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The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo: Rethinking the Community’s Priorities

In preparation for BR’s November print edition, I met with Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker of the Community Foundation at her office in the Theatre District. A woman who has committed her life to the betterment of the Western New York community, she provides a well informed, and realistic view of our assets and needs. She covered more in our conversation than appears in the print edition, including background on how the Community Foundation works (where the money comes from, how it is cared for, and how it is decided upon where it goes), and an applause for Buffalo Rising. Enjoy this pod cast.
Earlier this year, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo unveiled their new five-year strategic plan. This plan came out of a year of reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the area with the help of philanthropic advisors from across the country. Out of this process came four focus areas, around which the Community Foundation will direct its funding and programs for the next five years.
Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker is moving from Vice President for Programs at the Foundation to take the place of Gail Johnstone, who is retiring, as President of the Community Foundation this month. Johnstone’s work of the past ten years has been marked by growth and change. Perez-Bode Dedecker continues this momentum, taking the reigns to lead the Foundation into their exciting new programming.
Perez-Bode Dedecker’s family moved here as exiles from Cuba 39 years ago with the American dream. She benefited from the embrace of this community, and she and her family are the “living example” of the ability of an individual to grow from zero wealth to thriving in and giving back to this community. Seemingly made for this job, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker’s previous service includes being a Director of the Commission on the Status for Women, a White House appointment to the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and President of the Association of Junior Leagues International.
Describing the urgency of the new focus for the Community Foundation, Perez-Bode Dedecker explains, “We are leveraging our human capital. We don’t have one pair of hands or one good thought to waste on behalf of the future of Western New York. We’re leaving a lot of human capital potential on the table because we are not maximizing everyone’s potential in this community…that is the driving, cross cutting theme for our work.”
The first focus area is increasing self-sufficiency for low-income individuals and families. “Including education, school readiness, and grade level achievement, such as is being addressed by our ‘Read to Succeed’ campaign.” Perez-Bode Dedecker explains.
Reducing racial and social disparities is the second focus area. Perez-Bode Dedecker looks forward to a community that “embraces and leverages its diversity as the asset that we all know it to be, if we’ve had the good fortune to experience diverse environments…by virtue of the segregated neighborhoods that are really a throw back…we deny future generations the experience that is going to be so crucial for the 21st Century.”
Third, enhancing and leveraging significant natural, historic and architectural resources. “An incredible natural treasure, 20% of the world’s fresh water that flows by our shores. We have over 1,000 acres of parkland, the crown jewel being the Frederick Law Olmsted park system…how many cities can claim that?” She asks that important question, and then points to the realities of our environment as well, “Yet we have a disproportionate share of vacant land and brown fields that are a result of our industrial heritage.” And then she returns to our wealth, “We are over endowed with architectural resources.”
Finally, the Community Foundations efforts will also focus on strengthening the region as a thriving center for the arts and culture. Perez-Bode Dedecker reminds us that, “Buffalo is continually ranked as a top arts destination.”
In my brief conversation with Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, she was able to sandwich our community’s strengths and weaknesses with realistic vision, an ability that makes her uniquely qualified to carry the region forward through her work at the Community Foundation.
The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo is one of the first foundations of its sort to be established in the U.S., a benefit of being one of the booming industrial cities in the 2oth Century. The Foundation helps people to invest funds and use them to support the community philanthropically. Find more information at www.cfgb.org.

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