Blog: Amplify

Saying Yes to a Brighter Future

“When Say Yes launched, I said ‘Yes, here we go! Yes to everything. Yes, you can go to college. Yes, you can accomplish your dreams. Yes, you can be a role model.’”

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

As the third poorest city in the country, Buffalo welcomed the opportunity to say “yes” – and hope has been ignited! First-year outcomes indicate an 8-percentage point increase in high school graduation (the largest in the district’s recent history) and a 9-percentage point increase in college matriculation rates. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo has been central to driving this new optimism.

Say Yes to Education, Inc., is an economic development initiative with education as the strategy. For years, the Buffalo Public School district has struggled, facing the challenges typical of urban schools—including graduation rates hovering below 50%. Recognizing the clear link between future economic prosperity and educational achievement, the Community Foundation led a community-wide effort to drive sustainable systems-change within public education. In 2011, the Foundation brokered a partnership between a broad cross section of “strange bedfellows” to launch Say Yes Buffalo!

Say Yes Buffalo is an unprecedented, cross-sector partnership, focused on increasing post-secondary completion rates for urban youth. This approach recognizes that the County, City, District, not-for-profits and private-sector stakeholders all hold critical pieces to the puzzle. To enact this model, an operating committee comprised of leaders from government, school board, unions, foundations, higher education and parents was formed. By forging partnerships between groups that have historically been at odds, Say Yes Buffalo is creating capacity to develop a comprehensive system of supports to improve education in Buffalo.

The Say Yes model is designed to remove four research-based barriers to educational success: financial, academic, health and social-emotional. The model centralizes critical services around the student and includes: college coaching, college scholarships, after school and summer programs, family support services, tutoring, low-cost and no-cost healthcare and free legal services. The driving force behind Say Yes Buffalo is a locally-funded universal scholarship, supported by private donors who have contributed more than $19 million dollars to help students realize their dream of obtaining a college degree or vocational certificate.

Say Yes Buffalo also created and launched a Student Management System — the first of its kind in the nation to be rolled out to a public school district. This “early-warning” system tracks student data in three domains: academic, social-emotional and health to identify whether students are on track to succeed. If they are not, students are connected to the supports and services available to help them get back on track.

By increasing community capacity and building cross-sector partnerships, the Community Foundation is helping students say “yes” to education and Buffalo is also saying “yes” to a brighter future!

Say Yes Buffalo and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo were recently featured in Lumina Foundation’s Focus Magazine Summer 2014:

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker is President/CEO, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.