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One decade of making a difference in region

Anniversaries give us wonderful opportunities to remember and celebrate beginnings, and to think about the many decision points that continue to shape our future. This is truly the case for the Healthy Community Alliance, headquartered in Gowanda. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Alliance’s rock-solid foundation.

Figuratively and literally, that foundation is known both as Community Place and Academy Place. The distinction gets a bit technical, but in actual fact the sturdy and spacious brick-and-granite structure at One School Street is a home to many purposes.

Within the walls of this vintage elementary school facility, you can find an amazing array of health, medical, counseling, nutritional, and educational services all designed to improve the quality of life in rural communities across our region. Mission success derives from broad, inclusive partnerships that support wellness and prevention. Here I am talking about a community focal point for programs and services. Community Place is a subsidiary of the Healthy Community Alliance, which has its own executive director, Ann Battaglia, and a board of directors on which I served for many years.

Yet One School Street encompasses much more than a preeminent rural health network. Also named Academy Place, this location serves as a living and dining space for 32 senior apartments. The Place is directed by a locally focused housing development fund company, resourced by a combination of federal and state tax credits linked to household income guidelines. The apartments are managed in partnership with People, Incorporated.

The Healthy Community Alliance has been thriving since the mid 1990’s when I came on board as a founding member of its board of directors. It took the organization about a decade to gain inspiration from a massive closed-up former school facility in Gowanda. At first it was thought that the old school, if refurnished, could serve as a practical headquarters for the growing Alliance capacity.

Thanks to the foresight and persistence of HCA executive director Sharon Mathe, guided by local consultants and attorneys, One School Street soon became a conceptual testing ground for potential uses involving wellness, community planning and services. Many opportunities for Gowanda community input enriched the discussion.

What followed was a decade of stressful, complicated funding negotiations with the Housing and Urban Development. Once funding was reasonably assured, with loans and payments arranged, a Buffalo-based commercial contractor took on the project that finally produced today’s beautiful facility.

I share quite a rewarding personal history with Community Place. As a member of the Alliance’s board of directors, I remember many meetings where sorting out bureaucratic challenges and legal technicalities tested everyone’s patience. At times it seemed as though Community Place would become our single agenda item. Ultimately, our investment of time and resources continues to yield growing dividends throughout the entire region.

Please see what I mean for yourself. Virtually or in person, visit the impressive facility known as Community Place, Academy Place, and One School Street in Gowanda. It is not just a terrific architectural asset, but the symbol of a regional and statewide commitment to health promotion, disease prevention, wellness, and building quality of life.

Dr. Jeffrey Bowen is past president of the Healthy Community Alliance.

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