Hope and Joy
Mosaics, Spring 2014
by Jim Bisco
When Joyelle (Joy) Tedeschi was a youngster, her father would take her for the occasional drive from their comfortable suburban home to Buffalo’s East Side, showing her the place where he was raised, when it was a neighborhood with tight-knit families and a bustling corridor of commerce along Broadway. She would see the deterioration and abandonment of her father’s house and the surrounding neighborhood and wanted to do something. She would take crayon to paper and draw a place where people could come for help.
In October 2009 — just a year after earning her MSW at the School of Social Work — Joy Tedeschi opened the resource center that her young eyes envisioned. She is now director of the Matt Urban Hope Center, which stands in the shadow of the towering Central Terminal. Out her window on Paderewski Drive, she has seen drug-house raids, gang violence and examples of abandoned hope — all of which has become the turnaround objective of the Hope Center.
She co-founded the center with Karen Carman, whom she met during one of her many stints at shelters and agencies before seeking her master’s. Carman, familiar with Tedeschi’s resource center dream, helped engineer a second-year internship that involved turning an unused YWCA building on the East Side into such a community center.
At the same time, Tedeschi enrolled in two community classes with SSW adjunct professor Diane Bessel who, she says, gave her the inspiration and education to conduct the community assessment that pinpoints the greatest needs. This led to the development of the Hope Center.
Working with a grant for homeless services in the city of Buffalo, the pair opened the center as a homeless outreach program of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center. The objective was to work toward the concept of a “one-stop shopping center providing community services,” according to Tedeschi. “We didn’t want to duplicate what other people are doing. We want to focus on people that other agencies aren’t focusing on because that’s where the need is.
“In putting this center in a highly impoverished isolated neighborhood, you ask the people what services they need and make sure they have access to those services. That is what a ‘hope center’ should be, and that is what we do.”
Research was conducted to help the Hope Center become a model program that would be the most effective. The primary focus was on the chronically homeless living on the street.
“We realized that homelessness is not an 8-to-4 gig. We felt we had to do it at night and early in the morning,” Tedeschi says. They meet monthly with other agencies doing homeless outreach to work together more efficiently.
Upon finding that there was a significant amount of recidivism among the chronically homeless due to being placed in rooming houses without a supportive environment, Tedeschi and Carman established Housing First, based on a best housing model, in which their case managers place people in apartments. “Housing should be a right; you shouldn’t be under a bridge or in the park,” Tedeschi notes.
The Hope Center started providing food one day a week in collaboration with local agency Friends of the Night People. That has now expanded into a five-day-a-week restaurant operation called The Urban Diner by Friends of the Night People. There is table service, no lines. Families can sit together at tables with tablecloths and napkin holders and orders being taken. “We wanted to serve people with dignity and respect, our core values,” Tedeschi explains. “Then we said we need wait staff, and they need job skills, so we developed a structured program to help individuals find work.”
The Hope Works program was created to prepare people for job interviews, with initial work clothing and transportation provisions. Foodservice, clerical and maintenance job skills are developed; education goals are met with the help of UB’s Educational Opportunity Center, among others.
Cutting into drug dealings and gang warfare in the neighborhood is an afterschool program developed with Urban Christian Ministries to provide educational and life skills while opening the gymnasium that is housed in the center.
Interns from area schools are exposed to real-world aspects and community needs. Mother’s Day celebrations, summer barbecues and “Trunk or Treat” with Halloweeners safely receiving treats from rows of car trunks are among the center’s festivities. And each month the community is invited to sit down and talk about issues and how the Hope Center can help. “We show them we’re not just service providers — we’re their neighbors,” says Joyelle Tedeschi, whose youthful blueprint of a resource center is being richly realized.