Gerard Place is expanding its services in order to assist families with moving out of poverty and to expand its ministry within its East Side community.
Board members of Gerard Place in Buffalo recently decided to convert the St. Gerard parish hall into a community center after pirchasing the building from Blessed Trinity Parish, which was merged with St. Gerard Parish
Because Gerard Place staff found that quality child care and transportation issues were the main obstacles to seeking job training for the people they serve, the community center will be designed to bring vocational training and childcare to them.
"We wanted to remove those barriers people face," Gerard Place president and CEO David Zapfel said.
Edu-Kids Inc. will manage the second Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children's Academy on the ground floor of the old hall. About 104 children, including those residing at Gerard Place and those from the surrounding neighborhood, are expected to attend the academy.
On the second floor, vocational job training will be provided for the parents of the children and will be open to community. Gerard Place community partners who will be onsite throughout the year will provide the training. Training offered will include nursing, home health aide, culinary arts, and day care aide. More vocations will be added as the site expands.
On evenings and weekends, enrichment programming will be held in the gym for families.
Gerard place received a $435,000 Empire State Development grant to complete the renovations on the old hall building. The grant was part of Governor Cuomo's billion dollars to Buffalo.
Gerard Place opened its doors in 2000 at the former St. Gerard School on the East Side of Buffalo to provide apartments to homeless women and children in their time of need. It was the completion of a dream held by members of 12 religious women orders.
Support services were put in place to provide safety and ensure success of the residents through education, counseling and career services.
Zapfel said that the religious sisters wanted to create a program that would move people out of homelessness permanently.
"The genius of the whole thing was to create a long-term program where there wasn't one at the time," Zapfel said.
After the housing was established, the sisters and the St. Gerard Place board looked for other opportunities to minister in their East Side community.
Board member Sister Margaret Gorman, RSM, said the board considered several questions, such as "What could we do to try to bring the family out of this cycle of poverty?" and " What else can we do collaboratively as an extension of and part of Gerard Place?" These considerations led to the tutoring of the children of residents, and eventually it opened up the tutoring services to the kids in the community.
Gerard Place is a private not-for-profit organization that receives no funds from the diocese, Upon This Rock or Catholic Charities.