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City Shapers: Al & Deb Warner

They're connecting Buffalo's faith leaders with developers as redevelopment happens on the East Side.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Every Monday, we highlight a Buffalo City Shaper - someone who is doing good work in our community, and this week we have two. 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik shows us how Al and Deb Warner are helping to connect Buffalo's faith leaders with developers as redevelopment happens on the East Side.

Al and Deb Warner are both Reverends and they're also helping to make the Renaissance happen on Buffalo's East Side.

"I believe that one of the greatest things is going to come off this Jefferson Avenue project and development of the East Side is neighborhood entrepreneurs that are coming up, grabbing the reigns and literally starting companies, job creation, job opportunities in the days ahead," says Rev. Al Warner.

Al and Deb Warner founded Set Free Inc. twenty years ago. It is a non-profit focused on linking leaders in the community to build stronger cities. Al is also the chaplain of the Buffalo Common Council, and he came up with the idea to get pastors involved in the resurgence of the East Side.

"These are the relationships, deep down relationships that they built over a long time of ministry and to mine those so that the community has voice in how the community is coming back," says Al Warner.

The Jefferson Avenue project is now at least four city blocks long on Jefferson just north of Best.

"We're excited to see our city, you know, you can drive down Jefferson, you can drive down so many places of our city and momentum is building," says Rev. Deb Warner.

One of the pastors working with the Warners is Pastor William Gillison with Mount Olive Baptist Church. They've known each other for years.

"When you combine that with what's going on on the Northland project on the other side of Buffalo, and see what's happening there with the new training center coming in, I'm telling you that after a while in fact it's already beginning to happen on the East Side of Buffalo, you try to buy a house on the East Side of Buffalo, it is crazy," says Pastor William Gillison.

Nick Sinatra is the developer behind the project, and he says the group of pastors helped him to better understand what the neighborhood wants.

"We are all united around one goal and that's to get Jefferson to be a catalyst for development the East Side of Buffalo, and that was the one goal let's all unite around it and there's ultimately different paths to get there, but if you have that one goal in mind, everybody can unite around it," says Sinatra.

"How does it make you feel to be a part of all of this?" asked Kelly Dudzik.

"Humbled. Humbled. The things that I studied in my Master's program in urbanology was theoretical, but to see if happening and to see what happened when we did the groundbreaking for the bank and to see the community turn out for that, and the excitement with which they embraced it, they are more than ready," says Al Warner.

If you know someone who would make a great Buffalo City Shaper, you can nominate them by sending Kelly Dudzik an email.