By Bart Eskind
My family and I moved into the city of Buffalo this past August from Kingsport, Tennessee. Since moving here we’ve had a great time getting involved with the local culture, visiting museums, watching the Buffalo Bills and Sabres with our new friends, and eating pizza and wings. The reason we moved to Buffalo is to start a new church and be a part of the resurgence of this great American city.
Another reason we came to Buffalo was for me to transfer to the New York Army National Guard where I serve as a Chaplain to 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion at the armory on Connecticut Street. While talking with a few of the soldiers in my new unit, they started telling me about the neighborhood and how it was being revitalized. What I did not really know before we moved here was how many refugees lived in the city. According to some news reports close to 500 refugees a year resettle to Buffalo from other communities.
After hearing about the refugee population on the West Side, I decided to try to get involved finding a local not-for-profit to volunteer with. When my wife and I began our marriage we spent the first year in China teaching ESL and forming lifetime relationships with many friends there. I speak Spanish and worked in Santa Cruz, Bolivia for a short time. My wife also has a degree in Spanish taught it in a middle school in Louisiana. I wanted to look for an agency that works with refugees directly to help them start their new lives here in the West Side of the city.
The first organization I visited with was Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) Buffalo. WEDI’s mission “is to empower economically-disadvantaged people who live and/or work in Buffalo’s West Side community.” Volunteering at WEDI has been a great fit for my international and business background. Many of the people I have talked to come from many different countries, backgrounds, religions, and economic statuses. One of the benefits to volunteering with WEDI has been some of the relationships that I have been able to establish with people that have extraordinary stories of survival and now of a hope they have in starting a new business.