Friday, September 26, 2014  |  0 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

Meet the Vacant to Vibrant team

V2V is a collaborative effort between various individuals and organizations in Buffalo, Gary and Cleveland.   At the hub is Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Department of Research, which also includes two volunteers who dedicate their time and service.  In addition, each city’s community teams are essential in carrying out project goals to fruition.  By providing on-the-ground information, facilitating local initiatives, connecting with residents, and much more, these community teams make V2V’s region-wide research objectives a reality.  Let’s meet them now:



Buffalo:  People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH)

Jenifer Kaminksy


PUSH Buffalo is a member-based community organization that mobilizes residents to create a strong neighborhood on Buffalo’s west side.  In less than a decade, PUSH has made great strides in a short amount of time.  Their mission is to make quality, affordable housing a reality, expand local hiring opportunities and advance economic justice in Buffalo.  PUSH’s newest venture, PUSH Blue, is a major initiative dedicated to promote green infrastructure, stormwater management, and green jobs in PUSH’s Green Development Zone.  It is where the goals and vision of V2V really line up with those of PUSH.

Jenifer Kaminsky is the V2V team leader in Buffalo.  She is an urban planner whose work focuses on community development and creation of affordable housing. Jenifer currently resides in Buffalo, where she serves as Housing Director for the Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Corporation (BNSC), the housing development arm of PUSH.  In this capacity, she leads BNSC’s efforts to create high quality, green affordable housing on Buffalo’s West Side and reclaim vacant lots as opportunities for stormwater management and community green space.  Jen believes “Vacant to Vibrant will allow PUSH and BNSC to create a variety of stormwater management interventions that will both address critical environmental issues and help to beautify and activate formerly derelict sites.” PUSH and BNSC hope to grow a social enterprise landscaping business focusing on green infrastructure using the knowledge and resources gained through participation in Vacant to Vibrant to expand this work from the West Side to the rest of the City of Buffalo.

The V2V team in Buffalo also includes PUSH’s Joshua Smith and Bob, a West Side resident.  Josh is responsible for maintaining all of the vacant properties that PUSH owns in the Green Development Zone. He uses the skills he developed in his former job as an organic farmer to create and care for gardens on our vacant lots. He is ecstatic to be making gardens for a social justice organization that is truly working to better the West Side. 

Bob has been a West Side resident for the past 30 years. He began volunteering with PUSH back in 2008 as a representative for his church, Pilgrim St. Luke’s UCC, at the corner of Utica Street and Richmond Avenue. In a few short months, Bob found himself working with the leadership team of the National Fuel Accountability Coalition. Bob is now a part of the PUSH staff working with Josh Smith, keeping community gardens green and the houses in line for upcoming renovation. Working for PUSH is one of the most satisfying jobs Bob has ever had.

By working with groups from across the Great Lakes, PUSH hopes to learn from and share knowledge with other communities facing the same challenges.



Gary:  Department of Green Urbanism / Gary Stormwater Management District

Brenda Scott-Henry


Brenda Scott-Henry, V2V team leader in Gary, wears many hats working for the City of Gary, all of them different shades of green.  Working with a variety of projects in the Department of Green Urbanism and Gary Stormwater Management District lets Brenda exercise her passion for developing sustainable programs and services in rural and urban communities by engaging community stakeholders in the process.  The Department of Green Urbanism aims to protect and improve the health of the environment making it a valuable asset for Gary and its residents.  Gary Stormwater Management District (GSWMD) works to reduce the amount of pollution in stormwater runoff and enacts comprehensive storm water quality management for preventing local waterways from becoming polluted.  The two organizations make for a great confluence where Vacant to Vibrant resides, in the hands and leadership of Brenda.  With 10 years’ experience in MS4 program development and implementation, Brenda is adding V2V as another important piece to Gary’s stormwater solution.  Other green infrastructure-related projects underway in Gary include:

                - Strong Cities, Strong Communities  (City of Gary – HUD – Federal)

                - Northside Redevelopment Project  (City of Gary – HUD–EPA–DOT)

                - Great Lakes Shoreline Cities  (City of Gary – EPA)

                - Hardest Hit Fund  (City of Gary – State of Indiana – U.S. Treasury)

                - Sheraton Demolition  (City of Gary – HUD – EPA)

                - Great Lakes Restoration Initiative  (GSWMD – EPA)

                - EPA Green Infrastructure Technical Assistance  (GSWMD – EPA)

Brenda is complemented by both Joseph van Dyk, Director of Redevelopment for the City of Gary, and Martin Brown, IT/GIS Manager at the Gary Sanitary District.  Joe’s work with the Northside Redevelopment Project and the Hardest Hit Fund has paved the way for demolitions in the Aetna neighborhood to be immediately replaced with V2V green infrastructure instead of typical re-seeding on these vacant lots.  Martin Brown has helped the Vacant to Vibrant project with up-to-date spatial data and on-the-ground assistance in the field. 

Brenda likes Vacant to Vibrant because the project “ties back to the mission of Green Urbanism, trying to use more sustainable practices in redevelopment—thoughtful stormwater management and green infrastructure is a great way to accomplish this.  Multiple elements in [V2V] spark revitalization.”  As a City employee, and civil servant, Brenda ties community into all the work that she does.  “Vacant to Vibrant is targeting a community with disinvestment, and once we started engaging with residents, they were really excited about it.  We are building trust with citizens who have been let down in the past—and one way we are doing that is by beautifying neighborhoods while at the same time providing environmental benefits.”



