News & Event
January 8, 2015
An analysis of recently released U.S. Census data for a five-year period shows that the City of Rochester's poverty has gotten worse.
The report, released by Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester, compares Rochester to 17 other principal cities in similarly sized metro areas. Benchmarking Rochester's Poverty: A 2015 Update and Deeper Analysis of Poverty in the City of Rochester by Edward J. Doherty finds that:
In December 2013, the Community Foundation and ACT Rochester released Poverty and the Concentration of Poverty in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area, which was primarily based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey over the five-year period from 2007-11.
Since that time, the Census Bureau has released one-year survey data estimates for 2012 and 2013 that also signaled poverty increases. The newest five-year survey, which covers 2009-13, is based on a larger sample and considered more reliable and precise. The Census Bureau released the data in December 2014 and it provided the basis for this update and comparison with benchmark cities.
"The first poverty report and its startling statistics were a wake-up call for our entire region to better understand the depth of poverty that exists in every city, town, and village," says Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of Rochester Area Community Foundation. "Benchmarking Rochester's Poverty provides an opportunity to update key data from that report and take a deeper look at the realities of poverty in the City of Rochester."
The Census Bureau data estimates that 66,312 poor people live in the City of Rochester, with more than 95,000 spread across suburban Monroe and the surrounding eight counties.
In an effort to put Rochester's poverty into context, report author and researcher Doherty developed a list of 18 principal cities in similar-sized metro areas (within plus or minus 200,000 of the Rochester population). Included in the benchmark group are Buffalo, Hartford, Conn., Richmond, Va., Birmingham, Ala., Tulsa, Okla., Louisville, Ky., and Honolulu.
In 28 charts at the back of the 20-page report, the benchmark cities are ranked based on their rates of overall poverty and extreme poverty, as well as poverty rates for children, adults, seniors, and female-headed families. The charts also compare poverty data based on gender and race, educational attainment, disability, employment, age, and family size and income.
"Several of the report's child-related poverty statistics are the most troubling," says Doherty, who retired in 2014 as the Community Foundation's vice president of community programs.
"Developing a deeper understanding of poverty includes knowing the statistics, but also going beyond the data to seek out poor people's perspectives that would provide a better grasp of the complex causes and effects of poverty," says Ann Johnson, director of ACT Rochester.
Johnson also believes that gaining insight into what it is like to be poor is essential to making our community more understanding of the issue and related problems. Eighty community leaders and interested residents participated January 7 in an intensive poverty simulation hosted by ACT Rochester and led by Rhonda O'Connor, director of Onondaga County's anti-poverty initiative called "Choosing To Thrive."
September 1, 2014
When the Community Foundation and ACT Rochester released the startling report on the concentration of poverty in our region, Daan Braveman and Kay Wallace had similar reactions: “What can I do?”
“Poverty is an issue I have been concerned about most of my life,” says Braveman, president of Nazareth College and a former civil rights lawyer.
He wrote an op-ed article that appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle several days after the December 2013 release of Poverty and the Concentration of Poverty in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area. In it, this Rochester native called for community leaders to work together on a coordinated and collaborative strategic plan to address the causes and effects of poverty, similar to an initiative led by the mayor in Richmond, Va.
“My sense of the Rochester community is that it has a lot of good ideas and lots of organizations focusing on aspects of poverty. But it does not have a plan that brings together these things,” he says.
He and representatives from the Rochester Business Alliance board, which he chairs, met with Mayor Lovely Warren and officials from Richmond to discuss that city’s approach.
Then Braveman, together with the Community Foundation and United Way, invited more than two dozen community and business leaders to hear from the report’s author, retired Community Foundation VP Ed Doherty, and discuss next steps. Talks between several key executives are continuing.
Wallace and her husband, Peter Oddleifson, responded with a more grassroots approach to the report’s findings.
“At our age and stage we know a lot of people in greater Rochester. We could help connect people across geographic borders in Monroe County,” says this former strategic planning consultant to nonprofit organizations.
During Warren’s campaign for mayor, the couple embraced her position on the need to build bridges between Rochester and its suburbs. Keeping that in mind, Wallace crafted a program to do just that and include discussions about issues related to poverty.
