County’s comptroller and Alexander’s younger brother by 10 years, expressed pride in his brother’s gift to their former neighborhood.
“He’s the most kind and generous and loving guy I know,” Mychajliw said.
“He really wants to keep a low profile and not be in the limelight, but practically everything he earns he gives away for great causes. He’s a great mentor and role model in living a life of generosity.”
Mychajliw said the new community center will be a great addition to the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood.
“This community really needs a shot in the arm like this,” Mychajliw said.
“The current center is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the poor in the neighborhood. They are doing an incredible job with what they have, but we should be doing a lot more, and we can through this new community center.”