[L-R, back row: Les Leopold, BPS Director of Adult Education Division; Dr. Will Keresztes, BPS Associate Superintendent of Student Support Services; Mark Schroeder, City of Buffalo Comptroller; Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold, President & Member-at-Large, Buffalo Board of Education; Dr. David Mauricio, BPS Chief of Strategic Alignment and Innovation. L-R, front row: Sr. Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, RTLC Executive Director; Kathleen Sheehy, Associate; NYS Education Department Adult Education Programs & Policy]
In 2004, Sr. Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, Executive Director of the Response to Love Center (RTLC) reached out to Les Leopold, Director of the Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Division. She wanted to discuss educational opportunities for residents of the neighborhood that RTLC serves. Both acknowledged that low literacy skills seemed to go hand-in-hand with the economic and social poverty among the adult population that Sr. Johnice and her staff encounter on a daily basis. A partnership was established.
In recognition of the many years of success, Sr. Johnice was honored with the Division’s Making a Difference in Our Community Award which was presented at its annual Partner Breakfast held at Emerson Commons on November 8th. According to Leopold, the partnership demonstrates how a faith-based organization and a school district can work collaboratively when they share core values of serving a community in need.
As an administrator for the Buffalo Public Schools, Leopold clearly understands his mission to serve the tens of thousands in the community without a high school diploma as well as those refugees and immigrants needing to learn to speak English. Both leaders complement each other’s mission to serve those with critical needs.
The Response to Love Center is located at 130 Kosciuszko Street on the city’s East Side. The organization is housed in St. Adalbert’s Basilica, a historic Roman Catholic Church. RTLC provides the community with a food pantry, a dining room, a thrift shop for clothing, health care counseling and referrals, blood pressure screening, toy and food drives, job fairs and health fairs. The organization also houses an AMVETS Veterans Career Center which helps with interviewing skills, resume skills, and other resources including computer and online assistance.
“Sr. Johnice fights for her community and makes sure their basic needs are met,” according to Leopold who discovered that he had first met Sr. Johnice close to 40 years ago when he ran a printing business and she was a customer. He remembers her as “a petit individual with strong convictions. She was specific with what she wanted and she was driven to serve those who are economically disadvantaged and under educated.” In introducing her at the event he recalled that she kept him on task back then and continues to do that now.
The Adult Education Division provides classes at the site in high school equivalency diploma preparation and English for speakers of other languages. Enrollment is typically at capacity, evidence of the need for adult education services in the neighborhood.
Adult Education Division instructors can see first-hand that teaching goes beyond the classroom and touches the lives of students and their families in significant ways. Citing the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” Leopold recalls that Sr. Johnice often speaks about the importance of teaching responsibility versus just handing out resources.
But first and foremost, those who come to RTLC are offered love and compassion, things that many people in functioning families take for granted. In her acceptance remarks, Sr. Johnice said, “To make learning valuable to our students, they need our compassionate presence, acceptance of their individual differences, a word of encouragement. We are their family.”