The goal of Dialogues Without Borders is to create “a more progressive constituency for change that will include many people who live in Rochester and in Monroe County,” she says.
A gathering will be held once a month in a different suburban home with about 20 or 30 of the host’s like-minded friends, family members, work colleagues, and town leaders to hear more about poverty and brainstorm ways to work together to make improvements and tackle the challenges. Mayor Warren has agreed to attend the first ones.
“We face a great set of challenges and together, I think, we can move things forward,” says Wallace.
This story was originally published in the Community Foundation's 2014 Biennial Report.
September 20, 2018
In August 2017, the Community Foundation and ACT Rochester expanded their reporting on racial inequities with a report called “Hard Facts: Race and Ethnicity in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area.”
The regional report showed wide and persistent gaps in educational and economic outcomes among residents of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, affecting individuals and families throughout their lives and for generations to come. Even more shocking was the more severe disparity in our region compared to New York State and the country.
Community leaders thanked ACT Rochester for sharing this compelling data. Requests came in to talk with groups about the findings. Community workshops attracted hundreds interested in learning more. Discussion of the disparities was featured during the celebration of Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday in 2018.
Then something unexpected happened: ACT Rochester Senior Director Ann Johnson got a request to speak to the sixth-grade class at Genesee Community Charter School. Then a fourth-grade teacher in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District called to say his students wanted to talk about the report’s findings.
“These young students gave me hope,” said Johnson. “They care. They wanted to know why people of color are treated differently than whites and what we can do to change things. They ask tough questions and they are not afraid to be bold.”
In the fourth-grade classroom of Shane Wiegand at Sherman Elementary School, students peppered Johnson with questions, all starting with the phrase “I wonder:”
Before discussing “Hard Facts,” the students had studied redlining in Rochester and segregation through the stories of Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King, Jr. They also watched The Children’s March and clips from July ’64, the story of Rochester’s riots.
One day, Khaliat Bishi, who is Nigerian-American, and Simra Hamad, who is Pakistani, both commented that they have never had a teacher who looked like them. Together with Bailey O’Connor, who is white, these three spent many lunch periods gathering data on their school and the Rush-Henrietta Central School District.
They referenced U.S. Census data and WXXI reports on the racial makeup of teachers in Monroe County, along with ACT Rochester data on poverty. They identified just one African American teacher in their school and fewer than a dozen teachers of color throughout the very diverse district. The three girls assembled a PowerPoint presentation and met with their school principal and the district’s two assistant superintendents to share their findings.
“I was very impressed,” said Nerlande Anselme, assistant superintendent for student and family services, who is from Haiti. “They had a thesis, did their research, and in their presentation asked, ‘Do you see this as a problem in Rush-Henrietta?’ I said ‘Yes.’ ”
At the urging of its school board, this suburban Monroe County district is making diversity a priority. Wiegand is a member of a new 40-member Diversity Steering Committee that includes teachers, administrators, students, parents, community representatives, and leaders that is gathering ideas and discussing strategies for recruitment and ways to be more inclusive. The district recently hired its first African American superintendent.
Hoping to Make Our Community Better
Genesee Community Charter School teacher Chris Dolgos read “Hard Facts” and believed it should be incorporated into the sixth-grade curriculum because it’s important for his students who are our community’s future citizens “to discover what it does take to make change happen.” It also dovetailed nicely with the yearlong theme of “Bridges and Barriers.”
The 30 sixth-graders’ initial reaction to the report was, “This is not okay. Why are adults letting this happen?” Their research went deep into issues related to affordable housing, poverty, and racism, and they explored ways for Rochester to be more inclusive. They asked great questions: “Why does our community look like it does? Why are some parts shiny and flashy and others are boarded up?”
“ACT Rochester shares information and provides the ‘what’ and ‘why,’ but people have to figure out the ‘how,’ ” Dolgos told his students.
With aspects of “Hard Facts” data on their minds, the students divided into four groups that visited either Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Oakland, or Detroit. Students met with city leaders and community groups to learn about that city’s problems and how they were being addressed. They also looked for ideas to bring back home. Students presented their findings to parents and the school community and created a “Whose Renaissance Is It?” Adobe Spark page, which outlines their research into Rochester’s past and their hopes for its future.
