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Making a Difference: PUSH Buffalo founder boosts city's West Side

Courtesy Making a Difference/WNED-TV

Throughout February, WNED/WBFO is recognizing everyday citizens of Western New York who are doing amazing things in their communities. Our “Making a Difference” project emphasizes the importance of volunteerism and encourage others to lend a helping hand. Here is the story of a community champion who is “making a difference.”

Crews from PUSH Buffalo work to rebuild homes. PUSH stands for People United for Sustainable Housing. 

One of the group’s founders, Aaron Bartley, attributes his interest in the community to his upbringing.

“Well, I give credit where credit’s due, and in my case, in terms of developing a commitment to community, it really was my parents that taught me about the values of community, about valuing people and trying to understand the source of problems in communities,” said Bartley.

Credit Courtesy Making a Difference/WNED-TV
Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo

Since Push Buffalo began work in 2005, Bartley says he has been committed to helping residents rebuild a depressed area on Buffalo’s west side.

“We had a sense that there was some real potential here to build both community power and to tangibly physically change the neighborhood in a way that would give people a sense of hope and also create some jobs, and I feel that’s what we’re doing,” he says.         

Members of PUSH Buffalo acquire abandoned houses, renovate and, in some cases, completely rebuild them in an effort to strengthen the neighborhood.

Credit Courtesy Making a Difference/WNED-TV
PUSH Buffalo crews

“Our real goal is to make sure it remains affordable, make sure that people who’ve been here for years and years are part of the growth of the neighborhood, and get to experience the stabilization,” adds Bartley.

Buffalo’s Director of Citizen Services, Oswaldo Mestre, says Bartley’s efforts are working.    

“What I see now is that people who are taking a lot more pride, and they are taking a lot more stake in their community,” says Mestre.     

Credit Courtesy Making a Difference/WNED-TV
PUSH Buffalo

Mesrte notes these new homes are bringing the west side back together.  He says city officials are taking notice and stepping up to help.  

“If you know Aaron the way I know, he’s always about pushing community solutions, he’s always about the people, about what do they think? How do you listen to them? And it really forces us, people who are in government, and make sure that we are doing the same, we’re complementing that as well,” he adds.

Credit Courtesy Making a Difference/WNED-TV
Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo

While PUSH Buffalo works to create strong neighborhoods with quality affordable housing, they’re also looking to develop leaders to help with future neighborhood planning and development

“There are a lot of opportunities, not just on the west side of Buffalo, on the east side of Buffalo, south side, north side, to engage with your community.  Buffalo has one of the strongest block club cultures in the country in terms of people self-organizing at the block club level,” says Bartley.  

Credit Courtesy of the WNY Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association
A PUSH Buffalo crew member works on the roof of a west side home.

“Everyone’s a potential leader, and, and it’s not about Aaron Bartley at all…  We’re looking for leaders who are already in our communities.  They might not necessarily think of themselves as leaders, but they’re leaders.  They have respect on their block.  They have respect in their workplaces.  They know what their communities need.”         

“I would encourage people first to look in their own communities, could be your church or it could be your synagogue or it could be your mosque, where people are coming together, how could you help strengthen those, those community ties.” 

Listen to WBFO throughout February for more stories of people who are Making a Difference in Western New York. Screen the Making a Difference TV documentary video and audio stories at wned.org. You can also nominate someone for next year’s production of “Making a Difference.” 

Visit wned.org/makingadifference to submit your nomination. The deadline is February 28.

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