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The Second Annual Buffalo LISC Community Development Awards brought together groups from every corner of the community development sector to celebrate the individuals and organizations whose tireless efforts have created tangible, sustainable change in our neediest neighborhoods.
On Thursday, October 6, 2016, over 150 guests gathered at The Foundry Hotel & Banquet to recognize four award recipients for their contributions to comprehensive community development in the Buffalo Metro area through their leadership, innovation and collaboration. The award winners were nominated by their colleagues in the field.
Richard Manson, LISC Program Vice President, delivered the keynote address highlighting LISC's role in community development nationwide, and how the organization plans to expand its reach in the Buffalo region going forward.
"I am delighted to report that in response to an internal RFP process, the Buffalo LISC office has secured a $275,000 corporate challenge equity grant from national LISC to build its capacity to meet the growing investment opportunity we see in the years ahead for Buffalo," Manson said. "The intent of the award is to enable Buffalo LISC to add a staff position to increase the development pipeline of projects that can access private and public investment in Buffalo. To that end, LISC is committing $50 million in investments over the next 3 years to meet this growing pipeline."
"The award recognizes, in part, the progress being made here in Buffalo, the support of our historic partners and the opportunity we see to grow our base from new and existing donors. For us at LISC, the question no longer is can it happen in Buffalo but whether or not we collectively have the will to make it happen."
The Neighborhood Development Project of the Year was awarded to People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo)/Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Company for their Massachusetts Avenue Community Homes (MACH) project. A collaboration with Housing Visions Unlimited, Inc. resulted in a $13.4 million scattered site housing development that created 46 units of energy-efficient, affordable rental housing, all located in PUSH’s Green Development Zone. In addition to housing, the project also includes 800 square feet of commercial space, a business center, a community center and laundry facilities.
"LISC has been funding PUSH since the beginning, so that's about 11-12 years that we've been around and LISC was our second funder," said Rahwa Ghirmatzion, PUSH Buffalo deputy director. "What makes them partners for us is that it's not just about being a grantee and receiving some kind of grant. They're really there being 'PUSH pushers' both at the local, state and national level."
The largest project of its kind to be undertaken on Buffalo's West Side, the MACH project is a perfect example of PUSH's comprehensive, community-driven neighborhood development strategy and their continued efforts to promote affordable housing, green jobs, and development that is accessible to all members of the community.
Marlies Wesolowski, executive director of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY, was the recipient of the Buffalo Community Builder award. Marlies was nominated for serving as a tireless advocate for Buffalo’s most vulnerable populations throughout her 16 years of leading the agency. Under her leadership, the center has expanded its capacity to serve from 3,000 clients per year to over 21,000 currently, and expanded its service footprint from five sites to thirteen.
"Often times I'm asked why I do this work, or why we do this work," Marlies said. "A lot of that is because of who we are and how we started in life. I grew up poor. I lived in public housing - deplorable public housing. Rat infested public housing. Would I ever wish anyone to live in that kind of housing? Not on your life."
In addition to providing services such as GED programs, crime victims assistance, food pantries, after-school programs, and senior services, the agency has expanded its affordable housing sites under Marlies' leadership. She was the driving force behind the development of Monroe Place - a supervised independent living complex for youth; Hope House - a shelter for homeless women and children; and Hope Gardens - a permanent housing complex for chronically homeless women. She has also led hte charge in the conversion of a vacant school building into affordable apartments for homeless women and children.
Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) was the recipient of a Building Sustainable Communities award for their role in creating a vibrant, stable and inviting community for immigrants and refugees living in Buffalo’s West Side by providing mentorship and resources to entrepreneurs and educational programming for youth. Their efforts have promoted sustainability, economic growth, access to education, and the creation of a safe and healthy community for Buffalo’s New Americans – a population that continues to grow and will play an integral role in our city’s future.
"I want to thank our entrepreneurs and the children in our after school programs - they’re really the reason you see revitalization in Western New York and we are excited to see them continue to grow," said Ben Bissell, executive director. "Whether they are refugees who are coming into the nation, or the individuals in our community who are economically disadvantaged because they have not had access to capital because of the color of their skin, where they grew up or the circumstances in their life. That’s almost 50 percent of the people that we work with, in addition to the refugee population. Empowering them to own and operate businesses, creating jobs in our community, providing them with access to capital when others would not want to take that risk – and seeing them succeeding and creating businesses that are filling our main streets and providing services in our community. It's also the kids in our schools who are themselves making a choice to come to our after-school program to focus on learning the English language and allowing them to acquire those language skills so that they can go back to school at grade-level reading that is at parity with their peers in school and then succeed on their own."
Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) also received a Building Sustainable Communities Award for their work providing educational and job training opportunities for those in need through Youth Arts and Adult Workforce Programs. Their Youth Arts program gives local students to opportunity to explore a discipline that excites them and keeps them engaged in school, putting them on the path to higher education or vocational training. The Adult Workforce program provides at-risk adults with workforce training for high demand positions, with a network of support from local non-profits, schools and medical institutions that ensures students’ success.
"I think this is the jigsaw puzzle that is Buffalo," said Amber Dixon, executive director. "There’s a piece that everyone plays in this, and ours is a very human piece – the sustainable community needs a human factor. The human factor that we bring is people with pathways. Young people with a pathway to actually get through the system and take advantage of a scholarship that may be available. We want our young people getting through high school and into post-secondary opportunities. Our adults – we look for people who are working hard or are ready to work hard and just don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of their skills, their ethics, and their wish to be part of an economic success. We give them training that they can then take and make their futures happen. Our adults don’t enter minimum wage jobs, they enter jobs that have a trajectory that takes them through career advancement. They walk in at a family sustaining wage. So what we’re doing is trying to do the work that every one of you is doing – we’re giving you the people behind it. People to live in your homes, people to bank at your banks, and people who will go to work for you in the future. And we’re really proud to be part of Buffalo’s future."
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