Officials and staff of Catholic Charities Workforce and Education Services celebrated the grand opening of its newest location at 1001 E. Delavan Ave., Buffalo, Friday, Nov. 16, with an open house, blessing and dedication and tours of the facility.
Welcomed by Dennis Walczyk, Catholic Charities CEO and diocesan director, area dignitaries and community partners were among the first to officially tour the new site and meet staff and students at the former American Axle and Manufacturing plant on the city's East Side.
Walczyk said, "In this custom-created space, we can continue to meet the needs of our community in an even better way, when it comes to preparing youth and adults for further education or vocational training, living-wage jobs and careers. We are grateful to Jon and Heather Williams of Ontario Specialty Contracting for their vision with this facility and for their recognition of Catholic Charities' ability to make the most of this opportunity."
The new site features greater office and newer classroom spaces for vocational instruction and remedial math and literacy in preparation for the High School Equivalency, along with conference rooms.
"I'm excited for our students and our staff," said Catholic Charities' Jeff Conrad, Workforce and Education Services director, "and for the neighborhood. We look forward to providing much needed services that will develop employable, highly trained individuals, thereby benefitting the area's workforce and economy."
The East Delavan site is easily accessible to transportation along the East Delavan, Bailey Avenue and Genesee Street thoroughfares.
Improved accessibility was evident, Conrad said, when after first six weeks there was a "substantial increase in enrollment we needed to add another afternoon HSE prep class." Those hoping to get into the second class have been put on a waiting list until it is up and running.
In the 2017-2018 academic year, 105 students were enrolled. To date, just in the first quarter of 2018-2019, a total 87 students are enrolled, Conrad said.
The complex was purchased in January 2015 by OSC when CEO Jon M. Williams had a vision for some type of vocational school in the front of the space. In addition to the Catholic Charities program, a current on-site partner and tenant is Erie Community College Pathways.
Introduced and thanked by Walczyk were Williams and his wife, Heather, longtime and continuing supporters of Catholic Charities of Buffalo.
Jamie Bin-huguley shared his encouraging experience since August with Workforce and Education Services.
"When I started with Catholic Charities here, it gave me hope that I could fulfill my dreams in becoming a veterinarian. They assessed what I could do, I went through the program and began to acquire skills and now I am getting exposure to the veterinary field."
Jamie is expecting to be prepared to take the test that would award him a High School Equivalency diploma within the next several months.
"Catholic Charities has given me so many opportunities and I have grown over the last two months that I feel my dream is becoming a reality to me," he added.
Two members of the Catholic Charities board of trustees, Rev. James Giles of Back to Basics Ministries Inc. and Deacon Miguel Santos of National Grid, offered a blessing to dedicate the site.
Attendees met and discussed the program with Workforce and Education Services staff and current students. Refreshments included cookies provided by students of the Erie Community College Culinary Arts program, created in part by a recent Workforce and Education graduate.
With more than 40 years of experience in workforce and education services, Catholic Charities provides outreach, recruiting, career coaching and wrap-around case management for students 16 and older. Workforce and Education Services target those who have dropped out of high school and are in need of obtaining their HSE, are unemployed or underemployed, or need a connection to obtaining or improving employment.
In addition to the East Delavan site, classes are currently offered in Erie County through Catholic Charities' offices located at 525 Washington St., Buffalo, and 75 Caldwell Place, Lackawanna. In Niagara County, classes are offered through Catholic Charities' offices located at 1465 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda, and the Glynn Family Services Center, 625 Tronolone Place, Niagara Falls.
Additionally, Catholic Charities is one of four local partners in the not-for-profit Economic Development Group, which was selected to operate and administer the Northland Workforce Training Center. Northland, 683 Northland Ave., Buffalo, opened in October and serves as a one-stop educational facility serving some of the most under-served populations in the region's workforce. There, students prepare for their High School Equivalency diploma and once achieved, are trained in advanced manufacturing. Catholic Charities provides outreach, recruitment, career coaching and wrap-around case management.
Catholic Charities was also chosen to administer the collaborative Niagara Falls Empire State Poverty Initiative Program. The program creates a pipeline of social, educational and training services that will empower residents of the City of Niagara Falls to leave situations of poverty and unemployment to stable, sustainable and career-oriented employment. To learn more about this program and eligibility, call 282-2351, ext. 2651.
For more information about Catholic Charities' Workforce and Education Services, please call 716-893-3500 (Erie County), 716-694-7749 (Niagara County) or visit: ccwny.org/workforce.