Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Gerard Place's Sister Concetta DeFelice, OSF, board member, Sister M. Shawn Czyzycki, CSSF, chair of the board of directors, and David Zapfel, executive director stand in the former gymnasium of St. Gerard School on Buffalo's east side. Gerard Place is looking to renovate the old school and parish center building into a community center that will offer, job training and daycare.
The former St. Gerard School will once again be used to inform and educate. Gerard Place has purchased the former parish hall and school, which will soon be opened and renovated to offer job training and daycare to people in the Bailey-Delavan community.
Since opening its doors in 2000, Gerard Place has provided transitional housing for single parents and their children, while empowering those parents to break the cycle of poverty through education, employment, vocational training, life skill classes and counseling.
This most recent project involves turning the hall into a community center that will focus on addressing barriers that prevent many adults from reaching their goals of independence. Gerard Place will bring in collaborative partners to offer vocational job training, such as home health aides, certified nursing assistants, medical billing, and heating and air conditioning repair. Several letters of support have come in from various educational service agencies including Erie 1 BOCES.
One significant barrier for neighborhood families working towards self-sufficiency is lack of safe, affordable childcare. Gerard Place will offer an onsite childcare center that promises to provide a quality daycare program as a bright, safe and cheerful learning experience. To facilitate positive outcomes, Gerard Place staff will work with the families of children attending the program.
“We know there’s 55 percent unemployment in this area for 19-30 year olds,” said David Zapfel, executive director of Gerard Place. “To help them get out of poverty, we want to help prepare them for a job and also bring partners on to do job training. We also know that one of the big barriers for people getting out of poverty is daycare, so our hope is to have a very high quality daycare in the community center so that people can have their children in daycare while they are in job training.”
The 33,000-square-foot hall, which added classrooms for seventh and eight grades, has not been used since the parish merged with nearby St. James and Blessed Trinity parishes in 2008. Names of former students are still written on the chalkboard in the nine classrooms. Pins still stand in the bowling alley. The improvements will mostly be cosmetic. The floor is missing tiles and the whole interior is in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint.
“Currently, there is no heat or water in the building. There is electricity,” said Zapfel. “To unseal the building we need to get the pipes working, the boiler revved up, and see where we’re at. It’s a good opportunity to see what the infrastructure is on the building and see what the status is of the heat.”
A $3 million capital campaign for renovations and asbestos removal will be launched after a thorough assessment has been made.
Once completed, staff expect to triple current GED classes from 100 to 300 students; expand current licensed practical nurse classes from 20 students to 120 students; establish certified nursing assistant and home health aide programs which will graduate 160 students a year; establish medical office and medical biller programs which will train 72 students a year; and expand a current Microsoft computer center to over 50 computer stations. Certification classes will operate year round with a projected 100 plus students being certified.
Future plans for Gerard Place include using the former church rectory as a temporary housing unit, while families await moving into the Gerard Place apartments, which regularly have 20 families on a waiting list.
“We have a 20/20 vision of creating a campus of programs and services here on the former St. Gerard Parish site,” said Zapfel. “We’re waiting to see what happens to St. Gerard Church. We’re going to start with this community center idea and wait that out. We do have plans for the rectory behind the church. We’d like to see more housing.”
The 95-year-old St. Gerard Church is awaiting a move to Norcross, Ga. When that happens, Zapfel would like to see the grounds used as an urban garden, where people in the community could grow their own food. The idea has grown popular on Buffalo’s West Side.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious serves as a sponsor board. Half the Gerard Place board members are from religious communities.
“We as women religious have been very committed to women and children; that’s one of our focuses. That’s why, through the LCWR, we opened up Gerard Place. Our thrust is to continue to expand, to help families be self-sufficient,” said board member Sister Concetta DeFelice, OSF.
As chair of the board, Sister M. Shawn Czyzycki, CSSF, supports the LCWR and Zapfel in any of their endeavors, but also encourages board members to solicit their friends and families to help with the projects.
“I think when people really see where their money is going here at Gerard Place, they see the value of it. This is really very important to us, to have as many people involved in our endeavors as possible,” Sister Shawn said.
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