Our first idea for this week’s spotlight in advance of this coming Monday’s University United Ride (June 4th, starting and ending at Varsity Theatre, 3165 Bailey Ave, 6:30pm sharp) was to share the wide-ranging work of the University Heights Collaborative (UHC), whose mission is “to maintain and enhance the quality of life within the University Heights by working with residents, property owners, block clubs, UB staff and students, law enforcement, business owners and elected officials in order to coordinate and develop resources and responsibilities within the community.”

True to mission, UHC leader Mickey Vertino turned our attention to a remarkable resident along this coming Monday’s route in Hutch-Tech High School junior Kennedy House, for whom he’s been serving as a mentor after she won a $2,500 grant through Open Buffalo‘s Young Community Builders – see below for Kennedy’s winning essay that earned the establishment of her own block club and a version of the University Heights Tool Library at her corner of Kay Street and Phyllis Avenue.

Kennedy House (left) – photo from Open Buffalo

“It’s refreshing seeing young people wanting to be the change to make a difference in their community,” said Vertino.

The task from Open Buffalo was to describe a change they wanted to see in their community, according to organizer India Walton, who noted that Kennedy also earned ongoing mentorship and support along with a laptop courtesy of Northwest Bank and Buffalo’s own BAK USA.

“She had a really detailed and thoughtful essay that seemed like it would have a great impact on her community, said Walton. “That’s what we look for at Open Buffalo, to empower people closest to the problem to be the ones to implement the solutions.

“We’re looking forward to help her realize her dream of beautifying her neighborhood and providing employment opportunities for youth in the community.”

POSITIVE YOUNG THEORIST – Job Training/Opportunity and Litter

By Kennedy House

The current atmosphere in society is really tense; all over social media there is conversation about Black Lives Matter, gentrification, and respecting the Pledge of Allegiance. My mother has always taught me that people in glass houses should never throw stones and that I should be an example of any change I want to see, which at age 16, isn’t that easy.

As far back as I can remember, everywhere we went my mom would say, “What do you notice?” As we would also ride through various neighborhoods in our city, she’d ask how this street is different from the street we lived on. My responses would be something like, “Bigger houses, no litter, flowers and cut grass, wider streets, nicely decorated homes with pretty colors or brick.” This leads me to my project.

She would then say, “Getting your education, taking care of yourself and your community is very important so that you feel a sense of pride and respect when you walk out your door every day – respect starts at home first, then your street, then your neighborhood. Respect means honor or value for something or someone.”

I don’t believe most people understand how what you see every day on your street and in your neighborhood plays a major role in honor and value. I can’t think of anyone who honors or values dirt and messy-looking things.

Litter, tall grass, and houses needing a paint job are huge problems on the East Side of Buffalo along with teenage unemployment in the 14215. After summer youth jobs end, teens ages 16-21 are competing for jobs just to be able to get a winter coat, boots or sneakers to feel good about going to school. When summer jobs end, most teens have no skill set or experience they can take elsewhere. Learning to cut and plant grass and flowers, edge grass as well as blow snow are skills that teens can be trained to do while they have a summer job. These skills can be taken back to their own community and allow then to make a difference. Not littering is free – people just need to be educated.

There may be possible funding for winter youth jobs within the mayor’s office, or some teens may need to accomplish volunteer service for high school, college, or to build their resume.

Training and education can take place in several ways. First of all, there should be a collaboration with Buffalo Public Schools and the charter schools in which the idea of litter is explored and there could be a contest to create a poster than can be turned unto a sign that can be posted in various streets along with litter fees – signs that say, “Eastsiders Don’t Litter” or “Eastsiders Keep our Community Clean!” There can be conversation about how litter makes people feel, why people litter, why we should not litter. This will allow young children to be involved and to spread the word at home to their parents, and it will allow the artistic students a chance to show their talent.

Next, there are two high schools that have a Horticulture program at the school in which students could be trained during the school year on lawn care, and then hopefully work for the Mayor’s Summer Youth but be placed at the school, and under the teacher’s guidance go out in the communities to do landscaping and cut grass. In addition, stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s offer classes fort teens to learn new skills, and landscaping or operating tools could be one of the trainings.

The $2,500 would be used to buy equipment such as lawnmowers, edgers and snowblowers, along with a shed to store them in. Hopefully an empty lot on a street could be donated to store these items, and maybe the hardware stores would donate items as well. We would also need gas for the machines.

Initially, there could be a contest on Facebook in which people sent in what they felt was the street in most need and we start there – but I would like to also start in my area first.

To sustain this project after the money is gone, there are a few options: the Mayor’s Winter Jobs, teens volunteer, and we can always take donations. I’m sure that people even with low income would be willing to pay at least enough for gas to cut grass or blow snow. There could also be an annual fundraiser such as a dinner or big event to continue to buy and maintain tools. There could be a contest, and the teens with the most volunteering or best landscaping jobs could receive awards at the breakfast, dinner or luncheon. There could be “Most Improved Street,” etc. The signs would also still be in place and the litter program could be practiced in summer school and during the regular year.

In the end, an entire community would be impacted: students spread the word about litter and the importance of keeping your own street clean, teens get a skill set and educated on how they can use these skills to keep their own street clean and build a sense of pride. People who do not have the means to take care of their lawn or blow snow can be serviced as well.

I would contact the Mayor’s Youth Office for support. I would also contact local and national hardware stores to see if they can donate tools, a shed, locks, and training classes. There is also an office that would be contacted to create signs that discourage litter and post the fines for littering.

Please look for Kennedy at the ride come Monday, and listen when she takes the bullhorns as we stop in her neighborhood!