Published October 3, 2022
Takesha Leonard called it the “spark.” It’s the excitement, she told her audience at UB’s annual Employees Campaign for the Community breakfast, “the big dream, that big imagination” of middle school students she has seen firsthand as a nurse practitioner and medical director at the Jericho Road Community Health Center.
After 12 years at Jericho, Leonard, an alumna of the School of Nursing, has watched that imagination fade by high school. Instead of dreaming big, by that time that spark has “diminished.”
Her Summer Medical Mentorship Program at Jericho Road keeps that spark alive, she said. But without funding, that program bringing together these students with like-minded professionals could not exist. Without funding, that young idealism and confidence Leonard observed with such joy would wither and disappear again.
So Leonard’s appeal at the first step of the 2022 UB employees campaign — part of the New York State Employees Federated Appeal — at Harriman Hall on the South Campus cut to the essence of the event. The campaign, now going out to the university community, allows the meaningful work of Jericho Road and countless other community agencies to continue and grow.
For Leonard and others, money from a successful campaign is the difference between having a chance at making a difference, and not.
“I was only able to have four students last summer,” Leonard said during the breakfast/meeting. “So maybe with this funding I can have six students, and another co-director to help me run the program. In addition, we want to remove all barriers, so we want to provide our students with stipends, transportation and meals this summer. It’s all about access and opportunity.”
Leonard had more-than-able backup. Kathy Heinle, executive director of Buffalo Engineering Awareness for Minorities, or BEAM, shared her supply of the agency’s stress balls, notebooks and drink caddies with about 100 UB employees attending the breakfast — including President Satish K. Tripathi. Heinle issued the same message as Leonard: Nothing happens without a successful campaign.
“Without the United Way funding, we couldn’t operate,” said Heinle, whose organization is committed to building diversity in STEM fields by encouraging, supporting and preparing underrepresented students of all ages to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Heinle said her agency received about $10,000 a year from the United Way.
“That sounds like nothing,” she said. “But for us, it’s the difference between having the program and not having the program, expanding the program or not. We are a high touch-and-feel kind of program, so the students are always making things, and you have to have the physical supplies to make these.
Heinle said her United Way funding allows promising kids the chance to take advantage of her program, rather than restricting the numbers. “Donations from SEFA and UB staff are invaluable,” she said.
The brief breakfast ceremony included remarks from Tripathi and other UB administrators supervising the campaign. Tripathi started by recognizing all the volunteers.
“Without your dedication, support and effort, our campaign would not be the great success that it is every year,” Tripathi said.
“UB is so proud to partner with the United Way on this meaningful campaign. As a public research university, service is central to our mission, and our identity. It permeates all our endeavors — from our research, scholarship and creative activities to the engagement of our faculty and staff with the many communities we serve.
Tripathi called the campaign “a model of community engagement and outreach.”
“It is one of the most meaningful ways that UB’s faculty and staff can support our greater community,” he said.
The 2021 UB campaign raised $699,124, including contributions from 1,666 donors, according to administrators. This year, UB has 152 campaign liaisons and an additional 20 steering committee members who will assist in the efforts of overseeing, administering and publicizing the campaign. SEFA has approved more than 1,700 charities and organizations to which UB employees can donate.
“This campaign is a very tangible expression of our university’s engagement with and commitment to our community,” said Ann M. Bisantz, dean of undergraduate education and chair of 2022 UB campaign.
“The hundreds of local, state, and national agencies supported by the funds raised here assist our neighbors, friends and families — for instance, those who experience food insecurity, need housing assistance, or have limited access to health care.
“In many cases, the SEFA agencies are directly aligned with our academic missions: organizations that support medical research, provide legal assistance to refugees, encourage arts education, or provide literacy support, to name just a few areas,” Bisantz said. “Our faculty and students engage with these organizations as part of our academic and service missions, and I am sure that you, a colleague, or loved one have been impacted by a campaign supported organizations.”
Brian Hamluk, vice president for student life and campaign vice chair, welcomed those attending in the site where a few months ago UB reached the community by administering free COVID-19 vaccines.
“Today marks the start of what we know will be a very successful campaign,” Hamluk said. “It takes a great crew to successfully complete such a major project.”
The event included two contemplative songs performed on “silent guitar” by Sungmin Shin, associate professor of practice in the Department of Music. Oversized blue Lego blocks sat on each table, symbolizing how the campaign grows piece by piece.
The speakers had the support of the audience. Trung Nguyen, assistant vice president for student engagement and success, was there because he was proud of UB taking responsibility for its role in shaping Buffalo’s success.
“UB is a leader in the community,” said Nguyen. “I’m interested in learning more about how UB can contribute to the United Way and the Buffalo community.”