Weekly Feature



2018-01-11 / Front Page

Spotlight returns to rural poverty in second ROC community challenge

by ALAN RIZZO
Reporter


Alison Merner, communication and outreach coordinator for GObike Buffalo, boards her evening bus on Monday during the second week of the 2018 “ROC Resolutions” community challenge. Merner and her co-workers are traveling without the use of personal vehicles this week, helping draw attention to one challenge that people in rural poverty face every day. 
Photo by Sarah McIlhatten Alison Merner, communication and outreach coordinator for GObike Buffalo, boards her evening bus on Monday during the second week of the 2018 “ROC Resolutions” community challenge. Merner and her co-workers are traveling without the use of personal vehicles this week, helping draw attention to one challenge that people in rural poverty face every day. Photo by Sarah McIlhatten As visibility of rural poverty in Western New York grows, the Rural Outreach Center of East Aurora continues to shed light on the issue through a second installment of its annual “ROC Resolutions” community challenge.

(See editorial on page four)

Held throughout January, the challenge asks participants to spend a week dealing with one of four obstacles that more than 200,000 Western New Yorkers face daily: spending no more than $6.36 per person per day on food, living in houses heated to only 60 degrees and with limited electricity, traveling without a personal vehicle, and wearing only one pair of shoes and three outfits.

Taking the challenge this year will be Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte, as well as local business leaders and media personalities, but ROC Executive Director Frank Cerny hopes involvement goes further than that.

“I would like to personally invite all Western New Yorkers to take the 2018 ROC Resolutions challenge, and try to walk in the shoes of our less fortunate neighbors for a day, a week or the entire month,” said Cerny in a recent statement from the ROC. “I’m sure you will find it eye-opening.”

This week, the employees of GObike Buffalo will go without the use of a personal vehicle, using alternative modes of transportation to get to their important destinations.

Not surprisingly, the preferred alternative for employees of the organization is a bicycle, but they are also encouraging members of their community to walk, use public transportation, carpool or borrow a vehicle from a friend.

“These are all forms of transportation on which many Western New Yorkers must rely to commute to work, shop, visit a doctor, attend school or seek employment,” said Alison Merner, GObike’s communication and outreach coordinator. “GObike Buffalo aims to build a more dynamic and connected Buffalo by promoting sustainable transportation options, so most of our staff regularly commute by alternative modes [bike or Metro] as part of a commitment to that vision.”

Due to an asthma condition, Merner said she is using buses and the Metro Rail to get around this week, an option that limits flexibility and requires more forethought because commuters must consider bus and train schedules, transfers, and walking times.

And with transportation challenges extending beyond the roughly 30 percent of city residents who don’t have a personal vehicle, Merner said GObike wants to jump on the ROC’s awareness bandwagon.

“Poverty isn't limited to the city. Many people in WNY’s rural communities experience these same challenges, and we wanted to partner with the Rural Outreach Center to raise awareness of this important issue,” she said. “Transportation has the potential to elevate people out of poverty by providing access to employment, education, food, health care and other basic quality-of-life needs.”

According to Cerny, approximately 65 percent of Western New Yorkers in poverty now live outside the City of Buffalo, up from 60 percent last year.

Cerny said the rise is due to a gentrification of city neighborhoods, meaning former city dwellers have been priced out of their homes and have moved out of the city to seek other housing in the region.

He said this migration has led to housing stress and increased pressure for services in East Aurora, first-ring suburban towns and the City of Lackawanna.

Over the past year, the ROC has helped more than 2,000 individuals move from poverty toward self-sufficiency, roughly double the number who sought services in 2016.

The center has also worked closely with about 120 families to help them set goals, learn basic skills including financial literacy, and to access other services.

And while those in rural poverty still struggle with long-term feelings of neglect, Cerny said attention from the ROC is helping to alleviate their frustration.

“At the ROC they are grateful that someone is there to care for them,” he said.

To learn more about the Rural Outreach Center and this year’s “ROC Resolutions” community challenge, call 240-2220, visit the center’s website at www.theroc.co, or follow the ROC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheRuralOutreachCenter/.

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