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There is a proverb coined from author Anna Isabella Ritchie that says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The Response to Love Center, at 130 Kosciuszko St., is putting this idea into practice.

On a recent visit, the Wellness Institute staff and I got a first-hand account of how the center is empowering residents to make positive changes in their lives, while encouraging self-sufficiency.

The Response to Love Center’s proactive approach in the community extends to people regardless of race, social status and religious affiliation. Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, director of the Response to Love Center, recognizes that handouts will not provide long-term sustenance for their clients. Instead, Sister Johnice and her Felician sisters, accompanied by their staff and volunteers, are addressing the barriers of the local immigrant and poor population by establishing healthy independent lifestyles.

In the last several years, the Response to Love Center began targeting the largest obstacles for their clients: Education and language. In September 2012, they established an “English as a second language” class for immigrants in their service area. These classes fill up more quickly than any other program. Since August 2005, the center has offered GED and computer training programs, even a thrift store where clients can buy like-new clothing and dishware. This system allows clients to buy what they need, not take whatever they can get.

In keeping with this proactive spirit, the Wellness Institute staff is working with the center’s program director, Mary Danakas, to help the center accomplish its mission.

This fall, the Response to Love Center will be participating in the nationally recognized Eat Well, Live Well Challenge. The challenge is designed to improve nutrition and physical activity so that the participants can accomplish their nutritional and fitness goals. The institute is also proposing the creation of a garden where the Response to Love Center can grow its own fruits and vegetables.

Aside from all the progress the center has made, Sister Johnice knows the center can take its proactive approach to new heights. The Response to Love Center has been renovated and is having its first elevator installed in the three-floor school.

The center is always in need of resources in its effort to reshape its community. The center accepts a wide variety of items, from like-new clothing and white boards to computers and nonperishables. All the operations are closely supervised and monitored in order to ensure the resources are used efficiently. The Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, along with the Response to Love Center, are working together to create healthier communities, which make for a healthy democracy.

Phil Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute, said: “Our staff was very, very impressed by the work the center is doing. Sister Johnice is an inspiration as are her staff and volunteers. We look forward to a partnership with the center.”

The Response to Love Center encompasses volunteers and donations to expand its mission. If you are interested in volunteering or donating, call 894-7030 or visit ResponseToLoveCenter.org. To learn more about the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and its mission, visit CreatingHealthyCommunities.org.

Eric M. Nuchereno is the Wellness Institute communications director.