The Verizon strike put me on “Red Alert”. Role reversal - it was time for this stay-at- home mom to bring home some bread. The illusory job had two requirements: to be quickly procured and flexible enough to accommodate my husband’s picketing schedule. Total long shot. Leave it to a community center to save our bacon.
I was hired by Peg Overdorf to manage the Valley Community Center’s (VCA) website and assist with the organization and promotion of two of VCA’s major events: Buffalo River Fest and the Wednesday Night Summer Concert series.
The VCA is the official sponsor of the Old Neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day Parade so I wasn’t surprised to still see in May the medley of hand-painted shamrocks decorating the windows. I pushed open the door, was immediately greeted, offered a coffee cup and asked if I wanted to play pinochle. Seniors seated at round tables populated the room.
Now, every time I step through the doors, I’m greeted by one group or another enjoying lunch, doing homework, or playing cards. One day several fellows dressed in orange were seated there. The Corrections Officer greeted everyone who walked through the door with a hearty hello which suggested, “No worries. We’re just having lunch after a morning of cleaning the streets and parks during work release.” The VCA is an active, vibrant, helpful place full of people from the neighborhood.
I am savvy enough to know The Valley isn’t South Buffalo, which is where I live. A common misconception lumps together The Valley, the First Ward and South Buffalo. And, I think I’m fluid enough in South Buffalo-ese that I know the neighborhoods. Afterall, I was a bartender in the South Buffalo for 5 years. But then…
I transgressed. Director of Development & Youth Services, Lori Overdorf was in the midst of training me on all the variety of outreach and services provided by the VCA when I rather flippantly lumped the The Valley in with the First Ward. The VCA serves both neighborhoods but in that moment I suggested the two were interchangeable. A hush fell. My newbie blunder caused the place to stop short: the Bingo caller halted, the cooks scorched the fries, even the coffee was too offended to perk.
In the ensuing silence, eyes shifted, shoulders shrugged and then Lori sighed with the patience of a thousand suns that let me know that whatever else this neighborhood becomes, there will always be a demarcation between The Valley and the First Ward. The boundaries of The Valley involve bridges. Once upon a time, five bridges existed but you could only enter or exit The Valley over one of them, and I’m still not sure which one takes you into the First Ward.
The First Ward
The VCA is in The Valley while two of the parks under the supervision of the VCA are in the First Ward, including Buffalo River Fest Park and Mutual Riverfront Park. At the helm of all of these enterprises is Peg Overdorf with her vision for the neighborhoods. She strives to make this community boom with green spaces, gardens, boat launches, music, parades, a lodge and festivals. In her office hangs an assortment of frames depicting her family, their dogs, and her community from its industrial heyday to modern day. But make no mistake, this is not a woman who has succumbed to nostalgia. Atop every flat surface are plans - blueprints, huge maps, schematics, and architectural designs.
When I stop to ask her a question about what is what in the Ward, she interrupts, “Lesa, you have to read the paper. There is so much happening here”.
The Buffalo River Community
Even a newbie like me knows the Overdorf family, like a Celtic design, knots through all three neighborhoods - South Buffalo, The Valley and the First Ward. Peg knows this place: first as a child whose family is from the Ward - she explored the boundaries of the neighborhoods as only a child can; then, as a young woman anticipating her future in the midst of decay; and now, as the steward who champions revitalization.
She works, networks and reworks with grants, politicians and other community activists to get the job done. She waggles between Irish charm and the flip-side of that coin. She has a fierce determination that says she is not afraid to go toe-to-toe if you even think about putting an ice boom where a park should be. Her boldness and success is catchy. I hitched a ride to float down the Buffalo River on Team Overdorf.
Since my gaffe, I have adopted the newly minted moniker "Buffalo River Community" to speak about the whole area. I’ll leave the bridges to The Valley and the silos to the Ward. Now, for me, this neighborhood is all about the river.
I am especially looking forward to Buffalo River Fest, even more so now that the strike is over. I’ll be in charge of the vendors. On June 18th at River Fest Park, after I finish with set-up, I’ll head to the Valley. Destination: Red Jacket River Front Park (another VCA enterprise) for the launch of the Rigidized Metals River Fest Regatta.
The launch is located at the foot of Smith Street where the “build-your-own-boat” event will begin. My ten-year-old son Sam and my husband built a boat last autumn with Sam’s cousin and uncle. I’m excited to watch them and see all the other build-your-own boats, kayaks, canoes and various crafts stream down the Buffalo River.
Later we’ll return to Buffalo River Fest Park and join the rest of our family for the celebration. Events include “a waterfront photo and memorabilia display, “I Got It” Bingo, food, refreshments, a kids area, vendors, historic walking tours, live entertainment, a Father’s Day fishing contest, and more!! Check out the Valley Community Association Website for details.
See you there!