Headers_about-10.png

Meet Our Staff

WEDI is composed of ambitious, dedicated, and passionate individuals who firmly believe in the mission of the organization, in the potential of the people who utilize our services, and that WEDI's work can truly impact the community in a positive way. Learn more about the WEDI team and what they bring to the organization. And if you want to join us, check out our employment opportunities.

Ben Bissell | Executive Director  

ben2.jpg

 Prior to joining our organization, Ben lived in Russia and was also fortunate enough to visit over 20 countries. Ben decided to work for WEDI because he believes that the foundation to community development lies in wise economic and educational development, where organizations empower economically disadvantaged communities by providing access to the precise resources necessary for improvement. Ben is quick to affirm that WEDI embodies his core values by providing individuals with a chance to own their own business and the capital to do so, while educating the next generation and providing cultural experiences through projects like the West Side Bazaar. He believes that WEDI is innovative and willing to take risks to achieve what some might consider impossible.

In addition to studying City and Regional Planning with a focus on International and Economic Development at the graduate level at Cornell University, Ben received a B. A. in Urban and Regional Analysis and Planning from Buffalo State College. He also worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Mayor’s Business/Residential Resource Center, Buffalo State College, and Wegmans.

Ben believes society will improve when people come together to make it happen and furthermore looks forward to a day when our community will be self-sufficient. He hopes that one day, other financial institutions in our neighborhood will be able to provide capital to people who, thanks to WEDI’s efforts, will no longer be considered “risky” clients. Ben also looks forward to a day when local schools will tailor their curriculum to every student, and particularly provide adequate educational opportunity to English Language Learners. Last but not least, he hopes to see a society where cultural variances are embraced and celebrated by everyone in society.

Joshua Brenner | Economic Development Specialist

Headshot25.jpg

Joshua joined WEDI as a member of Economic Development Corps after graduating from the University at Buffalo with a degree in Economics in 2017. During his time at the University at Buffalo, Joshua spent 4 months interning in London at a search-engine marketing company where he learned the fundamentals of business development and gained the cultural proficiency required to work with a diverse range of populations.

Joshua serves the organization on the economic development team with the role of providing financial literacy training to clients while guiding them through the microloan application process. In addition, he assists WEDI's Economic Development team with the assessment of potential borrowers and supports WEDI's loan underwriting processes. Joshua is excited to help provide opportunities to empower the people of Buffalo and help small businesses thrive in the local economy.

Kat Cejka | Development Assistant

Headshot17.jpg

Kat has joined WEDI as an Americorps Vista, and will be working with the Development Team as a Development Assistant to advance WEDI’s capacity building. She received her Bachelor’s degree in the pre-health program from Canisius College. With a strong liberal arts background, she majored in psychology and minored in neuropsychology. She is driven by her academic background and her creative passions to give rise to connections within our community, facilitate healing, and promote wellbeing. Her role will focus on improving volunteer management and recognition, managing fundraising activities, and assisting in design and promotional strategies.

Dave Chambers | Economic Development Specialist

Headshot17.jpg

 An international business lawyer for 35 years, David took on the role of Economic Development Specialist with WEDI in 2016.  In addition to serving as senior Counsel to several global corporations, David has been intensely involved with Western New York economic development initiatives, serving on the Board of Directors of Erie County Economic Development Agency; and as the chief of Economic Development Policy for the Erie County (New York) Executive, among other positions.  A graduate of the University at Buffalo and The Cornell Law School, David brings with him a continuing passion for the resurgence of Western New York and its diverse and wonderful communities. 

Cody Clement-Sanders | Grant Specialist

coming.jpg

Cody Clement-Sanders started at WEDI as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and now holds the position of Grant Specialist. He supports the organization’s growth through project-based initiatives that improve WEDI’s sustainability and impact and brings highly relevant experience. Cody graduated from SUNY at Buffalo, earning a Masters in Urban Planning with dual specializations in Neighborhood Planning & Community Development and Economic Development & International Planning. He previously interned and worked for small for-profit and nonprofit firms where he helped complete grants and develop client base expansion strategies using ArcGIS to visualize spatial data."

