Awesome Buffalo isn't like most organizations that hand out money around the Queen City. The Buffalo chapter of the Awesome Foundation, launched in 2017, funds projects of any scope, so long as they're a good idea that make the Buffalo region better.
There is no better example of Awesome Buffalo's range than a recent set of projects receiving grants in 2019:
•A bench for the Five Points intersection of Buffalo's west side ("A Different View to Buffalo");
•A series of free workshops to help Buffalonians better utilize free over-the-air HDTV ("cutting the cord workshops");
•"Blessing Bags," a project of Buffalo's Society of St. Vincent de Paul to provide recipients of food and clothing with environmentally friendly reusable bags; and
•"The Bus Stop Project," one woman's mission to distribute hand-sewn scarves and blankets at bus stops around Buffalo, available to anyone in need.
Awesome Buffalo has funded city-sized projects before, including Feed Buffalo Little Pantries and Trash Can Be Beautiful. But when the project's trustees meet every other month or so, sometimes a project pitch is so focused, effective, and perfectly sized, it wins over trustees. Such was the case with Nandor Pinter's pitch for putting a bench at the iconic and increasingly trafficked Five Points intersection in Buffalo.
"The bench would let people look around in their city from a different time and space perspective – the perspective of the city itself," wrote Pinter, a UB graduate student, in his original pitch to Awesome Buffalo. "The experience would be more than the usual transient one, when we drive on those streets or when we rush from A to B; it would be a few minutes of slow immersion, a long gaze; we would notice new things and we could understand better where we live."
The same goes for John O'Brien's cutting the cord workshops – one project for one problem. Most cities, including Buffalo, offer a number of high-definition television channels over the air. But modern TVs have made antennas seem obsolete, and cable companies do little to dispel the myth one needs cable to watch TV. O'Brien's workshops aim to teach people how to build their own antennas, hook them up to modern TVs, and teach people other ways to avoid paying for a service they may not need.
"TV providers are routinely viewed as the country's most despised companies," O'Brien wrote in his application. "Over a 10-year time period, households routinely give in excess of $12,000 to companies that are not liked and not seen as responsive to customer concerns and complaints."
O'Brien said he hopes to host up to 10 workshops around the city in 2019 and 2020, using in part funds from Awesome Buffalo.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul does giving on a far greater scale than Awesome Buffalo, but it had a small project that spoke to the trustees. With a plastic bag ban looming at the time of its application, the society needed a replacement to help those taking away food, clothing and other goods. “Blessing Bags” is Awesome Buffalo's way of helping the society keep doing good for its clients and the earth.
"The individuals and families we serve will need not fear an impending plastic bag tax and will have a visual reminder of those who care for them," wrote Carrie A. Smith, development director for the society. "These bags are a blessing to us all."
Finally, Awesome Buffalo's latest grant went to Kerianne Socker. Socker had previously spent a $500 windfall on making scarves to be left around Buffalo's bus stops during the coldest part of winter.
"Everyday, I'd drive around and leave more if they were gone, and did it until all of them were given away," Socker wrote.
With Awesome's award, she's expanding to making scarves and fleece blankets, and cover more sides of the city this winter.
Awesome Buffalo's goal with its awards is to encourage community-minded projects that are often unfundable through traditional means. The group considers a wide spectrum of projects from the wacky and wonderful (e.g. “Indiana Jones and the Alley of Doom,” funded by Awesome Foundation’s D.C. chapter) to the inventive and inspiring (e.g. “Backyard Lander,” from the Rochester chapter).
It's not a formal grant, or crowdfunding, or sponsorship; it's just a chance to make something great happen in Buffalo. The winner receives cash to get started with their project.
Awesome Buffalo is always looking to introduce potential new trustees to the group and show them how micro-grants work. Potential trustees can email [email protected] for more information.
A full list of previous Awesome Buffalo grantees is available at http://buffalo.awesomefoundation.org.