NYS Women Buffalo Niagara Chapter Women In Leadership Award

Women In Leadership

December 2015 Honoree

Zelalem Gemmeda
Owner, Abyssinian Ethiopian Cuisine in the West Side Bazaar

AM Buffalo Interview

Zelalem was born and raised in Ethiopia but left because of political issues in her native country. She immigrated to Yemen, alone, when she was in her 20s, and lived in a refugee camp there, where she met her husband, a political refugee. She learned the language, and started to work in a restaurant, eventually opening her own successful restaurant with a number of employees. She and her family lived in Yemen for 12 years before resettling in Buffalo as refugees in 2006.

Her father had studied in the U.S. and received his master’s from University of Michigan. But he was imprisoned in Ethiopia by a group of officials. Zelalem says, “Not all government officials were happy but they can’t do anything, and our family did not get any support. . . My father was working hard for his country. He died in prison.” After high school she got a job to support her sister and brothers. She had been taking care of them for many years, but after her father’s death she left the country. 

Zelalem graduated from ECC where she studied general science and graduated with a liberal arts degree. Although she started nursing school she was unable to finish because she needed to focus on her children (a son, Solomon Tesfaye, 22, who graduated from Colgate University; and her daughter, Feben Tesfaye, 16, who is a junior at Park School of Buffalo). Her husband works as a pastry chef at Adam’s Mark Hotel.

Zelalem loves cooking, a skill she learned from her mother. Her restaurant, Abyssinian Ethiopian Cuisine, is located in the West Side Bazaar, an international business incubator located on Grant Street in Buffalo. It is run by WEDI (Westminster Economic Development Initiative) and features shops and a food court.

Zelalem sells authentic Ethiopian cuisine using spices sent to her from Ethiopia by her sister who still lives there. Her eventual goal is to open a modern, stand-alone restaurant. She says, “I would love to someday own my own Ethiopian restaurant. I would sell original dishes and serve everything on handmade plates. All details in my restaurant would be traditionally Ethiopian.”

Photo credit: The Buffalo News

November 2015 Honoree

Kathleen GarveyKathleen Garvey
Attorney at Law

Kathleen started her career as a RN, working at Sister’s Hospital. She earned a Masters in Nursing and taught Nursing at University of Texas Health Science Center School of Nursing at Houston and, after she returned to Buffalo, at D’Youville College. In 1981, she entered active duty in the Army Nurse Corps as a Captain and stayed in the army until 1995. She was stationed at Fort Knox, Yuma Proving Grounds, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as well as Seoul, Korea and Honduras. After leaving the service, she went to UB Law School and graduated in 1998. She worked for 12 years for a Federal Contractor adjudicating Medicare Appeals. In 2011, she accepted a grant-funded position with the NYS Unified Courts as a Court Attorney for the Erie County Medical Malpractice Reform Model. In 2015 she started her own law practice. She volunteers as a friend in the Vet 2 Vet program with Compeer and provides pro bono legal services through Volunteer Lawyer Project. Kathleen is a member of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Rotary where she chairs speaker’s committee. Kathleen is also a member of the Buffalo Sabres Warriors Sled Vet Team, an all veteran sled hockey team.

October 2015 Honoree

Natalie Brown
Project 308 Gallery, Owner

Natalie BrownNatalie BrownNatalie started renovating her North Tonawanda gallery space in May 2012, while she was studying art history and museum studies during graduate school at UB. Project 308 Gallery opened on August 16th 2012 and she hasn’t looked back since. The gallery hosts more than 40 exhibitions and events per year including an annual art festival each summer through the efforts of Natalie and her volunteers.
She's also currently a board member at the Carnegie Art Center.

Natalie says the gallery is a very personal place for her, “As I put in a lot of heart and soul into fixing it up. My family and friends are always helping me and supporting the overall mission of the gallery which makes it special as well.”

