When Bernice Radle considers the past decade of her life, the only constant has been surges of change and self-perpetuated advancement in the field of preservation, energy efficiency and real estate on Buffalo’s West Side.
“My goal from day one has always been to help promote Buffalo through historic preservation,” said Radle, “and to help people realize we have a beautiful city with beautiful neighborhoods.”
At 20 years old, Radle was working in property management while pursuing a degree in urban planning from Buffalo State College. She spent the next four years as an energy consultant, and in the midst of several projects and house renovations, built up enough capital and experience to launch her business, Buffalove Development, in 2012.
“I’m very happy with how my life has evolved and changed,” said Radle, now 29. She attributes leaving Niagara Falls, where she grew up in extreme poverty, as the first life-altering milestone launching her into what her career has become.
According to Radle, the investment of her teachers and the encouragement of her aunt are what pushed her out of Niagara Falls and into California for two years, where she pursued music and worked two jobs.
“It took me six months in California to realize how important Buffalo was,” said Radle. “The affordability and accessibility of Buffalo is very important to people who are trying to do good things.”
With that in mind, Radle returned to Buffalo when she was 20 and started to make waves of change. She believes the important change that has taken place in Western New York has come from identifying gaps and using resources to fill those gaps. Buffalove Development, of which Radle now has sole ownership, aims to fill in the gaps when it comes to vacant housing on the West Side.
“The reason why I started Buffalove Development is because I saw a huge gap,” Radle said.
“If there is a property that is vacant, it is nearly impossible to buy and renovate it unless you have cash. You can be out petitioning and picketing all you want trying to save these houses and buildings, but it doesn’t necessarily do anything.
“I started my business so I could have the capital and the resources to save those buildings.”
With the aid of investors, Buffalove Development is dedicated to purchasing, renovating and renting historic properties on the verge of demolition.
In the last 10 years, Radle has completed 10 major renovations and countless other minor projects to preserve the historic significance she has found on the West Side.
Within her whirlwind of a decade, Radle has been featured in several widely circulated publications, including the New York Times and Huffington Post. In 2014, she was a co-host on the DIY Network television show “American Rehab Buffalo.” She is politically active, was asked to be on the city Zoning Board of Appeals, spoke at TedxBuffalo and has several keynote speeches lined up for this year.
Despite these accomplishments, Radle considers her proudest moment to be a community garden she created in a vacant lot she bought from the city.
“The media is really extra,” said Radle. “I really like helping people grow and succeed.”
In the spirit of growth, Radle teamed up with International School 45 to build a learning laboratory with the garden. Radle recalled planting day, when children and families from around the community, many of them refugees who spoke no English, gathered to build the garden from the ground up.
“It was the most heartwarming moment in my life,” said Radle. “Nobody spoke the same language, but what we did understand was how to grow a garden.” The lessons Radle learned from the “garden experience” became priceless.
“When I put myself out of my element, we had this incredible garden grow because of it. It helped all the kids in the neighborhood become stewards of the garden. I went to bed feeling so fulfilled,” she said.
Radle now works as regional director of City Dining Cards and is currently renovating a home on Massachusetts Avenue on the West Side with Buffalove Development. She enjoys the variety and complexity of her two jobs.
“I sort of live in these two different worlds, but I try to mesh them together as much as possible,” she said.
Though the past decade has had ups and downs, Radle has remained a radiant source of positive energy.
“You have to believe in yourself, and you have to assign yourself self-worth. It’s internal resilience that never stops,” she said.
Her advice to anyone who may want to get involved in furthering his or her community is simple: “Put yourself out there, and do something,” says Radle. “A lot of people think they have nothing to offer, but any initiative needs people power.”
Most significant to Radle’s journey, she says, has been the people she has encountered along the way who keep her grounded.
“In life, you want to surround yourself with people who make you your best self,” she said. “You’ve got to cut the fat.”