By Tim Gross, ‘11
Decades after St. Bonaventure University donated land for The ReHabilitation Center, one of its former graduate students is leading the growing organization into the 21st century.
As The ReHabilitation Center’s President and CEO, James Bellanca serves more than 700 people with disabilities throughout the county and beyond, incorporating the values he picked up as a Bonaventure graduate student.
Bellanca, a Gowanda native and 1971 St. Leo University graduate, said he came to Olean in 1972 to work with the county’s drug and suicide prevention program. His boss, Tom Delaney, a Bonaventure School of Education professor, influenced him to earn his master’s degree at the university.
While attending school, Bellanca said he worked part-time at The ReHabilitation Center for $2 an hour. He said the non-profit organization operated out of one location on South Nine Mile Road with few programs, 70 staff members and an annual budget of $500,000 at most.
The ReHabilitation Center, now the fifth-largest employer in the county, manages 43 sites and provides round-the-clock service for people with disabilities in its 50th year, Bellanca said. Over the past 35 years, Bellanca said he held positions on every level of management.
He said his experience with The ReHab Center extends well outside the office.
“It’s more than just a job, taking care of the people we serve,” Bellanca said. “It’s also the values of this organization.”
Bellanca said the organization’s values tie in with those present in the Bonaventure community. “It’s our culture as an organization. It’s the glue that holds us together,” he said.
“Certainly the things that have changed the most in the terms of things we’ve done in the past year are serving people more in their homes,” Bellanca said, recalling The ReHabilitation Center’s founders’ desire to provide an alternative to institutionalizing their mentally disabled children.
Bellanca said working in the community has prompted his organization to work with the community.
“Trying to be part of the community is one of the things we’re all about,” he said.
The ReHabilitation Center’s SubCon Cleaning Services is the largest janitorial company in the area, Bellanca said, providing commercial cleaning services to Dresser-Rand and the County Building, to name a few clients.
Operating out of homes in Olean, Allegany, Hinsdale and Salamanca, the organization has learned to be a good neighbor, he said, adding that the agency has taken responsibility for the quality and upkeep of the homes it serves and helps neighbors, making sure they’re happy.
“If we’re able to carry out our mission,” Bellanca said, “we’re not just advocating to help people with disabilities, but being part of the community.”
Bellanca said The ReHab Center adopted a stretch of Olean between the Chamber of Commerce and the railroad tracks to help refurbish the city as part of the city’s annual beautification efforts. “We not only refurbished it, but the people we serve were participating by handing water out to people,” he said. “We were very active in that respect.”
Bellanca said the agency secured a grant build a driveway to its SubCon Industries building, providing its trucks and buses a route that kept them off of neighborhood streets. The ReHab Center also received a grant for a section of the Allegheny River Valley Trail running perpendicular to this access road, which it works to maintain.
The agency also volunteers at the nursing home and has adopted Lincoln Park where people with disabilities pick up litter.
“Some of the things I’m most proud of in terms of what I’ve done since I became CEO is being part of the community,” Bellanca said.
Last year, Bellanca said the agency was honored with the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce’s Enterprising Business Award. “It’s a tribute to the things we do,” he said.
Outside of The ReHabilitation Center, Bellanca serves as the chairman of the New York State Rehabilitation Association, a statewide organization comprised of over 100 organizations. Bellanca said he’s also working with other local businesses to form a business consortium on wellness.
“Collaborating (with other businesses) is important during tough times for government funding,” he said.
Despite the tough economic times, Bellanca said he has a positive outlook on the agency’s future. He said he is working to be more efficient in cutting costs and moving forward as an organization celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Bellanca said The ReHabilitation Center honored its 50 years of service with a spaghetti dinner much like the ones its founders held to raise money in its early years. Some of the organization’s founding members attended the dinner.
They were able to see that bond they had in terms of carrying over these values and really caring about what the Rehab story is all about,” he said.
Tim Gross, a journalism/ mass communication major at St. Bonaventure University, is the assistant sports editor for The Bona Venture, the University’s campus newspaper.