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Community Center receives praise

By Michael Canfield
On November 15, 2011

Buffalo State held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open-house event Tuesday for the college's Community Academic Center, bringing out local dignitaries and community members to see the new center.

Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, was the featured speaker at the event. Other speakers included Buffalo State President Aaron Podolefsky, Tammy Alsace, the director of the Buffalo Public School's Multilingual Education Department, and Molly Short, executive director at Journey's End Refugee Services, Inc.

President Podolefsky's speech touched on Buffalo State's place in the community, said Laura Rao, coordinator at the Volunteer and Service Learning Center.

"President Podolefsky welcomed everyone, and talked about his enthusiasm and excitement for the center and the community," she said.

The event allowed community members and organizations to tour the center, which is on Grant Street. A $500,000 gift from Eleanor and Vaughan Beals was used to open the center. Eleanor graduated from Buffalo State in 1950, and the Bealses are longtime supporters of the school, said John Siskar, interim director for the Center for Excellence in Urban Education.

The event went well, Rao said.

"We had a lot of great energy, a lot of enthusiasm for the center and a lot of nice conversations," she said.

Although the ribbon-cutting was held Tuesday, the center has been running programs for a few weeks now, Rao said.

"We've been going since the paint dried," she said.

Programs currently in progress include a writing club and "girl talk" on Friday evenings, with plans for tutoring programs to start in the next few weeks. The programs will be in conjunction with the Grant Street Neighborhood Center, said Maureen McCarthy, director of the center.

"It's a strong partnership," she said, referring to the work the center is doing with the Grant Street Neighborhood Center.

Other partnership opportunities exist, including collaborations with Buffalo State's Volunteer and Service Learning Center, McCarthy said.

"Right now, we're working to build those programs with service learning," she said.

The center will also serve to assist refugee agencies with resettlement issues, Rao said.

One possible plan includes using the space as a drop-in center for high-school aged refugees struggling with schoolwork.

"We want to continue and expand relationships, and help refugee youth and families adjust," she said.

While most people in the Grant Street community seem to embrace the center, some are taking a wait-and-see approach. Nekia Kemp and Cayla Casciani from Concerned Ecumenical Ministry have been working in the neighborhood for some time, and will be watching the center to see how things go.

"Overall, it's a positive thing," Casciani said. "You've refurnished the space, now let's see what happens."

Several groups operate in the neighborhood, Kemp said, but they don't always communicate, leading to overlap in what services the organizations provide.

"(The center) has a lot of resources that can happen," she said. "Can it be rolled into reality? If this is the vision of the center, to bring it all together, that's a good thing."

Michael Canfield can be reached by email at

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