David Rust

Chief Executive Officer | Senior Leadership


BA, MBA, St. Bonaventure University


Building a movement to fundamentally transform the climate around education in his hometown is what attracted David Rust to lead Say to Education’s work in Buffalo.

Since accepting the post more than eleven years ago, he has steadily built a coalition of staff and partners focused on fulfilling one of the most significant community renewal efforts undertaken in the region’s history. Through the promise of a free-tuition scholarship program, Say Yes Buffalo scholars are eligible to attend more than 150 private and public institutions, including Harvard, Columbia, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and the University at Buffalo, as well as many two-year community colleges, trade schools, and certificate programs.

However, the transformative work that Mr. Rust is interested in couldn’t be limited to a narrow metric of educational success. A believer in a community’s ability to unite in order to collectively solve its greatest challenges, Mr. Rust’s work has challenged Buffalo to live up to its nickname as the City of Good Neighbors. In order to address the generational and systemic issues which face our students, Mr. Rust has recruited and then empowered a dedicated and talented staff and built a coalition of private and public sector partners. Under his leadership, Say Yes Buffalo has grown into an economic development engine and a best-in-class nonprofit organization that serves as a national educational partnership model.

Selected accomplishments from the Say Yes Buffalo coalition that Mr. Rust has helped build include:

• Contributing to a thirty-percentage point increase in the number of students who graduate from Buffalo’s public high schools and a twenty-percentage point increase in the number of students who matriculated to college.

• Providing tuition scholarships to more than 3,000 scholars who have already completed academic programs and launching a Say Yes Forever $65 million endowment campaign to fund the scholarships in perpetuity.

• Developing agreements with Erie County, Buffalo Public Schools, and the City of Buffalo to support social services and mental health services in every public-school building and provide additional services for students and families including legal clinics, mobile health clinics, mentoring, internships, postsecondary supports, and comprehensive extended learning time programming including K-12 after-school programs, summer camps, and Saturday academies.

• Contributing to double-digit increases in the number of Buffalo public or charter school graduates completing the FAFSA and applying to at least one college by coordinating with higher education and district partners.

• Fostering an environment of collaboration and responsibility that has brought together an array of groups such as the teachers’ union, district administration, city and county governments, business, community and faith leaders, district parents, higher education, and private philanthropy.

• Working with area colleges to provide greater retention and support services to Say Yes scholars including mentorship programs, casework counseling, and mental health services on five area campuses.

• Developing a year-round Pre-K readiness program for three-year-old students called Say Yes Little Scholars supported by both Buffalo Public Schools and the Erie County of Department of Social Services Day Care Assistance, the first program of its kind in New York State with a current capacity of 84 students.

• Working in partnership with Buffalo Public Schools and leading area employers to launch modern youth apprenticeship program CareerWise Greater Buffalo, an earn-while-you-learn pathway to living wage careers.

• Building Say Yes Buffalo into a dynamic and leading non-profit with a staff of over 200 people, of whom 68% are people of color, serving in nearly a dozen different roles that offer supports to Buffalo children from cradle to career and every step along the way.

Prior to joining Say Yes Buffalo, Mr. Rust served as Deputy Commissioner for Youth Services/Social Services for Erie County where he managed a staff of 120 with a $14 million budget, with a primary focus on juvenile detention and diversion services, runaway/homeless youth services, and funding community-based, positive programs for youth.

He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University where he earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Business Administration Marketing/Management.

What draws you to work at Say Yes?

1. Everyone has potential, but not everyone is provided opportunities. Say Yes Buffalo is a game changer in providing educational and economic opportunities to all students in Buffalo.
2. Supporting our amazing team in making Say Yes Buffalo a great place to work.

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