By Dirk Hoffman
Published March 31, 2023
The first Community Engagement Fair at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo was all about sharing information and making connections.
The fair, which was free and open to the public, featured about 30 impactful community organizations dedicated to providing a wide array of services to the city of Buffalo and the Western New York region as a whole.
It was organized by the Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement and held March 23 in the second-floor atrium of the Jacobs School building.
The idea for the event arose from a Jacobs School community response team that the school’s administration established in the aftermath of the racially-motivated mass shooting at Tops last May.
“We were talking about what we could do in terms of responding to our community and providing support,” said Anyango Kamina, PhD, interim unit diversity officer and assistant dean for student development and academic enhancement at the Jacobs School.
“We are an academic center and we are also focused on health care, so there is a lot of community work that we are not as equipped to address, but there are community organizations that are doing the work already that we can get involved with,” she said.
“Learning more about what these organizations do and how they get people involved — that concept is what we wanted to really capture.”
Tanya Biscardi, director of the Office of Accreditation and Quality Improvement in the Jacobs School, said she “wanted to bring together a variety of community organizations who do the hard work of addressing systemic inequalities that lead to the health disparities we see every day in our community.”
“In gathering these groups in one space, my hope was two-fold: first, to give them space to gather, learn from each other, and make connections,” she added. “Second, I hoped that they would educate each of us as individuals on how to get involved.”
“Personally, I find it daunting to imagine how I, as one person, could ever do anything big enough to create real change. The wonderful thing about these organizations is that they came to tell us how we can be part of the change in very real and tangible ways.”
Kamina noted the Jacobs School already has many community-centered projects, mainly focused on health equity and research. She came away from the fair impressed with all the different areas the community organizations do work in.
“For instance, one of the groups that came was Grass Roots Gardens. They help with starting gardens around Buffalo. It provides teaching moments for young adults and opportunities to create green space in our community,” she said.
“Some of our student organizations have expressed an interest in creating green spaces in specific areas around the city. We now know there are people that actually do this,” Kamina said. “This is a way we can build very intentional connections with the work that is being done in our community.”
Biscardi noted that because the fair was a first-time event, the organizers were unsure of what to expect in terms of attendance.
“As always, the City of Good Neighbors pleasantly surprised me. The amount of interest in the event was just inspiring. I cannot wait to make it bigger and better next year,” she said.
Maria L. Wilson, inclusive excellence workforce specialist at the Jacobs School, said “it was inspiring to see the atrium full of people that wanted to do better!”
“This was an event not only for the community to be involved with community-centered organizations, but also, we gave the space for those organizations to network, connect and reconnect with other organizations as well, for future partnerships,” she added.
Wilson said feedback from fair vendors and attendees has been “overwhelmingly positive” thus far.
Kamina said the community response to the event validated organizers’ intention to make it an annual event.
“We’ve always felt this type of outreach should be an ongoing effort, but especially now, after the fair — and seeing how we created another space for engagement that wasn’t there before — we feel this can be how we continue to show up for the community.”
“By having this fair, opening our doors and having this interaction — that will then also help us learn what community collaborations we can create from this,” she said.
Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, said “the Jacobs School is committed to increasing community engagement, and we are excited to make this happen by strengthening existing partnerships and building new ones.”
“I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the organizations who participated, to the people who took time out of their day to come out on a rainy day to check out the fair, and to Dean Brashear and her office for funding the event and making it possible,” Biscardi said.