Raisa Dibble | Economic Development Specialist

Raisa Dibble graduated with a B.S. in Accounting from Houghton College in May 2017.  During her time at Houghton, she interned with accounting and finance departments at several non-profits and volunteered with the VITA program preparing taxes for low-to-moderate income people.  Raisa was drawn to WEDI because she believes that starting small businesses can be one of the most empowering experiences for a person and also one of the most sustainable forms of community development.

 Raisa Dibble graduated with a B.S. in Accounting from Houghton College in May 2017.  During her time at Houghton, she interned with accounting and finance departments at several non-profits and volunteered with the VITA program preparing taxes for low-to-moderate income people.  Raisa was drawn to WEDI because she believes that starting small businesses can be one of the most empowering experiences for a person and also one of the most sustainable forms of community development.

Bryana DiFonzo | Community Development Director

Headshot15.jpg

 Bryana joined the WEDI team in 2017 after seven years of community development work with key organizations such as the Buffalo Region Immigrant and Refugee Roundtable, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Greater Buffalo chapter, Allies for a Greater United Buffalo, and Journey’s End Refugee Services. In addition to a Bachelor’s in History and English, Bryana has earned her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University at Buffalo, a Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA), and has certifications in Nonprofit Board Leadership and Six Sigma. Bryana is a passionate volunteer who gives her time to several community organizations, including serving as a board member for Grassroots Gardens for over four years. At WEDI, Bryana leads Community Development efforts: supervising the West Side Bazaar Manager and efforts to explore expansion, supporting the Economic Development staff, and building organizational capacity through her nonprofit management experience and the work of the VISTA members she supervises.

Bob Doyle | West Side Bazaar Operations Manager

coming.jpg

 Bob is a lifelong Buffalonian excited to take on a new role as Operations Manager at the West Side Bazaar. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from SUNY Buffalo, and has spent over a decade working in restaurants and nonprofits in Buffalo. Bob loves traveling, cooking, gardening, eating, and learning new languages. In addition to his native English he speaks fluent Italian, as well as conversational Spanish and French. 

 

 

Jazmine Frazier | Economic Development Specialist

Headshot23.jpg

Jazmine moved to Buffalo from Alabama’s Gulf Coast in 2011 and took a winding path through different industries before she began her service with Americorps at WEDI in February 2018. Having spent her formative years in historically impoverished areas in the South, her passion for helping under-served communities establish stability for themselves brought her into the nonprofit world. In working with WEDI, she brings her degree in Communication and Media Arts and many life experiences that lends to the people-first approach that is close to her heart.

Julia Gartman | Operations and Accounting Specialist

Headshot14.jpg

 Julia Gartman graduated from Houghton College in 2016, culminating her studies with a senior capstone that evaluated financial inclusion in Trinidad and Tobago. During her time at Houghton, she spent three months in Tanzania studying human ecology, Swahili, biology, and culture. Her intercultural experiences have led her to care deeply about refugee issues. She has actively engaged this population since 2013 through ESL, citizenship teaching, and currently assistant coaching the FLY soccer team. 

Grove Potter | Development Director

grovepotter.jpg

 Grove joined WEDI in 2018, drawn by the organization’s work to help folks get a foot on the economic ladder and start climbing. He believes that WEDI’s work helping new and existing residents get started in business and helping educate their children is a powerful two-tiered economic tool that will enhance the city’s economy and strengthen communities. Grove was the Executive Business Editor at The Buffalo News for 17 years, and worked at the University at Buffalo as a news content manager writing about research and new businesses the university is fostering. He also edits the UB School of Dentistry alumni magazine. He is a graduate of the University of Vermont and holds an MBA from UB.

Manon Jokaleu | Microenterprise Collaborative Manager

coming.jpg

 Manon graduated University at Buffalo, SUNY in 2011 with a master's degree in Urban Planning, Economic and International Development. He decided to work with AmeriCorps/VISTA at WEDI & the Foundry as Collaborative Development Manager, in supporting low-income community in economic growth and empowers individuals. He worked with Winrock International Bridge Program/USAID as a Governance Project Officer with Local government in the capacity building project in 2012, South Sudan.  Worked with Journey's End Refugee Services Inc., as Case Manager, 2007. Founder and CEO of the New Site Global Network Online platform in 2015. The former state minister of local Government, 2015 in Lol State, South Sudan.

