Grant Street will be the longest stretch of our free and inclusive Military-Grant Ride this coming Monday, October 22nd, hosted by the Ukrainian American Civic Center at 205 Military Road, 6pm sharp start. Much of the recent equitable development along that stretch comes from the 436 Grant headquarters of the Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), whose mission is to empower economically disadvantaged people in Buffalo with a primary focus on the West Side community, by reducing barriers to success and opportunity through economic development, community building, and education. We’ll see many of their success stories along the way – learn more below from WEDI Community Development Director Bryana DiFonzo.

What inspired the founding of WEDI?

Westminster Presbyterian Church had served the west side of Buffalo for many years and noticed many challenges. Passionate members of the church decided to start to address these challenges and eventually founded Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Inc. (WEDI) in 2006 to improve the quality of life for the people of Buffalo’s West Side. At that time, WEDI began a volunteer-led business mentoring program, established a small business microloan fund, and incorporated two programs that Westminster Presbyterian Church had operated since 1998: the ENERGY after-school program and the Neighborhood Development Project.

What are the greatest challenges to achieving WEDI’s mission?

Capacity. WEDI serves low-income people, particularly refugees and immigrants, and the need is great. WEDI offers micro-loans and business mentoring; operates the West Side Bazaar, a restaurant/business incubator; and runs three after-school programs for English Language Learners. Many, many people can be helped with these programs, and WEDI works to serve as many as possible.

What are WEDI’s greatest accomplishments to date?

WEDI has given out 105 small business microloans, supported the establishment of 78 business startups, and the expansion of an additional 27 businesses. More than 80% of those businesses are still in operation. WEDI has helped hundreds of children to improve their English fluency and succeed in school, and WEDI has created a popular dining and shopping location on Grant Street called the West Side Bazaar that has helped dozens of refugees get started in business.

How has the organization evolved since its founding?

WEDI was a tiny, all-volunteer operation since 2006 yet hired its first Executive Director in 2014. Today, WEDI has become a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that employs over 20 people working to help people get their start on the American economic ladder. The organization has received international recognition for the West Side Bazaar, which has grown from 6 to 20 businesses with many more graduating into their own space in the community.

What are your favorite fun facts that few know about WEDI?

  • Our biggest program is Economic Development (entrepreneurial training and microloans), not the better-known West Side Bazaar small business incubator.

  • The West Side Bazaar started with only 6 vendors in a tiny storefront next to Guercio’s.

  • WEDI serves more than just refugees, although they have been the highest demographic of people served historically.

  • One of only 30 agencies nationwide, WEDI administers an AARP grant to help people older than 50 to be self-employed.

  • WEDI’s after-school programs now span first grade to high school graduation.

  • One of our volunteers in the ENERGY after-school program has been there for all 20 years of its existence. How about that for commitment?

How can community members get involved?

WEDI is powered by the volunteers who help teach children and coach new entrepreneurs. We also like to make it an enjoyable, meaningful, and impactful experience. Please go to our website and click on the volunteer button to join the fun!

WEDI can also always use donations, so please consider investing in this transformational work. And if you’re curious about our plans for the growth of the Bazaar, you can sign up for updates!

Every time you shop at a business in the Bazaar, or at another WEDI-powered business in Buffalo, you help an inspirational entrepreneur to better their own lives and their community. Please consider shopping local for your products and services: from take-out food, to home repair, to haircuts!