The compassionate neighbor

Joseph Heary.

Every day, Joseph Heary, EMBA ’14, and his team at Friends of Night People aspire to live up to Buffalo’s reputation as the City of Good Neighbors. 

Headquartered in Allentown, the nonprofit organization works 365 days a year to address the impact of poverty by providing food, clothing, medical care and case management to those in need.

When Heary was named the organization’s executive director in 2007, his combination of for-profit business experience and management education provided a strong foundation to guide an organization that lacked a clear path forward amid a decline in revenue and volunteers.

“The Executive MBA program at UB School of Management put me in a better position to lead and continue to grow the organization,” says Heary. “The transition from my time in the corporate environment involved a great deal of self-directed learning, but I was able to bring skills from the EMBA curriculum into my work immediately.”

Heary began his career in hospitality, first as a department manager for Delaware North where he led seven restaurants, three bars, a production kitchen and retail store at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. He then was named general manager at Le T’s Inc., where he oversaw the multi-unit travel plaza on the New York State Thruway in Angola.

In his shift to nonprofit management, Heary brought his understanding of business management processes, relationships and systems used in corporate operations, reporting and leadership.

“For a company or unit to be successful, the key is the people who create a positive environment,” says Heary. “At Friends of Night People, it’s the combined effort of the organization’s staff, board, volunteers and leadership that make a meaningful impact in the lives of individuals and families who may be struggling.”

Under Heary’s direction, these efforts have revitalized the organization, increasing programs and boosting revenue through annual appeals, major gift programs and grants. The organization also has helped establish another feeding center in East Buffalo, Code Blue in Buffalo, and Project Homeless Connect. And, in 2012, Friends of Night People received the Outstanding Service Provider of the Year award by the Homeless Alliance of Western New York.

“I graduated from UB in 2014, and continue to learn something new every day through conversations with staff, board members, community partners and those we help,” he says. “My advice to current students is that the best learning comes not just from the experts in their courses, but also from the conversations with their peers inside and outside the classroom. Don’t be afraid to speak up and participate — share your experience with others.”

Heary’s days begin and end with service. At Friends of Night People, he interacts with guests, serves a meal, or helps someone access their mail or a storage locker. Heary also cherishes spending time with his wife, Blanka, and three sons, and enjoys nature, music, art, theatre and of course, fine food.

“Food is the common denominator that brings individuals struggling with homelessness, poverty, depression, and addiction to Friends of Night People for help,” he says. “You never know when a friend, peer or family member may need help, because they may feel alone or be afraid to ask. It’s good to know there is a place anyone is always welcome.”

Written by Alexandra Richter