The sixth graders also wanted to show their support for Rochester. With a grant from Expeditionary Learning Education’s Better World Project — and help from local artist Shawn Dunwoody — they painted inspirational murals in each quadrant of the city. At School 12, they invited their family members and several dozen students from other Rochester schools to help with ambitious murals that cover sidewalks and several walls.
Paul Schramm, whose 12-year-old son was in the class, thought the conversations and research into race, poverty, and inequities were well timed. “These kids are very much aware of what keeps things separate today, and it’s never too early to discuss it.”
Top photo above: Sherman Elementary School students Bailey O’Connor, Khaliat Bishi, and Simra Hamad, with fourth-grade teacher Shane Wiegand (photo by Caleb Parker).
Second photo: After completing murals in each quadrant of Rochester, sixth-graders from Genesee Community Charter School and their mural advisor Shawn Dunwoody returned to each location to sign their names. Here they are at Passaro’s Deli on Clifford Avenue (photo by Erich Camping).
February 8, 2016
More than 200 educators, advocates, and community members participated in a four-hour session today to learn what role trauma plays in the lives of Monroe County school students and how they can help students succeed.
Data and analysis from the most recent Monroe County Youth Risk Behavior Survey helped set the stage for the morning’s discussion. This local survey, completed 11 times since 1992 by students ages 13 and older, has typically measured youth risk behavior, which includes drug use, violence, and sexual risk behaviors. For the first time, questions were included to assess the exposure to trauma — such as abuse, neglect, witnessing violence — enabling the connection to be made between traumatic life events and risky behavior.
The latest survey found that 70% of students in Monroe County reported experiencing one or more traumatic events, with 28% indicating that they had directly encountered three or more instances of trauma.
“These numbers indicate that far too many of our school children are being adversely affected by traumatic events. This means we need to raise awareness about trauma and to help adults working directly with young people to think differently about how to address it,” says Mary Hartstein, program associate at Rochester Area Community Foundation and co-founder of the Trauma-Informed Care Network in Rochester.
National research has demonstrated that experiencing or witnessing traumatic events before age 18 can create dangerous levels of stress and derail healthy brain development if there is no intervention or support. As these students get older, this exposure can increase the likelihood they will engage in risky behaviors and have more incidents of poor mental and physical health outcomes in later years. An accumulation of these adverse childhood experiences compounds these risks.
“The Monroe County data is a game-changer,” says Elizabeth Meeker, director of training and practice transformation for Coordinated Care Services, Inc.
“Like many communities, we have traditionally focused on reducing high-risk behavior and indicators, such as violence, substance use, suicide ideation or attempts, and poor academic outcomes without understanding what may be driving those behaviors. If we continue to focus on ‘What is wrong with you?’ instead of asking ‘What has happened to you?’ we are missing the opportunity to address the underlying issue of trauma,” Meeker adds.
The event at Monroe Community College also featured clips from Paper Tigers, an evocative documentary that chronicled a year in the life of an alternative high school that has radically changed its approach to educating students. The school in rural Walla, Walla, Wash., has become a promising model for how to break the cycles of poverty, violence, and disease that affect families.
Since its premiere at the Seattle Film Festival in May 2015, Paper Tigers has been screened in more than 250 venues across the United States, including its premiere in Rochester today. The film was incorporated into the session to illustrate how tenets of trauma-informed care can be, and have been, applied with the hopes of inspiring more local buy-in.
A panel discussion included Denise Quamina of the Rochester City School District and Jessie Joy of the Jamestown City School District, who have introduced trauma-informed care into their schools. They shared their successes and challenges, as well as practical steps to be more responsive to all students, while particularly helping those who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events.
“Implementing trauma-informed care in our community is not adding to the workload of teachers, social workers, and other adults who work with children. It’s about adopting a new approach, a new way of thinking to better serve our youth,” says Hartstein.
Participants represented school districts from throughout Monroe County — East and West Irondequoit, Webster, Brockport, Greece, Spencerport, Rush Henrietta, Rochester, Pittsford, Penfield, Hilton, Honeoye Falls-Lima, Gates Chili, Fairport, East Rochester, and Brighton — and multiple community-based and government agencies.
