Niagara Gazette — It started with a handful of Niagara Falls residents going to happy hour. They ended up bouncing ideas off of one another and discussing what could be done to make their city a better place.
Inspired by Sunday Soup meetings that happen around the country, Pints for Progress was hosted by Niagara Falls Director of Community Development Seth Piccirillo and ReNU Niagara Director Tom Lowe on Friday. The goal is simple, bring the community together and think of ways make improvements.
“It’s casual, we share a meal, pitch ideas and get feedback,” said Lowe. “It’s about getting people together, promoting positivity, progress and grassroots involvement.”
Pints for Progress held it’s fifth meeting on Friday evening. It was the second meeting to take place at the Unitarian Church on Main Street. In the warm months the events are held in the parking lot of the Niagara Hub across the street.
“We wanted to get people together to try something different and to have some fun,” Piccirillo said. “People are buying into this, we usually have 40 to 50 people at these events.”
About 45 people gathered at the church on Friday to enjoy a meal of vegetarian chili, salad and deserts. Each person was asked to donate $10 at the door. In exchange they get to eat, and receive a circle sticker that they will later use to vote for the idea pitch they like the most.
This money goes directly toward whichever project the group votes on. If the group can’t decide on an idea there is a “pay it forward” option where the money would be saved until the next vote. This time around Pints for Progress brought in around $600.
At this meeting two ideas were pitched. Each person had five minutes to present their idea and then field questions from the residents who would then use the information to decide which project they would most like to see happen.
One idea was to create a series of love letters to Niagara Falls, which would be displayed throughout the city. The other was to install a community garden and a free library in the space behind the True Bethel Baptist Church on South Avenue.
Lana Perlman, who came up with the love letters idea, said she was inspired by reading a letter that someone else wrote to their hometown, but it was far from a love letter. She says she thought it would be nice to see what Niagara Falls residents appreciate about where they live.
“We’d want to make them stand out, we’d write the letters down, probably on 11x17 inch paper and decorate them and hang them where they’d be seen.”
Jacob Newman, Sara Mahler and Joe Caprio, members of the newly founded Buffalo/Niagara Chapter of People to People, presented the second idea.
“It was Sacred Heart Church when I went to school there,” Newman said of the True Bethel Baptist Church. “They used to call it the prayer garden. We just thought it would be nice for the people to have somewhere to go to relax.”
After the ideas were presented the people gave their feedback. Many asked questions like what would grow in the garden and where the love letters would be hung. Some made suggestions like getting students involved in carrying out the ideas.
In the end, the people chose Love Letters to Niagara Falls to be the next Pints for Progress mission. Eighteen people picked the love letter project, 12 voted for the garden and 14 voted for the “pay it forward” option.
Newman, Mahler and Caprio will be free to submit their plans again as many times as they want. Regardless of which project wins, most people say they are just happy to see residents actively getting involved and making changes happen.
“It’s amazing, everyday we’re reminded that good things are happening,” Perlman said. “Seeing people together, all like-minded, makes it all the more evident that the city is on the rise.”