Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

The Rural Outreach Center

Summary 
  • Need: To expand services for individuals and families living in poverty in rural Western New York.
  • Intervention: The Rural Outreach Center (ROC) offers care coordination, therapy, budgeting assistance, and multiple other services and opportunities to help address immediate needs as well as empower individuals to work toward long-term freedom from generational poverty.
  • Results: The Rural Outreach Center serves approximately 250 adults and children each year through counseling, care coordination, and empowerment opportunities. The ROC reports that many participants have achieved and sustained goals related to housing, savings, employment, and other social determinants of health – which are also measures of poverty.

Description

The ROC Logo

The Rural Outreach Center (ROC) began as a ministry of Pathways Christian Fellowship in East Aurora, NY. The Fellowship was surprised to learn from local academic experts that there were limited public services available to individuals living in poverty in rural southern Erie County. They began holding free monthly dinners in rural communities to speak with residents and learn more about their unmet needs. These conversations led to the idea to provide wraparound services in a centralized location to help address immediate needs as well as empower individuals to work toward long-term freedom from generational poverty.

In 2013, the ROC became a registered nonprofit and began providing services – including counseling, care coordination, and an affordable home goods store – from a facility in East Aurora. Today, the ROC serves individuals living in southern Erie, western Wyoming, northern Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties. To make their services accessible to individuals located in outlying counties, the ROC partners with the Volunteer Transportation Center and also has gas cards available, depending on the individual need.

A key component of the ROC's service philosophy is "minimizing charity and optimizing empowerment in everything we do." As part of this commitment, the ROC asks participants to make a small contribution, material donation, or donation of volunteer time in exchange for goods and services. The contribution is flexible based on the individual. The ROC has observed that this practice leads to feelings of empowerment and helps individuals to take charge of their own journey towards meeting their life goals.

The ROC offers both programs for the benefit of the general community and services for "engaged" participants. Community outreach services include a program which offers affordable furniture and home goods, and a program that offers assistance with minor home repairs. Community outreach services for children include the provision of winter clothing, weekend snack-packs, backpacks, and school supplies.

The ROC Truck
Volunteers at the New Paths Household Goods Redistribution Center.

All services are available to community members based on the system outlined above. The ROC serves approximately 5,000 people every year through these community outreach services.

Participants who choose to become engaged first complete an intake assessment which includes an exploration of life goals (related to various social determinants of health), current barriers to progress, and individual strengths and weaknesses. Participants complete assessments every three months to measure progress toward their individual goals. Programs available to engaged participants include counseling and care coordination. Additional services are catered to the goals of each individual, and may include:

  • Budgeting assistance
  • Help saving for and purchasing a vehicle
  • Assistance with major home projects
  • Job and career counseling

The ROC also offers play therapy for children, in addition to academic support and summer youth experiences.

The ROC serves approximately 150 adults and 100 children through its counseling and care coordination services each year. The organization has plans to expand in the near future through the construction of a community development hub. This new building will house programs related to affordable housing, workforce development, and healthcare.

Services offered

The ROC Backpack Program
Backpacks ready for distribution to local children.

The ROC currently offers the following services for adult participants:

  • Counseling
  • Care coordination
  • Transportation coordination
  • Assistance with home repairs
  • New Paths Household Goods Redistribution Center

The ROC currently offers the following services for youth participants:

  • Play therapy
  • Winter clothing
  • Weekend snack-packs
  • Backpacks and school supplies
  • Academic support and mentorship
  • Dream Big summer program

Results

The ROC works with participants to set "outcome goals" related to housing, savings, employment, and other social determinants of health.

The program reports the following results, based on data collected from adult participants between 2019 and 2023:

  • 50% of participants with a goal of improved housing achieved this goal, and 30% sustained this improvement
  • 60% of participants with a goal of improved savings achieved this goal, and 20% sustained this improvement
  • 40% of participants with a goal of increased income achieved this goal, and 40% sustained this improvement
  • 50% of participants with a goal of improved employment status achieved this goal, and 30% sustained this improvement

Outcome metrics for youth participants are tracked through assessments and evaluations completed by program leaders, mentors, and counselors. The program reports the following results for youth participants:

  • 53% of participants achieved increased emotional stability, and 41% maintained this improvement
  • 55% of participants in the Dream Big summer program achieved increased social-emotional competency
  • 70% of participants achieved increased resilience and self-confidence

Challenges

The ROC reports that one of the biggest challenges has been a lack of public awareness that rural poverty is an issue. Another challenge is achieving financial sustainability. The program has grown through the support of individuals and foundations, but these are not long-term solutions.

Replication

Listen to your community. It is essential to understand your community and engage them in the process of developing a program based on their needs. Your program will be more effective if local people feel that they have a stake in the development process and that their stories have been heard.

The ROC has developed a comprehensive manual (available upon request) to help guide others who may be interested in implementing their program structure, but emphasize that each program will vary depending on unique community needs.

Contact Information

Dr. Frank Cerny, Executive Director
The Rural Outreach Center
716.240.2220 Ext. 203
fcerny@theroc.co

Topics
Access
Behavioral health
Community and faith-based initiatives
Mental health
Poverty
Social determinants of health

States served
New York

Date added
June 5, 2023

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2023. The Rural Outreach Center [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/1110 [Accessed 12 April 2024]


Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.