Cleveland:  Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation (BSSDC)

Lynell Washington & Stephen Holowicki


BSSDC is the oldest community development corporation in the City of Cleveland serving the neighborhoods of Buckeye, Woodland Hills, Larchmere and Shaker Square.  As the primary agent for change in the Buckeye Shaker area, the mission of BSSDC is to plan, organize and coordinate resources and activities that will empower the community at large to enhance the quality of life through positive revitalization, stabilization and growth.  BSSDC is committed to turn neighborhood progress into an opportunity to create a great place to a live, work and play.  Their goal is to analyze the unique complexities of the commercial and residential areas and extrapolate from them, based on the input and needs of the community to produce a cohesive community and neighborhood sustainability strategy, plan and policy document that guides future development.  Both Lynell Washington and Stephen Holowicki of BSSDC have been important V2V community team members in Cleveland.

Lynell Washington, BSSDC Deputy Director, is a native of Los Angeles with over 20 years of experience as a land use, transportation and urban design planner managing projects in the State of California.  Lynell was the co-founder and first president of the South Los Angeles Community Task Force and served as the National Association of Minority Contractors president.  He made his way to Cleveland in February of 2013 to develop and direct architectural, construction and residential property management within the service areas of BSSDC.  He provides executive leadership to Buckeye staff in coordinating community capacity building activities. Lynell has connected Vacant to Vibrant to the community he serves by working with a variety of community partners.  He has immense concern for the progress of the neighborhood and their residents, with a strong emphasis on the development of local youth and opportunities in education.

Stephen Holowicki, Community Redevelopment Planner, relocated to Cleveland in June of 2013 from Royal Oak, MI.  He received his Master of Science in Urban and Regional planning from Eastern Michigan University in 2010 specializing in preservation and neighborhood revitalization.  Steve’s primary role as a Community Redevelopment Planner with BSSDC includes reviews of all area land bank applications, seeking grant funding through various sources, coordinating building and land use activities closely with Community Development and the Department of Building & Housing, serving as the representative for the area Design Review Committee and assisting with real estate related activities.  Steve also serves on two nonprofit boards and volunteers in other charitable causes.  Vacant to Vibrant is important to Steve’s job at BSSDC because it provides an opportunity to help solve long standing neighborhood blight and vacancy issues and lends a helping hand to keeping our environment and water clean.  Steve spent a great deal of his youth around the lakes of northern Michigan. “The Great Lakes are an enormous asset to states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio for transportation, recreation and tourism. They need to be protected.”



Cleveland Botanical Garden

Applied Research Team

The greater Cleveland Botanical Garden (CBG) mission is to spark a passion for plants and cultivate an understanding of their vital relationship to people and the environment.  CBG’s Applied Research Team is actively extending this mission with Vacant to Vibrant, adding scientific investigation to the equation and reaching out to help stabilize communities with a project that provides a net benefit to the Great Lakes environment.  The CBG Research team is:


Sandra Albro, Director of Research

Sandra Albro investigates how improvements to existing soils and addition of plants improve the ecological and social value of vacant urban land. Her topics of interest include soil remediation, stormwater management, low-maintenance plants, aesthetic improvement, and human use of vacant land in urban communities. She is Project Manager for Vacant to Vibrant, a Great Lakes Protection Fund–supported initiative to evaluate the success of clusters of small green infrastructure projects to achieve multiple community benefits in Gary, IN; Cleveland, OH; and Buffalo, NY. She is also Project Manager for a US EPA Urban Waters project examining the use of soil remediation and GI for stormwater management in an intensively treated Cleveland neighborhood. Sandra serves as a board member on the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership and is a member of the NEORSD External Advisory Committee.




Patti Barz, Juris Doctor

Patti Barz is a senior legal executive with over 30 years of public governance and law firm experience. Most recently, Ms. Barz served as Director of Law and Special Projects Advisor for Cleveland Metroparks (1992-2011) and concurrently performed general counsel responsibilities for Park District business with a focus on public law and real estate acquisition, overseeing the acquisition of nearly 3,000 acres of park land. She has demonstrated accomplishments and experience in public governance, real estate acquisitions, risk management, grants and philanthropy, litigation management, and negotiations/contracts. Since her departure from Cleveland Metroparks, Ms. Barz has been actively engaged as an appointed member of the Finance Committee and the Tax Incentive Review Council for the City of Shaker Heights. Ms. Barz has been a volunteer at the Cleveland Botanical Garden since January 2012, contributing experience in real estate transactions, group facilitation, organizational development, and education to the Pilot Program Redeveloping Vacant Properties as Green Infrastructure in Great Lakes States, and now Vacant to Vibrant.


Joseph F. Koonce, Professor Emeritus

Joseph F. Koonce is an Emeritus Professor of Biology at Case Western Reserve University.  Dr. Koonce received his A.B. Degree from Dartmouth College and M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in Zoology.  He joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at Case Western Reserve University in 1973 and retired as a Professor of Biology with a secondary appointment as Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer and Science in July 2012.  He also served as Chair of the Department of Biology at Case Western Reserve University from 2000 to 2009. Dr. Koonce has broad research interests in aquatic systems ecology and has served on a number of Boards and advisory committees for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the International Joint Commission, National Research Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  His experience in undergraduate biology teaching and curriculum development includes service as a Program Director for CWRU’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant and recognition as a National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences in 2004-2005.  Elected a SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities) Leadership Fellow in 2012, He is currently serving as a co-Director of the SENCER Center for Innovation—Great Lakes.  The Center applies SENCER concept of teaching through engagement with important civic issues in the Great Lakes region in formal and informal education venues in the eight Great Lakes States and the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.  Dr. Koonce’s ongoing work with the Vacant to Vibrant Project includes providing assistance with research and monitoring initiatives and coordination with academic partners through the SENCER Center for Innovation—Great Lakes.


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