Gary Damon Jr., ’07: Empowering Buffalo’s Youth and Families
September 24, 2014 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09
Growing up in a single-parent family in Buffalo, N.Y.’s inner city, Gary Damon Jr. easily could have become one of the young African American males he often saw on street corners, engaged in questionable activities. But his faith in God and his desire to give back to his community sent him on a different path. Today, as the deputy commissioner for the Erie County Youth Services Division, the youngest ever to hold this position, he leads an organization that provides a variety of services to the county’s youth and families.
It’s a demanding job, one in which he oversees both the county’s Youth Bureau and its Juvenile Justice and Detention Services. While his primary roles are to provide oversight for the division’s more than 125 frontline staff and to manage its $15 million budget, he has filled in for several of his administrative employees when there has been a vacancy, which has given him the opportunity to see, firsthand, the complexities of the various programs he manages. These programs include youth development initiatives, the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, and both secure and nonsecure juvenile detention centers.
“It’s a lot of work, but I really enjoy it because I’m giving back to those who are less fortunate,” he says.
Gary came to NU as a Niagara University Opportunity Program student and quickly earned a reputation as a leader on campus. While pursuing his degree in secondary education with a concentration in English, he served as both a residence assistant and a residence coordinator, was a member of the NU Student Government Association and the Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir, and co-founded the Each One Reach One Bible Ministry, a weekly Bible study. Off campus, he served his parish as an ordained deacon.
Gary worked in the Buffalo and Philadelphia areas during the years following his graduation in 2007, and came to discover that he was especially interested in taking on leadership roles. So he returned to Buffalo in 2010 and began a master’s degree program in organizational leadership while working as a program coordinator for the 21st Century Community Learning Center, and later, as a site facilitator for Say Yes to Education Buffalo. Six months after earning his degree, he was recruited to his current position.
Today, in an office decorated with motivational posters and quotations from individuals as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Dr. Seuss, Gary reflects on the way his past has influenced the present.
“Growing up in the inner city, being supported by Social Services, and being a student at NU really inspired me to want to give back to the community,” he says. “In this leadership position I can support others so that they can see you don’t need to be a product of your environment. Just because you grew up somewhere doesn’t mean you have to continue to be that way. If I can come from nothing and turn it into something, just about anyone can!”