Saturday, November 15, 2014

East and West come together in schools

By Andrea Chevalier and Lucy Lopez
Bengal News Reporters 
           This is a tale of two high schools.
           Both work with teenage students who have similar stories, likes, dislikes and problems. What separates the two is geography and race.
           The Ferry Street Corridor Project uses art and history to help unify these high schools and the communities around them. The project is a set of after-school programs  in Lafayette High School on the West Side and the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts on the East Side that is using art to find common ground between the two communities. One program is run by Friends of the Buffalo Story, and the other by the Anne Frank Project at SUNY Buffalo State. 
           Through the project students from both schools have the opportunity to learn about the history of the city they live in while giving back to the community. 
           “They are doing art-related and theatrical-related story gathering right now,” said Cassie Lipsitz, lead art teacher at Lafayette High School. “They develop ideas and concepts for art, and they are making a logo, and they also participate in community-building theatre activities. The Anne Frank Project is working on that with them. The idea is that the students at Lafayette will work with the students from Performing Arts. There is a gap that we know exists in the City of Buffalo between the East and the West Side. Ferry Street is the corridor that would satisfy that.”
          Friends of the Buffalo Story, which is just one of the partners involved in the project, is a program that was created in order to bring the people of Buffalo closer to the roots and history of the city. Through citizen-based programing, Friends of the Buffalo Story hope to open the eyes of the people in the community to the history of Buffalo.
          “(A group of people) realized that there was a need for some group to kind of represent the heritage of Buffalo,” said Marissa Lehner, project manager of the Ferry Street Corridor Project. “Since they’ve formed themselves, they’ve been around for about a year-and-a-half, now two years, where they’ve held various types of programming.” 
          Lehner, Annette Daniels-Taylor and Barrett Gordon run one of the after-school programs, where they work to get to know the school, the students and their needs. Daniels-Taylor works on the East Side while Gordon, who also runs the WASH Project, works with the school on the West Side.      
          “These kids matter and it is really important for them to realize that,” Lehner said. “ (We hope to) teach students a different curriculum based on public art — trying to help the students understand that art can be out in the community. Dialog can be art.”

       In the other program, teaming up with Drew Kahn and Eve Everette of the Anne Frank Project, the Ferry Street Corridor Project has started work with both schools to focus on community building, something the Anne Frank Project is known for.
            “Buffalo is a town that has celebrated refugees and its immigrants – the Italians, the Polish, the Germans – for years,” Kahn said. “Now we’re celebrating the Bhutanese, the Congolese, the Burmese, the Iraqi; all of these great new communities and great new stories coming in that will make Buffalo’s new singular story.” 
             The support that the Ferry Street Corridor Project receives from the community and local political leaders helps it grow.  Buffalo artists are involved with helping the students create art works and Mayor Byron Brown has also shown his approval for the goals of the project’s mission. An “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts funds the project. 
           The project began on Oct. 28. For the first 15 weeks, the students will focus on gathering stories. In the spring, they will start putting public art pieces together. 
           “At this point, we definitely want to find a way to make this sustainable,” Lehner said. “Ferry Street just has so much history and relevance for Buffalo. It really can tell a very broad story but also with a lot of great details. Ferry Street was technically part of the Underground Railroad and they are a lot of great stories to be told.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

Clubhouse preps for summer construction

By Peter Murphy and Bill Schutt 
Bengal News West Reporters
The 60-year-old Butler-Mitchell Clubhouse has seen better days with outdated classrooms, no air conditioning and ceilings falling down.
The clubhouse at 370 Massachusetts Ave. will undergo a $650,000 reconstruction project. Phase one will start in July with the gymnasium and in October phase two will close the doors on the Boys and Girls Club until January 2015.
“The footprint of the building will not change,” said Tim Brennan, the chief development officer of the Boys and Girls Club. “The building will be gutted to create more space inside for our children.”

