Most of us take for granted that the air we breathe is safe. That our home is a refuge. Unfortunately, that’s not true in every community. So the small-but-mighty Clean Air Coalition takes aim at environmental injustice.

stories air“We work with people who are afraid that where they live is making them sick,” says Executive Director Rebecca Newberry. “They may feel helpless—like no one cares. Our role is to support them as they learn and develop skills—to give them a seat at the table of power.”

The Clean Air Coalition started in 2008, in response to concerns about air quality from unchecked industrial pollution in Tonawanda. Its organizing led to an enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), resulting in 86% reduction in the level of benzene, a known human carcinogen. This success was quickly followed by others, along with the realization that a strategic plan was needed.


That’s when the Oishei Foundation stepped up with a grant to build capacity, aligning with the Coalition’s goal of intentional growth, with staff who could accomplish critical functions, build relationships, and achieve sustainability.


Understanding the need for fundraising is inherent to the Coalition’s philosophy. “As we support communities on ways to build power and access decisions that impact their neighborhoods, we want to increase diversity in funding,” notes Rebecca. “Building resources is crucial to building community power. People need to learn how to raise money and access capital, so we developed what we call ‘Make the Ask’ training.” The group will be presenting their innovative approach to non-traditional philanthropy at an upcoming national conference.


Look around areas like Tonawanda, South Buffalo, the lower west side, or the Masten District and you’ll see activity by the Clean Air Coalition—in partnership with community members. “Our work is focused on quality of life issues,” says Rebecca, “from the ability to breathe to the health of children and the safety of neighborhoods. We’ve seen big changes in a short time—and it’s exciting to be part of it.”