“We were thrilled with the enthusiasm surrounding this event, and the fact that an extensive wait list was formed proves that our community is ready to get involved in this important work,” says Megan Bell, executive director at The Wilson Foundation, which co-sponsored the session.
Other sponsors included Coordinated Care Services, Inc., the Consortium on Trauma, Illness and Grief in Schools, Monroe County Office of Mental Health, and Rochester Area Community Foundation.
Click here to download or print the Trauma-Informed Schools Resource Guide.
December 17, 2015
The foundation created by Buffalo Bills founder Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. has awarded $525,000 to Rochester Area Community Foundation to find, analyze, and share data that can advance powerful solutions for positive community change.
The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund for Smart Strategy will provide annual and ongoing grant support for expert research, evaluation, intelligence gathering, and assessment of best practices for community improvement. In addition to the $500,000 gift to establish this fund, The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation also awarded a grant of $25,000 to start the necessary data gathering and analysis immediately.
“Today’s announcement marks yet another milestone in The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s commitment to charities and communities throughout Rochester and Western New York,” said Mary Wilson, wife of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. “Ralph cared deeply about this community and it is wonderful to see that this donation will be used in such an impactful way — especially during this time of year. We are proud to be a part of today’s announcement to help ensure a strategic community investment approach in Rochester.”
The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation was created with $1.2 billion from an irrevocable trust after Wilson passed away in March 2014. This grantmaking foundation, based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., is dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life for the people in Western New York and Southeastern Michigan. Per Wilson's directive, the foundation’s assets will be spent over the course of 20 years.
A native of Detroit, Wilson considered Western New York his adopted hometown because of his passion for the Buffalo Bills football team, which he founded in 1959. Rochester’s connection to the Bills became even stronger in 2000 when the team moved its summer training camp to St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. About 15 percent of the Bills’ 60,000 season ticketholders live in the greater Rochester area.
“We are honored to help The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation continue Mr. Wilson’s philanthropic legacy in greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes region,” said Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO at the Community Foundation. “We so appreciate the Foundation’s investment in our community’s capacity to invest smartly in our future, at a time when the Finger Lakes region is preparing for a $500 million infusion from New York State to fund projects, create jobs, and support our community’s work to reverse the trajectory of our extreme and concentrated poverty.”
The Community Foundation will use the current $25,000, in part, to update and analyze poverty information for the nine-county region using the most recent U.S. Census information from the American Community Survey (2010-2014). This report will help provide baseline data for measuring the anti-poverty efforts, which officially got underway earlier this year.
This $500,000 gift and the creation of the Smart Strategy fund is part of a Transitional Legacy Grant Program that trustees for The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation initiated this year to distribute a limited number of grants before launching its formal grant cycle in 2016.
In early November, the Foundation awarded $4 million to the University at Buffalo to support its sports medicine program. Later in the month, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo received $7 million to establish endowments to provide annual support forever to three areas of interest that were important to Mr. Wilson — cancer care, community assets, and youth sports — as well as endowments for Hunter’s Hope, the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance, and the Buffalo foundation’s leadership work.
To date, The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation has provided more than $20 million in gifts to support organizations in Western New York.
In 1879, Frederick Douglass wrote, “My attachment to Rochester, my home for more than a quarter century, will endure with my life.”
Our community’s attachment to Douglass also will endure.
Rochester Area Community Foundation provided a $32,500 grant to create and place life-size statues of Douglass at historically significant locations around Monroe County to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Douglass’ birth in 1818. This grant helped to leverage $75,000 from New York State.
“It’s almost overwhelming to keep up with everything that’s been going on,” said professor and filmmaker Carvin Eison, who is project manager of 2018’s “Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass.”
More than 100 nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals have joined the grassroots collaboration with Eison and his project co-manager, Bleu Cease, executive director of Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo).
The 13 fiberglass monuments were molded by sculptor Olivia Kim, a Rochester School of the Arts graduate who majored in ceramics at Alfred University and studied in Italy before moving back home.
