Say Yes Buffalo

Creating a supportive environment where students can flourish

“Say Yes Buffalo gives students a chance to dream big,” said Tyler Carpenter, a neuro-nurse at Buffalo General Hospital and a Say Yes Buffalo Scholar. Tyler graduated from City Honors in 2014, and a Say Yes Buffalo scholarship helped her attend SUNY Erie Community College and Trocaire College, where she graduated with her nursing degree in 2021.

Tyler is one of more than 2,000 students who have earned degrees with the support of the Say Yes Buffalo scholarships since its launch in December 2011. At that time, the Community Foundation played a key leadership role in bringing the collaborative effort to Buffalo. Today, the story of Say Yes Buffalo is one that spans more than a decade, with its earliest scholars now out of college, into their careers and contributing to our region’s economic growth.

In 2012, the graduation rate of Buffalo Public Schools students was a mere 49 percent. With Say Yes Buffalo’s promise to provide scholarships to eligible graduates of Buffalo public and charter schools, by 2020, the district’s rate had climbed 27 percentage points to 76 percent.

Today, more than $23 million in scholarships have been awarded, and thousands of students use those scholarships to attend all SUNY/CUNY schools and dozens of private colleges and universities across the country. 

To ensure the scholarships are available forever, Say Yes Buffalo is currently working toward a goal of raising $100 million for its endowment at the Community Foundation. Over $25 million has been raised to date and $1 will be matched for every $10 raised.

Since its inception, Say Yes Buffalo has expanded its reach to support children as young as preschoolers with services including preventive supports, legal clinics, healthcare and summer camps. It also now extends support to college students, including mentoring, mental healthcare, on-campus success counselors and paid internships. “Say Yes helped me with resume building and interview skills, and sometimes just provided a listening ear,” said Tyler. “It also opened my eyes to the different routes I could take to get to where I wanted to go.”

Programming for high school students will soon include apprenticeships in high-demand career pathways with large local employers across the IT, Business Operations and Advanced Manufacturing sectors. 

With hundreds of partners from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, Say Yes Buffalo is committed to strengthening the Western New York economy by investing in the education of Buffalo’s future workforce. 

Tyler noted, “It is inspiring to see how many students are able to fulfill their dreams because of Say Yes Buffalo.”

CareerWise Greater Buffalo

In 2022, Say Yes Buffalo launched CareerWise Greater Buffalo, a strategy of the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable’s Youth Employment Coalition designed to provide career pathways for youth ages 16 to 24 that lead to family-sustaining incomes. Click here to read more about how these pathways are created through modern youth apprenticeships.

Say Yes Little Scholars

“Amazing things happen here.” Those words adorn the walls of Say Yes Buffalo’s new Little Scholars classrooms, along with sensory tables, arts and crafts spaces, and family walls that celebrate the diverse backgrounds and lifestyles of its students.

Launched in March 2023 in partnership with Buffalo Public Schools and Erie County, Little Scholars is a pre-K readiness program for three-year-old children in our community.

It specifically focuses on those whose families are eligible for the daycare subsidy and reside in a “daycare desert,” where the number of eligible children exceeds the number of seats available, directly supporting Say Yes Buffalo’s cradle-to-career continuum for Buffalo students.

“Little Scholars focuses on families who are looking for spaces where there’s a combination of purposeful learning through play, socio-emotional development and pre-K readiness,” explained Gellenia Smallwood, Senior Director of Early Childhood Services at Say Yes Buffalo, who spent six years bringing the idea to fruition. “The goal is to help our babies understand how to communicate their feelings, get them adjusted to school buildings, and get the schools acclimated to receiving the students and working with their families.”

Licensed as daycare-regulated classrooms in Buffalo Public School buildings, each of the six current locations serves 14 students with three staff, with more locations planned for 2024 as part of the three-year pilot phase.

A full-year program, Little Scholars runs a six-week summer prep session as students transition to their pre-K classrooms with automatic enrollment into the district’s four year- old Universal Pre-kindergarten (UPK) classrooms, reducing some of the barriers that come along with registering students for school for the first time. This also includes home visits to support and engage families so they can be invested in their child’s education.

After the initial program launch, all students in the first two Little Scholars classrooms – at West Hertel Community School 94 and Community School 59 at the Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School – successfully matriculated into their four-year-old UPK classroom for the 2023–24 school year.

Looking ahead, Gellenia hopes to deepen Say Yes Buffalo’s partnerships with other early childhood professionals in our community to shine the light on what is needed to really prepare children for pre-K, including taking a holistic approach of preparing the families and having schools see what is needed to wrap these littlest learners with supports. Gellenia also acknowledges the great work of home-based and center-based daycare providers, many who have partnered with Say Yes for summer camp and virtual learning centers.

“Little Scholars is about preparing these kids so they can be ‘pre-K ready their own way,’” Gellenia said. “It’s not going to be standardized across the board. We know what the expectations are, but we acknowledge and celebrate the growth that each child has individually.”


We continue to help many more students attain post-secondary education as a partner, supporter and advocate of Say Yes Buffalo.

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