Community Development Corporation
Our Mission Statement reads:
“The Seneca Street Community Development Corporation (SSCDC) partners with our neighbors in the Seneca Babcock community to provide a supportive environment to overcome educational, social and economic barriers. We provide opportunities for the entire community to acquire skills that build resiliency and self-reliance, enhancing the quality of life and potential for current and future generations in our neighborhood.”
Cheryl Bird, Seneca Street Community Development Corp. executive director. (Photo by Mark Mulville)
Lots of people take a few hours to volunteer in communities of need, returning to their day jobs the next day with a promise to try to do more.
Cheryl Bird took that promise a few steps further by founding an organization to meet needs on Buffalo’s East Side. Then she became a full-time volunteer executive director.
Bird founded Seneca Street Community Development Corp. in 2009 while working for Daemen College. Based in a former church at 1218 Seneca St., the organization focuses on breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty in the Seneca Babcock community.
“The goal is to keep those teens on track,” Bird said. “There is still so much to be done. The community still does not have enough resources.”
A native of Sanborn, Bird earned a bachelor’s in political science at SUNY Oswego and a master’s in executive leadership and change. She then spent 15 years working in Atlanta and Washington before returning to Buffalo in 1992 when her Methodist minister husband Brian Rotach was assigned pastoral duties at two Buffalo churches.
He was initially charged with closing down the Seneca Street United Methodist Church. Instead, he and Bird worked with the 15 remaining members to convert the space into a mission-based church.
“They were the feistiest women ever and said you are not closing our church. We will figure out a way to keep it open,” she said.
Bird began volunteering in the neighborhood in 1994 while she working for Daemen’s Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement. In that post, she helped start an after-school program tied to the college’s mandatory service learning component for students.
She soon began to see how Seneca Babcock was falling behind the neighboring communities of South Buffalo and Larkinville in terms of resources and investment. That led to new programs in job training, workforce development, food services and legal clinics.
Bird helped establish state and federal tax-exempt status in 2009 for the Seneca Street CDC. In 2017, she retired from her job at Daemen to dedicate her time to the educational, economic and social issues plaguing the neighborhood.
She grew the after-school program from one day a week for 10 kids to five days, serving 45 to 50 kids daily. Now there’s a teen program, computers and tutors, more staff, a summer reading camp and field trips.
When she started, the program was celebrating eighth grade graduations because most kids weren’t expected to finish high school.
Today, each participant leaves a handprint on the wall in their school colors with their graduation year; and now footprints mark the college graduates to encourage the younger kids to follow in their footsteps.
“In the last four years, we’ve had 100% of teens in our program graduate from high school, filling up our part of the wall and we’re excited about that,” she said. “Now we’re working on more footprints up there. And we’ll get them.”
Day job/community: Seneca Street Community Development Corp.
Self-description: Hopeful. “I always want to see the best in people.”
What keeps you up at night: Worrying. When you run a small not-for-profit, you always worry about money. Your work is never done.
Who is your hero: My husband, Brian. He truly puts himself on the line for the people of that community.