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The Life and Career of Richard Buery:Co-Founder, President, and Executive Director of Groundwork, Brooklyn, NY

( 18 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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As Co-Founder, President, and Executive Director of Groundwork, Buery is no stranger to the dismal conditions plaguing young people in New York.He has made it his mission to support the youth of Brooklyn and, more specifically, the youth of East New York, his home turf. East New York, one of the roughest areas of Brooklyn, has an average high school graduation rate of 40 percent, and 71 percent of its youth are born into poverty.

Buery, who graduated from Yale Law School in 1997, pursued his undergraduate degree at Harvard College. While there, he co-founded the Mission Hill Summer Program.


"Basically we started a summer program where we worked with initially 30 and then about 60 or 70 young people who lived in the Mission Hill housing project, and we moved into the housing project for the summer and created an enrichment-based full-day summer program that included travel, reading, sports, [and] camping," Buery said. "I started that the summer after my sophomore year in college, and that program is still running today."

Buery credits Greg Johnson, who was the Executive Director of Harvard's Phillips Brooks House organization during Buery's undergraduate time at Harvard, for helping the Mission Hill Summer Program get off the ground and encourages law students who are interested in doing nonprofit work to start networking early.

"It's true for whatever you want to do...to start networking early, to seek out internships when you're in school, to make cold calls to people at organizations that you admire," he said.

He also advises taking some classes in the management field in addition to law classes.

"One thing I wish I'd done more of in law school is taking more classes in organizational management and financial management of nonprofits," he said. "So, for anybody at a law school that's part of a university where you might have access to classes in the business school or a school of public affairs, I really encourage you, if you know you want to do this, to take advantage of the opportunities and cross-enroll and develop as many skills as you can."

Buery went to law school with the knowledge that he want to work in the field of social justice.

"I grew up in a low income neighborhood in Brooklyn called East New York where I work now; and growing up, I think I developed a strong sense pretty early that I wanted to spend my life doing work that would improve the life of people of color and particularly young people of color," he said.

In 2002, Buery and Andrea Schorr co-founded Groundwork, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping "young people living in high poverty urban communities develop their strengths, skills, talents, and competencies through effective experiential learning and work programs."

With a full-time staff of 35 and a part-time staff of 100, Groundwork serves an average of 600 children on a regular basis and impacts many more through extra workshops and teacher assistance.

Buery's inspiration for Groundwork began at a young age. His mother, who was a teacher, taught in an East New York school for 30 years before she retired. So she was very concerned with making sure he got a good education and was involved in programs that influenced him in a positive way. However, it was while being a part of these programs and going to one of the best public high schools in the country that Buery began to experience first-hand the gap between what he refers to as the "haves and the have-nots."

"There was a real disconnect," he said. "I didn't feel like I had a real group of friends in East New York who were on the same path as I was or who were focused on the same things that I was beginning to focus on; and I just think that in a lot of communities, that's one of the biggest challenges that young people face. It's not only the fact that there's such a lack of resources locally—like great schools and great programs for those kids that live in poor neighborhoods—but it's also that there's not necessarily a peer group to encourage you and support you as you're making what I think are good choices about your future."

With the launch of Groundwork, Buery said that he hoped to create an organization that would provide youth with the resources they need to succeed in life and the communities of supportive family and friends that are crucial to a young person's positive development.

"Right now, we work primarily in and around three public housing projects in East New York. In each of those communities, we try to develop a series of programs that can support a critical mass of children and families in those developments so that not only can we impact those young people directly, but hopefully, we can have an impact on the neighborhood by helping families and helping children create a network of young people who provide another way, another example for how you can be successful in an under-resourced community," he said.

When asked what the most memorable moment of the creation and success of Groundwork has been, Buery said that he couldn't pick just one, but it's all of the little moments that come with seeing the students succeed that are the most memorable.

Whether he's celebrating with a student who just got accepted to an Ivy League college (which happened for the first time this year), watching a student-run performance of African dance (which the students video taped and sent to South Africa along with a video essay on life in East New York), standing by as the students turn a parking lot into a community playground (a playground that they designed themselves), or awarding a prize for the Community Service Fair (of which last year's winners planted saplings around their school as a way of helping students who are suffering from asthma), Buery said he is proud of the progress Groundwork has made in giving Brooklyn's youth a chance at success.

"We have the blessing that just about everyday we get to see children learning and showing off what they've learned and celebrating their success, and that happens in a million ways," he said.

Yale Law School

    


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