PSC teammates, Eric Pardini and Jeff Guilfoyle, take a selfie while traveling through Western New York

In the dead of winter, when most Michiganders are dreaming of trips to sunny Palm Springs or steamy Key West, PSC vice president Jeff Guilfoyle and consultant Eric Pardini were logging more than 700 cold, but not too snowy, miles across Western New York to hear from parents, early childhood educators, child care providers, nonprofit leaders, government officials and other interested stakeholders about what was and was not working well for families with young children.

Map of Western New York

The PSC duo was in the Empire State (interestingly, where Guilfoyle was born and raised, albeit in the southern-most part of the state) on behalf of the Western New York Early Childhood Funders Consortium — a coalition of philanthropic organizations, United Ways and government agencies dedicated to improving the lives of children from birth through age five. During their trip, Guilfoyle and Pardini conducted five community focus groups, drawing on participants from the region’s eight counties (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming) to learn about the existing early childhood system from those most directly involved with it.

View of Niagara Falls lit up at night

PSC will synthesize the information gleaned from the focus groups and use it along with data from surveys, key informant interviews and in-depth research scans to help the consortium craft specific recommendations about ways to make the system better for young children and their families.

A few interesting observations:

1.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is underwriting the project. It was established by former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. in 2015 to fund efforts specifically in Southeast Michigan and Western New York.

2.

While there were no big differences between the two states, there were several small ones. For example, New York will be implementing paid parental leave in 2018 (something Michigan has never seriously considered); the minimum wage is higher in New York than in Michigan, which presents a different set of challenges for child care subsidy eligibility; and counties in New York have the authority to set child care subsidy rules and regulations, which means if a family moves, they may gain or lose eligibility simply because of their new address.

3.

This was the perfect opportunity for PSCers to take their knowledge of early childhood in Michigan and apply it elsewhere. As Guilfoyle explains, “Our experience in Michigan was valuable in New York, and our experience there will be equally valuable as we continue efforts to improve early childhood here at home.”

4.

Western New York is not small. The eight-county region has a land area of 6,440 square miles, making it roughly the same size as Connecticut.

5.

When asked to share a quintessential Western New York experience, both Guilfoyle and Pardini pointed to their side trip to the Anchor Bar, home of the original buffalo wing. Pardini, a former chef, pronounced them“totally trip worthy.”

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