As a flagship supporter of people and communities in Western New York, and as a longtime catalyst for change, The John R. Oishei Foundation created the Mobile Safety-Net Team (MSNT) in 2009 in response to the economic downturn and the growing need for human services across the region. This initiative seeks to strengthen the region’s safety net through an assessment of what human services are available in communities and by identifying access barriers and areas of unmet need. The MSNT also seeks strategies and recommendations for overcoming existing barriers, for providing additional services where these are lacking and for increasing collaboration among service providers so that more clients can be served more comprehensively.
The MSNT was developed with support from a network of key human services providers across Erie and Niagara Counties, including the Buffalo City Mission, American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Food Bank of Western New York, Goodwill Industries and Meals on Wheels. Its work can be broken down into two phases. In Phase I, a three-person team spent approximately five weeks in each of 45 communities in Erie and Niagara Counties, building relationships with service providers and residents, listening to their concerns and stories, connecting residents to services, and collecting information about human services needs. Toward the end of their stay, the team brought together providers and residents to a three-day community resource event that directly connects residents with the organizations that can assist them. This forum also served as an additional venue for collecting information from residents on service needs and priorities.
Phase II began in the summer of 2012 with the development of a partnership with the University at Buffalo Regional Institute (UBRI). Along with UBRI, the MSNT completed a comprehensive assessment of 12 communities (The City of Buffalo East of Main, The City of Buffalo West of Main, Cheektowaga, The City of Lackawanna, The City of Lockport, Newfane, Newstead, The City of Niagara Falls, Town of Tonawanda, The Cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, West Seneca, The Town of Concord and Village of Springville). Through this partnership, the Foundation has equipped the participant communities with the tools needed to impact their individual advancement in a number of ways.
First, the Foundation commissioned the creation of the community reports, which have been used to identify and prioritize community concerns, leverage public and private sector resources, develop new and innovative programs that better serve those in need and inspire a more cohesive approach to addressing community concerns among stakeholders and service providers combined. Secondly, it made an investment to continue the work of the Mobile Safety-Net Team, transitioning it from data collection and community assessment to more of a community impact initiative. The MSNT will be in place over the next three years to provide support and guidance within these communities, work toward building consensus around strategies that address the issues identified and facilitate solution-based outcomes that address those issues.
The end goal is to develop a model by which we can strengthen our villages, towns and cities so that they are better positioned for growth. These successful initiatives can be replicated in other neighboring and similar communities. It’s the Oishei Foundation’s desire to empower these locales so we become stronger as a region and enhance the quality of life for our community overall.