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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.

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

Ben Bissell | Executive Director  

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.

 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

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 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

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.

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

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

 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

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.\

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

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,

 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

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. 

 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

 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.

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

 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. 

 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. 

Cristen Gregory| Small Business Counselor

Headshot17.jpgCristen Gregory is originally from Toronto, Canada.  She comes to WEDI from a background in the Performing Arts, having travelled the world singing opera.  She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto and earned an MBA from Medaille College. She has been a professor at Niagara University and currently at Canisius College.  She has served as a director on many diverse Boards throughout the region. She joins the Economic Development team as a Small Business Counselor, helping entrepreneurs develop their potential and realize their business goals.

Nate Gray| Administrative Specialist 

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Motivated by the increasing economic injustices imposed on the disadvantaged and the importance he places on childhood development, Nate joined WEDI as the Administrative Specialist in 2018.  Upon completing his B.S. in Business Administration at Indiana Wesleyan University, he taught for two years in the New York City Department of Education followed with careers at Oppenheimer and as a Director for a Healthcare Eligibility Advocacy organization in Detroit, MI.. Additionally, he and his brother founded and transferred control of a non-profit in Long Island, NY, where the importance and value of community was impressed and made an indelible mark. 

 

John Khalaf| Economic Development Data Specialist

 John joined WEDI as a member of Economic Development team after graduating from the Houghton College with a degree in Computer Science in 2018. During his time at the  Houghton College, John spent 4 months interning for at his school where he learned the fundamentals of reporting services and Data Base management and another 4 months at Land O' Lakes where he learned the fundamentals of business development  and Data Science skills and gained the cultural proficiency required to work with a diverse range of populations. John serves the organization on the economic development team with the role of Economic Development Data Specialist, John's goal is to understand the business needs and leverage our systems to meet those needs and allow for more efficiency in our process.  As John says: “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”

John joined WEDI as a member of Economic Development team after graduating from the Houghton College with a degree in Computer Science in 2018. During his time at the  Houghton College, John spent 4 months interning for at his school where he learned the fundamentals of reporting services and Data Base management and another 4 months at Land O' Lakes where he learned the fundamentals of business development  and Data Science skills and gained the cultural proficiency required to work with a diverse range of populations. John serves the organization on the economic development team with the role of Economic Development Data Specialist, John's goal is to understand the business needs and leverage our systems to meet those needs and allow for more efficiency in our process.  As John says: “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”

Grove Potter | Development Director

  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.

 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.

 

Ronald Mathis| Economic Development Specialist

 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.

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

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Esperance (Hope) Rwigamba | Economic Development Specialist

  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.

 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 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.

 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.

Aye Min Thant | Community Development Assistant 

Aye started out in the AmeriCorps ABLE program were she worked with Cradle Beach Project S.O.A.R; improving emotional intelligence, and expanding the overall development of children through meaningful experiences. She has joined WEDI as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and will be working with the Community Development Team as a Community Development Assistant. She assists with coordinating business mentors and the West Side Bazaar expansion. She is also currently attending SUNY Buffalo State College, where she is majoring in Art and Letters. She was also one of Dr. Podolefsky's Fellowship Students at the Community Academic Center, is involved in the Alternative Break Team at Buffalo State, and is an active person for her community. Aye also works at Albright Knox Art Gallery as a studio art teacher. Aye started out in the AmeriCorps ABLE program were she worked with Cradle Beach Project S.O.A.R; improving emotional intelligence, and expanding the overall development of children through meaningful experiences. She has joined WEDI as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and will be working with the Community Development Team as a Community Development Assistant. She assists with coordinating business mentors and the West Side Bazaar expansion. She is also currently attending SUNY Buffalo State College, where she is majoring in Art and Letters. She was also one of Dr. Podolefsky's Fellowship Students at the Community Academic Center, is involved in the Alternative Break Team at Buffalo State, and is an active person for her community. Aye also works at Albright Knox Art Gallery as a studio art teacher. 

 

Courtney Yonce | Launch Program Coordinator 

 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.

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

 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.

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 with new and enriching opportunities through after-school programs.

Alyssa Wojciechowski | ENERGY Program Coordinator

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 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.

 

Nagalaa Zaki | FLY Program Assistant

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Naglaa serves on the education team as the FLY Program Assistant. Before starting at WEDI, she received her bachelor's degree in Arts, majored in English Language, and received her diploma in general education. Her passion for teaching started five years ago during her senior year at university when she was volunteering at a school for a year. She realized that she wanted to continue in the teaching field and her passion for the field continues to grow. She is an active member of her community and participates in various volunteering activities.

 


AmeriCorps volunteers supported significantly by:

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