Tim Brennan, on project specifics:

          The Butler-Mitchell Clubhouse was built in the early 1950s and is the second oldest Boys and Girls Club in the area. The clubhouse needed renovations, or it was in danger of being closed, said Brennan.
The gymnasium’s paint is chipping and the ceiling is falling down. New York State determined that children under the age of 12 should not be in the gym until it was fixed, said Brennan.
In October, when phase two begins the remaining building will be gutted.
“Plumbing will be addressed first,” said Jody Briggs-Garcia the resource development coordinator of the Boys and Girls Club. “We are limited now to the number of children we can serve based on the amount of urinals and sinks we have, but after the renovation we will be able to increase our average daily attendance.”
Currently, Butler-Mitchell serves 76 children on a daily basis and 300 children a year, but after the renovation the club expects to serve 120 children a day and over 500 children a year.
The construction company to work on the renovation for the clubhouse has not been decided yet, but bidding will begin shortly, Briggs-Garcia said.
New windows and larger access will be added to the entrance
The front of the clubhouse will change during renovation. The entrance will be larger to support more children. The front window will be larger, and a security system with extra lighting will be added to the entrance to provide a safer environment for the children coming and going throughout the hours the club is open.
The Boys and Girls Club has raised $440,000 so far, $150,000 coming from a state grant, which will be used to begin renovations on the gym. Phase two of the project will begin in the fall when the club hopes to raise the remaining $210,000 Briggs-Garcia said.
During phase two, the whole club will be shut down, but the Boys and Girls Club will provide transportation for children of the Butler-Mitchell Clubhouse to some of the other clubhouses in the area.
“We would end up working with our other clubs where we could actually transport our kids that come here to another clubhouse,” Briggs-Garcia said.
There are several clubhouses in the area, the closest being the John F. Beecher Clubhouse on Tenth Street. The John F. Beecher Clubhouse is a possible relocation for the children of Butler-Mitchell, but where the children end up could vary.
“It’s going to depend on what we’re able to coordinate from this end. It’s going to depend on how many kids are registered and where their parents want to send the children. Some parents might say ‘my kid will take a break for a little while.’ For our working parents, and we have a lot of them, they might say ‘transport them somewhere else because we need a program,’” said Briggs-Garcia.
After phase two is completed the children of the clubhouse will have air conditioning for the summer months, and a new reception area when they enter the building, said Briggs-Garcia.The kitchen also will be modernized and become a learning kitchen where the meals and snacks will be served daily, and nutrition classes will be offered to the children.
Classrooms will be outfitted with new technology
The children will also have more modernized classroom facilities. The current classroom at the clubhouse is outdated and after the renovations, new computers and tablets will be added to the club.
“We want to teach the kids how to use tablets and smart boards,” Briggs-Garcia said. “We want the kids to be on the cutting edge, when it comes to going to school or getting a job.” 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Olmsted's pruned trees ready for new storm

By Chris Dierken and Leif Reigstad
Bengal News West Reporters
            In 2006, the October surprise storm  wreaked havoc on Buffalo’s landscape.
            Fierce winds toppled trees, and heavy snowfall burdened branches that had yet to shed their leaves, littering front lawns with the snapped limbs of large oaks and maples that line the city’s iconic canopy-covered streets.
            Now, seven years later, Buffalo’s trees and parks have made a full recovery, and should another surprise storm hit the city, the trees will be better prepared thanks to the  Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy's pruning crew.
             “The October storm really brought to light how the trees really were badly pruned,” said Olmsted superintendent of parks Bob Stokes. “It was a catastrophic storm, but I think it brought to light, when you saw how the parks were just devastated, that we really had to step up the care of the trees.”
            After the storm, the conservancy put more of an emphasis on making trees wind resistant, dedicating a crew to prune the trees. Pruning in this case means clipping the branches in a way that makes the tree built better for facing high winds.
            “It’s like preventative maintenance, if you will,” Stokes said. “We’re going out and trying to take care of the problem before it becomes a bigger problem.”
            Stokes and arborist Mark Brand are both experts in the complex process of pruning.
            “You go through the whole crown, and you remove branches in strategic locations to reduce the wind load on any given branch or a tree as a whole,” Brand - said, wearing tan gardening gloves and holding a pair of clippers. “If there is a weak branch, you can reduce the load that it will take in a storm by pruning some of the ends off, and it’s less likely to fail. If you thin the whole tree, it’s less likely to uproot.”
            Brand said pruning does not make trees wind resistant overnight. Instead, it is a long process.
            “A good pruning, you can’t do it all at one time,” Brand said. “It takes multiple prunings over a period of time to really achieve the desired results in a tree.”

