In 2003, teacher David Zapfel arrived at Gerard Place to find a dilapidated building and lack of resources needed to serve the community. Among the crumbled plaster and sagging walls, David saw the potential for classrooms, job training, a daycare center and a gym to get youth off the streets. Now a thriving community center in Buffalo’s Bailey-Delavan neighborhood, Gerard Place has gone through a major transformation since that time.
David quickly took action to hire staff and fill the center’s 14 apartments with homeless mothers and their children. He worked to renovate an empty building on the Gerard Place site and make it into a community center, where today, 200 people have access to high school equivalency classes, vocational training, hot meals, a farmer’s market and nutritional education on any given day. The center also partners with EduKids to provide child care, giving mothers the opportunity to gain job skills.
Inside Gerard Place, volunteers work hand-in-hand with neighborhood residents who come to acquire reading skills, GEDs or job training. Staff members exude joy and a feeling that work is a gift to them, and David remains accessible to everyone from homeless families to staff and social workers. One of his favorite sayings is “all are welcome” and David firmly believes no one should be turned away and that going above and beyond to help them should be the norm.
David has made a lasting positive impact in Buffalo by empowering individuals and families toward self-sufficiency.