Much has been made in recent months about the growing number of mellennials moving into Western New York, particularly those who grew up here, left for school – with little, or no, intention of coming back – and returned after learning that life isn’t always better elsewhere.
Despite sometimes less-to-be-desired winters, there seems a lot to like about a region that, at it’s best, behaves like one big family, with awesome gathering places that all seem no more than 25 minutes away, two Great Lakes, and a cost of living that pales, in a good way, to those of big U.S. cities.
News Assistant Business Editor David Robinson wrote last year that the region’s long-standing brain drain had turned into a “brain gain.” The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the number of those aged 20 to 34 has grown 10 percent since 2006. Meanwhile, the general WNY population has fallen by a single percentage point. (You can read his story here.)
Since WNY Refresh was launched in March 2013, I’ve written about several Buffalo natives in that age range who have come back to take a shot at opening businesses in the health and wellness fields. Among them:
- Amherst native Jared Callahan, who opened a Stand Up Paddleboard business in May 2013 on the Buffalo waterfront and owns City of Light Fitness.
- Grand Island native Marie Phillips, who opened a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga business last year.
- Chris Heeb, who came back last year to open a CrossFit Nickel City Fitness on the West Side.
- And Amherst native Jocelyn Kowalczyk, an events planner featured last weekend in a story about HEAL Bflo, a new yoga and art initiative she recently helped create.
Though not on the fitness side, I also wrote last year about Orchard Park native Jeff Ware, who quit his job in Manhattan last year to come home and open Resurgence Brewing Company on Niagara Street.
But I got a chance last week to talk to someone a bit different: a mellennial with no previous ties to Buffalo who calls the city home.
Elle Woodworth is in her last semester as a graduate student in the D’Youville College Nutrition and Dietetics Program.
The 26-year-old Washington, D.C.-area native – subject of this weekend's What are you Eating? column in Refresh – moved to the city 2½ years ago with her husband, Chad, 28, who is studying to become a physician assistant at D’Youville. He grew up outside Boston, Mass.
“I was working in offices,” she said, “and decided I wanted to work more with people. I really love how dietetics helps other people reflect on their lives and make changes based on their own parameters.”
EatRight.org deserves credit for drawing two twentysomethings to Western New York in the fall of 2012. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics runs the website, which helps aspiring dietitians decide how to pursue a career.
“I found D’Youville through their website,” Woodworth said, “and was impressed with the program structure, so we came up to Buffalo.”
Woodworth grew up outside the nation’s capitol, and attended American University in Washington, where she met her husband.
She received a bachelor’s in economics from the school; her husband got a degree in international relations.
She started working for the federal Environmental Protection Agency while still in school and landed a couple of financial jobs afterward. Chad worked as an energy industry reporter and spent some of his time on Capitol Hill.
“He also wanted to so something more interactive and less sitting behind a desk,” she said.
The dream of working in the health and wellness field brought the young couple here, first to a flat in Allentown.
“We were both very pleasantly surprised,” she said. “When we were in D.C., everyone just kind of said, ‘Do you know it’s cold there?’
“What we’ve found is that the people in Buffalo are so friendly. It’s really great living here. There are so many great community opportunities we enjoy. The cost of living is excellent. You can live so well on so much less and I think that gives people a good air. They’re not so hustle and bustle and knocking everybody over in the meantime.”
In better weather than we’ve had in the region the last few weeks, the couple enjoys exploring the city and well beyond, often with their “little mutt” named Alfie,” Elle Woodworth said.
“We like to go on hikes and explore the area because we aren’t familiar with it,” she said.
Though they live in the city, they and Alfie have become mainstays on the trails along 18 Mile Creek in the Southtowns.
They’ve been to Niagara Falls several times.
A camping trip last summer to Letchworth State Park has been among the highlights of their time here.
“We feel a little bit like tourists," Woodworth said, "but coming from D.C., we understand that you have to enjoy what’s in your backyard.”
Woodworth is organizing D’Youville’s second annual Food Fest, open to the public, from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the College Center Blue Lounge, 320 Porter Ave. She sees the event as an opportunity to help give back to a community that has been so welcoming.
The D’Youville Student Association and Student Dietetic Association helped underwrite the cost of the festival. The six full-time faculty members and many of the 150 students in her academic program will help bring it off.
The Vegetarian Buffalo Blogger, will be on hand, as will the University Heights Farmer’s Market. Asker’s employees will head over from Elmwood Avenue to give a juicing presentation.
Students also will teach about healthy diet and food trends. “They’ll be there to answer questions and encourage you to try something new,” Woodworth said.
“I am very excited about the Massachusetts Avenue Project contributing to the event,” she added. “They’ll be there explaining what they do, showing some of their products, their programs.” Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit urban farming group, which seeks to bring a local, healthy eating culture to the city’s West Side.
There will be health screenings for families, coloring tables for kids and a photo booth – where folks can pose with food – for everyone. Veggies will abound, Woodworth said, and there will be a yogurt parfait bar and chili booth. MAP will sell chili starter and salsa.
Afterward, it will be time to wind up her school year in May, graduate and look for a job?
She and her husband will remain here until Chad graduates two years from now.
And in the hope a prospective Western New York employer may be reading this, here’s what Elle Woodworth wants you to know.
She and her husband have grown so fond of the region, they recently bought a house in North Buffalo.
“We have a perfect little triangle,” Woodworth said. “His family is in New England and mine is in Washington, D.C.; if we ended up near our families, that would be great but we’re lucky enough to have parents who are able to travel financially and physically.
“We’re really enjoying the Buffalo area. If everything works out job-wise, we’ll probably stick around.”