WEDI’s Work on the West Side

July 21, 2016
Zachary Perkins

Being born and raised in Buffalo has me completely vested in the area with no real intention of ever leaving, despite contrasting sentiments coming from a majority of my peers. I love to see Buffalo do well for its own good, as well as having positive national press so others aren’t as quick to talk down on this city.

An opportunity for really great national attention came earlier this year when reporter Katie Couric came to Buffalo as part of her “Cities Rising: Rebuilding America” series. I saw the video when it was released, before even committing to the High Road program, and came away impressed with how well she showcased Canalside, Larkinville, the craft beer scene, and a number of other rebuilding efforts around Buffalo. Ms. Couric emphatically declared, “Buffalo, New York is back on the map!”

One segment of the video came from within the West Side Bazaar, in which Ms. Couric spoke with a man named Ben along with a woman only identified as an Iraqi refugee. Ben described the Bazaar as a place for the refugee community to receive help and support with starting their own businesses, while the woman told her story of coming to America and gaining an income, stability, and friendship by joining the Bazaar. I came away impressed and inspired by their stories of hope. Little did I know, just a couple months later, I would join the High Road and be placed with the Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), the operator of the West Side Bazaar, and have the privilege of working for Ben Bissell, Executive Director, and alongside Nadeen Yousef, vendor within the Bazaar.

Upon joining WEDI, I quickly learned that their work extends far beyond what is shown in the 3 minute video spot. WEDI’s vision is a vibrant, stable, and inviting community, and works toward achieving it through the ENERGY Literacy Program, Business Training, Technical Assistance, and Microloans, in addition to operating the Bazaar. My primary focus within WEDI is to increase the economic independence and sustainability of a WEDI/M&T Bank food cart that is showcased at events throughout the summer. It is a project that I can relate to, having eaten amongst Buffalo’s growing food trucks countless times and myself worked in catering for 4 years. WEDI is making strides on the West Side, having direct impact on the formation of 29 small businesses and 75 jobs in the past year. It is really refreshing to play my part in assisting such a vulnerable community, and especially worthwhile to know that what we do can help people that come from 3rd world countries without a penny to their name to own their own businesses in America. Cool stuff, which makes me really glad I chose to spend my summer at home and join the High Road.