Letter from the Executive Director

Dear Friends of MUC,
I have been thinking a lot recently about transition. Clearly, I have been experiencing a transition the past two months as I have assumed this new role with MUC. The agency, of course, has been in the process of transition for some time. The immediate neighborhood as well, as the City at large has transitioned a great deal over decades and more noticeably in the past several years. And our nation, due to COVID-19 and many other factors is currently in a period of great and historic transition.
Transition is not a bad thing, but it is also not inherently good and can often be associated with pain. Positive change and transition which trends towards growth and success requires thoughtful planning, engagement of stakeholders, commitment and the ability to adapt. It means recognizing and respecting the past while addressing the needs of the present, and anticipating and being prepared to meet the needs of the future.
I believe that this neighborhood, City, Country and especially this organization are poised to transition to a stable, sustainable and vibrant future. As long as we remain committed to values such as open communication and dialogue, a belief that all members of society are entitled to a life of dignity and respect, and understanding that our impact collectively is more than that of ourselves alone, I believe that brighter days are indeed ahead.
Ben Hilligas

Letter from the Executive Director

Greetings, friends of the Matt Urban Center.
It is with great humility that I address you all as the new Executive Director of this historic human services organization. I officially assumed this role on Monday, January 4, 2021 and as I write this, I am mid-way through my fourth week.
First, I must thank the former Acting Executive Director and current Chief Program Officer, Alissa Venturini, for her leadership during a challenging and uncertain time for the agency. I feel incredibly fortunate to have her and the rest of the leadership team by my side as we begin to chart the new course for the continued success of the Matt Urban Center.
Over the course of this month, a few things have become exceedingly clear to me: the services we provide are critical to both individuals and the community at large; the employees who deliver these services are talented and invested in the success of their clients; and that there are tremendous additional needs that are currently unmet. In saying that, I would also like to make clear that despite the high level of need, there are other intangible resources that are in large supply. The strength, resolve, resourcefulness and ingenuity, as well as the deep level of care, commitment and consideration exhibited by members of our community and team on a daily basis are, in my opinion, the true measure of our collective worth and impact.
As I begin my tenure, my immediate goals are to bring stability to the organization in the near term; to learn as much as possible about our diverse array of program offerings – from afterschool to emergency home repairs; and to connect with our partners, funders and stakeholder groups, including community organizations and individual community members. While the pandemic will impact my ability to make those connections in the way I would prefer, I will make every effort to be as visible and accessible as possible as we continue to safely navigate COVID-19. However, when the weather begins to turn and our ability to interact in person increases, you can count on seeing me around the building and neighborhood, talking and listening to what our friends and neighbors have to say.
Lastly, I just can’t emphasize enough how humbled and excited I am to have the opportunity to lead this organization and have a positive impact on our neighborhood, the East Side, City of Buffalo, Erie County and WNY as a whole. I look forward to meeting and working with you all. Stay safe and healthy.

Matt Urban Center Announces New Executive Director

The Matt Urban Center has appointed Benjamin Hilligas as its new Executive Director. He will join the agency in January 2021.

Alissa Venturini, Acting Executive Director, states “I am thrilled to welcome Ben Hilligas to the Matt Urban Center team. He and I have worked together in different capacities over the years. He is a kind and dedicated leader and I am honored to have this opportunity to work alongside him.” Venturini will be returning to her role as Chief Program Officer once Hilligas arrives.

Hilligas joins the Matt Urban Center from the Erie County Department of Social Services, where he served for the past six years as Senior Youth Bureau Director in the Division of Youth Services. Prior to his time with Erie County, Hilligas worked for Say Yes Buffalo and Compass House youth shelter in a variety of capacities.

Hilligas received his Master’s degree from The University at Buffalo and is licensed to practice social work by the State of New York. He has received ongoing education and certifications from the NYS Institute for Youth Justice, Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and has recently been working closely with the Haywood Burns Institute and the Flourish Agenda, both national leaders in racial equity work, on several local and statewide initiatives.

“The Matt Urban Center is a critical human services provider in our community in addition to, like the surrounding neighborhood itself, a historic institution and cultural touchstone,” Hilligas said. “I had the pleasure in my career of working with many talented employees of the agency and have always come away from those interactions impressed and inspired. My goals as a leader, a social worker and a civically minded citizen of the City of Buffalo, is to ensure that every member of our community has the resources and support they need to achieve success and provide for the health and well-being of their family. I believe that the Matt Urban Center has been providing precisely this type of service for over 40 years and it is my distinct honor and privilege to have been selected by the Board to continue that legacy while evolving the organization to meet the needs of the future. I want to thank the board for the enormous time and energy they have committed to leading the agency during an uncertain time as well as the rigor with which they approached the search process. I look forward to working with the Board, agency leadership, staff at every level, community members and all of our partners to ensure mutual success and the continued revitalization of our City and region.”

“We are excited about Ben’s appointment and are looking forward to working with him on the Center’s vision for the future,” said Marcia Pacciotti, Board Chair. “We will be taking a close look at the agency and all the services we provide, and evaluating what is working, what we can improve upon and how well we are meeting the needs of our community. Our focus is always on our mission to revitalize neighborhoods, serve families and change lives.”

The Matt Urban Center has been proudly serving East Buffalo, the Town of Cheektowaga and West Seneca for the past 44 years. It fulfills its mission by bringing together public and private resources in an effort to assist community residents in becoming self-sustaining.