Hunger & Poverty Day 2023


The first day of Leadership Buffalo evokes a similar feeling of that first day of high school – your sense a tad heightened, the daunting task of choosing a seat, and polite small talk in the hopes of building some comradery as you begin this journey into a whole new world. The day begins on the third floor of the Matt Urban Hope Center, a turn of the century auditorium with gargantuan windows flanking the room. The class slowly matriculates into the room as the sun crawls across the floor. 


            Althea Luehrsen, the CEO of Leadership Buffalo, opens the day with a warm welcome. She reiterates the class  of what we are here to do,;to learn, serve, and grow. Ensuring that everyone in the room was selected to join in on this experience for a reason, highlighting their commonality as leaders in their respective fields, communities, and styles. As she closes out her opening remarks, she passes the baton to Charitie Bruning, the newest addition to the Leadership Buffalo team. Brimming with energy and passion she asks everyone to join her in an hands-on experiential workshop. In her role as Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Charitie develops well researched and engaging activities that highlight the intersectional nature of all the topics that are covered in the program. This particular session began with some tactile efforts for the class, having them reflect on and examine the impacts social-political systems on a micro level. After a discussion on resource distribution and unearned privilege, Charitie worked with the class to build a framework to understand the topics the class would dive into. Members of the class discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Cultural Icebergs, and the structures and events that lead to 12% of our city facing food insecurity and 21% experiencing financial hardships. 


            After some level-setting and coffee from, the now closed, Three Stories Coffee Company – the class departed for small group site visits across the city. They divided into ten groups to learn about organizations in our city that offer support and services for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Once the teams arrived to their separate locations and delved into the innerworkings of these incredible organizations, they each completed small service projects. One of the cohorts was assigned to Compass House, a shelter for runaway and homeless youth that has been protecting and uplifting children in our city since 1972. Ariel Davis, a member of this year’s Rising Leader class, spent the time with her small group sorting through hundreds of coats that had been donated. Arranging them by size, style, and cut in the hopes of making it more accessible for those at Compass House. She remarked "Our group's site visit to Compass House resonated with me the most. As a young adult figuring out life, I'm so grateful for the support system I have, but so many youth in our community don't have the same experience. I'm glad that Compass House is here to provide support, resources, and a safe space to the youth who need it most."


After some time learning and serving the class returned to 1081 Broadway to eat Lunch from the wonderful Brother’s Catering and learn about the building and organization that was hosting them for the day. Ben Hilligas, the executive director of Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY, sat down for a Q&A session to highlight who the organization serves and illuminate some of the trials and tribulations the population faces. He spoke about the importance of their “housing first” ideology. Essentially, they believe that having safe and stable housing is the first step in supporting people, without addressing this one cannot expect to properly assist people. This methodology aligned with the discussion earlier that morning surrounding the hierarchal nature of human development. Think about it, without a shelter how can we expect anyone to flourish or begin to build in a positive direction. The services that Matt Urban provides specifically target the needs of the community, from youth programing to home weatherization, they are dedicated to not only caring for but advancing their neighbors. 


            Ben wished the class good luck with the rest of their year with LB, imploring them to make the most of the opportunity. The class took a short break as the panelists arrived for the next portion of the day. The four panelists varied between the Rising Leaders and Class Experience days, but the message and takeaways were identical. There is incredible need in our community, need that has FeedMore WNY delivering over 1.4 million meals in one year. Each of the panelists spoke to the dire nature of the situation. 


            The day was rounded out with a presentation from the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. They presented on the realities of ALICE in our region. “ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) may be a relative or friend. You may be ALICE. As cashiers, waiters, childcare providers, and other members of our essential workforce, ALICE earns just above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what it costs to make ends meet. These struggling households are forced to make impossible choices each day. While such hardship is pervasive, households of color are disproportionately ALICE.” ( This experience is meant to challenge participants to step out of their bubble and into the realities of our community. It is both impactful and informative for all present. 


            After reflections the day ends,  and a social hour begins to further develop relationships, process the day, and share in the mission to connect people and inspire change in our beloved home on the bank of Lake Erie. People return home with a new perspective and a new community to build with and for.