Niagara Gazette


October 17, 2011

HIGGS: Dr. Taylor and the Institute of Civic Engagement

Column by Norma Higgs — We continue our learning experience at Niagara University this week by exploring Dr. David Taylor’s plans for the Institute for Civic Engagement, which he hopes will do several things.

First, strengthen and expand programs like ReNU Niagara and Border Community SERVICE. Second, build new partnerships.  Third, begin to collect and share the many good works that are going on at NU.

“This is not to beat our chest,” he stated, “but to simply spread the good news and recognize the efforts of others.”

Fourth, be a resource for anyone in the community looking to partner with NU and, likewise, anyone at the university who wishes to work in the community. Dave wants to work in a very special way with the dedicated faculty, to provide development opportunities through workshops, curriculum design, assessment and evaluation, and community tours.

In a period of only a couple months, the institute has engaged four different classes at NU with community projects. One section of a management course will be working and trying to assist the Hyde Park Business and Professional Association.  Another section of the course will be working with the businesses in the LaSalle area along Buffalo Avenue. An introductory course in Business, required of all business majors, has adopted the Sustainable Sandals project which looks to deliver sandals from the Cave of the Winds to destinations around the globe where people do not have quality footwear. Finally, a sports recreation and programming class designed and implemented a Day of Play at Hyde Park as part of Nickelodeon’s WorldWide Day of Play where Nickelodeon actually suspended programming for a few hours to get kids away from the television and outside engaging in play.

Dr. Taylor believes that they have only scratched the surface of the impact that their students can have in the community and, likewise, the impact that the local community can have on the students. Dave believes that we learn more and learn better when we are learning by doing, taking the concepts, principles and theories that are taught in the classroom and applying them in real world situations.

Dave was quick to point out and proud that almost everything he does is through partnerships both on and off campus. “This, in fact, is where I get the energy to do what I do,” he told me. Here I thought he just drank a lot of coffee. “No,” he emphasizes that behind each of the initiatives he has described to me are some amazing people who helped develop the programs and projects and who are now directing them. “It takes many people to make these successful.” He just enjoys being a part of them and offering whatever assistance that he can provide.  

He is being very modest, as I personally give Dave a lot of credit for his accomplishments. I believe it is his willingness to take part in a project or program with little hesitation. He has certainly stepped up, to act as moderator for the consortium of civic organizations who sponsor the annual candidates forums. We were looking for someone outside of our groups (Niagara Falls Block Club Council, Niagara Falls Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club of Niagara Falls and the NAACP Niagara Falls Chapter) to take on this thankless job of organizing the questions submitted in advance into a meaningful 2 1/2-hour discussion on local issues.  

Dave also has recruited students to volunteer for the Niagara Beautification Commission’s annual Beautify Niagara clean-up campaign. He has taken the responsibility to find willing workers to help Roger Spurback in his fight against graffiti at this event each year. He also works with the Youth Works organization, a group of young people involved through their churches, and from all over the country, who have been coming to Niagara Falls for the past several years to do minor home repairs for needy senior citizens.  

Dave stresses that the great community work coming out of NU long preceded the creation of the Institute for Civic Engagement. Trailblazers, as he calls them, like Fran Boltz, Marilynn Fleckenstein, Monica Saltarelli, Fr. Bill Allegretto, and Bro. Steve Kennedy and many others, are well known for their gifts of charity to the organizations and individuals around Niagara Falls.

Today, each of Niagara’s four colleges is heavily engaged in service to the community. Whether it is serving food to refugees at Journey’s End, tutoring students after school, providing tax assistance to low income residents, or completing oral histories of elderly residents, the university’s commitment to the community is significant. Their level of engagement was rewarded again this past year as, for the sixth straight year, the university made the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for exemplary service to the community.

According to the NU Web site, this is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement.

We, the block clubs in Niagara Falls, are thankful to have been able to work with Dave, and we are looking forward to additional partnerships with the new institute. We also are thankful to his wife, Christina, and his two young daughters, Ava and Olivia, who are willing to share him with us.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council. Her columns appear Mondays in the Gazette.

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