Meet Kimberly LaRussa, our featured "Empowered Woman". Kim is the founder and creator of Sweet Buffalo blog and Sweet Buffalo Rocks. She is a unique individual in the way she is able to be so kind, fearless and selfless all at the same time. As you read through her story, you will see how she never allows life to control her. Instead, she finds opportunity in every setback and turns it into something amazing. She has the trait of perseverance like no other. Lucky for the rest of us, Kim's perseverance and determination translates into spreading positivity and kindness through writing and sharing stories.
Sweet Buffalo is Buffalo, NY's original good news website dedicated to sharing the goodness of WNY.
Check out her Sweet Buffalo blog here: www.sweetbuffalo716.com
Sweet Buffalo Rocks is a project where residents paint rocks in creative ways and hide them in various locations around WNY. They can post photos and captions of the rocks they find in the Sweet Buffalo Rocks Facebook group. Finders can either keep the rock as a souvenir or can hide it for someone else to find. The possibilities are endless with the rocks, including making people smile.
You can join the Sweet Buffalo Rocks Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sweetbuffalorocks/
Tell me a little about how you got to where you are today in your career/personal life.
I moved to Buffalo about 10 years ago from Florida. I moved here because at the time I had started college and I didn’t know where I wanted to go in life. When you’re in college you realize you have so many choices and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I fell off my path, wasn’t hanging out with the best crowd and wasn’t being Kimberly anymore. So, I moved here to Buffalo with my dad who lived in North Tonawanda and I started school at NCCC. I went there for 2 years in the communications program and did very well. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I chose communications because my dad and my stepmom suggested it. They realized that I could speak well and wasn’t afraid to publicly speak, so they suggested that I look into being a TV news anchor. They gave me an idea of something to try so I decided to go for it.
From NCCC I was accepted into the Buffalo State College broadcast journalism program. I was on BSCTV (Buffalo State College TV) where I would create and anchor my own shows and I had so much fun with it. Once I graduated, I knew that if I didn’t try to get into this field right away, then I might never do it. I had this fear that if I graduated and didn’t get a job in the summer after graduation, then no one would hire me after that point. So, I decided to start working at YNN Buffalo. The funny part about this was that I got the job because I kept emailing the person that interviewed me and just didn’t give up. I was actually passed up the first time and instead they gave the job to a friend that I graduated with. I could have said, “That’s it, I’m throwing in the towel.”, but I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I kept emailing and emailing him with more of my work. I think he became so tired of me emailing him that he decided to give me a job. That job was a wonderful experience where I was out in the field interviewing people right after fires and shootings, etc.
I could have stayed there to be a reporter on television, but I realized that I wasn’t that passionate about it. I just wanted to tell someone’s story whether it was on TV or behind the scenes, so I started freelancing on the side for a newspaper. I found it to be so much fun to sit behind the computer and talk to people on the phone or interview in person and not have to worry about the part of looking nice or being on TV. Again, I just wanted to tell someone’s story. I began to do so well at the freelancing that they offered me a job and I took it. I enjoyed that for a while and then found a job with the NYS Assembly as the Director of Communications. I wasn’t exactly into politics so I decided to move on to the next thing. The previous newspaper I worked for decided to open a newspaper called the West Seneca Sun and they asked me to tell people’s stories and start it from the ground up. I worked as the editor whereas before I was only the writer and reporter. As the editor, I had this entire paper that no one ever heard of before that I could make my own. Unfortunately, the company eventually closed down. This was upsetting because I had this paper that I put my heart and soul into and then it was gone and I had nothing left. Before they had closed down, I had this idea to start a mini blog but at the time wasn’t doing much to promote it. The blog was called Sweet Buffalo and I used it as another outlet to tell stories. I wanted them to be nice stories taking place in all of WNY. It was just a little thing I was doing on the side, but once I lost my job I realized that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell MY stories.
After I lost the job with the newspaper, I used social media as an outlet to reach out to all the local news stations about my dilemma. I wrote a press release and when they found out about the newspaper closing and all the lost jobs, they contacted me since they had seen me talking about it and promoting that I had lost my job and was looking for one. Two TV stations came to my house to interview me. I got lucky and the Buffalo News saw me on TV, found me on LinkedIn and invited me to talk with them. The meeting was not necessarily to offer me a job but of course I brought a stack of my work, resume and business card with me. We kept in touch and a few weeks later they decided to take ownership of the newspaper I had worked for. They took me under their wing and told me I could have the WNY Pennysaver where I am now the Community Content Producer or editor as I was with the previous newspaper. I am responsible for putting together the entire paper including what goes on each page, stories, design, etc. So, it feels like the whole product is mine (even though I don’t own it). Also, my boss is the editor of Buffalo Magazine so I write for her sometimes and it’s one of my favorite projects to write for since she gives me really fun topics to write about.
Tell me more about your current projects, Sweet Buffalo and Sweet Buffalo Rocks.