Chiefly influenced by the monument in Highland Park created by Stanley W. Edwards, each of Kim’s works has a slightly different patina. She also included a nod to the present by casting the hands of Douglass’ great-great-great grandson Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. to use as Douglass’ hands.
In addition to the statues, this year-long celebration and tribute has also included:
Eison said he is amazed that the newspaper publisher and abolitionist has had “such an impact that resonates so completely with people today from different strata, races, socioeconomic, and education levels.”
Photo above: Carvin Eison helps unveil the first three statues by sculptor Olivia Kim (photo by Caleb Parker).
May 10, 2017
The foundation created by the late Buffalo Bills founder Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. has awarded $5 million to Rochester Area Community Foundation to expand and improve opportunities for youth sports and recreation programs in the greater Rochester region.
This gift established the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund for Youth Sports, which will provide annual and ongoing grants to support current and new youth sports programs run by local communities or organizations and to make them more accessible to all youth. An additional gift of $250,000 was included to allow the Community Foundation to have a substantial first grant round later this year.
“We are honored to build on Mr. Wilson’s lifelong love of sports by helping our region’s young athletes and those participating in local recreation programs enjoy quality programs in their own communities and learn from knowledgeable, well-trained coaches and adult organizers,” says Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of the Community Foundation.
“By establishing this endowed fund at the Community Foundation, it allows us to permanently support very localized projects in the region for which a smaller grant can make all the difference,” says David Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “In addition, while we continue to seek out opportunities to invest in broader youth sports and recreation programs, this fund will provide an opportunity to test out ideas and programs on a smaller, pilot level.”
A Youth Sports Task Force for the Rochester Region, comprised of more than three dozen representatives from organizations involved in youth play and sports in Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties, has been meeting since last summer. Its main purpose is to provide input on local priorities and needs related to youth sports and low-income youth participation in sports programs.
“Many youth sports programs in our region are held together heroically on a shoestring budget and this new fund can help provide stability and enhance what is being offered,” says Hank Rubin, vice president for community programs at the Community Foundation, who convened the task force. “This all-local task force has been instrumental in helping us to better understand the youth sports and play landscape and establish a common understanding of what constitutes quality.”
For this effort, youth sports is being defined as formal sports teams that are part of out-of-school-time programs (before and after school, expanded learning, and summer enrichment); sports and recreation within local school districts; general recreational activities and facilities; and organized community programs that offer sports for youth up to age 18 as part of their overall offerings.
The Community Foundation and the Michigan-based Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation have partnered with the Aspen Institute to study existing youth sports opportunities in Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties and highlight where the gaps exist. The Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, based in Washington, D.C., tracks and reports on the state of youth sports nationally. The youth sports task force members provided valuable input to Aspen researchers on what is happening in our communities and in their youth sports programs.
Aspen’s study, to be released this summer, will help focus the Community Foundation’s grantmaking investments from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund for Youth Sports. The overarching goal is to strengthen the quality, quantity, and accessibility of youth sports programs in the region. Also, an expanded task force will assist Community Foundation staff to identify areas of focus and strategies for grantmaking in youth sports and recreation activities for children under age 18 in our region.
The Community Foundation expects to launch its youth sports grant opportunities in Fall 2017.
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., a native of Detroit, considered Western New York his adopted hometown because of his passion for the Buffalo Bills football team, which he founded in 1959. The foundation established after Wilson’s death in March 2014 is concentrating its investments in Southeast Michigan and Western New York, which includes greater Rochester. The Wilson Foundation focuses its efforts on four key areas: children and youth; young adults and working class families; caregiving; and healthy communities. Funds for youth sports already were established in Buffalo and Southeast Michigan and grants have been awarded in those communities.
The youth sports fund is the second endowment established at the Community Foundation by the Wilson Foundation. In December 2015, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund for Smart Strategy was created with a $500,000 gift from the Wilson Foundation. This permanent fund provides ongoing grant support for expert research, evaluation, intelligence gathering, and assessment of best practices for community improvement.
The first grant from the Smart Strategy fund was used to research and write “Poverty and Self-Sufficiency in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area,” a report released in September 2016. This report updated the 2013 poverty report compiled by the Community Foundation and ACT Rochester, which brought the depth and breadth of Rochester’s poverty to the forefront.
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