Natalie is proud of the gallery, “I love that the gallery is a place for the public to come and view art. It’s a space where student artists can learn how to put on a show, or a more recognized artist can take advantage of the large gallery space at low cost.” Their annual art festival on Oliver Street features more than 50 artists. The festival usually brings in a few hundred people to the neighborhood to celebrate local artists and musicians. She also hosts exhibitions by college art students; their shows are usually their first exposure to working in a gallery. Natalie adds, “I’d like to think that the gallery is part of the Oliver Street revitalization process which is currently underway [in North Tonawanda}.”

In addition to the gallery, Natalie works full time as a paralegal at Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of WNY, a non-for-profit law agency. She serves on the artist advisory committee at the North Tonawanda Carnegie Art Center, was honored as a 2013 Woman of Distinction by the Tonawanda News, and served on the 2015 New York State Council on the Arts grant panel.

Photo: ©The Buffalo News

September 2015 Honoree

Nicole Savage
Nature’s Way Environmental, Owner and President/CEO

AM Buffalo Interview

Nicole SavageNicole took over her father’s business after his untimely death in 2007. A biologist, he was the sole owner and founder of the company, and left no succession plan or insurance that could have helped in this difficult situation. She had not been involved in Nature’s Way Environmental previously but felt it was important to preserve what he had built for the industry, the community, and the company’s employees.

Although she doesn’t have a background in environmental studies or earth sciences – she has a BA in psychology and an MBA in business – Nicole’s proud to say, “That the amazing people here have made it possible for our company not only to still exist, but to be thriving once again.” She also has big plans for the future, “In five years, I would like to see us as a slightly bigger version of ourselves. Alternative energy is a natural transition for us, so we will be looking at what role we would best fill in that sector of our industry.”

Nature’s Way Environmental is a specialty construction company, performing environmental investigation, remediation and fuel system installation. Services include drilling/environmental investigation, geotechnical investigation, soil and groundwater remediation and fueling system installs/maintenance. Nicole adds, “Our business best serves the community simply through the services we provide – it gives me great pride knowing that we are eliminating potential human health hazards each and every day.” Nicole’s business philosophy? “In short, do it right and do it fairly.”

She is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization, Vistage International, serves on the Board of Governors for the Construction Exchange of Buffalo and WNY and is a founding member of the Women in Construction Committee of ConEx/CFMA. Nicole is also an alumni of the University at Buffalo Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership program (CEL).

Alexis Dent

August 2015 Honoree

Alexis Dent
Founder and editor-in-chief, The Miss Information (TMI)

AM Buffalo Interview

Alexis Dent has accomplished a lot since her graduation from Ithaca College in 2014 with a bachelor of science in integrated marketing communications. She worked as an account executive for Jackson Parker Communications and started her own business. She is founder and editor-in-chief of The Miss Information, a web publication aimed at young women. According to TMI’s mission, “you won’t find meaningless click bait or the type of thigh gap junk that makes you feel badly about yourself here. Rest assured that you won’t find articles telling you about 72 hot ‘new’ ways to please your man either, because that’s an old narrative and we’re bored with it. . . The media landscape for women needs to change, and it is our unwavering mission to be a catalyst in empowering young women through media.”

This native Buffalonian was inspired to start The Miss Information after looking through a women’s magazine and realizing she’d like to see a publication “that covered everything – from politics to celebrities – without pigeonholing readers into this narrow ideal of a young woman.”

TMI got a kickstart through Dent and her team’s participation in the Buffalo Student Sandbox program, which ran from June 2015 to the end of July 2015, and included a $2,000 seed grant for each business and a weekly stipend per team member for the duration of the program. This eight-session version of the University at Buffalo’s Startup CEL course partnered with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus’s d!g and Ignite programs. Alexis, with team mates Amanda Limardi and Jillian Weidner, used their time in the Sandbox to refine their content strategy, expand their target market, and tweak their brand.

Alexis is proud of what she has accomplished, “There are a couple of things that readers should know about The Miss Information. The first is that I designed, formatted, and currently maintain the website. I think it’s really important for more girls to pursue STEM careers, and I want young women to know that coding – even at a very rudimentary level – is a great skill to have.”

