BUFFALO, N.Y. — In 1968, when she was 8-years-old, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker came to Buffalo with her family from Cuba. She said the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program helped them get on their feet.
"For the first two years we were completely provided for by the public safety net and charitable dollars, so as you might imagine, I am incredibly grateful and indebted for this welcome, and I feel very fortunate to be in a position to pay it forward and to help others succeed with their goals. It's really wonderful to be in a position to help others succeed," Dedecker said.
"I came to philanthropy as a beneficiary at a very young age and understood the power of being helped and therefore the power of helping others."
Dedecker dedicated her life to helping others. She has been the President and CEO of the Community Foundation For Greater Buffalo for the past 15 years, working with individuals, families, and organizations to help them achieve their charitable goals.
"I would say I'm most proud of the theme that cuts across all of our work, which is working through partnerships and collaborative approaches."
Under her leadership, Say Yes to Education came to Buffalo, giving public and charter school graduates scholarships to college. Dedecker says since the program's inception 12 years ago, the graduation rate in the Buffalo Public Schools went from nearly 49 to 79%.
"We're very proud of that and we're very humble in the face of knowing that we need to maintain those gains and improve them and build upon them so that every young person in our community reaches their potential. We need every good thought, every talent, and every pair of hands to build the future this region deserves," Dedecker said.
Say Yes Buffalo president David Rust said Say Yes wouldn't have been possible without Clotilde.
"It took her time, her energy, her political will, and the gift that's resulted has helped thousands and will forever in our city," Rust said.
"Clotilde's always had a big picture lens on this community and she fully understands without access to a good education and good job, our region and more importantly our people won't reach their full potential. And she's really focused her energy around bringing people together around the challenges."
She also helped to create the Racial Equity Roundtable, which now includes 350 partners including civic leaders, government leaders, faith leaders, and non-profit leaders, who came up with an agenda with 10 strategies that are focused on building an expanded, inclusive, economy.
"Clotilde's an innovator. She really is a great leader and she knows how to bring people to the table," said Racial Equity Rountable Chairwoman Rose Sconiers, Ret. NYS Supreme Court Justice.
"One of the things that she does that is so effective is if we don't have the expertise there, she goes out and gets consultants to come in and to work with us. She really has that hook that brings people to the table and she's so passionate about it herself. She does a wonderful job of selling the roundtable and selling the Community Foundation, so I think she's an innovator, she really is. She does wonderful work in the community and people respect her."
Next month, Dedecker is retiring as CEO of the Community Foundation. She plans to travel with her husband of 38 years, visit with her two grown children, and says she'll have even more time to pay it forward and help the city she loves through volunteerism.
"At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want our children to succeed. We want to live in a healthy, safe neighborhood, we want to contribute to our community and that is the beauty of buffalo's potential, that we do have such rich diversity to call upon as we build the future we all desire," she said.
"When you engage in volunteer work you always get back so much more than you're ever able to give. It's a wonderful feeling to help others."
She's so passionate about volunteerism, she's even been named to the national Generosity Commission, a two year project focused on studying generosity after the pandemic.
"There was such phenomenal effort during the pandemic where people took care of each other and their neighbors," said Dedecker. "How do we keep that alive now that we're coming out of the pandemic?"
Dedecker has been recognized at a national level for her philanthropy, and as such she was appointed to the White House Council on Service and Civic Participation and named co-chair of the U.S. Committee of the United Nations International Year of the Volunteer.
To nominate someone to be featured in the "Selfless Among Us" series on Channel 2, email details to Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com .
To see others featured in the "Selfless Among Us" series, click the video links below.