The John R. Oishei Foundation is one of the leading institutions in town that truly makes a difference in the fortunes of the community. And Robert Gioia has led it expertly.
Leader of Oishei since 2007, Gioia is retiring as president on Dec. 31. He will continue giving back to the community through the various boards he sits on and chairs he occupies. It is testament to Gioia’s dedication to the community, fueled by a desire to improve the lives of all its residents.
In the tradition of the nation’s best philanthropic leaders, Gioia has placed himself at the service of others for decades and – much appreciated by members of the community – he will continue to do so as chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., Great Lakes Health and the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology.
As the Oishei Foundation leader for some 15 years, overseeing a team that has made 2,300 grants totaling more than $240 million, Gioia made a lasting impression. The Foundation has made critical investments in the community under five focus areas: education, health care, neighborhood stabilization, self-sufficiency, and the arts, culture and heritage. As indicated in its glowing summation of Gioia’s tenure, the Foundation stated that it has made these investments while growing its assets to more than $300 million.
The list of accomplishments under Gioia’s direction extends to developments on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Under his leadership, the foundation helped to develop the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and provided $10 million for the construction of the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital on the medical campus. It replaced the former Women’s and Children’s Hospital on Elmwood Avenue.
The foundation has also supported Buffalo’s waterfront; the expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, to be known as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum; and the creation of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown.
Gioia, an avid supporter of educational improvements in Western New York, was key in building community support and in persuading educational leadership in New York State to bring Say Yes to Buffalo in 2011. His brainchild involved the creation of the Children First Scholarship that offered families looking for alternatives to the Buffalo Public Schools an opportunity to attend Catholic schools. He was instrumental in establishing the Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology, which provides career pathways for adults and helps youth to stay in school through an after-school program in arts and technology.
Gioia’s leadership roles are many. Since 2012, he has been chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. He has served in two gubernatorial appointments to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, as a board member and then as chairman, leading the construction of what was then the new terminal at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. The project was completed on time and under budget.
Gioia said he believes that after 15 years, “and as the foundation embarks on its strategic planning process in 2022, that the time was right for the next generation of leadership.” We’ll have to take his word for that.
Thankfully, Gioia will remain active and engaged as chairman or member of other nonprofit organizations key to improving Western New York’s quality of life, affirming its historic place and promoting its future successes.
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