Buffalo prides itself on being the City of Good Neighbors, and for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, that goes beyond helping people fight and recover from cancer.
Since 2020, Roswell Park has brought together employees from across the institute to focus on community outreach efforts to support and improve educational, job training and childcare efforts throughout Buffalo. Renamed in May, the Community Alliance to Reach, Empower and Sustain (CARES) Program recently announced its two newest investments at the Seneca-Babcock Community Association and the Buffalo Adult & Teen Challenge.
In the Seneca-Babcock Community Association, two new childcare classrooms were built, allowing the organization to expand its early education program in what has been a childcare desert, says Brian Pilarski, the organization’s executive director.
“It was much needed now with people trying to get back to work,” he says. “This goes hand-in-hand with our workforce development program. Clients can come in, drop off their kids here and then go for workforce development or work on their GED.”
Across six sites, the Seneca-Babcock Community Association serves around 4,000 people each year, with that reach set to expand with a new senior center later this year and additional childcare space to total four classrooms capable of helping up to 50 children. “We’re so grateful to Roswell Park,” Pilarski says. “Now families don’t have to go outside the neighborhood for daycare and other services and programs. It’s truly now a one-stop shop for programming. It goes along with our food pantry, our workforce development, our adult training programs.”
A supportive environment
Over at the Adult & Teen Challenge, located in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood just a few blocks away from Roswell Park’s main campus, Dave Bengyak has worked to make improvements to the 130-year-old building since he took over as program director in 2016.
“We renovated, on our own, the dining room and we had a vision of renovating the kitchen,” he says. After a brief conversation with Carl Thomas, Roswell Park’s Chief Organizational and Community Liaison, Bengyak learned about the CARES program and its ability to provide grants for nonprofit organizations in Buffalo.
Thanks to a CARES grant, “they moved walls and transformed the space to reconfigure the kitchen and dining areas, create more fluidity in the kitchen, and make it easier for us to prepare the 2,000 meals and snacks we provide for our clients during the 9-12 months they stay with us,” Bengyak says. “It’s a two-fold application: We can train men in the program to cook and prepare meals and how to work in a commercial kitchen.”
The men and teenagers who stay with the Adult & Teen Challenge are on a road to recovery and having a bright, welcoming space in which to get their lives back on track is encouraging, Bengyak says. “What’s most important to us is that we created an environment that’s conducive to helping men walk in freedom from drug abuse and alcoholism,” he says. “Having this state-of-the-art commercial kitchen the way it is now, it helps create an environment that will give men the desire to live lives transformed.”
Community outreach is central to the mission
In a ribbon cutting ceremony at Seneca-Babcock in early August, Roswell Park President and CEO Candace S. Johnson, PhD, said the importance of the CARES Program and giving back to the larger community in ways that aren’t directly related to cancer care, is simply the right thing to do. “We’re part of this community. We need to pay it forward to this community and I think these projects are incredible,” she said.
Rep. Brain Higgins, a longtime Roswell Park supporter and South Buffalo native who said he once boxed at a facility operated by Seneca-Babcock, said the CARES Program is further evidence that “it’s not programs that change lives, it’s relationships. It’s important we extend help to those most in need. That creates a society that is enriched.”
The CARES Program was established in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help our community and neighbors through a difficult time but has evolved to include providing grant funding to nonprofit organizations looking to expand their own services and programs. Grants provided through CARES have also gone to help create computer labs at the Belle Center and Mt. Aaron Baptist Church, in addition to a kitchen renovation at the Holy Cross Community Center and rebuilding the stage at the Olivencia Center. Currently, Roswell Park is working on donating and building 10 beds for children in partnership with Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which has also received a donation of 250 sets of sheets for those beds, in addition to replacing the playground surface at the Family Hope Center.