James Lewis | West Side Bazaar Assistant

Headshot17.jpg

 James is in charge of cleaning and day-to-day maintenance at the West Side Bazaar. Apart from offering his much-needed services at the Bazaar, he owns a cleaning business that specializes in floor care. James is an active member of Miracle Missions Full Gospel Church, where his father is the senior pastor.

Ronald Mathis| Economic Development Specialist

Headshot22.jpg

 

As a Rochester Native, Ron has grown up with a passion for the inner city communities of Upstate New York. Starting his Senior Year of High School, he began volunteering time to mentor youth from the roughest parts of Rochester. After high school he attended Monroe Community College, for Business Administration and continued his involvement in his local community. In 2014 he moved to Buffalo and completed a Bachelor's Degree in Economics at University at Buffalo where he graduated Cum Laude in 2017. He joined WEDI with a desire to do something community oriented, bringing his knowledge and passion to action. Ron is experienced in the non-profit sector in a volunteer and non-volunteer capacity. The mission of WEDI aligned with his personal desire for the City of Buffalo, to see lasting positive change.

TBD | Finance Director

Headshot17.jpg

Esperance (Hope) Rwigamba | Economic Development Specialist

Headshot17.jpg

 Esperance is originally from Rwanda and came to the United States in 2005. Back in her country, she worked as a small loans consultant at a local bank and as a supervisor of Save the Children, an organization whose sole focus was to support orphans and single parents. She has a B.A. in Business Administration from Medaille College and completed her Master’s degree in Public Administration at Buffalo State College in 2015. Esperance currently serves as WEDI’s Economic Development Specialist and enjoys seeing local businesses that are supported by WEDI become even more successful.

Yanush Sanmugaraja | Economic Development Director

 Yanush_(2).jpg

 Yanush graduated from State University of New York Geneseo with a dual degree in Economics and Sociology in 2016. Before being hired as program director, he served as a WEDI Economic Development Specialist through AmeriCorps, utilizing his experiences in technology, development, and design. When Yanush was 12, he built an online, self-sustaining community for teenagers, which operates on its own to this day. Yanush is dedicated to the mission of the organization and is excited to assist blossoming businesses.

Courtney Yonce | Launch Program Coordinator 

Headshot26.jpg

Courtney's passion for teaching English to speakers of other languages began in during her year abroad through Rotary International in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Before graduating from SUNY Geneseo, she took a year off to serve as an Americorps ABLE member at Buffalo Public School 80. The following year, she served a second term, but transferred to WEDI's middle school program, FLY. During this time, she finished her undergrad, receiving her BA in English and Anthropology. Now that her second term of service with Americorps is over, she is stepping up into the new role of Launch Program Coordinator for the pilot high school program at Lafayette International High School.

Carolynn Welch | Education Director

coming.jpg

Carolynn received a B.S.in Psychology from D'Youville College. She began her career in the non- profit world immediately out of college. She has worked in a variety of areas including program management, corporate compliance and development. She has been actively involved in Education programs for over 10 years. During this time she served as a member of the Erie County Youth Board and as a consultant for Computers For Children. She has a passion for enriching the lives of children and providing them new and enriching opportunities through after school programs.

Alyssa Wojciechowski | ENERGY Program Coordinator

Headshot17.jpg

 Alyssa graduated from the University of Rochester with a B.A. in Linguistics.  After instructing adult refugee English Language Learners through Erie 1 BOCES on the West Side for two years, she decided to ride her bike across the country. She continued to teach Pre-Employment Training classes to adult refugee populations in the Pacific Northwest at Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, but soon realized that there is no place like home and returned to Buffalo to pursue a humanitarian career, completing a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Habitat for Humanity Buffalo.  She began volunteering at the ENERGY Literacy for Children program in 2016, and after working for a year as Program Assistant, now happily helps the ENERGY students improve their reading and writing skills as the Program Coordinator.

 


AmeriCorps volunteers supported significantly by:

10_TSC_2011-L.jpg