BUFFALO, N.Y. — This year in our City Shaper reports, we're highlighting the women of Western New York who are making our region's resurgence possible. This week, 2 On You Side's Kelly Dudzik introduces us to a woman who is helping to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol.
Beth Anzalone is the executive director at Western New York United. She grew up in Lakeview.
Anzalone is continuing the work started by the Rich family in 1986 when they joined forces with the United Way to start Western New York United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
"They looked at the community, they were concerned about the alcohol use, and they wanted to do something about it. Since then, we've grown into multiple strategies and we service over 10,000 students each year," Anzalone said.
Anzalone works with the Buffalo Public Schools, charter schools and a few suburban districts to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol. A lot of their work now focuses on vaping and opioids.
"I love what I do, and I think it's mostly because of the kids. I feel like in the work that we do, especially our Leaders In Training program, that we offer a leadership experience for kids in middle school; 120 kids gather at Medaille College in the summer time to go through an intensive leadership program. And to see the growth and the development in them, and to provide for them opportunities that they may never have is something that really keeps me excited and passionate about helping them be successful in their lives,” Anzalone said.
Anzalone was originally a pre-school teacher.
"I was worried and frustrated about the kinds of things that kids came to the center with, their problems, things they were struggling with. And I felt like I needed to do something, I needed to get more involved," she says.
From there, Anzalone went to work for the Town of Hamburg, which hired her as a program director. She helped develop a drug and alcohol awareness program for the town's fifth and sixth-graders.
Then she got the job at Western New York United, where she's been for 26 years.
"Every day is different. I meet with community people. I meet with our schools. I meet with administrators. I meet with our coalitions," Anzalone said. "One of the greatest things that I've learned is building relationships is probably the most important skill that you can have. So if you're a young woman and you want to get in the field or work for a non-profit, take the first job. Get the experience. Learn from it. Add that to your toolbox. And then find the next job and the next job."
This summer Western New York United is extending the LIT program to include eighth graders.
If you know a woman who would be a great City Shaper, just send Kelly an email to nominate her.
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