Leveraging learning: UB programs improving quality of life in University District

Volunteers plant a tree in the University District.

In the past two years, volunteers have planted 785 trees in the nieghborhood around the UB South Campus as part of ReTree the District.

Release Date: September 14, 2016 This content is archived.

Tess Morrissey.

Tess Morrissey

“We want the community to know that the university is actively engaged with everyone in the University District in the common goal of improving our neighborhood.”
Tess Morrissey, director of community relations
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo is working with state, city and community-based groups and organizations to develop new programs that expand upon UB’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods that surround the South Campus.

The programs and their impacts in the University District are wide-ranging: Improving employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, supporting neighborhood students, keeping community gardens growing and improving neighborhood green spaces.

These efforts are focusing particularly along the Bailey Avenue and Main Street corridors to help community organizations, such as the University Heights Collaborative, the University Heights Tool Library and the Bailey Avenue Business Association, grow their programming and outreach into the neighborhood.

They continue the work of UB officials, who meet regularly with elected officials, neighborhood residents and community groups like the University Heights Collaborative, to discuss issues and collaborate on solutions for the betterment of the community.

“We want the community to know that the university is actively engaged with everyone in the University District in the common goal of improving our neighborhood,” said Tess Morrissey, director of community relations and deputy director of state relations at UB.

The goal: A strong, vibrant community that supports civic and community-based organizations, businesses and residents within the neighborhoods surrounding UB’s South Campus.

Programs include:

Project M.O.V.E. Buffalo: As part of a collaborative agreement with the City of Buffalo’s Mobilizing Opportunities for Volunteer Engagement (M.O.V.E.) program, announced by Mayor Byron Brown in August, UB will host two VISTA members to work with community partners in the neighborhood around the South Campus to strengthen organizations serving the needs of the community.

The VISTA volunteers, working with UB leadership, will act as community organizers to help block clubs, business associations and community groups to improve employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for residents, improve neighborhood aesthetics and empower residents to more effectively fight urban blight.

They will conduct surveys that will be used to design needs-assessment tools, develop marketing plans, coordinate outreach/recruitment drives and research funding opportunities for local organizations.

Long-term goals include helping put partner organizations on the path toward sustainability by helping develop leadership and succession plans, helping businesses become minority and/or woman-owned business enterprise (M/WBE) -certified and developing plans to eliminate urban blight by working with local community groups and organizing community service days.

University resources will be important to their efforts, as the VISTA volunteers work with UB leadership to find new and creative ways for students, faculty and staff to work with neighborhood organizations.

Mentorship at Highgate Heights: A group of UB staff and students spent part of the 2015-16 school year working with students at Highgate Heights as part of the New York State Mentoring Program launched by Gov. Andrew M Cuomo. Volunteers are paired with fourth-graders at the school, where once a week for an hour after school they play, draw, create – little moments that can have a big impact. UB’s participation in the program will continue through the 2016-17 school year.

School Supply Drive: Since 2009, the UB Office of Community Relations has conducted a school supply drive to assist students in six Buffalo schools, including Highgate Heights and Westminster Community Charter School in the University District. More than 40 departments throughout the university donated more than 17,000 school supply items, ranging from pencils and notebook paper to calculators and flash drives.

Tyler Street Community Garden Engineering Project: UB engineering students, working in collaboration with neighborhood gardeners, have created a watering system for the Tyler Street community garden, a unique system that collects and automatically distributes rainwater to the raised garden beds, saving neighborhood gardeners time and energy.

ReTree the District: When it was launched two years ago, the goal of ReTree the District was to plant 1,000 trees to help reforest the University District. A total of 1,150 project volunteers have logged more than 4,850 service hours so far, planting 785 trees to date. UB provides financial and organizational support to the project, with more than 150 student leaders from the UB Honors College and UB Academies helping with both the planning and planting.

UB also is offering long-term support of the neighborhood through the UB H.O.M.E. (Home Ownership Made Easy) program, which provides incentives to UB faculty and staff to buy homes in the neighborhoods around the South Campus. Qualified buyers are eligible for a combination of interest-free deferred and forgivable loans that can be used to help cover down payments and closing costs, or for interest-rate reduction. The program is designed to encourage home ownership and to help support stabilization and revitalization in and around UB’s South Campus. Two UB faculty members are finalizing the necessary paperwork to buy homes in the area and would become the first to buy a home through the program. Dozens of UB faculty and staff bought homes through a similar program that ended in 2009. Approximately 550 UB employees currently live in University Heights.

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