Mark Brand, on pruning techniques:

            In the middle of November, Stokes and Brand’s process was put to the test when strong winds battered the city of Buffalo over the weekend. After the storm settled, there was minimal damage done to trees in city parks.
            Even trees in Front Park and LaSalle Park, were largely unaffected by the high winds coming off of Lake Erie.
            Brand said that this is partly because of the pruning, but it also has to do with the way trees grow when they’re planted in areas that typically experience high winds.
            “Trees, if they’re planted when they’re young in an area that’s windy, they’re going to grow stronger,” Brand said. “They grow thicker stems, and they’ll have more anchorage roots on the windward side.”
            Stokes and Brand said the best time to prune is the fall and spring.
            But “there is always more work to be done,” Stokes said, adding that volunteers are welcome to help prune trees year-round.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Buffalo CarShare revs engine for expansion

Student Ashley Perez checks out the CareShare vehicle at Buffalo State
By Caitlin Kupiec
 and James McDonald
Bengal News West Reporters
Buffalo CarShare has its foot on the gas and is driving to expand its services to the city of Buffalo, including the West Side.
Buffalo CarShare is a non-profit that offers the community a lower priced and environmentally friendly transportation system. Over the summer, the organization received a $300,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation to double its number of vehicles to 30 by December 2015.
It currently has five cars located on the West Side. One is on Niagara Street at the Niagara Café, another at the Quaker Bonnet Eatery at Rhode Island Street and Chenango Street, a third on Grant Street near West Delavan Avenue  behind PUSH Buffalo, and a fourth and fifth car in the M-2 and C lots at SUNY Buffalo State. It also has vehicles stationed in Allentown and the Elmwood village. 
The organization added a 17th vehicle in October, at Joe’s Service Center at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street, allowing wider access in the Grant/Amherst neighborhood for the 650 Buffalo CarShare members.
According to Jennifer White, the public relations and marketing associate for Buffalo CarShare,  most of the organization’s customers walk, bike, or take public transit, and use Buffalo CarShare occasionally for short trips. She says 48 percent of its members live in households with a total income of $25,000 or less and two-thirds of its members live in households with no vehicle access at all.

Jennifer White, on CarShare's impact on the West Side:

White said the organization also partners with non-profits who use its service for free. According to her, PUSH Buffalo uses Buffalo CarShare and said the service has helped the organization  save money, time and stress on transportation needs.
Tamar Rothaus, finance, administration and operations director at PUSH told White that the small non-profit is  always looking for ways to add creative and useful employee benefits to its   staff, many of whom live in the neighborhood and bike or walk to work. And the opportunity to use a car for work-related trips and avoid the expense of owning their own car is a huge benefit. 
Also, by offering shared work and personal accounts, Rothaus told White that PUSH can take on the enrollment fees and offer staff the reduced hourly rate for any personal use of CarShare. 
Other West Side non-profit members include the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and the Massachusetts Avenue Project.
“Our service provides members freedom and access to health care, healthy food, and a chance to visit friends and family that they weren’t able to do before Buffalo CarShare existed,” White said.
  Lisa Krieger,  associate vice president of Buffalo State,  said that college students and faculty alike have their own reasons for investing in an organization like CarShare. The on-campus parking ban for freshman and sophomores that live within 30 miles of campus makes it difficult to use one's own transportation, and faculty members who occasionally leave campus to go to events often find difficulty in finding a parking spot when they come back.
“When you factor those two things together, bringing a car sharing program to Buffalo State made sense and I think it’s doing well,” Krieger said.
According to Krieger, the CarShare program has been very successful on campus and benefits the students in so many ways.
“Say they need to go to the Galleria to buy a birthday present or want to go for a job interview downtown,” Krieger said. “The CarShare is really the perfect solution to those odd times where they don’t have to use it five times a week, but just maybe five times a semester.”
With the popularity of CarShare rising at all its locations, White is excited to keep the organization expanding to help more and more people continue to use its  services for convenient transportation. She said as far as the future of its presence on the West Side goes, Buffalo CarShare’s main goal is to continue to grow its service to individuals and non-profits in the area. More information and updates can be found on and Facebook.
“As we branch out we would like to eventually develop a marketing plan for the neighborhood to include partnering with more businesses, non-profits, block-clubs, and neighborhood associations,” White said.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hero of West Side keeps the gang life away

By Patrick Lawler and Joe Sarro
Bengal News West Reporters
            Walking in with a flat brim cap, sunglasses and a heavy gold chain hanging from his neck, Darrell Barber doesn’t seem like your normal youth director.  
            Gangs, guns, fights and robberies were an everyday occurrence when Barber was growing up. Now being a youth director at The West Side Community Services, Barber doesn’t want today’s kids living the same life. 