With my Sweet Buffalo blog, I’m able to write stories for any location and any topic I choose. With all of my other jobs, I’ve built up a network so I am now receiving leads for stories constantly. Since I used to only write stories about certain areas of WNY for the newspaper, I would have to send stories in press releases to other news sources, but many would get lost. Now I have a place for them to go. I’ve been especially busy lately and have even had to say no in some cases due to time. Just today I wrote 6 stories. I really don’t think I could go to another area and write all these great stories like there are in Buffalo. Western New York is definitely a “City of Good Neighbors”, it’s really not just some catchy nickname. It’s genuinely true and I’ve never seen so many people come together to do nice things for eachother. I never have a shortage of content, it’s hard to cover it all.
I write the stories but also try to act on it. So, when a little boy wants christmas cards or someone needs cheering up, I try and do that for them as well. Recently, I helped raise $500 for a family with a little boy named Bentley who has cancer. In my Sweet Buffalo Rocks group, I asked everyone to paint a gold rock for him (because gold is the color of childhood cancer awareness) and write “Bentley Rocks” on it. I don’t tell many people about the things I do because I don’t like to take credit for it, I just like to do it because it feels good.
Recently, I created a YouTube channel for Sweet Buffalo because I keep receiving all these incredible videos from people. I usually post them on Facebook, but they become lost. So this is a better place to view all the videos and store them permanently. I will be posting local and national stories to inspire everyone.
Sweet Buffalo Rocks started with an inspiration from one of my friends who showed me a group in her community in Florida. She asked me if this was going on in Buffalo and suggested that I take a look at it. Buffalo was not doing this at the time, so I started asking the creator questions on how and why they started it and what I needed to do to bring it to Buffalo. I started to paint a ton of rocks and I would go to parks with my son and tell people about it. My son would hand people rocks and they would look at him confused. Then I would come over to explain that we were painting rocks in WNY and it was meant for others to enjoy finding them. I continued to do that and it started to catch on. Since February, we now have 26,000 members in our Facebook group of people painting and hiding rocks. I also receive a lot of great stories from the group as well. For example, a woman found a cardinal rock on the birthday of her son who had passed away many years ago. The rock had a note on it, “When cardinals are here, angels are near.” Then after she found the rock, a cardinal was actually up in the tree. She said she’s never seen a cardinal in her life, but now there was one up in the tree as she’s holding this rock. She felt her son was with her that day. So, it’s stories like that where I’m then able to share it on Sweet Buffalo. Every time I share a story I know that I’m making someone’s day and making someone smile. I feel so lucky that I can say I do that for a living.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
Well, my idol is Ellen Degeneres. I try and mimic off of her. Whatever vibe she brings me when I’m watching her show, I want to bring that to other people. She’s just so magical and genuine and she’s famous but you don’t feel like she is. You just feel like she’s a person. If you saw her on the street, you would just want to just give her a hug because you just know her for being so wonderful and doing all these nice things.
Also, my mother is my inspiration because she always told me that I could be something even if I didn’t think I was. For example, when I was in high school, I tried out for cheerleading and I was horrible but she was always encouraging me that I could do it. Her always telling me I could do it really made me think I could even if I was terrible. So, I would try out for the cheerleading team and I wouldn’t make it but I would never get upset because I thought I could do it whether I made the team or not. When I was in drama and would get one line in the play, other people would have been so upset, but I would be so excited because my mom made me think it was so great. To this day, in anything I do, she thinks it’s magnificent and wonderful and she’s my biggest cheerleader no matter what. She really believes I can do whatever I put my mind to. And it’s not in a way that parents glorify their kids, she just really believes in me. Even if I can’t do it, she still believes in me and then I believe in myself.
Who’s been your biggest supporter and how?
My little Carlo is actually my biggest supporter. After I became a mom, I realized that I just wanted to give Carlo the whole entire world. It may seem odd that he’s my support, but he has made me want to be something, for him. I want him to grow up and be proud of his mother. Before he was born, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be a good mom or know what I was doing but instead, I found that ever since he was born, it motivated me to be a better person. I was just on TV recently for a show and my husband took a video of him watching me in excitement. I just want to make him proud. I think if I didn’t have him in my life, I would be doing okay. But, I definitely would not be where I am now.
What does being empowered mean to you?
It means believing in yourself and giving others the motivation to believe in themselves too. Instead of taking what you’ve learned and keeping it to yourself, spread it around to help others. Sometimes we don’t always help each other and especially today when women are all trying to do so much, it’s even more important. So, empowerment to me is helping other people to do that.
How do you view style and fashion in your daily life?
I believe you should wear what makes you feel good. I’m not a big brand person, I just care about what makes me feel good and what makes me Kimberly. I don’t wear anything that is not me. What you see I have on is who I am as a person. So, most of the time you’ll see me dressed casually because that’s who I am. Then when I do get dressed up, that’s just me trying to be Mariah Carey because I love her and sometimes I just like to be bedazzled and go out. But, I don’t look at what Kim Kardashian is wearing and then try to do the same to be like her. I feel that style is an expression of who you are on the inside as well as the outside.
Kim is wearing Empower Boutique's V Neck Tunic Sweater & Knee High Quilted Tall Boots.