From the Board Chair and President 
 Steve Finch          Michael Weiner
Dear Friend, 


The last two weeks have been extraordinary ones for United Way. Last Tuesday, we held our annual Report to the Community with keynote speaker Howard Zemsky, managing partner of Larkin Development Group. At that time we released our recently-completed Community Needs Assessment, which will guide our work in the years to come. Finally, earlier this week we announced our intention to invest nearly $10 million in important community programs and services over the next two years - programs and services that address our goals in Education, Income, and Health & Wellness.


This newsletter offers an overview of these significant events and activities. We hope you will take a few moments to learn more about how your commitment to United Way - as a donor, a volunteer, or someone who simply cares about our community - is making a difference every day.

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Report to the Community  
Howard Zemsky delivering keynote
The Bulger Communications Center at Buffalo State College was the setting for our 2011-2012 Report to the Community on January 15, attended by over 100 community members. 

Steve Finch, plant manager at GM Powertrain and United Way's Board Chair, opened the event with a brief overview of United Way's accomplishments over the past year, including the success of the 2011 Campaign and the launch of the online volunteer in partnership with The Service Collaborative of WNY. "We are tremendously proud of the work we have done this year, and we are committed to achieving even greater things for our community in the years to come," he said.  


Michael Weiner, president and CEO, provided an overview of the newly-released Community Needs Assessment, which was undertaken in order to identify and measure critical needs to better focus the organization's and community's efforts to create positive change. He outlined key issues in United Way's focus areas of Education, Income, and Health & Wellness. He concluded by noting that it is intended as a community resource. "We hope the findings in this report will be used by organizations that fund health and human service programming, plan and deliver services, or engage in policy and systems-level change work, as a key resource ensuring that the most critical needs in our community are being met."


Howard Zemsky's keynote address began with musings on his long involvement with United Way and his belief in its importance in our community. His remarks highlighted recent community successes, including the redevelopment and revitalization of the Larkin District. He also discussed the efforts of the Larkin Community Improvement Fund, as well as the Western New York Regional Economic Development Plan. He noted the importance of services like those funded by United Way in building a strong workforce that is so important to our community's success.

The event concluded with a brief panel discussion facilitated by Dennis Black, vice president of University Life and Services at the University at Buffalo and our 2012 Campaign Chair, who fielded a few audience questions before delivering some brief thoughts on his service as chair. 
"Your support of the Campaign and your presence here tells me that you care about what happens to people in need," he said. "Thank you for stepping up to make a difference; I am grateful for the opportunity to work with an organization that inspires the support of so many community leaders like you." 


To view a slideshow of photos from the event, click here. Click here to download a copy (PDF format) of our 2011-2012 Annual Report and Leadership Society Roster, which contains more information on our accomplishments over the last year.

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Community Needs Assessment

To better understand the challenges currently facing our community, we initiated a community needs assessment in the fall of 2011. Our primary goal was to identify and measure critical needs to better focus our efforts and those of our community to create positive change. Drawing on past research, as well as the work of other United Ways across the country, we focused this assessment on the areas of Education, Income, and Health & Wellness as the core building blocks that contribute to a better quality of life.


The assessment included data collection on more than 100 measures of community well-being; interviews with over 20 individual stakeholders and 30 focus groups; a review of more than 40 research studies; and an investigation of national, statewide and local best practices in health and human service provision.


Highlights from the report include:



Key challenges for children from birth to age 6 relate to school readiness, especially language and literacy skills, socio-emotional development, and behavior. School-aged children and youth face challenges involving school attendance, academic performance, social development, behavior, and emotional well-being.


Growing numbers of individuals are having difficulty accessing needed financial resources and securing or maintaining assets (e.g. personal savings, vehicles, homes, access to credit). Data also indicates challenges for individuals in acquiring the educational, technical, and soft skills needed to locate, obtain, and sustain employment.

Health & Wellness

There is significant need for family supports, especially parenting and caregiving support and services that ensure the safety of children, youth, adults, and elders. Study respondents also described the critical nature of access (including transportation) particularly as it relates to health services, nutritious meals, exercise, and socialization activities. 

