“Buffalo may have cold weather, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the warmest place in America,” said Debra Vizzi, ’81, who has brought the City of Good Neighbors’ attitude to the Bronx in her role as president of VIP Community Services, one of the largest social service agencies of its kind in the state.
“My goal is for our agency to have that warm feeling, to create an experience of family and community, to make it feel like, well, Buffalo. The feeling that someone cares can make all the difference.”
Vizzi knows. Her early childhood was spent feeling the opposite way. Shortly after birth, she was placed in foster care and bounced around to different living arrangements until she aged out of the system at 12. During that time, she often felt that no one cared about her. She often felt despair and loneliness. She often wondered what would become of her life.
But then, things changed.
“When I was 12, I moved to Manhattan to live at the Sisters of the Good Shepherd group home. They sent me to a good high school, Cathedral High,” said Vizzi. “At Cathedral, I had a wonderful, caring teacher from Buffalo who encouraged me to go away to college in a smaller city—some place that was easy to get around and some place where I could thrive. I chose Buffalo State, and that decision changed my life.”