Tara Schafer's path to the non-profit sector began while studying for a master’s degree at Daemen. Her coursework presented an opportunity for immersion into an organization or business. After earning her degree, Schafer served in various roles with Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Buffalo, including chief operating officer and vice president.
Last year, Schafer started as an adjunct faculty member at Daemen, teaching a course in transformational leadership and organizational change as part of the executive leadership and change program. She has served on several boards and advisory committees, including the YWCA of Western New York and the former Everywoman Opportunity Center. She is also treasurer of The Women’s TAP (Taking Action in Politics) Fund.
Schafer says. “I have certainly found my purpose and would not be where I am today without my Daemen education.”
Tara became head of Literacy New York Buffalo- Niagara in 2014. As executive director, Schafer oversees more than 200 trained volunteers who work one-on-one with adults to improve reading, writing, and English skills. Schafer explained that there are more than 90,000 adults in the Buffalo Niagara region who have trouble with reading and writing. This includes recently relocated refugees and immigrants in the area who may not speak or read English. Tutors meet with the same student, working with them at a time and place of their choosing, for as long as help is needed.
“Our mission is to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty in Western New York to help change people’s lives,” said Schafer. “We could not do what we do without the dedication of our volunteers. We calculate their donation of time alone is equal to about $180,000 annually.”
The non-profit organization also has drop-in centers at three libraries and a church in Erie County, and two-drop in centers are slated to open this year in Niagara County. Adults can visit the center for more information on becoming a student, and enrolled students can visit for extra reading help or assistance with creating a resume, filling out an application, and other writing or reading tasks.
Married and living with her husband in Alden, N.Y., Schafer, not surprisingly, loves to read. When asked to name her favorite book, she noted there are far too many to pick a favorite. But “The Art of Possibility” by Zander and Zander and anything about history are at the top of the list.
Sara Vescio's experience in Daemen’s Executive Leadership and Change Program put her on the path to the position she holds today. In fact, she was among the first cohort to complete the master’s degree, and was honored as the 2015 Alumna of Distinction. She says she was considering an MBA when a brochure about the Daemen program, which was new at the time, came across her desk.
“The program did a great job of connecting the curriculum to real life,” she concludes. “I learned what it takes to be a strong, strategic, and team-oriented leader, and how to cultivate the skills and characteristics that were within me to accomplish my goals. I bring that knowledge to my role at the WBC in helping women entrepreneurs. I am forever grateful for my Daemen education.
As executive director of the Women’s Business Center (WBC) at Canisius College, she and her team work with local women entrepreneurs to help them learn to grow their small businesses into strong, thriving ventures while connecting them with resources that will further promote success.
All kinds of women business owners come to the WBC for assistance. Attorneys. Pet shop owners. Software developers. The center, which is the only one of its kind for women business owners in the Western New York area, pools resources and brings like-minded women together to foster economic opportunities and business growth.
“Our vision is to be recognized as the ‘home of women entrepreneurship’ in Western New York,” says Vescio. “We create a sense of community to help these women entrepreneurs stay on track with their business strategies and come up with solutions to the hurdles they face.”
Vescio says the center had about 785 program participants and 230 distinct women-owned businesses involved last year. The center helped launch 13 new women-owned businesses, expand existing businesses and hire 21 new positions, and increased their revenue by $1.4 million. The center also works with collaborative partners such as the Small Business Administration Buffalo District and many other entities to give clients the best guidance and resources available.
Vescio oversees a wide variety of programs offered by the WBC, including opportunities for women to access business counseling, networking, and mentorship. The center also offers educational resources to teach women business owners about marketing, certifications, funding, and other business needs.
The WBC is hosted by Canisius with offices inside the college’s Science Hall and a 50-person educational space. Funded in part by the SBA, the organization is a private/public partnership affiliated with more than 100 similar women’s business centers across the country. Vescio started out as a program director at the WBC and became executive director in 2014.
Following a liver transplant, Lea Sobieraski ’18 has found renewed hope and happiness in life as she plans for a promising future.
Overcoming adversity is a common theme in the world of sports. At Daemen College, look no further than Lea Sobieraski as an example of an athlete succeeding despite great personal challenges. A 2018 Daemen graduate and recent graduate assistant in the Office of Athletics Communications, Sobieraski has overcome not one but two personal tragedies to have a thriving life today and to be considered one of the best up-and-coming professionals in the industry.
A graduate of SUNY Geneseo and former basketball student-athlete, Sobieraski had her world turned upside down in December 2012 when she was diagnosed with Wilson’s Disease, a rare disorder that causes copper to accumulate in vital organs. Little did she know at the time that she was in for the fight of her life, and when the obstacle was conquered, life still had more to throw at her.
In the span of just two-and-a-half months after receiving her diagnosis, Sobieraski had gone from being a young, vibrant, passionate student-athlete to needing an organ transplant to live. At Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester on March 2, 2013, during an 11-hour surgery and despite only a 70 percent certainty from doctors that the transplant would work, Sobieraski received the liver that she so desperately needed.