Additional/Overarching Concerns

The study revealed a number of special populations in need of assistance, including persons living in areas of concentrated poverty; refugees and immigrants; persons with disabilities; military veterans (especially those returning home at this time); and newly unemployed individuals.

The study also identified challenges associated with navigating the health and human service system; barriers to securing assistance including lack of accessibility as well as cultural and linguistic barriers; and the need for community-based, non-psychiatric mental health services. Data pointed to the critical importance of collaboration to improve social conditions and ensure the availability of policies and systems that will meet the needs of residents within Buffalo and Erie County.

The full version of the Needs Assessment, as well as an Executive Summary, are available on our website at If you would like to schedule a presentation on the findings for your company, agency, or community group, call Diane Bessel, our director of research and investments, at 887-2717.


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2013-2015 Community Investments

On January 23 we proudly announced that eighty-six (86) local programs are slated to receive a total of $3.9 million in 2013, the first year of our 201-2015 Community Investments cycle. Additionally, we are investing $721,000 in several separate initiatives administered by sole source providers. This level of funding is contingent on the success of our 2012 Campaign, which concludes March 31. Final appropriation levels, including any increases in funding, will be released in May.


The special programs and initiatives set to receive a total of $721,000 reflect integral community services and programs with unique significance in achieving our impact goals. These include Closing the Gap in Student Performance, administered by Catholic Charities of Buffalo; American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund; and Western New York 2-1-1 Call Center, a program of the Olmsted Center for Sight.


The funding announced today represents only a portion of our total investments in improving quality of life in Erie County. In all, United Way invested $13.7 million in our community last year.


"Without our supporters, we would not be able to make this level of investment to improve our community through these important programs," said president and CEO Michael Weiner. "The programs we fund change lives every day, in very real ways - from helping students succeed in school to making sure that seniors are able to stay healthy and independent. There is no greater testament to the power of giving than that."


This funding announcement is the final step in our biennial competitive funding process, in which 58 organizations submitted 137 applications requesting a total of $9.5 million. Teams of community volunteers as well as representatives from local government, colleges and universities with subject matter expertise, reviewed the applications.


Our program application process this year was also guided by the Community Needs Assessment outlined earlier in this newsletter. Some of the key areas identified in the report, and reflected in some of our funding decisions, include increased resources for special population groups and the need to address the difficulty many consumers face in accessing the health and human services network.


With this Community Impact Investment Plan to begin July 1, 2013, we will continue, and even expand, our funding relationship with a number of agencies whose programming aligns closely with priority community indicators.


Elizabeth Huckabone of Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, which is slated to receive increased funding for its Comprehensive Housing Counseling program, noted that increased United Way funding is particularly valuable amidst government cuts seen by many agencies.


"More funding means serving more people, plain and simple," she said. "We are delighted that our program merited additional support in the eyes of the reviewers, and we are proud to be able to help even more people achieve the dream of financial stability and home ownership."


In all, 17 programs are slated to receive United Way funding for the first time this year. The majority of those programs focus on issues within our Education platform. Among those is the Strengthening Families Program at the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, which works with families with children ages 3 to 15 in which parents are currently undergoing, or have recently undergone, substance abuse treatment.


Andrea Wanat, executive director of the agency, noted that United Way funding will help strengthen an already high-performing program.


"Strengthening Families has statistically significant results in improving parenting skills and relationship building between parents and kids," she said. "This funding will help us assist even more families in overcoming the challenges of substance abuse and addiction and building a stronger future."


Our total investment in improving quality of life in Erie County last year included $4.6 million in direct program investments, including programs such as Catholic Charities School Based Services, the WNY 2-1-1 call center and American Red Cross Disaster Services; $2.8 million in grant funding secured on behalf of partner agencies in the community; $2.3 million in United Way programs and initiatives such as Creating Assets, Savings and Hope (CASH), Closing the Gap in Student Performance, and activities like Business Meets Community, and Day of Caring; and $4 million in contributions designated by donors to nearly 850 eligible agencies through the 2011 Campaign - an increase of $560,000 over the prior year.


To see a list of all the programs slated to receive funding in the 2013-2015 cycle, and to read program descriptions, visit


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