            Barber has had a great amount of experience that involves criminal life crowds. It was different sections of the town that had the conflicts growing up. It was a known fact that groups of other projects could not come together with one another. Barber compared gang life to the survival of the fittest.
            “I grew up in the projects,” Barber said.
            West Side children tend to get a smile from ear to ear when they know they get to see Barber every day after school. Even though he is strict on them, Barber plays a significant role between youth director and a fatherly figure.
            Barber is the youth director at West Side Community Services. He has worked there for over 15 years now. Starting out as a youth aid, he’s always been able to have that passion to work with kids. Having two kids of his own, Barber said he has been known as a great inspiration to the young ones he works with.
            “Some of these kids don’t really have enough people in their life to motivate them to do the right things and not the wrong things,” Barber said.
            Buffalo has been known as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation. According to Forbes, Buffalo was ranked as the 10th most dangerous city in the nation.  According to, Buffalo has had over 4,000 burglaries and over 1,000 auto thefts in 2011. Buffalo had over 3,200 thefts per a 100,000 population while the U.S. average was 2,000 thefts per a 100,000 population.
            Barber understands the life some of the kids are threatened by. Barber’s main goal is to show them other alternatives to not lead them in the direction that he experienced. Showing the kids that he cares and being there for them is what he feels he was brought there for. A lot of the children are being raised in single parent homes, broken homes or being raised by their grandparents.
            “These kids who don’t get the attention they deserve tend to go into that gang life to find that family atmosphere they are looking for,” said Barber. “They aren’t looking at the consequences of what they are doing till after the fact.”
            Barber has had an affect on these kids' lives even further past the community center. He’s been to grammar school graduations, high school graduations and even college graduations. He’s realized that some of these kids need that male figure in their life to always be there for them.
            Margaret Sanabria is a case manager at the West Side Community Services. She has known Barber for 16 years. Sanabria said Darrell is the glue that keeps the community center together. She said that Barber is always on top. Their grades need to be good other wise they will get a talk from “Mr.D.”
            “They see him, they see what he is doing and a lot of them do consider him as being their father,” Sanabria said.
            “He gives off that tough exterior, but inside he is really a teddy bear,” said Amelia Hernandez, who is now the youth aid at the center. “He is very caring, not a quitter and definitely competitive and wise.”
            According to Hernandez, Barber makes the center a fun and safe atmosphere. He shows the disciplinary but not to the point where the kids ever feel like they cant come and talk to him.  
            “A lot of them call me ‘dad’ and I accept it,” Barber said.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Anarchy in Action begins in the garden

By Aaron Garland and Brandon Schlager
BengalNews Reporters
Nestled into the corner of the intersection at Normal Avenue and Vermont Street sits a plot of land that formerly existed as an empty lot sparsely filled with grass and not much else.
Avorm Siegel prepares his plot for strawberries
Today it’s flush with budding optimism in the form of sweet strawberries, plump tomatoes and dozens of other fruits and vegetables planted to bloom for a West Side community in need thanks to the efforts of one new organization on the block.
Neighborhood residents gathered at the junction on May 4 with members of Anarchy in Action to christen the Normal Avenue Community Garden, the newest public garden on the West Side.
Drawn to celebrate a rare positive development in their community, it was a fun-filled afternoon of dirt-digging and seed-planting for community members, who learned from gardening experts the tips and tricks to growing and maintaining a successful garden as they planted their own.
For Anarchy in Action, an upstart local anarchist group focused on changing the way Buffalo thinks through education and voluntary action, it was a landmark day.
The opening of the garden marked the official beginning of the community garden initiative. It was also the first “major” outreach program carried out by the growing organization, which was established in November.
Dustin Snyder, a West Side resident and one of the founders of Anarchy in Action, said it was a simple choice to settle on a site for the group’s first project. The site was donated by Carrie Nadar, a resident on the adjacent Plymouth Avenue.
“The people who live on the West Side you’ll find have a really incredible sense of community and projects like this have a way of taking off,” Snyder said. “… That’s exactly what we wanted to do. We saw that this was a part of anarchism that was not present in the Buffalo community and we wanted to fill that niche.”