Molly Anderson

July 2015 Honoree

Molly Anderson
Leadership Niagara, Executive Director

Channel 7 Interview

Molly Anderson was appointed executive director of Leadership Niagara in 2009 and took on the transformation of the longest running community leadership organization in New York State, as well as the rebranding and deployment of a new mission, vision, core values, and strategies. Under her leadership, the organization doubled in size and offers graduate-level and nationally award winning leadership and organizational development, coaching and mentoring, and an experience known by LN alumni today as “one year that will change your life.”  She brought a regional and binational focus to the program which now graduates 140 class members and works with over 150 volunteers annually from Western New York and Ontario, Canada.

Prior to joining Leadership Niagara, Molly served on the executive team for former County Executive Chris Collins and was director of communications for Senator Michael Ranzenhofer’s successful State Senate Campaign in 2008. As executive director of Kids Voting New York, she organized the largest volunteer effort in Niagara and Erie Counties with more than 15,000 volunteers while achieving the highest student voter turnout in the nation. 

Molly has been actively engaged in the WNY community for more than twenty five years.  Early in her career she served as a past board member of Junior Achievement,  a charter board member of Buffalo’s first charter school King Urban Life Center, a trustee at Mount St. Joseph Academy, a member of the Buffalo Financial Plan Commission II, a board member of Partners with Russia, a board of associates member at Hauptmann Woodward, a past board member of Buffalo Junior Chamber of Commerce, executive committee for Shea’s Performing Arts Rising Stars, and as a charter member of Buffalo Sunrise Rotary Club. She served two years as an AmeriCorps*VISTA (national service program) to fight poverty and improve literacy.  She was honored for her community service by Business First and Buffalo Public Schools with the Pathfinder Award for blazing a trail between business and education.   

Currently, Molly serves on the board of directors of Community Missions, Inc., a homeless shelter in Niagara Falls. She was appointed to the University at Buffalo’s Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Advisory Council, the local advisory council for the Attorney General’s CharityStrong program, Western New York’s Leadership Coalition, and Niagara Community College’s Leadership Initiative Team.   Molly took part in the Civic Leader Tour with the 914th Air Reserve Wing to Dobbins Air Force Base, which resulted in the formation of the Niagara Commanders program with Niagara Military Affairs Council.  She was honored to be Principal for a Day at 79th Street Elementary in Niagara Falls.

Molly attended the University of Buffalo and Houghton College and studied communication and management. She was recently awarded the Michael Brundidge Community Service Award by the Main Street Business & Professional Association in Niagara Falls and the Association of Leadership Professionals “Excellence in Innovation” award.

Adriana Gonzales-VeraJune 2015 Woman in Leadership

Adriana Gonzales-Vera
Co-founder and COO of Haute La Vie

AM Buffalo Interview

Adriana Gonzales-Vera is co-founder and COO of Haute La Vie, a creative agency based here in Buffalo NY. The agency’s goal is to bring equality to the world through high quality content. There clients consist of audio & visual designers looking to distribute their content and/or companies looking to acquire creative content. Adriana and her partner Shawn Patterson are also very passionate about Buffalo and all this city has to offer. They are currently organizing the Buffalo Reunion Weekend happening here July 16 - 19, and will include the Unity Music Fest on Saturday July 18th. The goal of the Buffalo Reunion Weekend is to showcase the City of Buffalo, its people and this resurgence of the City; to celebrate all that is happening in the arts and music world, as well as the growth in general. Expats are being invited to join so that they can see what has happened and is happening in the City since they have left, and they hope to open up doors to showcase this wonderful city and it’s people t o the rest of the world.

Adriana was born in Lima, Peru and lived there as well as Bogota, Colombia and Mexico City before moving to the Rochester, NY area with her mother at the age of 13. She came to Buffalo, NY to attend Canisius College where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations with a concentration in Sociology. After getting her degree she worked at Hispanics United in the Pre-Employment and Training Department assisting individuals looking to find employment as well as find training that could assist them and open them up for better opportunities. She now also works in Commercial Banking at HSBC ensuring to maintain excellent customer relations with all clients and ensure all their banking needs are being serviced.