In total, Sobieraski spent nearly 100 days in and out of the hospital after the surgery. It took more than a full calendar year before she returned to Geneseo on a full-time basis, doing so in summer 2014.
“The emotional toll was really, really brutal,” Sobieraski remembers. “Everyone else around me was moving forward in their lives, and I felt stuck. Once I began to feel better, I started to work toward getting back into basketball. The whole summer I was in Geneseo taking classes again and just trying to get back in some kind of shape to play basketball.”
Sobieraski appeared in all 30 games for Geneseo during the 2014–15 season, helping the Knights to a 25–5 record, a SUNYAC championship, and a trip to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16. She had stared death in the face, lived to tell the tale, and was now returning to some bit of normalcy. But life wasn’t done challenging Sobieraski and her teammates, coaches, and school.
She and her teammates got the 2015–16 season off to a fast start, winning nine of their first 13 games, including a 63–52 road win at SUNY Buffalo State on Jan. 16. The next day, the lives of everyone in the group changed forever when team co-captain Kelsey Annese was one of two Geneseo student-athletes found murdered at an off-campus home a few blocks from campus.
“I thought I had been through the hardest time of my life after going through the transplant ordeal, but the loss of Annese just didn’t make sense,” said Sobieraski.
Despite the shock of what had just happened, Geneseo coach Scott Hemer turned to Sobieraski and asked her to pull strength from her own challenges to lead the group on the court and in dealing with this tremendous loss. With the memories of Annese fresh in their minds, Sobieraski and her teammates went on to play in the SUNYAC title game again, and they received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Through it all, Sobieraski was the rock that her teammates needed, and her outlook resonates far beyond basketball.
After graduating from Geneseo in May 2016, Sobieraski spent the next two years working toward earning a master’s degree in executive leadership and change from Daemen, which she received in May 2018, and assisting in the Daemen Athletics Department.
“Every day I wake up is a good day,” she said. “Even the days when I’m not feeling my best, I just remind myself that I shouldn’t be here. Prior to these situations, I was your typical college athlete, getting up early to practice and preparing for games. I complained about things that don’t matter at all. Now I look at things differently. At Daemen, I was able to go to class and to work. Making that change in my mind from having to do something, to getting to do something was a big eye opener, but I believe it’s the right outlook.”
Sobieraski credits Daemen with giving her the opportunity to “learn about myself as a leader and a person. I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience where I could grow personally and professionally. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to pursue my degree at Daemen,” she said.
Today, Sobieraski is doing very well following her liver transplant and she is looking forward to her next step in life. “With everything that has happened in my life, I’ve learned to enjoy every moment and that life is too short to not pursue what makes you happy,” said Sobieraski, who has secured a position as director of basketball operations for the women’s team at Canisius College.
Trina Burruss ‘06 received a master’s degree in executive leadership and change while working full time as a bank vice president and raising a family with her husband. Not an easy task. However, every Friday night and Saturday morning, she looked forward to the robust discussion and new ways of viewing business and the world.
In 2017, Trina used what she learned in the program to become the first community development officer for Northwest Bank. This year, Trina was promoted to senior vice president and district manager for Northwest. Her territory includes 100 direct reports and $1 billion in deposits. In this new capacity, Trina is able to combine her passion for retail banking with helping the community.
Trina is also working on a series of diversity initiatives within the bank, to attract top talent and elevate the client experience.
A lot has changed since her time at Daemen, including celebrating 33 years of marriage, becoming a grandmother of four, and becoming an entrepreneur having recently joined her family in opening The Mahogany – an events and gathering space. Trina is proud to say that she is a graduate and that she gained both knowledge and confidence in her leadership ability from Dr. Frederick and other dedicated faculty.
Eric Holet received a Masters of Leadership and Innovation degree in 2019 and is currently serving as the Senior Quality Health Analyst for Kaleida Health and Great Lakes Health, supporting numerous hospitals within Western New York and Pennsylvania.
The Leadership and Innovation program helped Holet cultivate a mission to intentionally encourage and inspire excellence in the care and service of others. Significant to the program is the understanding how to lead with “three eyes open.” This perspective is understanding that you need to be intentional about assessing how processes, changes, problems or directives will be perceived or impacted by self, your team, and the organization. Simply put: relationships are key in leading effectively.
As 2020 began, these concepts have proven to be significant to Holet’s current work and success. In March, Holet was resourced to work with the team in the Coronavirus Command Center at Kaleida Health. The response to the pandemic took an extensive amount of effort, creativity and collaboration with numerous teams in the effort to care for the lives of the patients, community and employees of the healthcare system.
During this time, Holet assisted with acquiring and organizing personal protective equipment, managing the COVID-19 call center, building databases to track employee health, and helped design processes and software systems to manage over 100,000 COVID-19 and antibody tests. It was these collaborative relationships which served to advance the health of our community and strengthened the organization.