Dustin Snyder, on Anarchy in Action:

The foundation of the group is built upon the ideals of interdependence and relying on a sense of community for growth. They had been active with smaller events like neighborhood “street cleanups” until now.
But a community garden, Snyder said, best demonstrates the mission statement Anarchy in Action is hoping to get across: to put responsibility and accountability back into the hands of local communities.
“There are two things that man knows naturally,” said John Roszman, a volunteer with Anarchy in Action whose experience in gardening aids in leading the project, “That’s war and gardening.
“One of the things that I believe is it (a community garden) is probably one of the ways that we can have peace on this earth. It also shows somebody that he has a piece of land. A king has land that he can garden. It turns people from pawns into kings.” 
John Roszman, left, demonstrates seeding techniques
As part of their community garden initiative, Anarchy in Action will organize weekly gardening times to assist residents with their personal plots throughout the summer, mixing in monthly workshops for growers to hear from area gardening professionals. 
Each of the garden’s 14 plots will function as a resident’s personal garden, hosting seasonal crops that will become a self-sustaining food source for the community. Residents can grow fresh fruits and vegetables for themselves or donate them to local charities.
Michael Pacheco, who can see the gardens from the balcony of his Normal Avenue residence, was in attendance May 4 to prep his plot.
He said the values the garden adds to the community are endless, especially for his nieces. They will work together this summer to maintain their sunflowers and peas and decorate the garden.
“It will teach them responsibility and also to look out for everyone else, too,” Pacheco said. “Now when they come home from school they can always keep an eye on the lot when they’re playing and riding their bikes up and down." 
         "This is such a benefit to the community that it's a shame that there's not more," he added. "You go to any store, I would say, within 10 blocks of where we're at, you're not going to find fresh produce anywhere. Everything is a corner store, so something like this gets people thinking differently.

New beginnings towards an Open Buffalo

By Malniquia Evans and Janiel Thomas
BengalNews Reporters -->
PUSH Buffalo and three other non-profit organizations in Buffalo have teamed up to create Open Buffalo, a collaborative program working towards a more democratic innovative and united Bufflao.
PUSH Buffalo, Partnership for the Public Good, Coalition for economic Justice, and VOICE Buffalo were selected to receive a grant from the Open Society Foundations.  Open Society Foundations awarded a $100,000 grant to the four organizations to design a plan to increase low-income and minority communities’ influence in Buffalo.
According to Megan Connelly, director of programs and development at Partnership for the Public Good, Buffalo was one of 16 cities that were invited to apply for the foundation’s new Open Places Initiative program. The program aims to bring about systematic change relating to equity, justice, and democratic practice. The four non-profit organizations in Buffalo were chosen to form collaborations and come up with a proposal. 

Megan Connelly, on Open Buffalo:
Buffalo became one of the eight cities to win the planning grant.
 “The program has been in a few other cities, but Buffalo’s version brings together PUSH Buffalo, Partnership for the Public Good, Coalition for Economic Justice and VOICE Buffalo,” Lonnie Barlow, communications coordinator at PUSH Buffalo said. “These organizations will work together to help bring about change in different areas throughout the city of Buffalo.”
PUSH Buffalo is geared towards improving housing in Buffalo, while Coalition for Economic Justice and VOICE Buffalo works to create economic justice in the city. Partnership for the Public Good caters to Buffalo by creating a more cultural and vibrant community.
Each of the participating organizations were sent email invitations to apply for the grant, which allows the organizations to focus their efforts on different areas they would like to work on.
 “What I think that says is that there is some very interesting non-profit activity going on here in Buffalo that is maybe not so well-known here,” Lou Jean Fleron, co-director of Partnership for the Public Good said. “It’s getting attention outside our own area because we didn’t seek out the grant.”
The next step in the planning process will take place from April to September 2013 and will propose a plan for building the region’s capacity and bring about long-term change. Open Buffalo will work with other organizations that cater to the West Side like the Belle Center, Jericho Road Ministries, Boys and Girls Club and the Peace Keepers’ Coalition. The program will also have a community rollout in June to include West Side residents in the planning process.
“Access to communications is really important so we want to make sure that people know about what we’re doing so we can present it in a way they feel is going to affect them,” Connelly said.  “We have an incredibly vibrant refugee and immigrant community on the West Side so we want to make sure that there’s a cultural competency to everything we do.”
Connelly says she is confident that the organizations will win the implementation grant, and that Open Buffalo will continue even if they do not win.
“Open Buffalo started the day that we received the planning grant,” Connelly said  “We want this process to continue regardless of whether we get the implementation grant or not.”