Help Me Grow Western New York Awarded $1.8 Million Grant for Child Development Program

February 15, 2017  |  by Michael Freedman

Niagara University will manage the grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

Help Me Grow Western New York has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for its continued regional implementation of the comprehensive child development collaborative. Niagara University has been selected to manage the three-year grant.

Help Me Grow Western New York (HMGWNY) was conceptualized in 2009 and launched in 2011 by the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York and key stakeholders, including NU’s College of Education. In 2012, HMGWNY was named the sole New York state affiliate of Help Me Grow National.

The initiative was created in response to the need for a comprehensive early childhood developmental monitoring system in Western New York (and New York state) that leveraged and coordinated existing services across sectors to provide a family-focused approach in meeting the needs of children at risk for developmental delays, disabilities and social-emotional problems. After three years of community research, cultivating resources and partnerships, and developing a sustainability plan, HMGWNY began serving families in Erie and Niagara counties.

Twenty-eight states are currently affiliates of the national Help Me Grow program, which was founded in 1998 by Dr. Paul Dworkin of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.  It is constructed on four core components: child healthcare provider outreach; community outreach; a centralized telephone and web-based access point; and data collection/analysis. It allows families with young children to have knowledge of and easy access to an aggregation of resources and supports that can help address a child’s educational, recreational and/or health needs.

The Rev. James. J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, has, on numerous occasions, reiterated the university’s commitment to serving children and early childhood development in Western New York.

“We are humbled by the honor of serving Help Me Grow in an expanded role as stewards of funding for this important initiative,” said Father Maher. “Our work in early childhood intervention supports the core Catholic and Vincentian mission that the education of our youth, especially those living in poverty, is a rising tide that lifts all boats. We are eager and grateful to have this opportunity to enhance the family-focused work of Help Me Grow through continued collaboration with our numerous community partners and schools in the region.”

“The Help Me Grow initiative has not only shown positive results here in Niagara and Erie counties, but also in Michigan and in other participating states,” said David Egner, president & CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “Early childhood is a key focus of the foundation and we’re pleased that our support will help expand this successful collaborative to more counties throughout Western New York.”

Today, HMGWNY is a collaborative, cross-sector system that fosters the physical and social-emotional health of children ages 0-5 through early detection, intervention and linkage to services. A 2014 Harvard University study found that nearly 90 percent of a child’s brain and personality development occurs before age 5. During this critical period in a child’s life, it is imperative to identify and address potential problems as soon as possible, as these can impact a child’s health, well-being and ability to be prepared for success in school and life. However, only half of children with such issues are identified prior to school entry.

With more than 40 partner agencies, support from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation will position HMGWNY to provide universal access to child development information and resources to the families of all 73,000 children under age 6 in Erie and Niagara counties in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

HMGWNY seeks to expand the initiative’s reach to an additional 26,000 children in the remaining six counties of Western New York within the next five years. Its overarching goal is to ensure that all families and professionals who work with young children have the information and resources needed to support optimal development. When this occurs, children who are identified with developmental delays, disabilities or social-emotional difficulties have access to the supports they need to meet age-appropriate milestones.

“We’ve heard a lot about making America great lately. The fact is that America will only be great if we make our children great, if we make them a priority,” stated Lynn Pullano, director of HMGWNY. “We make our children great by nurturing the unique potential each one has, one child at a time. That’s what the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s generous gift will help us do.”

Help Me Grow Western New York $1.8 Million Grant | 02.14.17

Results of HMGWNY’s efforts include:

  • Improved mental and behavioral health of young children.
  • Increased readiness of children to succeed in school.
  • Improved family resilience, knowledge of child development and protective factors.
  • Decreased medical costs.
  • Heightened efficiency of social service networks due to a centralized access and utilization model.
  • Avoidance of unwarranted placements in expensive special education programs.

The HMGWNY leadership team includes the following 501(c)(3) organizations and government agencies:

  • Child Care Coalition of Niagara Frontier, Inc. (d/b/a Child Care Resource Network)
  • Erie County Department of Health
  • Erie County Department of Social Services
  • Family & Children’s Services of Niagara
  • Health Foundation for Western & Central New York
  • Kaleida Health Early Childhood Direction Center
  • Niagara County Department of Social Services
  • Niagara University
  • Olmsted Center for Sight/2-1-1 WNY
  • United Way of Buffalo & Erie County
  • United Way of Greater Niagara
  • Dr. Dina Spiropoulos, pediatrician, Main Pediatrics

Additional partners include Say Yes to Education Buffalo, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, and more than 40 other community organizations, school districts and childcare centers.

HMGWNY complements the Niagara University College of Education’s grant-funded Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project, an initiative that enhances the kindergarten-readiness skills of young children. NU also offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in early childhood education.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation was established by Buffalo Bills founder (and longtime owner) Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Upon Wilson’s passing in 2014, he requested that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a lifelong generosity of spirit by funding the foundation which bears his name. The foundation has a grant-making capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires Dec. 31, 2035. This structure is consistent with Wilson’s wish for immediate impact and innovation, and his desire that the trustees see the impact of the investment in their lifetimes. Help Me Grow WNY is well positioned to honor Mr. Wilson’s generous legacy and wishes.

To learn more about Help Me Grow WNY, please visit www.helpmegrowny.org. Additional information on the National Help Me Grow office is available at www.helpmegrownational.org.

To learn more about Niagara University, please visit www.niagara.edu.

Photos by Megan Held, a junior education major at Niagara University.