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Wilson Foundation $1.8M grant to help expand early childhood program

LEWISTON - The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation announced a $1.8 million grant that will enable an early childhood program expand beyond Erie and Niagara counties to other parts of Western New York.

Help Me Grow Western New York works with about 40 local agencies assisting children under 5 who are considered at risk for developmental disabilities and delays.

Niagara University will manage the grant. The grant will help fund Help Me Grow for the next five years as it expands its service area to the other six counties of Western New York.

Help Me Grow, the local affiliate of a national organization, was launched locally in 2011 by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York. Niagara University's College of Education is one of the original partners in the program.

"Our work in early childhood intervention supports the core Catholic and Vincentian mission that the education of our youth, especially those living in poverty, is a rising tide that lifts all boats," said Rev. James J. Maher, university president. "We are eager and grateful to have this opportunity to enhance the family-focused work of Help Me Grow through continued collaboration with our numerous community partners and schools in the region."

Help Me Grow works with its partner agencies to detect children with problems that might affect their ability to succeed in school. Organizers said half of such children are not identified before they enter school.

“We’ve heard a lot about making America great lately. The fact is that America will only be great if we make our children great, if we make them a priority,” said Lynn Pullano, the local director of Help Me Grow. “We make our children great by nurturing the unique potential each one has, one child at a time. That’s what the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s generous gift will help us do.”

“Early childhood is a key focus of the foundation, and we’re pleased that our support will help expand this successful collaborative to more counties throughout Western New York," said David Egner, president and CEO of the Wilson Foundation.

The foundation existed before Wilson, founder of the Buffalo Bills, died in 2014, but his widow's sale of the football team to Terry and Kim Pegula moved the foundation to another level of funding capability.

The foundation made a 20-year commitment to assist worthy programs, especially around Buffalo and Wilson's hometown of Detroit, with its $1.2 billion in grant-making capacity.

The grant was announced Tuesday in the Castellani Art Museum on the Niagara University campus.




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