This column originally appeared in various editions of the Bee News on February 8, 2016
In Spring 2015 I unveiled my Initiatives for a Stronger Community plan, a wide-reaching 49-point health and human services proposal that encompasses multiple areas of need in Erie County and identifies potential partners for working on those needs. The Initiatives are divided into four categories and Erie County departments are the lead agency in collaborative partnerships to address community issues grouped in employment & financial security; strong families, strong children, strong schools; lifelong health; and help where and when it is needed. Progress is already being made in many of the Initiatives and I was pleased to be present last week as one of our newest committees, the New Americans Advisory Committee, met for the first time.
Each year Erie County becomes an ever greater multi-cultural community as more than 2,000 refugees are settled here. We are a county that is rich with diversity, with 6.4% of our population now foreign-born and adding vibrancy and energy to our communities. These individuals contribute greatly to the success of our region and are here to pursue the American dream of success, which may have eluded them or have been denied them in their countries of origin. Many of these individuals have unique needs when they first relocate and challenges that may not be evident to native-born residents. For instance, language barriers and cultural customs may be hindrances to a better assimilation into our culture, and other barriers may be present that hamper an individuals’ ability to fully participate in our society. We are working to address that.
The New Americans Advisory Committee will be part of a larger Erie County effort to strengthen the ability of all of our residents to access help by offering services that accommodate cultural and linguistic differences. The Committee will not try to supplant work done by other organizations but will work with them to encourage access by all persons residing in Erie County, regardless of nation of birth, to the full benefits, opportunities and services provided and administered by the County. This Committee will provide invaluable insights and will be a two-way conduit for information between Erie County government, our partners, and immigrant communities facing these challenges as they work, live, go to school, and become accustomed to life in Erie County.
Joining me at the first Committee meeting were representatives from Erie County’s Burmese, Ethiopian, Bhutanese-Nepali, Iraqi, and Karen communities, along with county personnel from the Departments of Health, Social Services, Probation, and the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board. Representatives from the UB Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute, immigration law firms, Access of WNY and Journey’s End Refugee Services also gave of their time to attend. As the Committee grows into its work, new faces and perspectives will be added to aid in better serving the needs of this growing part of our population, which will result in a stronger, more vibrant community for all.