ACCESS of WNY, Inc. was founded in 2005 by a group of concerned local Arab American community members who had great concern for the future of youth in the community. The Arab American community felt responsible to become part of the solution to city’s increasing disparities. With a population of 18,000 residents, Lackawanna’s 10% school dropout rate presented an increase in repercussions on individuals, families and to society.
Like most immigrants, the Yemeni immigrants left their homeland to provide a better future for their children. Most working in Bethlehem Steel – a leading steel making factory in the US at the turn of the century – and other labor intensive factories in order that their children would be able to obtain a higher education. Although, the majority of Yemeni immigrants at that time were illiterate in their own native language, they highly valued education for their children.
Many early Yemeni immigrants first settled within pre-existing Lebanese and Palestinian communities in cities such as New York. After orientating themselves to their new surroundings many Yemenis set off for different parts of the US and mainly the western part, where the labor force was quickly growing. Working as farm laborers in California’s San Joaquin Valley and as factory workers in Detroit, Canton, Weirton, and Buffalo, many Yemeni Americans prospered in the 1920s. During the depression of the 1930s the flow of Yemeni immigration slowed dramatically but resumed again in greater numbers after the end of the Second World War in 1945.
One route of immigration into the United States was through Vietnam, where many Yemenis had worked in warehouses, shops, and on the docks as watchmen. Through a loophole in the immigration laws, many Yemeni immigrants who were not literate in their mother tongue (which was a requirement for all immigrants entering into the United States) could bypass regulations and thus be admitted.
Patterns of Yemeni immigration were often in the form of chain migration, in which already established immigrants would secure visas for their relatives in Yemen. With the elimination of a quota system for immigration in 1965, Yemenis gained easier access to entrance and work visas, leading to a great increase in the numbers of immigrants.
The conception of ACCESS WNY was to create a nonprofit organization with a main focus to assist families living in the Greater Buffalo Region. Many of the services offered by the organization are utilized by the region’s immigration population, however, our services are meant for immigrant and non-immigrant families alike. As an organization addressing and combating poverty among low income families within the community has been an uphill battle. Locally, families are confronted with the responsibility of making crucial sacrifices due to a poor economy. Some have lost homes, jobs, healthcare, retirements, etc., making it exceedingly more difficult to raise a family. Unemployment takes its toll on the whole family, rearing a chain of despair including; increased incidences of domestic violence; increased youth vulnerability to crime, drug abuse, and bullying. When a family loses stability, they become increasingly vulnerable to the many ills of society.
The creation of ACCESS of WNY, Inc. was to help resolve all of these social issues faced by the community. Since its inception, ACCESS has taken the lead in providing social programs to assist hundreds of low income families, at-risk youth, immigrants, and unemployed of the Lackawanna community. The agency strives is to provide a welcoming environment for clients and assist them with vital services required to achieve a high level of self-sufficiency.
ACCESS WNY’s aim is, “To assist the family as a whole and equip them with the proper tools and resources in order that they can all excel collectively, resulting in a stronger, well-rounded household.” As the needs of the Lackawanna and WNY immigrant populations increase ACCESS of WNY, Inc. has developed many programs to suit their unique needs. As most grass-root organizations, successful execution of programs needed to be completed creatively and were implemented with very few funds throughout the past 10 years.